Friday, 26 July 2013

Relatively Speaking: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Seven

The final year of The Next Generation never managed to fully recapture the magnificence of the third and fourth seasons but that's not to say it didn't have some outstanding episodes to boot.

Season seven often gets labelled as being too "family" orientated and we're not talking about a level of storytelling. Throughout these twenty-five stores there are a considerable number that feature some sort of family theme. Lore, Lwaxana Troi, Geordi's parents, Data's mother, Wesley Crusher, Alexander, Worf's stepbrother, Picard's "son" and Beverley's grandmother  all get crammed in - that's nine episodes out of the full season before anything else is considered.

Now these episodes from 1993 and 1994 are the ones I most fondly remember.They were the first episodes I bought on VHS and the year I truly got hooked into everything Star Trek on a big level. Watching them again in order made me recall just how enjoyable this season actually was. After grumbling about cosy family-related installments there's more to see. As usual the concluding part of the previous year's cliffhanger is lacking and the sons of Soong certainly don't get anywhere near even thinking about attempting to destroy the Federation  let alone actually doing it. Of all the conclusions, Descent, Part II is right up (or should that be down) there with the worst. At least Lore gets dismantled and we'll never have to worry about another Soong-type android again...oh...wait a minute....

Comparing against the sixth year of The Next Generation the first half of the year is a lot less "high concept" and more about rounding out a lot of characters and issues from the back catalogue. Geordi finally gets some kind of family (and a VISOR-free script for the most part) in Interface and Lwaxana drops in for her final Star Trek appearance ever in Dark Page however these are probably the lower keys moments of that segment. What I always think of when recalling early season seven is either Gambit or Phantasms. They are more unusual and the former should clearly have been a season cliffhanger what with Picard being dead for most of the first part. But once these gems are through and we've had our cellular peptide cake and eaten it, the year takes a deathly plunge almost right until the bitter end of the season. Why? Well, apart from the magnificent Parallels and plot-hole explaining The Pegasus it's all very...average. There's more Soong androidery going on, a pointless warp drive speed limit which is forgotten or sidestepped almost as fast as it's implemented and even more family meddling. Season five I noted heads for soap opera territory with its angst and issues but season seven almost tends to play it safe with a few absolute curve balls thrown - nay lobbed - in for a reminder of greater days.

Let's not forget too that we get the closest we've ever got to the Beverly and Jean-Luc relationship that's been hanging in the air all the way back to Encounter at Farpoint and The Naked Now. Notably while it's an enforced relationship and builds on their frequently seen breakfasts or lunches together off duty, it would be something that the finale would touch on but sadly not in the most positive of lights after 25 years. In terms of Beverly this is her strongest moment of the season especially when you consider that her other starring role comes in the dreary Sub Rosa which frequents many a "worst of..." list. As you can tell the concept of tying up loose ends and stories and relationships was clearly stamped even at this stage in proceedings.

Parallels was an instant classic which hinted at might have been's, should have been's and could be's. It's doubtless one of The Next Generation's later strokes of genius and hey, we'd never get to see Worf in command red again...oh...wait a minute.... Like the imperfect future in Future Imperfect, this episode is all about the background details, the subtle changes and the Borg-universe Riker's blatantly fake spy beard. The Troi/Worf relationship was a great idea here but should have remained securely in a parallel universe. Luckily tactical officer Crusher does but we have a great time seeing all the permutations that might have existed in the show if things were a shade different. My favourite blink-and-miss is that one of the Data's has blue eyes instead of his usual yellow. See if you can spot it. 

The next episode, The Pegasus is an all-time favourite. Secret agendas, Romulans, starships buried in asteroids and the highlight of Captain Picard Day are complimented with the addition of guest star Terry O'Quinn as Admiral Pressman. Another one of those characters I'd loved to have seen again. This has to be one of Riker's greatest moments alongside Frame of Mind and Second Chances. The interplay between Frakes and O'Quinn is priceless and seeing Riker torn between two commanders who have played significant roles in his career turns up the stakes. The whole package here is one of the best of the season and would put The Pegasus in my top ten of all time. Seeing the Oberth-class ship buried in the asteroid is one of those images that sticks in your head for a long time.

The shame of these two stories is their proximity to Homeward and Sub Rosa. Neither set my DVD player alight with wonder and they fall heavily into the mediocrity category. At this point it's almost as if you can feel the cast counting the days until the show shuts down and principal photography begins on Star Trek: Generations. The zest and intrigue that existed even at the beginning of the year certainly feels like it falters here as a sub-par ghost story mars the flow and swallows up a rare opportunity for Beverly to shine. Luckily there is light at the end of the tunnel though as Lower Decks gives something very different. While Voyager  attempted to copy the formula in its Learning Curve it never managed to hit the emotional resonance of this story. 

Focused on five lesser characters within the crew it adds a different perspective to the ship, allowing us uniquely to see how "the other half lives" as well as how they in turn view the senior staff that we as viewers have come to appreciate over the course of the show. Resplendent with alternative, younger versions of some of the main cast and even including a poker game which shadows that of their superiors just a few decks away, it's one of the season's true high points. In a way this works perfectly because it's set in that last year of The Next Generation and I think we come to understand how unintentionally biased our viewpoint of the Enterprise and Starfleet might have become due to the eyes we have viewed the Star Trek  universe through. This was for me the first hint that not everything was as rosy as it was intended to be even within the fleet, especially given the path that the story ultimately takes. Originally not an episode I was a fan of but one that I would now rate a lot more highly just because of the impact and realism of military operations that it successfully portrays. JJ Abrams doesn't get within a light year of this quality.

