Saturday, 28 September 2013

26 Years On

After 18 years Star Trek was back on the TV and in syndication from the start. This week marks the anniversary of the first airing of the pilot episode of The Next Generation. Do you remember the first time you saw Encounter at Farpoint?

For me I would first see Encounter at Farpoint three years later when the UK broadcaster BBC Two aired the show on 26th September 1990 (wow - 23 years ago this week!). 

The pilot of The Next Generation would be the start of 18 years of first run Star Trek on the TV, ending in 2005 with Enterprise's final episode These Are the Voyages....

Happy birthday The Next Generation!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Twelve Years On

With the recent 47th anniversary of The Original Series you would be forgiven for forgetting that September was a busy month for Star Trek....

Happy twelfth birthday Enterprise. Short-lived but still one of the fold.

  • 98 episodes
  • Four seasons
  • Pilot aired with a viewing figure of 12.54 million on UPN
  • First series to see the launch of the main starship
  • Last episode aired May 13th 2005
  • Created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

One of Seven: Voyager Year One – Part Two

Continuing a look back at Star Trek: Voyager Series One. A gourmet extravaganza of adventure helmed by Matt Goddard


In part one of this retrospective I looked at the premise of Star Trek: Voyager and its persistence in working against that in its first season.  It was unlucky, coming as the third live-action sequel, but its lofty mission was derailed by the perceived confines of the Star Trek series.  Now it’s time to look at the cast of Voyager, considering some of its strengths and mulling over the best and worst episodes before thinking long and hard about the worst season finale in Star Trek history.

Help! They've beamed out my lungs!
Novelty Characters

I completed part one of this retrospective considering how Voyager had simplified the Star Trek message.  An unfortunate an inevitable implication of this was that Voyager stuck religiously with the character of the week format.  As with other Star Trek series, that immediately put a lot of strain on characters who were difficult to warm to.  Novelty characters Neelix and Kes were hit the hardest.  Within three stories Kes’ nascent psychic abilities had emerged in the episode was (surely) wryly titled Time and Again.  Within five stores Neelix had his lungs transported out.  Neelix!  Sadly that episode wasn’t called They’ve Beamed out my Lungs! but that’s right - we were supposed to care about the Talaxian Morale officer’s fatal condition just five episodes in.  Both actors tried with their difficult and often blandly obvious characters.  Special mention should go to Jennifer Lien’s wonderfully level voice - but a nine year lifespan and insatiable swotting does not a likeable character make.  Fuse in the sudden telepathy - then ignored for several shows - and the comparisons with another counsellor are unflattering.

The show had strengths from the off though, don’t get me wrong.   Many of those weak points are shared with other Star Trek series.  The show was kept together by Kate Mulgrew’s sturdy performance and Robert Picardo’s brilliance. 

Picardo: A bargin at five times the size
Cast off

So, the crew of Voyager.  Mulgrew really is great.  She has that a distinctive voice and eye acting that fuses Picard and Sisko.  A good thing too, considering how central she is to the show.  Often the camera often just hangs around her, and unsurprisingly so.  Picardo plays a classic sci-fi trope but produces moments of great comedy that Ethan Phillips in his irritating role can only hope for.  The Doctor is instinctively funny from the off even if the concept doesn’t actually make much sense.  Elsewhere in the crew, Robert Duncan McNeill isn’t bad despite being given little to do except brat on about his piloting skills.  The result is a slightly more developed clone of The Next Generation season one La Forge. Kim isn’t too bad either...  Just a dull Star Trek trope that would be shown up far more in Enterprise when the same blandness was shared across several characters. Combine the two however, and their early exchanges relationships are excruciating.

The direction, budget and design were more sophisticated on Voyager than on earlier Trek series and that shone some unfortunate spotlights.   Robert Beltran puts in some great moments, but has a bit of a rough ride as a more spiritual Riker clone. It would be a few years before Beltran started to publically express his boredom with the show, but he seems a little distracted.  With every sweeping camera shot that keeps Kate Mulgrew’s nuanced performance in focus, his red decked form is slumping despondently in the background blur. That’s a bit of a shame. 

Full Klingon Torres: Mid sulk
In Voyager, the Spock archetype was fielded to Torres, who must contend with being both Klingon and human – despite reaching her mid-20s without doing so. It’s an episode like Faces that show the range that Roxann Biggs Dawson could bring to the show.  But as is probably realistic, the end result of the hybrid is a booming, glaring, mid-sulk teen.  Ah, but there’s a character arc with her and Starfleet you say?  Yes, at least three episodes of it.

Then there was Tuvok, good old reliable Tuvok.  There’s a reason that Spock was half human, why Romulans are great villains: full Vulcans are dull. Following Worf and ahead of Reed’s gung ho weapons lust in Enterprise, he really falls flat.  The position of confidant to the Captain is an interesting one, but worth so much less when the Maquis dynamic isn’t properly followed explored.  Tim Russ can’t be faulted for his performance which offers a slightly different Vulcan and even a hint of exasperated disapproval - if such a thing were possible.  It’s not a terrible thing that he has garnered more Vulcan screen time than anybody else.
It’s clear that all characters would have benefited from full serial arcs rather than the jumping between standard single episodes featuring the lesser characters – just as season three of Enterprise did.  

