Thursday, 31 October 2013

Eaglemoss: Now Voyager

The sleek lines of USS Voyager await this time with the sixth issue of Eaglemoss' Official Starships Collection. Let's see how many cliches about "coming home" or "returning to the Alpha Quadrant" we can avoid...erm...whoops....

With the arrival of Voyager to the series we can now recreate those epic moments from the title sequence of the Intrepid Class ship soaring past planets and through clouds. Just wish I could stick on blue alert or swoosh her through a nebula in search of some coffee. I can dream. I can, please?!.

This more compact ship isn't top of my list on design but it is one of the series' flagships and as such is an essential in this production. There's no aztec paint scheme this time with a straight coat of grey/blue dotted with raised lifeboat hatches, phaser strips, thrusters and registry markings to complete the effect.

As a ship it's well presented and painted. There's no nacelle warp-speed-limit defying movement (due to keeping costs down) but this won't put fans off. She looks great - if basic - and this model really does display Voyager's smooth looks. That's one of the big benefits of this Eaglemoss series; seeing pictures, plans and CGI images over the years is all well and good but getting one of the starships into your hands gives you a much better understanding of them from all angles.

I actually think Voyager is a classy looker however I'm a bit put off by the fact that none of the windows are painted in (at least a coat of blue?) even though the recesses are there for all to see. In some instances such as the hatches they are there but not well defined. Some of the sensor palettes around the primary hull aren't painted in nor is the forward docking port marked. The images in the magazine do belay a few minor points that haven't translated across to the miniature here and the more you look the more you do notice inconsistencies; a shame after such great work on the windows of the Enterprise-D and the hull patterning of the NX-01.

The majority of the model (primary hull and top of the secondary hull) is recreated in metal with the lower hull and engines in plastic. The machining on Voyager is precise and the painting "in the lines" which does show the care and attention is continuing in this range. I hope that it does as a reduction in quality would detract from what Eaglemoss are attempting. It's well weighted too and in difference to the Romulan Warbird from Issue Five the ship's balance keeps it firmly in place on the display stand even though it's anchored from the back.

So to the magazine and it's another winner in my opinion even if it is due to one storming feature. There's an initial run through of the Voyager story from her kidnap by the Caretaker through to the ship's return to Earth in Endgame. There are some wonderful images collected here including stills of the Delta Flyer, the lifeboats leaving the hull in The Year of Hell and the series finale. The thing is that when you turn the page for the special feature, you can't help but be surprised and impressed.

The AeroShuttle is Voyager's equivalent of the never seen Enterprise-D Captain's yacht. The runabout-size ship is a neat little addition to the starship and in some ways its absence makes it even more desirable and welcomed as a feature in the magazine. Thanks, Eaglemoss, great to see the launch sequence detailed too that had been worked out if it were ever to be used. 

Voyager's design process is much more of a journey than we saw with Picard's starship in Issue One. Rick Sternbach's drawings of the evolution are great to pour over. The last time I saw anything about these was in the 1995 book Where No One Has Gone Before and that was only the "almost" image that opens this section. Seeing the other possibilities and discarded concepts adds a lot of depth to the Real World Voyager story. The design did go through a lot of phases, even becoming apparently over-complicated before slimming down to the dart-style offering that made the show. 

I had forgotten that Voyager was the last major Star Trek vessel to be built as a physical model and in it's final couple of seasons transferred to a computer generated version. Interestingly the CG model had to be corrected due to file corruptions. This meant that during the correction process the ship could receive some digital upgrades to be more like the original model. 

Rounding off are the on screen highlights and it's a good selection this time for the Janeway-commanded starship. It does seem, once again, that it could have done with a whole load more pages to flesh out the background, the upgrades made during the show or even a run through of the landing procedure. There's a lot that could have been covered. While the pages on the AeroShuttle are of benefit and not what you might assume would be included, Voyager does seem short-changed on detail both in print and on the model.

In conclusion it's an "OK" model in the series but certainly not the jewel in the crown to this point. The reproduction isn't bad in any form but it's perhaps not the 100% accurate starship we have been promised in all the promo materials. The minor omissions do make a difference although it's a great piece for the series. For me I'm keeping fingers crossed that Defiant is a better example.

Next in line before then is the K'T'Inga Battlecruiser which I really am looking forward to and will complement the refit NCC-1701 from Issue Two as both are featured in The Motion Picture. As a side note here, the retailer I purchased this from was surprised they were still stocking the magazine after six issues - a sign that it's been a success or are we going to be having trouble locating future editions? 

And Finally... I was looking for a reference to the only other Intrepid Class starship featured in the Star Trek universe in this edition but there wasn't a one....can you remember what it was called and where we saw her...?

Issue Six is now available and you can also subscribe to the collection here.

Some Kind of Star Trek is now available on Facebook - why not like us there for some extra pics, questions and discussion?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures

My last encounter with Enterprise as a series was the final episode back in 2005 and that was, as we will all remember, less than stellar.