The next few episodes are a real pick and mix of concepts though which adds to the uneven nature of the year. Remaining episodic rather than arc based as its siblings would evolve to become, The Next Generation tended to have points where it "went off on one" and I wonder if someone in the production office just thought "What The Hell" about episode 16. Data's memory loss is bizarre in Thine Own Self but does include one of my favourite makeup jobs of the whole run when the android gets a section of his skin cut away from his face. As with a few others in this season this is one of those that has aged very well and was a pleasant diversion the second time around. The trouble is these sparks of genius are permeated with some real draggers. Masks never rang true for me then and nor does it today. I actually found Spiner a bit nauseating in his portrayal of the alien characters and some of them verged on unintentionally comedic. Sorry Brent, probably one worth missing off the CV.

Eye of the Beholder is another mind-bender with a great look into the warp engines which makes up for the average plot as does the way in which it attempts to give us some history to the Enterprise before she left spacedock. Not being very old by the time we saw her in Encounter at Farpoint it doesn't leave a lot to go on but here there is at least an attempt made even if it's down to a few boxes and some discarded work tools. It's actually Troi's last time to shine in the centre of the spotlight but again, it's very tepid in its delivery. Murder, murder hunt, surreal solution, case closed. Also, is there something wrong with Deanna's face here? It looks like she's had some work done between Masks and this story. Of course that could be my imagination.

Surreal certainly applies when we reach Genesis and while I have some fond memories of watching this one the first time around it hasn't aged particularly well. It's total hokum and you kind of feel sorry for Gates McFadden who had to direct this segment. Genesis does off a rare "wow" moment when Barclay slams up against the Engineering glass as he mutates into a spider and Worf as an armoured Klingon love machine is something to behold if nothing else. Now certainly this signposts that the final season is nothing if not unusual and there are more twists and turns than you might expect. There is, saying that, an evenness through the season. There's no initial batch of stunning ideas and right-on-the-edge stories before a massive drop off that happened with the sixth season and there seem to be a lot more episodes played for fun and entertainment. With the series coming to a close it's a lot more risky in the writing with more "off the wall" than playing safe. After all, it wasn't as if a drop in ratings would kill it.

One thing that is evident towards the back end of the year is the push towards Deep Space Nine through both Journey's End and Preemptive Strike. Originally aired in the US around the same time as The Maquis two-parter, it did help reinforce the links between the two shows and added something to the backstory of not only that show but also the upcoming Voyager which would use the Federation terrorists as a major part of its setup from day one. While I enjoyed both second time around it does feel they are here just to promote the goings on elsewhere in the franchise. Both Ro and Wesley effectively are written out in these two stories although neither with any dramatic certainty. I find them both compelling episodes which (while promotional) do illustrate that events are all interlinked across the Star Trek universe.  In Ro's case it's only when she reappears that you realise she's been absent from the series since Rascals in season six and in the case of Guinan we won't see her at all this season; something you only click to when she turns up in Star Trek: Generations. Focusing on Native Americans is a good move in Journey's End as it does slap you round the face and remind you of similar incidents in our own Earth-bound past where peoples have been "relocated" due to border disagreements and the bloodshed that has so oft caused. You can understand the flashpoint of the Maquis here and it's interesting that their creation should be grounded firmly within The Next Generation when others would manage the next chapters so deftly especially in a couple of later Deep Space Nine episodes namely For the CauseFor the Uniform and Blaze of Glory. Let's also not forget that the Maquis were aboard Voyager but their weight and prominence fizzled very, very quickly after Caretaker with only Worst Case Scenario truly delivering a "maybe" storyline of what the show could have been had it spurned the disciplines of Starfleet.

It's an odd thing when you can reflect on a season in pairings and I can easily do that with these 25. The good episodes here are overshadowed by a mass of the average and poor sadly which is never how we would have hoped the swansong of The Next Generation would have gone considering its back catalogue. How many of these would have made it into the Top 25 featured in Starlog would be minimal with only a handful if that standing any chance of making the grade. Case in point being Firstborn which is abruptly followed by Bloodlines, both of which I still find instantly forgettable season fillers.  Alexander (again absent since Rascals) taking centre stage just doesn't interest me and nor does Picard's "son" linked in with some plot harking back to The Battle and DaiMon Bok. These two do make you think how much time has been given up to rounding off storylines and making sure everyone gets some kind of screen-time no matter who they are. While this is great for a sense of completion and going full circle it doesn't make for good storytelling. Leave all that rounding off and time travel jinx for the finale thank you very much.

Talking of rounding off, what would The Next Generation  be without at least one final holodeck-based story. Why this device hasn't been condemned due to a slightly concerning safety record is always a good Star Trek debate but in Emergence its a help not a hinderance - and just in keeping with the theme of the season, it's totally bizarre mixing several programmes into one and ending with the ship giving birth. At least you can't say the final season was in any way predictable. It's actually quite a fun little outing with some great quirks - the gangster and his brick for one; the Orient Express in Data's The Tempest, Worf firing up the engine and the odd assortment of a gunslinger, a knight and a farmer all together in one carriage. That ticket collector wasn't taking any nonsense either.