Seska: Not keeping up with Cardassians
That said, Voyager was a show was seeded more than many other Star Trek series.  Seska is interesting for one, creeping into the show in much the same way as O’Brien in The Next Generation.  Her reveal is a nice distraction late in the season, but draws another unfortunate comparison with Deep Space Nine.  While true to Cardassians’ stereotypical treachery, it’s a bit of a step back from Deep Space Nine’s subtly.  Just a few episodes later we see Tuvok attempting to discipline Maquis (yes, all four of them)...  And Seska’s name doesn’t even come up.  Chakotay’s inner-turmoil is a nice touch but it can only go so far as a metaphor for Maquis integration.  I can also see that Torres’ promotion scrap as a microcosm for the paperwork surrounding other Marquis crew members’ positioning (if I look really hard) but it’s all rather, to use a word, Basics.  Thinking about it, the fact there were so many Maquis on one ship in the Badlands seems very out of character.

The Best and the Worst

The first series has more than its fair share of generic Star Trek episodes, but there are glimmers.  An episode like Emanations really does go when no one has gone before; a believable, other quadrant conundrum. The two appearances by the Vidiians show that there are some good aliens on the horizon.  By Faces, they’re injecting some good old fashioned body horror into proceedings (poor old Durst, he’d only had one line before)

Ex Post Facto: Hercule Tuvok takes the floor
So, the best and worst:  A nadir has to be Ex Post Facto, where an interesting approach to a Star Trek Ex Post Facto’s a poor attempt at making a Voyager version of a Deep Space Nine ‘Give O’Brien Hell’ episode.  Aside from the monochrome flashbacks we also see Tuvok as Poirot – he even gathers the suspects in a room at the end! In retrospect a Vulcan is not the most charismatic of detectives, but there any strengths firmly end ...  We’re just weeks into a new quadrant and the Baneans are only the second civilisation that the Voyager crew meets.  Having initially sent off two scouts, Janeway then diverts the ship to free her man – Voyager's adherence to the Second Directive (the needs of the few) falls flat as soon as Paris and Chakotay make-up in Caretaker Part II.  There’s a cordial meeting with the alien race, with not a hint of translation issues. They even shake hands as standard and they let Tuvok into their prison facility with a phaser!  It’s incredibly sloppy but exposes where the creators’ interests lay.  They were willing to forgo consistency to pursue an idea. The episode collapses as if they completely forgot what they were making. Yes, it’s even worse than Neelix losing his lungs. Evoking a noir crime thriller at the beginning,

Eye of the Needle: Never trust a Vulcan Captain...
On the flip side, one highlight is Eye of the Needle. I’d been looking forward to it actually - I remembered its interesting temporal element and of course, it features a Romulan!  It is a neat, if slight 44 minutes.  It’s mainly let down by the delivery of its denouement.  Laugh a minute Tuvok chooses a rather un-dramatic (and illogical) time to check the Ship logs and tell the crew that the Romulan died some years previously.  “I thought I’d wait until the Romulan had gone before I ruined your day’” effectively. That said, it’s not a clean-cut story and although it’s narratively undermined, it’s the kind of science fiction that Voyager should strive for.

Special mention should also to the great holodeck romp Heroes and Demons.  Mainly because it’s a Picardo-centric episode and had the courage to draw parallels with one of the earliest works of the English language.  Brave.

No! Not Piller-filler...
Language and Legacy

It’s difficult to consider Voyager without thinking about its script and language.  That’s one thing that Voyager didn’t simplify.  Its use of technobabble is truly atrocious.  It really does feel like it was deliberately ramped up because that’s what viewers wanted.  I presume that the same would have happened in DS9 had they spent more time phasing anti-time and less time talking politics.  In Voyager, it’s off-putting and in Janeway’s case it diminishes her hands-on nature as a scientist.   It was a trick that The Next Generation never resorted to – or was it?  On that revered show, the cast called it ‘Piller-filler’ in reference to executive Producer Michael Piller.

The late Michael Piller is not just regarded as a legend of Star Trek.  The first episode of Best of Both Worlds remains one of the greatest pieces of television ever made.  But with Star Trek: Voyager, something went a little awry.  Was it him or co-creators Rick Berman or Jeri Taylor..?  Was the many producers including Braga and Biller?  It’s not just that the The Next Generation crew had split – for instance Klingon specialist Ronald Moore had jumped to Deep Space Nine and time fetishist Brannon Braga had been left to Voyager for the majority; split like Maquis and Starfleet.  Everyone involved has produced great film and television at points, but here the premise, the crew construction, the approach to the conceit... While it must have looked good on paper, it wilfully bucked growing TV trends.  