So this latest Enterprise novel from the halls of Simon and Schuster is something of a voyage into the unknown. A lot seems to have happened since the final episode and in essence only the characters actually align this to the show in any manner. So be warned there might be SPOILERS as we open the pages and read on...

There is no Enterprise and for me the whole nature of the show was about those first exploratory steps and initial technological advances. It's a difficult concept to grasp but in some respects it is honouring the memory of the short-lived series by expanding the story into the evolution of the Federation.

In A Choice of Futures things have moved on and the beginnings of the Federation are starting to evolve but as always there are some dark nasties looking to cause trouble from the wings and disrupt everything. Our familiars from the series have all moved on, whether into command of other starships or more senior positions at least. Even dead ones seem to have, as seems to be the trend with Star Trek, the ability to return from beyond the grave.

I have two differing opinions on this novel. One says to me that Enterprise novels should be confined to the arc of the series but in another heartbeat I know that moving events forward in time and defining the galaxy of the 23rd and 24th Centuries. What we get is kind of a mix up of lots of things and at the end of it not a lot to show. 

I spent a great deal of the first 200 pages not really getting where this was going. There were some nice chats about promotions, lots of talking about what they might do, some chats about relationships, a few words about an enemy called the "Mutes", a bit of eating and two thirds of the book seemed to have drifted by. I was not impressed and I got the sense that there was a lot of filler here. Most of the focus is on Archer, T'Pol and Reed with Sato and Mayweather filling out the background. For a lot of the time they are barely more than bit parts which is a shame but reflects exactly how they were in Enterprise.

Don't get me wrong, Christopher L Bennett tries to make this interesting but it's as though he's not got a lot to work with and fills out the novel with lots of nice little character bits but no serious, hard-hitting stuff until much later but the problem is that by that stage I really didn't care. I was looking forward to getting into this book BUT the problem is that it's all buildup with a group of characters that just don't seem to lift off the page and do anything vaguely interesting.

Archer for one seems totally neutered as an admiral, spending time hoping around between ships and the Federation Council playing mediator. Sitting on that very council is Enterprise guest-star favourite Shran and his initial introduction belays that the character has chilled out since we saw him in the series. That in itself is a real shame as I would have hoped that this individual would have managed to light some kind of fire within this book and make it engaging. Sadly that's not the case and Shran spends a lot of time doing a lot of time sitting around...chatting.

The villain here in the form of the Mutes just don't get that threatening and I never really believe their case because the bulk of the book does what it does best - talks about them, builds them up and then leaves them in a position which can only make them something of a disappointment. Their reveal could have been great and pivotal to the plot but after dragging out the "action" for a long time I didn't care that much. Sorry; I just wasn't fussed.

Aside from the fact that Enterprise is missing the Enterprise in all but a few off-hand "oh yeah, this is based on that series" references the crew are just bland, even more so than many fans may regrettably recall from the series. Bringing Trip "back" from the dead might have seemed like a great idea somewhere along the line but it just adds a further insult to the injury that was These Are the Voyages.... While that might not have been the author's fault you do get the sense that he's had to work with it. Trip should have stayed dead because it only makes that error of a final episode even more horrid and his return feels apologetic - did we even need him to be in Section 31?!

OK, OK, it's pretty apparent that I am not giving this book a good review but there are some great redeeming points within the pages that are worth finding through all the misjudgements and stilted pacing. Bennett works a treat in around the transporter systems and their potential dangers. It's a great notion and something that only a couple of characters (McCoy and Pulaski) ever really hint at. Here those concerns are met and covered; the only thing is it's thought another one of Those Chats that litter this publication. 

Nicely for those who like a good bit of continuity we also get to meet one of the former Dax hosts, Tobin who is working on a project for the Federation of, without doubt, the utmost importance. It's a nice nod to the franchise and Deep Space Nine in particular which I would never have expected to be referenced in an Enterprise novel. There are more nods to the Kir'Shara, the Xindi and even, oddly at a time when I've just discovered a show is being made about Garth of Izar, Axanar which played such a pivotal role in his life and career (here's the link to their Facebook page)

Perhaps though a highlight of the book and one that did stick with me throughout was a section dealt with starship design and why the Federation would be going along the lines of Earth's ships rather than those of the Vulcans or the Andorians. It's a decent answer and I'll give that one to Christopher L Bennett, it's a question that I'd never asked but when it was proposed here it did make me think. The reasoning is particularly nicely explained. I also did like the way in which one story strand brought back the USS Essex and Captain Bryce Shumar who were featured in The Next Generation's Power Play. I didn't expect their addition so it was a nice diversion in the plot. The challenge with these s well as the extra crew involved on the Endeavour and the Pioneer is that they aren't the main cast and as such their relationships and input into the story just don't excite. Sorry, but while it does feel like they are essential to the story their personalities are a little on the flat side.