Looking at characters as we briefly did earlier, it is a year of returns and farewells. One person who does step back aboard the Enterprise on more than one occasion and would also graduate onto Deep Space Nine was Admiral Necheyev played by Natalia Nogulich. First appearing in Chain of Command, Part I back in season six her next appearance rounded off the year in Descent. Season seven would see her return twice and as with her scenes in Deep Space Nine they were linked in to the Maquis threat as she turned up in Journey's End and Preemptive Strike. What put me off a little bit was how she'd chewed out Picard back in Descent for allowing Hugh to go free and the captain had taken serious offence because he had believed his actions were right. When Necheyev arrives in Journey's End she's presented with canapes by Picard which just seems like he's sucking up to the teacher. Not Jean-Luc's greatest moment! I have to say though that Necheyev is a great character and her repeated appearances here do give the franchise and the Star Trek universe at this time a nice touch of continuity that this admiral seems to have been tasked with dealing with the Federation terrorists. Once she'd turned up in The Maquis, Necheyev would make one more "appearance" in The Search, Part II. A great addition to the guest cast and not an admiral to take any rubbish even from the captain of the flagship.

Now, I think that's everything covered isn't it? Oh yes...All Good Things... - nearly forgot(!)

What more could you ask for from a finale? Double-length, time travelling, Q, new ship designs, more playing around with the timeline, the end of humanity - it has it all really and it seems like everyone has a damn good time while they are doing it. You can kind of forgive some of the more lame episodes from the final year because it feels that every last iota of energy and storytelling genius was rammed into this segment to make it as good as it is. The Next Generation will always be the series that revived Star Trek's fortunes on TV and while there were some less than successful moments on the whole the quality was there more often than not. The final year is very much about saying goodbye and making sure all the loose ends and questions are answered while also tempting viewers with storylines that would be carried into the continuing Deep Space Nine and soon to launch Voyager.  All Good Things... is the culmination of that, a tour de force of cast and behind the scenes crew in every sense.

I have a soft spot for this final year of The Next Generation because of it being the one that I bought most of my videos from when they first came out - I had some cash, I was working part time and I'd truly discovered Star Trek. It's not my favourite year - that honour goes to season four on re-viewing reflection but it's a mark better than the fifth, first and second. It's odd to think that when I turned the DVD player off after All Good Things... it will be a while before I do a full end-to-end in-order watch again. Next up on the marathon are Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis before we run into the seven years of the superlative Deep Space Nine. Warning, there's some highs and lows of extremely un-Vulcan-like emotion to come, but it'll be worth every second.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Dusting off the Past

Usually at weekends my Star Trek intake would be along the lines of flicking through one of my books, watching a couple of episodes or a movie or dropping a few lines to one of my Trek associates via the wonders of the world wide web.

However this weekend Mel and I went along to a local antiques and crafts centre. While this might not immediately peak everyone's interests I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I have discovered the wonders of Star Trek past that can be found deep in the recesses...and at quite reasonable prices as well - even more if you can haggle a bit.

Just walking into the first room and hidden on the bottom shelf of a cabinet was the Star Trek: The Next Generation Chess Set. While I remember the 25th Anniversary gold and silver set which was quite expensive and purchased piece by piece but this was something I think my mind buried at the back of my mind. The cast shot suggests it was made later than 1992 as it's from the sixth season but I couldn't get a better look as it was behind glass doors.

Moving only a little further along and having a look under a few other items on a piled shelf there appeared the seventh season of The Next Generation. Sadly it wasn't complete but I've included a link to the cards set as it was in the folder. You should be able to read the backs of all the cards. I was impressed but as it was incomplete I wasn't too happy with the advertised price. Apologies but the photography was a little rushed here! I've included a few in the featured image above for reference. No doubt many of you have the complete set!

For the first of the rooms that was about it however I then chanced on a second hand bookshop which came up trumps. There were a few dog-eared Voyager novels including Marooned which I swung past quickly but in the entertainment section a whole shelf was dedicated to the Star Trek universe. A couple of copies of the Star Trek Encyclopaedia and The Next Generation Companion (original blue cover) bookended a few more interesting volumes.

So who out there has seen or heard of the Star Trek in Italy book? No? Me neither. This place had a copy though. While the cover might suggest a story of the franchise in the European nation I was more surprised to find that it was a Star Trek book in ITALIAN. Covering all the series I would have loved to see what the translations came out as but sadly I don't speak or read the language (see illustrations above). There were some good images on a flick through but that was about as far as my understanding went. I think a lot of the content might have been taken from other publications in the USA and UK.

Also there were copies of the Boxtree The Next Generation sixth season (here, right) and Deep Space Nine first season episode guides. I actually had both of these at one time however I gave them up. The quality of the writing was poor and the pictures were all from other productions. The only actual Star Trek images were used on the cover. One for the keen of eye here as Geordi isn't wearing his VISOR on the cover. A nice behind the scenes shot but not something worthy of a front cover! From memory there were also a mammoth volume of The Original Series, The Next Generation seasons one to five and the movies (to The Undiscovered Country). A seventh and second season books were later released for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine respectively but that was it. In comparison to the official publications from Pocket Books they were massively sub-par.