If anything Voyager was a show that looked back to the 1980s and not forward to the 21st century.  There should have been the courage to commit to the innate drama of the series and not find a middle-ground by including at least ten stories that would look extremely average in any Alpha Quadrant set show.  Voyager would have been far better off finding a different solution to its pitch than the 75,000 light year trek.

A Simple Quest

As it is, Voyager took on one of simplest tales – the quest.  It’s The Odyssey, exactly The Odyssey.  It’s the search for the Grail. It’s the powerful, instinctively human quest story that has been told for millennia, the kind that Joseph Campbell’s eyes would widen at.  This was Star Trek’s only prolonged stab at something that monumental.  And they kind of missed. 

Sure, Enterprise’s stab at the Prometheus myth would later similarly flounder in its first season, but Voyager always niggles the most.   As I look on to Voyager’s following six seasons, I find one fact hard to avoid.  In the final episode of an admittedly shortened season one (16 episodes), just when you expect a cliff-hanger in true Star Trek style...  The antagonist turns out to be actual cheese.

"Get the cheese to sickbay"?  How did they let that one through?

Sadly, at the end of the first season it looked as though Voyager, unlike the villainous cheese, may take a long time to mature.

(NB - the actual season finale was supposed to have been The 37's but the last four episodes produced for season one were shipped to the beginning of season two. A shame as the ending of The 37's makes a hell of a lot more sense as a season closer than Learning Curve - Clive)

You can also read Part One of this article right now by following this link

Monday, 23 September 2013

Forward Thinking: Previewing the Starships Collection Issues 4 & 5

Issue Three is only just out but we've been granted access to Eaglemoss' drydock and the next two releases in The Official Starships Collection.

I'm going in with both feet here to say that Issue Four is the best to date and even better, the best of the first five hands down. I've never been the greatest admirer of the NX-01 Enterprise however this model has started to change my opinion. It's an absolute beauty and as a package this is all round excellent both on the page and in the ship herself.

Here the saucer is metal with the pylons and engines in plastic but on first glance you would never be able to tell. This is a superb recreation of the Enterprise from, well, Enterprise. The detail is beyond anything we've seen so far and she looks like the "real" deal. I might be in model heaven here. The image above from the show gives you a good impression of the colouring of the hull but in the flesh it's a lot better than even HD could probably conjure. 

Being the smallest of the Enterprise models it benefits from a much more "up close" analysis than the D or the refit. The hull plating is very clearly marked out even in the plastic sections which, to date, haven't been the best. I'm a little puzzled by the gold painted pieces on the hull but I have to accept that these are accurate to the original models and materials that CBS have provided to the developers.

Turning to the magazine, Eaglemoss really have aced this edition in every way. The specs and a brief history and description of the ship layout cover the basics very well and introduce fans of all knowledge levels to Archer's starship but for me there's a gem hidden in these pages.

Homage Alert

Now our previous reviews had noted that there was a certain formulaic approach to the magazine but here there is something of a twist to that routine. In issue four we have the most complete journey (if you will) detailing the NX-01 from her creation and first voyage through service history and even to a conceptual design for her ultimate upgrade - the addition of a secondary hull. It's something that's been around for a while but I was certainly surprised to find that Eaglemoss had included something that isn't officially canon since this upgrade has never appeared on screen. 

It's a great touch and reinforces the fact that it was intended for the NX-01 to gradually evolve through the series as "familiar" technologies were introduced to the ship. This ties in nicely with this edition's design section where the one of the original concepts had the secondary hull already attached. I also didn't appreciate (and it's fairly obvious once you've seen it) from which the design of the Enterprise was partially.

Add into this superb mix a classic scene that tips the hat to a great movie moment and you have the best issue yet. This really does flesh out the story of the NX-01 on and behind the screen - and the first main vehicle that we saw from her launch date and in CGI from Day One. I was never that impressed but Eaglemoss have definitely changed my opinion on this neglected starship.

My ONE gripe? The final section covering the key moments in the history of the ship is probably it. The inclusion of These Are the Voyages ... as a memorable episode is not something that will sit well with readers!

Green Giant

Coming off the heels of the Enterprise edition was going to be a difficult challenge. Issue 5 takes a breather from Starfleet ships once more with the monster D'Deridex Class Warbird. As Data once noted in regards to a beverage in Ten Forward, "It is green".

With a worn colouring this is another ship with which I've not been overly familiar but now this collection has given me the chance to see her in glorious 3D. Yep, she is a big beast and exceptionally well crafted with all the hull markings in plastic and metal clearly laid out. There's only the underside of the "head" which lacks detail but given that you're not going to be looking at it very often it might be easy to let that ride (although it's not the first time there have been omissions on this range). 

The design is stunning and it really betrays the bird-like design theme that has run through the Romulan fleet since the Bird-of-Prey in Balance of Terror and even "back" to the designs we saw in Enterprise (one of which is due in the not too distant future from Eaglemoss).

The illuminated portholes right across the metal structure of the Warbird highlight the size of this mammoth vessel and as a model it's a great addition to the range especially this early in. As with the NX-01 I was more Bird-of-Prey than Warbird but this I do like. One other thing - I would suggest gluing the ship to the stand or placing it on a shelf where no-one will ever touch it as the stand is not very secure and mine has ended up performing several death dives since its arrival.