In the last year I've read a lot of Star Trek novels for SKoST and this has to be bottom of the pile by some distance. It would even make me reconsider reviewing any more Enterprise novels in the future. The recent Eaglemoss release of the NX-01 relit my interest in this much maligned spawn of Star Trek and when I come to rewatching the series in some months time I hope that time has been kind and that A Choice of Futures isn't how it was back in the day.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Special Delivery: Eaglemoss Gives Us Nine

We have infiltrated the deepest depths of Eaglemoss and can reveal some exclusive news just ahead of the official announcement itself...

The first of the special edition Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection is a lot closer to release than you might think. In fact, it's coming on November 28th 2013 and it's focusing on Deep Space Nine.

This is a little earlier than we were expecting and will be out on the same day as Issue Eight, USS Excelsior. This could mean parting with some serious cash on that day as we can also confirm that the first of the specials will be priced at £18.99 (wow - that's blown my budget) off the shelf and £17.99 for subscribers. 

Thanks to our friends at Eaglemoss we have a couple of great images of the space station for our readers and it looks awesome. The detail really makes her stand out and that could just push me into buying the first of these additional issues. 

As we always say, we would prefer to see the end result before drawing any conclusions as to just how good the final model is but it's definitely a date we're marking on the SKoST calendar. As well as the model shots, we've got the final version of the cover for the magazine to show you into the bargain. It's a nice shot and better than previous interpretations we've seen. Just one question, Eaglemoss - what's the second special going to look at?!

Things seem to be going extremely well with this series but there are a couple of bits that might be worth considering - updating the website now we're six issues in to give a few hints of what's ahead. Also the local stockist search tool is not accurate at all. The top four places close to home when I drop my postcode on don;t stock the magazine. That's a big shame.

Anyway...just a couple of observations there.

The Star Trek Starships team have also been working hard on their Facebook page with the #StarTrekMoments competition. The first week's challennge - to recreate a moment from The Original Series episode The Enemy Within is open until October 28th and can be found here. There's a whole load of prizes to be won including subscriptions to the collection, the USS Enterprise technical manual and posters.

Entrants need to recreate a chosen moment in 15 seconds via Instagram and submit before the closing date. It's a novel idea and kudos to whoever thoughts of this one. I have to admit I've not submitted an entry yet but then that's just because I haven't channelled my internal Laurence Olivier yet...(!) 

As an additional pic, the Facebook team also dropped a couple of shots of the Bajoran Solar Sailor prototype out there. If you'll recall from the preview page that's hidden deep in the Eaglemoss website it's one of the few where there isn't an image of the ship in question. From memory it was a totally CGI creation for Explorers in Deep Space Nine (full circle blog piece here!) and looks very, very different to the rest of the collection.

I've included the four shots below for reference if you missed them.

The fifth edition of the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection is available now and you can find out more by visiting the official website. Issue six, USS Voyager is out and here's our review.

Some Kind of Star Trek is now available on Facebook - why not like us there for some extra pics, questions and discussion?

Thanks also to Eaglemoss for their assistance in the production of this blog article.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

It Is the Unknown that Defines Our Existence: Why "Emissary" is Star Trek's Greatest Pilot

Twenty years and nine months have passed since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered in January 1993 and for me it remains the definitive series of the franchise.

Deep Space Nine is my favourite of all the Star Trek series even though during those unsteady first season episodes I even considered walking away. I can say now that I'm glad I didn't and this rewatch is something I have been gearing up to for a while. What better way to start (and none less obvious) than with the brilliant pilot episode.

Emissary is one of the reasons I stuck with the show. Watching it again I found it much more enjoyable and made even more sense. It had given me a totally different feeling about the Star Trek universe. Things were unusual, the characters darker, the setting bleak. A lot of the hope and prosperity from The Next Generation had been stripped away. I actually find Picard's appearance a bit of a drag now even though it does help the story along. Sisko getting all grumpy with him isn't a highlight and initially I really didn't like the guy. Who was he to stick two fingers up at Picard and hold that kind of a grudge? It wasn't Picard's fault he got assimilated! In another sense this is only a small indication of just how hardcore the station commander would get later on. For reference see anything after the introduction of the beard and shaved head.

For me, Deep Space Nine's first story is the best example of the Gene Roddenberry vision even though, ironically, it's probably the one that appears as far away from the origins and basis of the Great Bird's concept as possible. It ticks almost every box in the Big List of Star Trek Must Have's and even more so with the opening of so many recurring themes as we'll mention shortly. I think the only thing it doesn't have is a bare knuckle fistfight but hey, who would commission a series based on having one of those in the first episode?!

Star Trek was to be a show about the final frontier, exploration, the human condition, diverse characters, humanity's ability to put aside it's differences and in my opinion Deep Space Nine manages to do this in spades. But is it fair to say that Encounter at Farpoint or Caretaker do not fulfil the Star Trek "mission statement" as such? Probably not, but the space station based series really is right on the edge of the frontier - placing the "perfect world" of Starfleet into conflict with the Bajorans while also dumping the crew on the business end of an artificially created wormhole. 