Perhaps even worse and more offensive to the Star Trek universe and sitting alongside two books narrating the making of First Contact and Insurrection (bit thin on the page numbers) was the 1978 Star Trek Annual (above with inside shot) produced, funnily enough, in conjunction with the BBC. If the occasional image of the Enterprise had been omitted you would have no idea that this was a Star Trek annual. I think the cover is more Star Trek than the rest of it put together. Sci-fi yes but not from the mind of Roddenberry. A certain cash-in and something that I definitely left on the shelf!

And what else was there? The novelisation of All Good Things... might take your fancy perhaps? Complete with colour insert pictures from The Next Generation finale I was tempted but there was another volume I SHOULD have bought and will probably pop back to pick up in the next few days; The Next Generation Movie Sketchbook. Significantly reduced it was one of the few Star Trek books I failed to buy back in the mid-1990's and focused solely on (shows its age) Generations and First Contact. I actually remember it being released and pouring over the pages in the local bookshops when I had a chance. For a teenager at the time it was a little out of my price range. Now with a bit of a reduction it's worth going a bit Trek-retro. Great drawing of the Amargosa observatory on the front don't you think?

So the next time your partner suggests going to an antiques and crafts centre, don't knock it. You might just find the Star Trek item you were looking for on eBay or Amazon a lot cheaper than  you thought and even have a bit of room for negotiation downwards on the pricing scale. I went to ask the shop owner the price of the Sketchbook and before I even opened my mouth he was offering me a discount. I'm planning to go back and see if I can hunt out some more Star Trek bargains in the near future...and on the look out for some other secondhand stalls/shops and centres to check out for more items of Star Trek past...

All images by SKoST

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Star Trek Beyond 2013

Avoiding metaphors involving settling dust, the inevitable rumours about where Star Trek heads after Into Darkness stepped up into another gear thanks to, possibly, a misstep from Zachary Quinto.

Remarking that the next in the Star Trek reboot sequel would begin shooting in 2014 which would suggest either a 2015 or early 2016 release (and therefore hit the 50th Anniversary) lit up the internet like a warp drive going critical.

Critical was certainly something that applied to the second of JJ Abrams films as it split fans and critics alike while still managing to take a sweet $447,155,809 worldwide and still counting. The challenge now will be to create something which silences the non-believers and the disillusioned while also taking in Abrams' own fans, Star Trek die-hards and action film fans to name but a few groups. So what could we hope to expect from the next installment?
Almost definitely it'll come from the keyboards of Orci and Lindelof and Kurtzman but whether JJ will direct, produce or just exec produce is one mystery as yet unsolved. My thoughts are that if the production date has been shifted forward that he would return to helm a third movie before turning his attention to the Star Wars machine. Of course, moving it would potentially mean he could do both more easily but then is there a fear that he will rush through Star Trek 3 to get to his first love?

Maybe, but are we concerned if he does focus more on Wars? Would it be better to take some time and ensure that as 2016 release is produced well rather than being made now and perhaps held until the anniversary year? 

I'm still not convinced that it will be made next year and this was more of an off-the-cuff moment. He only "supposed" that it would be 2014 and JJ "might" direct he thinks. Certainly thinking outside the box here, but anyway...what would a third movie look like?

What we do know is that it will be set during the five year mission. We can assume this because the last three minutes of Into Darkness pretty much confirmed that was where they were heading. Hopefully this also means that Earth will not be the prime location for a third time and we'll get to see some of the fabled final frontier. Not that I have anything against Earth but we haven't exactly gone where no one has gone before yet and I'm not even talking about recycling older plots and lines from better Star Trek movies. I just wouldn't want to play the "drink when you hear a stolen line from another Star Trek movie or episode" with Into Darkness as I suspect I would be hospitalised by the time we meet Admiral Marcus for the first time.

If we're keeping with the lineage of the original films, Klingons would be the logical move for the third movie after all we've done new threat (V'Gr to Nero) and Khan. The fourth one could be interesting if that's the case. I might postulate that we're going to be going heavily Klingon as the threat of war was billboarded in Into Darkness at every opportunity. For me this seems more likely than a completely new enemy and would tend to sit more alongside the situation between the Federation and the Klingons that we were familiar with in The Original Series. Having the Klingon war would also go some way towards making up for missing out on the Romulan War that Enterprise missed out on covering.

How they're going to top the Enterprise under water or plunging through the atmosphere is going to be one big challenge to face especially if you add in the whole crash-landing sequence with the Vengeance for good measure. Landing her on the surface of a planet might seem the next best thing but we all know Voyager has beaten them to it - or how about freezing the ship under some ice's been done about's been done too. 

Perhaps JJ could keep with the concept of borrowing off the original films and parallel The Search for Spock by blowing up the Enterprise and getting them a new ship? Maybe if we're pillaging original series characters and scenarios something from the second season such as the Doomsday Device? How about mixing in some pon farr for good measure?

Although doubtful I would still suggest there will be some kind of big threat which means the ship and crew and run through the mill once again in true action film nature. With such a Raiders of the Lost Ark ending however there's always scope to bring Cumberbatch back for a second scenery chewing opportunity.

Understanding the beast of Abrams filmmaking and writers, we can be resigned to the fact that there will be excessive action, more Spock and Uhura romance and lens flare crammed in at every opportunity.  One thing that does need to be corrected is characterisation. It's been heavily sacrificed on behalf of explosions and macho posturing. Star Trek isn't about ray guns and shooting. It's always been about the people and even after several viewings of the 2009 reboot there's a feeling I just don't get from it that I do get even if I watch The Final Frontier or Nemesis. The humanity has been sapped from this universe and we need to get it back; Star Trek 3: The Search for Sense.