The background on the Warbird covers that pesky quantum singularity that powers the ship as well as the ever-useful cloaking device, evidently referencing The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes where Romulans have been the focus including The Neutral Zone, Face of the Enemy and a lot of the Dominion War arc.

I also found myself  getting more and more impressed with this series as I read through the magazine  My initial concerns that the set contents would become repetitive are being laid aside as there are other facets being explored. Here we are "Introduced" to the Romulans from the behind the scenes perspective covering everything from Balance of Terror to Star Trek Nemesis (with a conspicuous absence of images from Deep Space Nine). Again this section seems like excellent value for newer fans and there will probably be the occasional line that the more knowledgeable Trekkie will find strikes a memory.

It seems though there isn't a foot being put wrong with the design sections of these magazines. Again, a brilliant section but I keep thinking there's so much more that could be explored within these pages. The content is great but I still feel like it's a glimpse of a bigger picture. Great choice here to turn this into an interview with Andy Probert who created her back for The Next Generation's The Neutral Zone. Have to say I prefer her horizontal to vertical though!

It will be hard to fill out editions as more ships and races are covered but I'm beginning to believe that this will turn out to be an impossible-to-miss series. Even the issues featuring background starships or one-offs will be interesting because of their nature to see how these blink-and-miss craft have been realised.

So there you have it - two great issues and two excellent models to get your hands on. Already this collection has made the national papers as it sold super-quick to fans everywhere. It's been a lot better than I expected, even at such a high price. Go on, subscribe. You know you'll end up doing it anyway!

Now there is one problem with getting preview editions - we now have to wait over a month for the next issue which will be....USS Voyager.  Oh, yes.... who ISN'T excited by that prospect?!

The third edition of the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection is available now and you can find out more by visiting the official website. Issues four and five previewed here will be available on the 3rd October 2013 and 17th October 2013 respectively.

Thanks also to Eaglemoss for their assistance in the production of this special preview.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Difficult Third Issue: Eaglemoss Take on the Empire

Issues one and two were played safe; Enterprise-D and the movie refit NCC-1701. It would have been easy to churn out another Federation starship for issue three but instead they've moved further afield.

Not only does the latest in The Official Starships Collection take us to the Klingon Empire but also to the first "guest" ship with the legendary fan favourite Bird-of-Prey. It's not a curve ball by any means and is still in very recognisable territory however it lets us know that whatever ship it is this fortnight the quality is still there in print and more importantly in the model.

Now hardcore Trekkers and Trekkies will start grumbling that Haynes produced a rather excellent tome last year about the Klingon vessel and they're right, it is superb and we reviewed it. This magazine doesn't retread the same ground and that is a brilliant decision.

In Comparison

The standard format established with the two Enterprise editions still stands with initial specs and background on the B'rel class (smaller than the K'vort). Nothing new here and the pictures offer no surprises, reliving famous moments from the shows and highlighting the features of the ship without going into the gritty detail you would find in the Haynes Owners Manual.

Again though - and we've said this before - the beauty of this accompanying magazine is in the second half of its pages where we get to see how the craft was designed for the screen and how it was filmed. With the Bird-of-Prey it's the story of The Search for Spock, missing Romulans and switching from models to CGI which really captured my attention. I've purposely not included any images from these sections of the publication because they are something that I've not seen before but it doesn't stop there. The Voyage Home, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine all get a mention here in the story of the Klingon craft.

Each time I've opened one of these magazines I've skipped straight to the development and filming sections because there is always something new there and this time the images of the original study model are a wonder to behold. I admit, I was concerned this was going to be a rehash of the technical manual but this was nothing of the sort. That focused on the fictional universe while Eaglemoss have balanced the fictional history of the ship with the real world account of it's creation.

Missing Details

Now then, let's turn to the meat on the bones here. The model itself. Working out which parts are plastic and which are metal is going to become something of a game with this collection I think. Wrapped in plastic rather than affixed to a supersized card backer, that moment pre-unwrap is when I weighed up what was what (yes, lame joke). The central body is the light bit with the wings in metal. 

These are fixed out in flight mode giving a great unshadowed view of top and bottom. The paint job is superb on this little scout but the detail on the bottom is less rewarding to the average fan. On the spec diagram in the magazine you can see the lines for the landing legs, panelling and the like but on the Bird-of-Prey all this is missing. Disappointing considering how the rest of this winged beast has been crafted. Notably with all three of the ships released so far the metal sections are by far the more detailed and intricate parts where all the modelling effort seems to have been focused.

In fact the underside of the hull is the only area that isn't detailed; the patchwork colouring on the top and bottom of the wings is fully realised, the main hull is accurate and with differing shades across the metal skin instead of giving us just a pristine "off the workshop floor" model. There's even dust and grime around the rear of the wings which adds to the level of "realism" in the ship (as far as a fictional universe can be). One point though - I'm not sure the windows on the "humps" needed to be blacked out as they do contrast against the "used" impression of the rest of the model. In fact that worn paint job does mark it out straight away to the two Enterprise starships from the first two issues.