Couple that with the fact that the crew are manning a Cardassian mining station not a Federation/Starfleet vessel with cutting edge technology and we can see how Roddenberry's vision is both highlighted and tested to the extreme. There is nowhere to hide and that comfortable, cuddly humanity is going to be in for a rough ride. Even Sisko's arrival and first meeting with Kira, his liasion and first officer is far from the warm handshakes of Encounter at Farpoint. 

Uniquely the wormhole and the Bajorans mean that Deep Space Nine has a head-on conflict with religion and the uniform from day one which none of the other shows even come close to attempting. Deep Space Nine was a true pioneer and while this theme was not overly popular it gave the series a heap of backstory, a lot of substance and a unique identity. Notably the first season is almost devoid religious aspects bar one or two episodes. 

Now add into that the way from Emissary to What You Leave Behind we are constantly reminded of Sisko's links to the Bajorans and their beliefs as the eponymous Emissary of the Prophets. Look at the other shows and aside from Picard acting as arbiter of succession to the Klingon Empire he is the only commanding officer who stands astride such a division of culture, acting as a distinct bridge from the comfort of Starfleet to the mystery of the Bajorans. 

As well as that, actions from Week A could affect Week B and Week C. There was continuity and questions that needed to be answered from the start but no doubt would take a long time to uncover - Odo's origins, the non-linear time wormhole aliens, the shadowy Cardassian Dukat, the Cardassian occupation and resource-stripping of Bajor; all elements that are introduced here and would play out across the show's 176 episodes. No other Star Trek series allowed events to echo through into other stories as they did here. Brilliantly this construction of the "world" of Deep Space Nine would not finish here. A lot of the subsequent episodes would run with themes suggested here and build even more story elements that would be loved for the next seven years.

Voyager's Caretaker is also about exploration of the unknown and the beginning of a physical journey for the crew, but the staff here are placed at a crossroads and a place and time that will change the very nature of the Alpha Quadrant and the Star Trek universe that we have known for over 25 years. Voyager's foes are far away in the Delta Quadrant but the new frontier for Sisko is right on his doorstep and will fundamentally alter the future of the galaxy in virtually every way possible, a thought not lost on Major Kira in Emissary. The danger is just a footstep away and boy, would it prove to be more than interesting. Enterprise was equally about the unknown but being a prequel we knew what those elements would turn out to be (perhaps with the exclusion of the Xindi and Suliban). Their unknowns formed the universe that Deep Space Nine would rip apart at the very core.

Roddenberry's vision was, of course, to show that humanity could come together, cast aside its differences and work to better itself through exploration of the stars - perhaps moreso the human condition. It's almost as if you had held a mirror up to The Next Generation and done everything as opposite as possible to amplify the very reason for Deep Space Nine's existence. Even the guy at the top, only a commander here not a captain, doesn't want to stick around. There's not a lot of hope and the start out here is the attempt to rise from the ashes and start afresh.

Look back at Encounter at Farpoint and also to Enterprise where they are at the cutting edge of technology and knowledge. For them in their respective timeframes there is nothing better, they are the explorers heading out on new adventures and to final frontiers tooled up for the job in hamd but here that frontier is initially nothing new and nor is it particularly desirable. The equipment itself is substandard even for the environment we are greeted with in Emissary svae nothing of what would come later. For reference it would take until The Way of the Warrior for there to be any major improvements - and an additional Klingon. Maybe that's actually a strong point about the pilot. It's the unexpected. We don't see Sisko as being someone who will be cold to Picard. We expect everything to be cool, sleek and fully functional, we expect the crew to all get on and be reading from the same hymn sheet. Well, they aren't.

While the Enterprise-D had families on board, here on Deep Space Nine it's families and alien races that could change daily with the coming and going of ships at this vital Federation outpost. You get the feeling that Picard might even be a little jealous when he leaves at the end of the pilot. Nothing is the same from day to day and even more significant  these guys can't just fly off and leave whatever incident they've just managed to contain. It will always be on their doorstep be it a passing Kai or a suspicious Cardassian Gul.

What I really like is that Sisko is placed into a situation where he has to justify humanity and his own existence. Now, yes, if we look back at Where No Man Has Gone Before and certainly to the Q storyline from Encounter at Farpoint, this point is there. The man who is a god in the former becomes "better" than human while Q places Picard's crew on trial as representatives of a "savage child-like race" but with Deep Space Nine it is about choice, the element of the unknown which is what life is about as well as the very nature of exploration; it is the unknown, says Sisko, that defines our existence.

Here there is true exploration and what marks this against the previous two shows is the addition of a foreign power into the mix. It's a first that, to some degree would also appear in Voyager with the inclusion of the Maquis. Deep Space Nine just hits a bigger target as the Bajoran militia and Odo have never had any experience of Starfleet. They are truly stepping into unknown waters. The nature of the mission to bring Bajor into the Federation might underpin the series from this point but it takes a backseat to the wormhole in every respect here. 