Actually, the title will probably follow the theme of Into Darkness using the series name as a verb rather than a noun. This is JJ's Star Trek and this is one of his little stamps. If you asked me what I would want as a fan I would ask for balance between the story of the crew and the action element. JJ can direct a good action sequence but the characters still seem paper thin when lined up against the classic cast. 

Not saying that they do a bad job and yes, they have made them all their own, but the depth is lacking. That could be due to them only having featured in two movies and are effectively building these alternate versions from scratch however the action mold has a very firm grip and both of Abrams' rebooted outings have started with a massive set piece which is all about spectacle rather than story and the people.

There is also a slightly cynical part of me that also thinks that Quinto's comment was amazingly well-timed. Remember that this week is the legendary Comic-Con where lots of new and exciting things in the sci-fi and fantasy world are revealed (including a Zack Snyder Superman/Batman movie no less). What a better time to ignite a bit of interest in the franchise when it has a very low key presence at the event in terms of screen announcements? Here's the logo for that project if you're interested...(via

Merchandise-wise there's a lot of new Star Trek stuff out there but Quinto's comment on the potential filming of the third reboot motion picture ALSO come in the week that the DVD and blu-ray release dates of Star Trek Into Darkness have been announced. The sets, the steelbooks and the limited editions look great and I can't wait to get my hands on them but we still have a couple of months to wait until they hit the shelves (first week of September). Likely we'll get more stories on the inevitable next movie at that time and the rumour mill will find itself fully reengaged. Maybe it's all a bit too convenient but I think for one thing we can all be pretty assured that whether we liked it or totally loathed it, there will be another film with this cast.

Also a well-placed question to a certain departing Doctor Who actor in an interview asking him whether he would like to appear in Star Trek can only be helping reignite the dulling flames ahead of the release of the movie on home-playable formats. It all helps even iff 99.8% of everything we hear is utterly rubbish at this stage and led by the interviewer as with Matt Smith. Come on, he's hardly going to say no to a possible role in either Star Trek or Star Wars is he? This is a bit overblown.

Personally I would love it to drop in 2016 accompanied by some form of new televisual adventures aboard some kind of Starfleet vessel in whatever era they please but let's nail that door shut right away. The money is in the Abrams movies not TV. Rejuvenating Enterprise or creating whatever new show is too expensive in today's economic climate. Quinto's misadvised comment might not be wholly accurate and we will have to wait and see if it comes to fruition - but we can garner one thing from his words - Star Trek is most certainly not dead. The franchise lives on in the creative processes of a new generation and it will be sooner rather than later that we will get to explore the next horizon of the final frontier.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Enterprise Project: We've Not Given up!

It might seem like an age since our last project update but I can assure you work has certainly not ground to a halt.

There was a minor delay as I ran out of white satin matt (Revell colour 301) but a recent trip out to a hobbyist store (slightly unplanned) meant my stock was replenished and we've slipped from impulse to at least warp one. Maybe even warp two.

First thing's first. I gained a rather useful modelling apprentice in the form of my partner, Mel. While she'd be the first to admit that Star Trek is far from her first love, her efforts on The Enterprise Project have been greatly appreciated. If you want to get up to date, check back through the label at the bottom.

The saucer ring in grey was not a great success and that might have been down to either a bad painting job on my part or a less than perfect masking job. Mel's more steady painting touch came in useful as she managed to get a much cleaner line around the saucer section (right). Coupled with that I painted up the raised sections in a darker grey (76) on both the upper and lower sections meaning that it might get assembled in the next couple of days. 

The two additional pieces in grey and white that sit atop the saucer are also now fully painted and touched up where necessary. These can now be set in place and glued. They were very fiddly to paint and in the end the edges were easier to colour freehand than using masking tape. I've had mixed success with masking in this project and it's even been varied within the same area. Some have come out really well and other bits have appeared frayed or the paint has bled. I know for the future it'll be an area of caution and I might need to invest in some more sticky or more model-orientated tape. Anyway, I've included the two sections alongside the saucer here for reference size. There's a clear section at the back of the longer of the two additional parts which you can barely see. It might've been a better idea just to have moulded it as a single piece.

One thing I also said I would do was build the ship in sections however I've reconsidered that process. Armed with a fresh tub of white matt, everything that needed to be white is now, well, white. This means I can effectively run three mini-project sections side by side as parts dry or set. In that respect there's been some good progress with the secondary hull. Having painted both sections with two coats over two days, I then set the clear window sections into place in both halves and fixed the two inner structural supports in place.

As you will notice from the sprue to the left here, there are several silver items which have also been painted including parts of the nacelle structures and the rear piece of the main deflector dish. This is all Mel's handiwork so I can't take the credit and it's come out very well. Again, two coats was essential to get a proper covering.

As with the window sections in the saucer, make sure that all the sprue flash and cut off is sanded so they will fit in place. Cleaning and painting the internal supports isn't essential but for peace of mind I'd still recommend removing excess sprue just to get the best fit possible. I've included a couple of images here of the supports in place in the starboard half of the hull and a close up of the painted window section in place within the neck of the secondary hull (pic below). All of them were good fits so I've not had one issue with fitting together any of the ship so far.