The fixture to the stand is pretty good too with the clear arm slotting into the gap around the warp and impulse engine. It's very sturdy especially considering that it's holding the ship from the back. It's a nice display stance although this does end up a little on the wider side due to those wings.

...And Finally

OK; tongo cards on the table - I love this ship and the magazine this time. It's a more difficult subject not being in every episode or a string of movies and Eaglemoss manage to do justice to this popular vessel. I wasn't too keen on parting with a (cough, cough) tenner to lay my hands on this issue after two discounted introductory magazines but the quality of the result does go some way to easing that monetary pain. Good work team, as a package you've managed to make it different enough to add another chapter to the story of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey rather than saying the same stuff over again. 

The use of the CBS archive looks to be key to the success and provides great new images and background not seen in the main stream before. So far the series seems to be going from strength to strength. Now they've tackled one alien race there look to be one or two challenges ahead such as the Krenim Time Ship or the Dauntless which only appeared in one or two episodes. Filling 18 pages on a Bird-of-Prey might be easy work in comparison.

The third edition of the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection is available now and you can find out more by visiting the official website.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Seven Up and 2014 Starts with a "B"

Diamond Select continue to advance their excellent Star Trek range with a recent release and some great news about what we can expect in 2014.

We've all probably seen this one by now, but the  first Star Trek Femme Fatale has arrived and it's Voyager's Seven of Nine! Based on Jeri Ryan's character from Star Trek: Voyager, this PVC statue stands 9 inches tall and comes packaged in a window box.

It's a great figure although the background colouring seems to be a little different to how I remember it (although it was quite dark in that cargo bay). At first glance it appears to be a decent likeness and I can tell this is one of those collectibles that will be flying off the shelves just because of who it is. Diamond Select have set the RRP at $45.00 (£28.31)

Next up is a stunning and surprising release from DST - the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B from Star Trek: Generations. While I always welcome something new to do with this awesome and little seen starship it's excitement squared here at Some Kind of Star Trek as they've gone as far as marking her up with damage sustained in the encounter with the Nexus energy ribbon. Now you can see the spot where Kirk made his last stand in the 23rd Century!

The adapted Excelsior-class starship has an all-new paint deco to replicate its on-screen damage Packaged in a Try Me window box so customers can test its movie-accurate lights and sounds, the Enterprise-B measures 16 inches long and comes with an adjustable display stand. For this space-bourne beauty is recommended for sale at $60.00 (£37.75). We look forward to seeing what lights and sounds are included as these have yet to be announced.

You might have spotted that we're a bit of a fan of the old Enterprise-B so this is much anticipated and we look forward to seeing her in the flesh and out of the box in the near future - great choice to release her, DST - Enterprise-C a possibility for later next year?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

One of Seven: Voyager Year One – Part One

In the first of a two part retrospective, Matt Goddard turns back the clock to 1995 as he ventures into the Delta Quadrant to relive the initial season of Star Trek's fourth incarnation as he begins a seven season rewatch...

So how does Star Trek: Voyager Series 1 shape up?  A Year of Hell, displaying Lifesigns or signalling Future’s End..?

This post comes with an air of inevitability, just like Voyager making its way home.  Was that ever in doubt?  It might be if Voyager was made today, but times have changed.  When the third Star Trek live action sequel series started, it wasn't immediately evident, but each of its forebears had laid down an impressive gauntlet.  As Voyager met her fate in the Badlands, Deep Space Nine was still in its infancy, but the intervening years have seen its stock rise considerably.  Of course, the other Star Trek series had achieved incredible success in their own lifetime on the small and large screen - but viewers of the awkward Deep Space Nine were always a little more partisan.

Post-Deep Space Nine

Voyager departs Deep Space Nine on its fateful journey

Earlier this year I completed a long and leisurely retrospective of that Deep Space vintage.   It was so leisurely that the Federation could have discovered the Dominion and kicked off a war in the same three year timeframe it took me to complete all seven series.  Satisfyingly however, the conclusion came in this the show’s 20th anniversary year.  Even more satisfyingly, it confirmed my suspicions:  Deep Space Nine is an incredible achievement.  It took its position as the younger, difficult brother of TNG, with cynical and audience grabbing stunts and a flash new non-syndicated competitor and melded them with the strengths of its strong cast to produce something really special.  Something that Trekkies should be proud of.  I might tell you about it some time, but you hopefully know it already.