In another sense Deep Space Nine really hit the ground running in relation to the cast and their abilities. In Encounter at Farpoint it is very hard not to feel uneasy with Picard's bark and stern nature or the cringeworthy Troi. Mulgrew in Caretaker took some serious getting used to - maybe one or two seasons - and in Enterprise everything felt a little untested and uncertain. Here in Emissary I don't think there's a bad performance across the board. OK, there are some makeup issues in relation to Odo and Quark has the wrong nose but these are resolved in the first year. Nothing requires serious adjustment and it truly develops and flourishes from this point.

Now I'm off to hit the first season. I think it's been a good 10 to 15 years since I've watched most of them and undoubtedly my opinion should/will have changed. It's time to take a trip to the New Frontier.....

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

These Are The Voyages: The Original Series Season One

I've read a lot of Star Trek not only since I started SKoST but for quite some years and I've never encountered a book that comes close to this.

NB: Article updated 23/6/14

Within the archives I have well thumbed copies of The Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield, the Star Trek Compendium and the encyclopedia but a recent publication has eclipsed everything before it; These are the Voyages.

Charting the evolution of The Original Series from the spark in Gene Roddenberry's mind to the two pilots and then through to Operation: Annihilate! your first thought will probably be "Oh no not again..." but I can assure you that this will be one of those books that in years to come is reverred as one of the ultimate reference guides to Star Trek.

But why can I make such a grandiose claim so early into a review? Why would I want to stick my neck out at this point? Because it's true. I actually have to confess that due to other commitments I was unable to read this when it arrived in the post and have only recently been able to sit and digest its considerable content. My, was I silly for letting it sit around for so long unread.

Now going back to the early 1980's, These Are the Voyages was originally intended as a TV special which was cut in favour of Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek Memories following the release of that "minor" movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (you might have heard of it....). I'm frankly glad that it didn't and 31 years later we get to see this publication out for sale.

This is the ultimate story of The Original Series and I would dare anything to try and come close. It's not just a simple episode guide for the first batch of classic episodes; it's the heart and soul of the show, the producers, the stars and Gene Roddenberry laid out for all to experience. It's almost the day to day evolution of every Star Trek episode from concept through to aired version.

So what's the content? What makes this different to Whitfield's work or the Compendium? Why should you buy it? Simply, it's the Absolute Final Word on The Original Series. Not sure? Well, read on.

In the Beginning...

The opening sections detailing Gene Roddenberry's life story and the initial origins of the show have been walked many times before in historical and legendary context but there are still one or two titbits of information hidden that will add themselves to your knowledge of the series. It's exceptionally well written and you can feel the slog that it took to bring Star Trek  to the TV - twice. 

That's only a small part of the story here though. Each episode following The Cage is split into sections detailing different aspects of the stories. The refresh of the plot is minimal - for once - and for the uninitiated this is great. Even better is that these synopses are from TV Guide in the 1960's from the original listings or NBC press releases. Good move. These inturn are fleshed out by the author but I'm not sure this was an absolute necessity. Anyway...

I suspect that 95% of readers however will be life-long or hardcore fans with an interest in the show's background and it's multiple shades. Author Marc Cushman has painstakingly delved into all the episodes of season one examining everything from the date of the first draft submission right through to the final wrap on stage, post-production and even into ratings figures.

It really is the ultimate guide and I can't wait until the undoubted season two and three volumes. I must make a small admission too at this point; I was reading another Star Trek novel at the time which will remain nameless and I just fancied reading a couple of pages of These Are the Voyages as an alternate for an hour however that hour turned into two...then three...and a week later I was still hammering through the pages - it really is that good. Period. It is now excessively thumbed and has pride of place amongst The Library.

All Aspects

Nothing is left undisturbed; each episode receives a series of soundbites and an author's assessment of the show before getting into the mechanics of the show and examining the anatomy of each TV hour. The Story Behind the Story examines the path to the screen; the wranglings and constraints faced by Roddenberry and the producers especially after their budget blowing first pilot that ran away with the cheque book. 

Cushman takes memos and quotes from key personnel such as Bob Justman, Gene Coon and a plethora of others to explain how each show came about. For example, in Miri, Roddenberry asks for the children to have their own language developed after the script is initially turned in as well as adding more to the character of Spock who was becoming something of an audience draw. If you want to know the battles that took place to get elements taken out or added in then this is a great section for you. There's even notes which show the network's concerns on how alien attacks and other violent elements should be displayed to the audience. Some of these might seem tame now, but in 1966 what should and shouldn't be televised was very different; such as the animalistic nature of the evil Kirk in The Enemy Within in relation to the almost-rape scene that takes place.

This in turn gives way to Pre-Production, Production Diary and Post-Production and then to information about the release of the episode accompanied by never-before-seen ratings as well as some great quirky asides in From the Mailbag as well as details on the fallout from episodes and their legacy in years to come. The immediate one for that last point comes from George Lucas remembering Clint Howard as Commander Balok in The Corbomite Maneuver!