Just a reminder that when I painted the clear sections I used the white matt on the back of them which has added an angle of depth to the windows so it's not just a slab of Revell 301. Hopefully you get the impression of this from the image below left where the white is recessed against the hull.

All the sections had been painted on the sprues before assembly so they were all cut (good sharp knife required) and sanded the attachment points smooth to the bodywork. These will all need a quick paint later in the process. The silver section for the deflector dish as noted above was also cut, trimmed and sanded for assembly. The main blue piece for the dish however needed a slight retouching as some of the blue had come off since it was painted a while ago. Interestingly only the main saucer has needed a third coat. Everything else has been covered nicely with only two layers of paint.

The final piece for painting was the stand itself. In metallic silver and black I think it will look pretty awesome when finished. Mel was keen to get painting this so I left her to it and the result has been excellent. Using Revell silver 99 and black 302 (as we're using only the basic colours recommended on the box to build this and therefore give the amateur modeller/enthusiastic Trekker a chance) I'm more than happy with the result. Mel chose to mask one side and not the other for contrast on how that would affect the finish on the silver and hands down the edge was better without the tape. Bit of a surprise but it just showed patience and skill are a winner over three hours of taping stuff up! The image here is of the main stand base. There are also two vertical pieces which form the stand post to attach to the underside of the Enterprise. As with the centre of the base these have been coated in metallic silver.

OK. Quite a big update there. Biggest challenge so far is still the masking challenge of the grey strip on the saucer which we're only now close to being happy with. Going forward this week we'll be sticking that secondary hull together and maybe getting the saucer together. Glancing over the instructions it also looks like we might be seeing some decal action before we mate the two hulls. In fact I'm considering labelling the two hulls separately to make that process a lot easier. Oh - and we'll be looking at the engines as well if that all happens!

Top featured image courtesy of Revell
All other images courtesy of SKoST

Saturday, 13 July 2013

178 and Out: Saying Goodbye to The Next Generation

Seven seasons and 176 episodes of exploration, incident with the Borg, alien conspiracies, Romulan revelations, civil wars, comedic sidesteps and an occasional misfire later and there is only one thing left - All Good Things... 

One of the finest stories produced and without question the best of the series finales from any generation, All Good Things... is often cited as bringing us full circle, rounding off the series by returning to the beginning as well as showing how the characters might evolve in a possible future. But what does this episode tell us about the journey that we started back in Encounter at Farpoint? What ultimately do we realise about this show? 

The one thing that usually sticks in your mind is that final scene; Picard joins the senior staff poker game after seven years. It's the family feeling in a sense. For so long these characters have lived and occasionally died on our screens together. We have watched them develop and grow not only as single people but as a group, a crew - a family that watches out for each other. Picard realises there what he has missed and how these people have been an intricate part of his life for such a long time. You suspect this was the same for the actors when they filmed this which was, also, the final scene shot of the show. Indeed, the Picard story that pervades the whole 88 minutes of the feature length conclusion strongly emphasises this in whatever time line you choose. In the present his orders and situation are unchallenged. There is no doubt that what he is describing is happening and the crew are behind his resulting actions 100%. No-one questions that they are in danger, especially when Q is revealed to be involved at the halfway point.

In the past timeline, these focal relationships have yet to be forged and we can see the hesitancy, the uncertainty of what is being asked by their captain from the second he steps off the shuttlecraft and launches the Enterprise into a red alert due to his visions. Here his explanation, which he cannot give, is necessary to settle their doubts when going against Starfleet orders or calling out for Q to reveal himself for the first time. The final speech that Picard gives as they are about to take the new flagship into the anomaly is one of the best of the series. It is the realisation of the whole series as he knows what they can and will become as the mission continues. In fact the key to the enjoyment of the scenes in the past is very much around the "insight" we have into these characters futures and their development especially the more simplistic Data. 

The future is a reflection on the relationships of 25 years past. They have developed but not in the best of ways in all cases. It shows that these familiar characters are indeed flawed in ways that we may never have imagined, particularly where Worf and Riker are concerned following Troi's off-screen death. While this was a recent addition to the series (only rising from the page in Parallels) it plays a major part here especially in the future storyline. Also the cute touch with Data worth noting is his throwaway line that his housekeeper makes him laugh. Emotions have finally become a piece of his personality as are contractions.

In regards to Picard however their belief in him is perhaps more motivated by sympathy than anything else. They follow his requests but do it to humour initially rather than because it is of vital importance and crucial to the existence of humanity. The future is almost a Scrooge-like vision where nothing has worked out for the best and several of the crew have taken knocks through their lives. What remains throughout is that dedication to a solution. No matter the experience of the crews from the three timelines, they all seek a solution and without fully being aware, work together to collapse the anomaly. While the future isn't as dark as one of the lighter moments of Deep Space Nine, it's not the perfect, conflict-free world that Roddenberry envisaged. The Klingons have conquered the Romulans, not everyone gets on, the Picard's have divorced, Jean-Luc has a serious mental illness; it all seems like it's been for nothing and the utopia is not everlasting - and add a third nacelle onto that for good measure. Yes, it's all done for "fun" because this is a timeline that won't occur (also see Star Trek: Generations) and that's made perfectly clear in the final scene. 