That’s the problem I had.  Fresh respect for Deep Space Nine.  So for my next mission I was torn where I should go. Jump backwards?  Hmm, perhaps forwards, ready to lap myself when Deep Space Nine makes it on to Blu-ray?  I was at yellow alert for some time before... Then I accidentally started watching Star Trek: Voyager


It was Caretaker I couldn’t resist.  At the show’s launch in 1995 I read more about Voyager than I had about any other Trek show...  The American import Star Trek Magazine, The Radio Times coverage, the Telegraph article addressing Geneviève Bujold’s sudden departure.  I dutifully bought pilot on VHS and waited for the BBC to screen the full series...  Only to find it on Sunday afternoons. Pretty inconvenient. The result was a distinct lack of fond memories.  Oh, I was familiar with it.  I watched the first couple of seasons more than intermittently.  I was at university by the fifth season and was then routinely pulled back by the Borg (and the founder of this blog I may add – still, as far as I’m aware, un-assimilated) a couple of times after that. 

But that’s where the inevitability comes in.  I was always going to return to consider the series in its totality one day...  And that day has come.  I’ve just completed the first, shortened season so I’m about a seventh of the way through...  One of Seven sounds like a fairly average Borg, but how does that first season stand up now?

Well, put simply, it’s not as bad as I remember.  There are good points, as you’d hope with the talent involved.  It’s certainly watchable, there’s some great acting and it’s more cohesive than I remember...  But those points just serve to highlight the opportunity that was missed. Unfortunately, glaring problems are evident.  Painfully evident.  My biggest challenge viewing Voyager now is to remove the 18 intervening years of prejudice as well as a massively changed TV climate and scan the show anew.

Montagues & Capulets. And Neelix.

Voyager’s Premise

A quick and unnecessary recap shows that Voyager marked a further simplification of the Star Trek story. The five year mission had turned into the continuing mission which led to Starfleet’s incursions into the Gamma Quadrant and then led to a journey home.  The Voyages of, er, Voyager.  Not the Earth-threatening 20th century satellite but the latest ship in the fleet, carrying bio-neural circuitry, 42 photon torpedoes and the unexpected weight of a 75 year journey back to Federation space with a skeleton crew of Montagues and Capulets. 

It sounds interesting.  More so perhaps than a space-station orbiting a ravaged planet of spiritual people.  As Voyager’s so utterly in line with the core exploration ideal of Star Trek, it’s a shame that the comparison with Deep Space Nine necessarily comes up.  The first two seasons of that second sequel were hardly classics.  In fact, of all the Star Trek shows, only The Original Series has any claim to hitting the ground running.  But at Voyager’s launch, while Deep Space Nine was starting to forge forward with genuine originality that would not only lay the path for Battlestar Galactica and all manner of other arc shows but also inadvertently undo the grip of star ship shows on American TV, Voyager was moving in the opposite direction.  And that perversely is at odds with the format of that long journey home.

The ingredients were all there.  The separation from the Federation, a whole new quadrant almost entirely untouched and that single minded quest to return home.  One of the greatest one-sheet pitches in Trek history surely?  Deep Space Nine got stick for its anti-exploration agenda, but DS9 personnel could disappear for months infiltrating the Orion Syndicate or taking shore leave on Earth.  Not on Voyager.  On that starship there were two nuanced enemies forced to work together to find a way home against adversity. 

The Star Trek Mould

The problem is that didn't quite work out that way.  Perhaps the myth of Star Trek was too great.  There’s almost a sense that it had the potential to rock the Star Trek ship too much.  Perhaps it was a natural response to Deep Space Nine’s early criticism, perhaps a sign that too many Star Trek stalwarts were involved, perhaps that too much rested on it as a launch show on the brand new United Paramount Network.  The show should have had more confidence to break the mould for its own dramatic good.

The under-exploration of the Maquis rabble suddenly forced into Starfleet uniforms was a major criticism levelled at the show when it premiered.  Another case of over promising in pre-publicity, it’s up there with Doctor Who promising every Dalek ever in a season premiere...  At the time I thought that Voyager had pursued diversity at all costs, but I was wrong.  There was nothing especially wrong with that differentiation from previous shows.  Yes, the Captain was female, the First Officer a Native American, the Helmsman a criminal, the Security officer a full Vulcan but it wasn't the diversity that was the issue.  The problem was the show's failure to confront and use that inherent diversity. 
"We're all in this together": State of Flux

Why have the Maquis aboard if you are not going to use them as the main fuel?  Maquis issues had virtually dissipated by the end of the pilot and the unfortunate mantra “We’re all in this together” (State of Flux) became a watch phrase for that under-explored dynamic.  But it wasn't just the crew dynamics that were scuppered by the Star Trek mould.

The Voyager Sigh

Failing to adhere to a clear and direct mission, the Voyager ‘sigh’ quickly developed.  That’s the sigh that came whenever an episode began with a variation of “We've taken a diversion from our journey home to...”.   With just the slightest of pretences, too many stories of the first series are ones that could have featured in any Star Trek show.  It’s an issue that Deep Space Nine soon found a release from thanks to interesting arcs and the benefits of its static soap-style locale. In Season One, Voyager barely took its finger off the episode reset button.  Each week, despite tackling profound issues that could have carried serious weight, there was little arc implication.  As the series progressed, it was easy to forget that the ship was speeding along in one direction as the journey often felt arbitrary in a format that gave it little concession. 