What these sections give us is the "How". Before this production the majority of information focused on diagrams of sets and what we actually saw on the screen. Here Cushman gives REAL insight into the order in which episodes were shot, the difficulties faced day to day and how the show genuinely evolved. Indeed, The Galileo Seven obviously covers the whole matter of AMT's involvement in the creation of the recently restored shuttlecraft but what I didn;t know is how the crew of that ill-fated mission was formed and altered as well as how the incidents on the ship were used to keep the pace of the show going. Commissioner Ferris for instance wasn't part of it to begin with and Kirk was on the Galileo! Due to those 1960's budgets and effects, this book also manages to point out where things didn't go so well or look as good as they could and The Galileo Seven is a fine example to cite again - polystyrene rocks and bouncy spears anyone? Nobody's perfect and it's good to see that they were aware, even then, of a level of quality that should (if not always) be achieved.

That whole story of the story piece is my favourite aspect of each episode, uncovering what made it tick, why it ended up in the format it did - and that Gene Coon's Arena script was perhaps a little on the verge of plagiarism to begin with. Not that I would take away from the other areas. The story behind The City on the Edge of Forever is the largest here, giving a lengthy but still incredibly interesting layout of all the difficulties and tribulations that faced Roddenberry particularly around writer Harlan Ellison as well as the torturous rewrites it required to become the landmark episode that was made.

Pre-production mainly focuses on who was being cast in the guest roles each week and what they had previously been seen in. While not massively exciting it's not something that gets a lot of space elsewhere and it's interesting in a few cases how actors from this show criss-crossed paths in other guises over the years - and other Gene Roddenberry scripts.

In Sequence

The diary of production sets the filming into a certain period, relating events of the day (such as Walt Disney dying on the same day that filming began for Space Seed as well as detailing how long filming took for each scene, what days the bridge scenes were shot and in some respects where the budget was slapped. The Cage is a wealth of information on just how passionate Roddenberry was about his show; it went massively over budget and over on shooting schedule because of what was required, the limited set of stages to film and a variety of other issues including pigeons believe it or not.

Post-production creates an interesting tale too and is one aspect best viewed across the whole season. There are a lot of pieces here about the building of sets, models and the work that went into adding the "magic" if you will to the physical action that had been filmed on stage - but here we also learn how that season budget was being spent and frittered or soothingly massaged to ensure that there wasn't a Grand Canyon sized hole in the Desilu funds by the end of the first year. You can see how scripts were chopped to save funds and face by the time it came to Operation: Annihilate! or that bottle shows were always welcomed to save as many dollars as possible.

The Mailbox element is something I've not seen before in print, relating some of the fan mail that the studio received during transmission of the show. There's a lot of positive feedback that you would expect from studio executives and the public who were warming to the show as the included and surprisingly buoyant ratings show.

Oh - and I seem to have forgotten to mention the abundance of awesome photos that adorn more pages than not. A lot of them (and I mean A LOT) have rarely or never been seen before and just trawling through them is an activity in itself - publicity shots, candid snaps taken off camera, photos culled from off-cuts that never made it onto the screen - all can be found within these pages and just add another layer to the conclusion that in the future this will be the one series of books that will act as the last line of reference for The Original Series bar none. Sorry to all before but this just has everything covered from the first page right to the last. 

You're Still Reading..?

I cannot enthuse enough about this book as it's something that just keeps on giving. One reading might be cover to cover to assimilate as much as possible however in the future it's the ultimate reference point for "Wasn't that in...?" or "I'm sure that wasn't in the first draft...". I think I'll certainly see a few episodes in a slightly different light having ploughed through this in a lot less time than I imagined. I could cite examples continuously but the best advice I can give is to order a copy, find a quiet room (or buy some earplugs) and just read it.

Maybe even read an episode and then watch it - it doesn't matter apart from getting onto a site or visiting a shop that sells it...NOW. For once, this is a book where I'm not even attempting some form of balanced review. It's all good. Yes, it is a mighty 580 pages but it's 580 pages of 110% pure Star Trek gold that would be, well, illogical to miss. To date this is my absolutely number one favourite book on The Original Series. Cushman's (pictured below) style is very easy to understand and follow. It's not rocket science, it's not overly technical when it comes to filming or model work and that makes it accessible to all levels of fans whether they just want to understand more about what made the show tick.  What is apparent is that this guy loves the material and has amassed an incredible amount of research to make These Are the Voyages

From my perspective as a writer it's how that idea grew that intrigues me and I can be sure that for some filmmakers the order of shooting will be a highlight. It successfully caters for all in just about every way possible. It's the new reference bible for the series and this is only the first part of the trilogy. I can't wait for the next two to be published to complete my collection and further my knowledge of the show.

There will always be bits that we know but here there's something new, different and unseen on each and every page you turn. It's a Star Trek book you'll return to again and again and I certainly will be myself. I now feel like I know the true story; the real story; the FULL story perhaps, behind the creation of TV's greatest franchise. My one regret or niggle?  I just wish I'd read it earlier because it's probably the best Star Trek book ever written.