The family that was created back in Encounter at Farpoint is ultimately more than one time period could handle and one that will endure for a long time to come no matter where they end up in the big scheme of things. Their link back to this period on the Enterprise is key to who these people are, were and will become. Perhaps in a way the finale is reminding us that while The Next Generation would cease to make any new TV episodes it too, like its characters would continue whether it would be in reruns, comics, novels or the four movies that would follow. It is a legacy that has prospered more inspite of Insurrection and Nemesis rather than because of them. Ironic that the more popular series of the two that became movies was not as successful on the big screen as The Original Series.

But while this is the key to the whole, what else do we see in All Good Things... that ensure its a fitting conclusion? What brings the show back to its origins and also shows how far it's come? 

Onscreen the acting has come on in leaps and bounds. Time has been kind to Troi for one. In Encounter at Farpoint, Sirtis was almost unwatchable and over time she certainly got a lot better as the writers understood the character and established stricter guidelines especially around those Betazoid telepathic abilities. Sadly on the rewatch though I felt my original and younger eyes were probably a little over-kind as Sirtis only occasionally shone and often took a secluded background role. At least All Good Things... made us realise that her attire had been seriously upgraded over the seven seasons from the skant uniform that is pulled from the wardrobe here. Lucky for Troi they didn't choose to put this past installment within the first season or there would have been a serious clothing disaster. The acting advances are certainly the most notable with everyone a lot more relaxed after growing within these roles. Picard is a lot less shouty and maybe a trick was missed in the past scenes to let him revert to that characterisation. 

Makeup-wise though I'm glad we get to see how the pilot might have looked with seven years more experience. Worf for one is a serious difference. While the gold sash returns we don't get his original Klingon look. The beard is a little less full, the hair trimmed, the moustache a little shorter and the skin tone lighter. The forehead is distinctly refined and the character much more than a growling background crewman that he was at the beginning. Hard to comprehend that eventually Worf would rack up more hours on Star Trek than anyone else. Second place on that list goes to Chief O'Brien who also appeared in Encounter at Farpoint but listed as "Conn" rather than the character we would come to know over time and Deep Space Nine

Now the character of Q is central to the episode but it depends which version you watch as to how you view his return for the finale. If you watch the two part edition (which was the first one released in the UK), then you get the feeling that Q is meddling in the timestream and playing Picard along at some sort of game to find out what is happening but in the feature length version it becomes clearer that the omnipotent being is actually helping the Enterprise captain to work out the puzzle without letting the Continuum know. It's impressive that a series of such small cuts to the final version could change the perception of one character so dramatically. Q in that two part snip is much closer to the meddling, arrogant individual that we saw back in Encounter at Farpoint with his more playful elements swept aside. Yet he still has some love for humanity as shown through his assistance in Picard's temporal shifting to realise the paradox. This only really shines in the full version which restores not only the correct portrayal of Q but also some clips which just help flesh out the story - Geordi is married to Leah (Brahms) and has three kids; Picard chastises Worf about honour to get passage into Klingon space and in the past Troi reveals that she and Riker had a past relationship. The editing of the show makes  such a difference to the story and our viewpoint of Q. Indeed the full version rounds off the character nicely while the cut version just makes it look like he's been reset to 1987.

While All Good Things... tracks back to the trial that kicked off the series it also shows that Q has become a splintered limb of The Next Generation family and wants them to succeed and not be erased from history even though the Continuum have decided otherwise. His transfer across to Voyager seemed to have worked a treat in Death Wish but after that the stories didn't do De Launcie credit. Over the course of the series Q has helped, hindered and played with the crew but always with their "best interests" at heart. While it is Picard who is moving through the three time periods Q is ultimately the one who controls whether they win or lose. In reality is it Q deciding the fate of humanity rather than Picard?

There's only so much however that you can show has developed and really you would have to sit and analyse the pilot and the finale beside each other. Yes, the acting is a light year better in all respects, Riker is a little greyer and more beardy; Data less wooden and Troi a lot less emotional, but there's more as well. Notably Picard doesn't insist on communicating to all decks via print out as he does in Encounter at Farpoint when being chased by the Q barrier. Respectfully some of the set changes that have occurred over the years are reflected as well although because (I believe) the chair went walkies, we don't get to see Picard's flip-arm captain's seat back in action. The observation lounge does get it's wall of Enterprise's back for a guest appearance as are the original style bridge wall panels back in place for the past timeline. In its way, the finale is both a warm hug of nostalgia just as much as it is a grandiose finale to wrap up Star Trek's successful sequel series.

Now I'm not super-picky but there are a couple of things that do bug me about All Good Things... timelines - Data's rank pips for one are incorrect in the past and how come there are three inverse tachyon pulses apparently emanating from the Enterprise's when one of them was fired by the Pasteur? Why can't they see the anomaly when they arrive in the future if it's travelling back through time? It would just be really really small - or would it paradoxically not appear still or...Brannon Braga has a lot to answer does whoever chose the cuts to get it into two parts. Nevertheless it's a top slice of The Next Generation from start to finish and it not only covers the theme of family, the passage of time but also that things aren't constant. Times change, things won't be the same for both the cast and the audience watching. This stage of the voyage is complete.