This wasn’t just The Next Generation's early, harmless rip-offs of The Original Series shows like The Naked Time, but a horrid mix of limited danger and repetition.  Within three episodes you had seen two incidents of multiple USS Voyagers and several rather dull discussions about contravention of the Prime Directive.  Incidents like this, possibly poor scheduling, perpetuated the idea that Voyager lacked ideas, but the main problem was they diluted the purity of its central story.  Instead of creating danger, Voyager’s mission decreased it.  While the Prime Directive seemed pointless from the beginning, the brig is constantly dismissed as a luxury.  All in all, that court martial is a long way off. 

Janeway's disciplinary technique meets the Voyager 'Sigh'
Of course, Voyager delved into the Holodeck, choosing to move away from Deep Space Nine‘s questionable suites to holonovels.  While I’m mindful that the season split doesn't help, it looks half-developed.  In the last episode of Season 1, Janeway’s struggle as a governess in her holodeck has clear parallels with Tuvok’s later tackling of the Maquis – but these aren't drawn out.  Future seasons would touch back on the brig, holonovels and the Prime Directive, but here I’m only looking at the season that surfaced in 1995.  While Batman was simplifying on the big screen, Star Trek simplified on the small screen.  

As with any Star Trek series, Voyager must be judged on the strength of its characters, cast and plots.

In part two of this retrospective, I’ll look at those elements as well as what went right and what went wrong...

Matt Goddard is a spectacularly accomplished writer, providing articles for the UK's Daily Mirror newspaper and in particular two pieces relating to the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness earlier this year which can be found here and here. If you want you can follow his thoughts and meanderings on Twitter as @JokerMatt

You can read Part Two right now by following this handy link

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Starfinder: Darkest Star

While the second episode of Star Trek: Starfinder has been delayed you might think that her creators have been resting on their laurels, twiddling thumbs and generally not doing a lot.

Yeah, I didn't think that either because as we hit the 47th Anniversary of Star Trek's first airing back in 1966, these guys have launched a graphic novel. 

Now I only found out about this very recently and was very surprised to find that this was another avenue that they were pursuing. It's not what I expected and I had been wondering what all the CGI I was coming across was all about. Now I understand but perhaps it's better if the man behind this new addition to the Starfinder story explains it in his own words:

"The decision to create graphic novels for Starfinder is not a new one. I actually discussed this idea back when the pilot episode first aired.

We are also behind on episode two by several months. albeit unintentionally, such is the dilemma of any fan production that has volunteer crew who have real life priorities to contend with first.

We have episode two and three simultaneously being developed as I partnered up with Busy lil Beavers productions, a new company that has several Star Trek podcasts under it's wing. They have helped to take up some of the slack and help produce episode three at the same time we are finishing episode two, so once the wait is over there will be a back to back content explosion!

I went to school for 3D media after picking a lot of it up on my own, and have written comic stories with the tools privately for a few years. One of the first ideas I had was taking some of the backstory in Starfinder and creating a prequel graphic novel which was inspired no less by those produced as prequels for both of the recent JJ Abrams Star Trek films entitled Countdown and Countdown to Darkness from IDW.

So the first graphic novel is called Darkest Star and is a prequel set 25 years prior to the Starfinder pilot The Back of Beyond. It takes place during the days leading up to the explosion of the Hobus star and the destruction of the Romulan homeworld as featured in 2009's Star Trek movie...."


The USS Paragon, a Sovereign Class starship commanded by Captain Michael Woods, is ordered to escort a heavily pregnant Romulan Ambassador to Earth for a vital conference with the Federation council.

As a romance blossoms between the captain and the ambassador, a mysterious prototype Romulan warbird called the Dark Star commanded by a Tal Shiar officer named Sub-Commander Synn, is tailing them, disruptors and torpedoes locked and ready.

Their mission is about to take an unexpected detour as the Dark Star is under orders not to allow the ambassador to reach Earth, no matter what the cost.

Now it's fair to say that this is not a multi-layered story that gets exceptionally detailed and criss-crosses across time and space, messing with every sense you have. Darkest Star plays it straight, leaving the reader with an absolute understanding of what is going on from start to finish in the first part briefly synopsed above.

Focusing on the captain's relationship with the Romulan ambassador while they are being stalked by the warbird it's a valiant first effort by the hands at the helm of the Starfinder project and ensures that we know it's still out there while the next two episodes are produced.

What I would say is that events do seem to take place at a breakneck speed especially the aforementioned relationship. Now I like a good pace and there's no doubt of that here but perhaps it could have been played out a little longer than dinner and a lie down. Seeing it grow during the mission might have been a more Star Trek-like way of doing things but wait - that's not necessarily the best way or indeed that it was intended. Hey, keeping the pace keeps the interest.

After all, there have been other shifts in the universe in the last few years and perhaps this is a great way to get some more modern "perspectives" on the human condition that Roddenberry so fervently believed in.