These are the Voyages Season One is available right now from Jacobs Brown Press by clicking HERE

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Saturday, 12 October 2013

A Splash of Targ Soup or Gagh Curry for Boxing Day?

This has to be one of, if not THE most, bizarre books ever to grace the printing presses at Simon and Schuster. 

Yes, I have noticed that it's not even November let alone December but I did ask pester the Better Half last week in the supermarket if we could have some mince pies (They're only £1 for six!) so Christmas isn't that far away at all. Indeed, present lists are already been typed (not written any more) up and emailed to Santa - but would this new tome be welcomed in your stocking?

First of all I would place your tongue firmly into the side of your cheek and allow it to remain there for a short time. A Very Klingon Khristmas is not a book to take seriously in any respect, galaxy or dimension; not even one rebooted by JJ Abrams.

So let's dive straight in. If you were expecting a  linear narrative story then I would halt you at the front cover. This is more Night Before Christmas than A Christmas Carol with a distinctly alien twist. It's a song rather than a story played for laughs from the first word.

Now for an admission - I read this through out loud the first time to my 21 month old son. He seemed to enjoy it so that's got to be a tick, right?

Under the guise of celebrating the birth of Kahless (replete with mek'leth) this is a journey into Klingon territory as never seen before or likely to see again. I would hasten to point out that you can't blow out a Jeffries tube and hark on about what is and isn't canon here. It's very obvious this is designed to be off-the-wall especially when there are references to Klingon Shakespeare and mulled blood wine thrown in amongst other things.

I think the big draw here is seeing how the familiar elements that we know of the Klingons are woven into the poetic narrative (but no bat'leths unfortunately). Even tribbles get a mention and will be waiting for naughty Klingon children on Khristmas morning. It really is as if every aspect of Christmas (with a C) is warped here with a Klingon touch. Carol singing, mistletoe, Khristmas dinner are all given the Qo'no'S treatment however my favourite part of it has to be reserved for Santa Qlas. 

Saint Nick gets a blanket makeover for the Klingon version (which we humans have clearly stolen) as you can see above. The concept for his sleigh and its "reindeer" is a great take on the story with the illustrations attached very well done. I do think they are a work of genius to be given the makeover we see here. Santa Qlas does have an odd (and maybe intentional) resemblance to the recently departed Michael Ansara. It only adds to a great feel and I would have liked to have seen maybe a thinly disguised Gowron, Worf or Martok dropped in here just for a nod to the audience.

There is a decidedly festive feel to the images (as you would expect) but the appearance of Klingons in Christmasy garb is a surprise whatever you were anticipating. Patrick Faricy has managed to capture the essence of this warrior race at their celebratory and cheery best...unusually....

While it all has that Star Trek spin, the pictures which accompany each verse of this tale from Paul Ruditis remind me of some of the more cliched, sickly sweet cards I might expect to see in the festive season. It's the more "romanticised" side to Christmas filled with oddly cheery and confused warriors tangling with twinkle lights in white and red striped battle armour. It also fits into that niche of the cheesy Christmas books that you start to see around that tell all the old, famous seasonal stories surrounded by snow and merriment. There's a lot of cheese here but it's in good measure to suit this most random of material.

Ok, this won't ever be lined up on your official reference shelf but it's certainly different and absolutely unexpected (even more than that Neelix Cookbook) and both Paul Ruditis and illustrator Patrick Faricy should be applauded for daring to even THINK of doing something as random as this book. My only concern is that some of Star Trek fandom might see this as barrel scraping rather than a quirky library addition intended to make a fast bit of cash rather than a novelty item.

It won't take you more than 15 minutes at best to read with a handful of pages only half of which have script on them. I would say it's appreciated the most if you speak it loud rather than say it in your head!

The jokes might not be that funny but if you understand the background material it will all make more than enough sense and raise a smile for being geniunely inventive nontheless. A Very Klingon Khristmas might not be at the top of Star Trek fans lists to find under the tree on December 25th but I would think it would make many a Trekkie happy as a quality stocking filler. I myself might choose to settle down with a little port or blood wine on Christmas Eve for a reading to the family....or YouTube....

A Very Klingon Khristmas is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £9.99 ISBN 9781476746807.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Trekollections V: Two Captains, Three Series

"I don't need to be lectured by you. I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was still in diapers."

I saw the trailer for Star Trek: Generations on The Big Breakfast, Channel 4 in the UK (Google it) back in mid-1994 just as The Next Generation was winding down on TV. It was the ultimate Star Trek fan moment - Kirk and Picard both on screen in the same movie at the same time; a visual torch-passing from one captain to the next. This was going to be the cinematic Star Trek moment of the decade, nay ever. The trailer had some random clips from The Next Generation episodes but the main clip was all about that now infamous horse-riding scene.