So this also marks the last small screen meeting I'll be having with this crew for some time and it's crammed with great moments that turn a great finale into a classic. While the Enterprise conversion is questionable, it's good to see it's arrival and not on a "2D" plane as you would expect - space is after all three dimensional (see also Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).  Picard ordering Earl grey on the replicator only to find that it's not programmed is also a great nod to one of the series' "trademarks" and character nuances - and if we're listing nods of the hat, how about the design of the Pasteur as a homage to the original design plans for the NCC-1701. Colm Meaney's return is a nice turn too and ensures that the character he played back in Encounter at Farpoint was O'Brien after all and not just an unnamed officer as he was back then. 

Anyway, while we get to comprehend how much these guys have been part of our lives for so long we realise how far they've come from that first season, from Patrick Stewart living out of a suitcase for six months, from Tasha getting splatted by Armus or how synthezised the music was back in the late 80's against the orchestral maneuvers of the later episodes. All Good Things... is a celebration of their achievements because there was no way they would make it to 80 episodes, or 100 - ever. It was doomed to fail because it couldn't be like the original and for that precise reason it probably succeeded. The background, morals and beliefs that dripped through every pore of The Original Series was there but updated and appropriate for the decade. The Next Generation allowed Star Trek to grow and by providing it with the opportunity to sign off in style (unless you were robbed with the two part version) as they deserved. It would be an achievement that none of the series to date would manage. No other show has hit 178 episodes (Deep Space Nine came close) or has such love from the whole of the Star Trek fanbase.

So thank you, Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's been a pleasure. For the first time ever I've managed to go through every episode in order from start to finish. Time to get the Deep Space Nine DVDs lined up for the next stage...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Into Audio Darkness

I wouldn't be the first to say that Star Trek Into Darkness disappointed.

Nor would I be the first to note that the novelisation was probably better and just added a few essential lines and asides that helped fill out the plot and smooth over some rather gaping cracks that made it to the silver screen.

Which should mean that the unabridged audio version of the novel by Alan Dean Foster is a pleasure to behold and kept my attention from page one to the end. Sadly this isn't in the same league even though it's basically the same material.

Comprising of seven CDs, the audio book is presented in a simplistic card case with a white folding sleeve. No booklet, no inserts. Nothing. This is about as no frills as it gets and  a shame straight away as I would have loved a little additional info sheet or something that would have enhanced the experience akin to that which you might get with a DVD. All we get on the rear of the case are details the plot and a brief profile of the actress narrating.

For note, I'll be avoiding any discussion of plot here as I've already discussed some elements of that in a previous blog talking about the recent novel tie-in release. Also this will be distinctly shorter as I'm sure we're all familiar with the content!

Alice Eve (aka Carol Marcus) is the voice that adorns every word of this narration. She has a very distinctive, crisp and unashamedly English accent that is absolutely perfect for this type of media and in that respect every single word is crystal clear from start to finish. 

The shame of it is that while Ms Eve is undoubtedly a very talented actress she is definitely not a voice artist. The story is engaging enough but when Alice attempts to change into another character it can become very, very painful to listen to. Case in point being John Harrison. Despite being English herself, Alice Eve insists on turning Cumberbatch into one of the three witches from MacBeth which is very offputting. Every word is over enunciated and suddenly the calculating superman becomes something not too far different from a pantomine villain. Admiral Marcus and Scotty are equally badly represented. Peter Weller's Starfleet commander becomes slow and lethargic while Scotty, well...let's say it's played out to the stereotype in the movie a little too much in the recording. Luckily Keenser is mute so we're spared that interpretation but the rest of the crew come out as bland and uninteresting. She does do a pretty good Carol Marcus for note.

I just don't get why Alice Eve had to put on all these different accents. I think we'd have been perfectly happy with her reading the novel in her own precise English tones. In fact it would have made it very enjoyable as it's very well read throughout. The other trouble is that Alice just doesn't get excited. At all. Ever.

The scenes on the Nibiru set the tone for the whole seven discs actually. There's no excitement, increase in pace or addition of tension through Eve's narration. Everything seems matter of fact and unsurprising. Nor does the final scene in San Francisco bear any of the pace that marked it out on the screen as Khan and Spock duke it out. It all stays very calm, very serene. Very well spoken. Very dull. Sorry, Alice, it's just not what I hoped for.

Now I can understand this might be to ensure that every word is heard and every word is understood but this is action. It needs some kind of edge. At one point I even failed to realise it was an action sequence (Vengeance versus Enterprise) until about three-quarters of the way through the scene. A shame as I could imagine Alice building the tension nicely from Alan Dean Foster's novel but this never happens. Everything is delivered at the same, smooth tone. Ideal for a nice relax but not when you might want to feel the action and become immersed in the story. Coupled with some of the worst improvised accents in recent years it doesn't make for the ideal package. 

For those who perhaps have partial sight I would, absolutely, recommend this because it will give you a better picture of what happens in Star Trek Into Darkness. For those of you who enjoy an audio book as a diversion I would maybe direct you to read the book as a first choice. If necessary, yes, try this out if it's an easier listen for a car journey but just beware that the monotone level of narration pervades the whole story and might lead you into distraction or worse, sleep. If it was Alice Eve's choice to read it this way, I'm shocked however if it's a standard approach, then I think it might be time for a rethink. 

Overall, a good and enjoyable story that is let down by the performance and interpretations of the vocal artist used. I hope, for one, that Alice Eve remains on the screen rather than the speaker.

The Star Trek Into Darkness audio book is available now from Simon and Schuster priced $29.99