Certainly Starfinder has faced a barrage of comments over its portrayal of the same-sex relationship featured within this story and for that it should be congratulated. While it's not the only Star Trek tale to tackle this subject the point that it exists within the narrative indicates that there is room for everyone within this universe.

George worked solely on this project and would probably note that his work has come a long way since he first drew a frame for the comic and I'll try and get him to drop a piece together to discuss the creation in more detail (some making of images would be great) but let's look more at the finished creation.

There are two ships in the picture here - the Paragon and the mysterious Romulan craft shadowing them and nor is the narrative or panels overloaded with too many characters from the off. Now there is a lot of set up here which will hopefully tail nicely into the second installment of this prequel but I would have liked to have learned more about the characters we meet as I feel that, to some degree we are very focused on the actions taking place but don't get to know these individuals which I, personally, would have welcomed.

Looking at this from a visual point of view you can see that there's been a lot of effort set into the production. Sets such as the bridge, quarters and transporter room have all been recreated as well as the introduction of a new Romulan vessel. The characters themselves are a little basic however it allows a lot of room for maneuver and improvement going forward. I might also add that the speech bubbles in some of the panels do take up a bit more room than I might have liked but that's a personal opinion!

Importantly the knowledge of the subject matter is there in the style of the characters' dress as well as some of the items discussed. Also, with the cast kept to a minimum there are some nice asides which show the potential for the development of the crew's relationships which are constrained by the format which doesn't allow for as much maneuver as perhaps a written novel or Starfinder's audio adventures. However, I do want to see where this goes. Comparing the development work and each step will be a great journey to observe and enjoy.

Now originally I had intended to halt the piece there, exude my excitement at the temptation of part two and ask George for some more info to raise an eyebrow or two. However, that won't happen because I've managed to get a sneak preview of that second installment already....

Part Two 

Continues Starfinder creator George: "The second one in the works, which already has a good portion of it's rendering done in advance, takes us to the present with the Starfinder crew and is titled The Last Preserver."

Deep within the outback, Starfinder makes a startling discovery. A temporal maelstrom contains within, a life pod, amidst debris from a ship thousands upon thousands of years old, all preserved by the temporal anomaly.

Bringing it on board, they are shocked to find an alien child..not just any child, but the DNA match for the ancient race known as The Preservers.

Now, as the crew try to unlock the mystery and help the awakened child cope, the ship comes under attack by parties who want their new passenger for themselves...

Now this really hits the mark. I LOVED the second part and it seemed to make a quantum leap in quality from the first part. While that segment chopped and moved quickly this focuses on an event as the Paragon comes under attack. It's full of action, danger and loss which makes it stand out against the first episode. That stayed clear of action and just expressed set up but if this is just a taste of where Darkest Star is going I'm certainly going to be following intently.

There are more characters and situations introduced here including the single sex relationship between the chief engineer and the ship's counselor. While not blatantly examined it's certainly hinted at and is almost a "C" plotline behind the action taking place between the Paragon bridge and the Romulans stalking the starship.

There's certainly a lot more tension bubbling in the second part and the quicker pace seems to suit the style of the story making it feel a lot more natural to read and flow through. In fact it helps make some sense of the threads left dangling from the first installment. Perhaps those few extra frames have helped bring out the characters a little more. While I find this single sex relationship intriguing I'm still not totally convinced by the romance between Ambassador T'Lana and Captain Woods that erupted in Part One. It still seems frighteningly quick even though this is how it was intended.

Luckily the focus in the second part sticks Woods in the centre of the action and George manages to weave in some external action shots as well as keeping us on the bridge as the situation evolves. Again the narrative remains fairly straight forward so don't expect too much in the way of anecdotes or side remarks beyond the structure of the story. This is 75% aiming at action and is definitely aiming in the right direction. What of the other 25%? Character. Namely the Woods/T'Lana pairing and the captain's opposite number and her first officer on the Romulan ship. It's a good mirror (whether intended or not) but I would heed that future episodes could do with developing characters in other ways perhaps away from pairings of a romantic leaning. Let's find out about these guys' backgrounds, what drives them and even what means Woods jumps at the chance to bed a Romulan ambassador!

The story is certainly in another gear for the second part and by adding some more background characters you can see that there is a great deal of opportunity to dive off into different directions and storylines which, I would imagine, might provide a chunk of background and origins for the main Starfinder project.  I would hope that with the second and third installments of that series we'll see some references to this visual novel which will start to grow the history of the characters and the ship.

While there is still a lot of work to do here, it's a great start to the novel and to the Starfinder story. Seeing the suggestions of peers and changes being made to improve the material makes this and its creator very accessible. This in turn makes it a wonderful thing to follow as a fan. It's made by someone who loves the franchise but still wants to add his own mark onto a new angle of the tale.

There's a lot more to come from this stable I'm certain and I hope that Some Kind of Star Trek will be there to see the different facets of this potentially rich aspect of the Star Trek universe bloom. 

You can download the first part of the graphic novel, Darkest Star, now HERE . Also be sure to check out the full Star Trek: Starfinder site to learn about the whole series and more. They can also be found on Facebook.