Thursday, 25 June 2020

Two Sides to the TNG: The Official Starships Collection Issues 176 and 177

It feels like the collection really is just counting down the weeks until issue 180 with two ships that would be utilised in other forms across the franchise's Golden Era.

Arriving in The Next Generation's first season episode, Haven, the distinctive Tarellian (Plague) Ship incited fear in civilisations across the galaxy. A visually basic design (its a rectangle with a ball), it does lack the detail and sadly therefore the interest from myself because it pales in comparison to many later starships. However, in a backwards sort of way it's a perfect example of the show finding its feet and design aesthetic.

Enough of my mumblings though and on to the starship in question. The Tarellian Ship is light on surface detail with the base light grey coat azteced and then accentuated with darker grey highlights to focus the eye onto sections of panelling laid across the hull.

It's a very simple paintjob overall with Eaglemoss ably completing the job without any errors and potentially made even easier with the note that all the darker shaded areas are raised up on the hull. The window ports along the side almost manage to line up with the surface impressions but, alas, with only a handful of issues to go it's still not in the right place although it's close. 

As with the panel detail, surface greebling is definitely toned down here with only a slim piece in front of the warp bubble and then some directly behind that feature. Definition on them is decent with the pant not overwhelming their shapes. Nor does the red paint fill in the grille lines on the panelling at the back either. 

Now I would go into massive detail about the underside of the ship's exactly the same as the top. The only visual difference is the bug-pincer nose which drops away from the top giving the only real indication of orientation. The nose itself is also the split point for the hull with it attached into the metal upper piece. Aside from the join line at the front though it's a near "seamless" join all the way round. 

Now, onto the "main feature" if you will and that rollerball centrepiece of the ship. In the Star Trek universe this marks the distinctive Tarellian warp drive with the sphere representing the field when the craft is stepping up to faster than light speed. I can grasp pretty quickly in the model that this doesn't translate very well into plastic. The central negative space looks great, it's the delivery of this section which really deflates the model however. Even a blue tint to the plastic half-spheres can't get you away from the reality that it's not as glowing nor "alive" if you will as the screen starship because you simply can't deliver a special effect in a box, just the same as we felt with the organic craft of Species 8472. 

The display of this one is particularly wobbly with a rear grip that's not that robust. With a slight lean to the rear it does sit but it's less than perfect and might be a rare shelf-diver.

The magazine sprinkles in the story of the Tarellians and their notorious plague ships as well as it's standard array of features. It does dwell a little bit on the difference to Starfleet in warp tech although this only draws even more attention to the glorified hamster wheel that's attached to the boxed model.

Designing the ship furthers the line of thinking around the centre element of the craft plus the ways in which it could have been different to start with. Definitely a recommended read to see where the thought processes were heading in 1987 as The Next Generation took its first steps into the world. Closing out had to be a feature on the making of the episode in which the Tarellian ship made its only appearance, in this case; Haven. It's not the greatest story in 50 years of Star Trek but it has its reasons for being a significant 50 minutes of TV and those are explored here.

To the Sheliak Colony Ship for issue 177 and lo, we've got that sense of deja vu which is expected since this is a reworking of the classic Merchantman from The Search for Spock. As with several ships before we waited a long time for that one to arrive - and not quite so long after it to get another iteration. As I've said on several occasions, these are all well and good but we have sacrificed issues of the regular series for these where we could have had Quark's Shuttle or Lazarus' ship or... ok, well maybe not the last one but I know we're all on the same page.

Appearing in The Next Generation's The Ensigns of Command, the altered Merchantman had a serious makeover changing it's colour from the sandy red through to a more utilitarian grey. Usually there's something removed to help with the design "transition" but with the Sheliak craft it's all about the additions. 

Starting out to the front, the ship has gained two warp engine "skis" and underneath the ventral fin has been slightly altered. There are also what seem to be additional tanks strapped in on the underside. On the top there's a second bridge-like module behnd the first as well as increased amounts of piping running from said unit back to the quad impulse engines. 

Without question the original format of the ship is far more attractive and iconic within the franchise while the modifications here change the feel of it and not just the aesthetic. Eaglemoss have done a great job in adapting the design (and for note this is smaller than the earlier Merchantman) and capturing the differences made for The Next Generation.

The paintwork has a textured weathering leafing away from the front edge towards the rear engine assembly and the grey coating works exceptionally as it isn't a single flat shade. The painting from the tips of the warp engines back into the wide forward hull section is really something to behold giving depth to the hull as well as a used look to the Sheliak ship.

The wingtip extremities and the piping on the top do look flexible when you take her out of the box and while the former do have considerable flexibility in their structure, the added materials on the top of the craft are very solidly fixed in place.

The detail on the hull of this one still astounds me, even with that slight reduction in scale and its conversion has only added to the already heavy amount of hull detail evident along the lighter grey side sections and into the very intricate engines at the back. It's an intricately constructed model with a lot to take on board and even on the underside, the hull features, most significantly to the front, are still visible. All of this provides that crucial "realness" to the model, a sense of depth and heavy construction heightened by the weather-worn paint that wraps itself around the whole structure.

Onscreen the greys of the Sheliak craft do mean that a lot of the features to this one were lost in translation but now there's the chance to see just what was done to fully utilise the available resources of the Star Trek franchise where a budget was concerned. 

With this model it's not the quality of what's been produced that's the issue because for all intents and purposes, this is a really, really well presented piece that actually builds on an earlier release - but I still come back to the argument of how many slight alterations there should have been in The Official Starships Collection given there are some screamers that were missed - Borg Scout Cube, Kazon Predator Class... the list is not endless but it does have some unseen highlights.

Issue 177 doesn't have a ton to say about the Sheliak craft itself and more focuses on a retelling of the key events from The Ensigns of Command.  It's not an episode I've watched a lot (time for a skip back to it I think) but this gives an ample enough refresh on the events from the show. 

Feeling like another slight refresh is the choice to cover off the reuses of the Sheliak craft in the franchise from its time in The Search for Spock through to this inclusion and on to Deep Space Nine and beyond. Some you might remember and a couple you might not!

Then there's a great overview of the season that changed The Next Generation's fortunes and could well be responsible for Star Trek's continued TV existence to this very day with coverage of the excellent third season which included a first appearance from a classic character (Sarek), a continuing story with Sins of the Father, the return of Beverly Crusher and ended on...well, we all know how the year finished!

As a package both issues 176 and 177 deliver in ways I didn't expect. Both magazines are excellent and add to the wealth f background material a fan can never have too much of while they also reflect two very different periods in The Next Generation's history which are only separated by two years. The simplicity of the Tarellian ship, while great to see, pales in comparison to the tech overload of the modified Merchantman and betrays a much more serious and darker tone to the show which had not been seen in seasons one and two. 

Perhaps for this month it's more about the mythos and exploration of The Next Generation  than about the actual ships themselves although they do tell a great story about the evolution of the franchise.

Read all our other reviews of The Official Starships Collection from issue ONE here.

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