Back before the internet was the rumour mill it has become today, you had to rely on, amazingly, one to one communication, to find out anything about what was happening if it wasn't in the pages of TV Zone, Starburst or Starlog magazine. I was fortunate that Dad had a guy working for him who was a fan and a member of a club. The preview of the expected movie was pretty shocking - Data having sex with the Duras sisters, Kirk skydiving, the Enterprise-B, a mad scientist and oh...Kirk dies!!!!

Personal library photo
Big stuff. Luckily some of that came to pass, some of it got rewritten and some if it never happened. Back in the day some genius released the novel of the film before Star Trek: Generations arrived on the silver screen. Due to the late reshoots the novel had the original opening segment and the original ending (here, left). Now I really enjoyed the way it all played out in the book accompanied by some nice glossy photos from the adventure. Even though I effectively knew the plot inside out from fan-written news via Dad's work or from the magazine racks in the newsagents I still went to the cinema and enjoyed it. We can easily say it's not the best of the movies but I have a soft spot for it even if the Nexus makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Even at the age of 15 I knew it was a total bats-arse idea but hey, Kirk and Picard were in the same film!!!

I'd taken quite a liking to Star Trek literature and visits into Lincoln would inevitably end - or begin - with a trip into Ottakar's (now Waterstone's) bookshop on the High Street. I bought both Star Trek Memories and Star Trek Movie Memories from there at least and I would suspect that some of the books that arrived on birthdays and Christmases might have found their way off the shelves from the same shop. I really had got to saturation point around the time of Generations and if it had the words Star Trek on it, it was fair game.

At school Steven Bond and myself would indulge in conversations at break about what the film was going to be like and he was even lucky enough to get to see it on a preview night while I had to wait another week to see it - I was utterly jealous of course but there wasn't much I could do. As with Star Trek VI I saw it in Lincoln but at the recently built Odeon. It had been a week or so since theatrical release but there were still two audience members who turned up in full The Next Generation uniform. Kirk's reshot death was ok but someone seemed to have taken all the lights off the Enterprise bridge and stellar cartography had received one heck of a facelift. It wasn't the experience that I'd expected however there was still Deep Space Nine to fulfil my weekly desire for new Star Trek

That second season (1993 - 1994) lifted my spirits immensely. The stories seemed sharper; deeper, the characters were settled and being explored well. Necessary Evil showed how different the series could be and how it could use the past to develop its own personality. The Next Generation would never have attempted a three-part story to start the year and even more prominently the show embraced The Original Series more openly than the crew of the Enterprise-D had ever been allowed to. In the space of a handful of episodes we not only got the return of the three Klingons from the 60's series but our first trip back to the mirror universe since approximately the same time. Perhaps this was one of the early things which endeared me to this darker offspring - it wasn't afraid to try something and adjust it as events took hold. There seemed to be a bigger plan which would become more apparent at the end of the year with The Jem'Hadar. Oddly though I would see that finale after The Search

My video buying had of course moved from The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine. Volume 22 was the first one I bought for £12.99 from Boots in Sleaford. It was Crossover and The Collaborator and would be watched fairly regularly. The quality of the Deep Space Nine series was superb. Great individual character art, a quote from one of the episodes on the back and then a character biography inside. It was almost as interesting finding out what was featured on the box as it was seeing some new Star Trek. I bought two more volumes from season two which included The Maquis before The Search came out. Reading Starburst, TV Zone and the superior Dreamwatch, there was a big change for the new series as the station was getting a starship all of its own. For two years they'd had to manage with three piddly runabouts but this was a bad-ass out and out warship. The USS Defiant was nothing like we'd seen before and before we move on, there's an important moment in my personal Star Trek history I need to talk about. 

Picture the scene: It's a Saturday. I've been down to Woolworths and picked up volume 3.1 of Deep Space Nine. Actually, I didn't know it was out until I saw it on the shelf and there wasn't even a question as to whether or not it was going to be bought. CIC Video have made some changes to the cover art as well as the numbering system but that's no biggie. Looks pretty decent and it's been a while since my last video purchase.  I get myself home and settle down in front of the TV with Dad to watch the new two-part season opening episode. There's a catch-up from the end of season two (Last time on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine...) which is useful as we've both missed it (wow - they blew up a Galaxy-class starship?!). Dax has new hair, some Romulan had turned up to look after the Defiant's cloaking device, Odo's uniform is a bit different and there was a new security guy called Eddington hanging around. Ok.... Not too bad so far but nothing that's going to make me think this is more than average. Wouldn't you agree?

While I was enjoying Deep Space Nine to this point it I'd found it never hit the mark like The Next Generation consistently had (barring season five's soap opera period). I kept watching - then things changed. About 15 minutes in the Defiant came under attack from a couple of Jem'Hadar warships. Sisko took the ship to battle stations and ordered the crew to engage. With one word and ten seconds of screen time he changed my entire perception of the show and I was from that second onwards a converted Niner. 


What we all expected was little orangey-red phaser beams to shoot out and the Jem'Hadar ships to be disabled. This was Star Trek and it was about removing threat not blowing stuff up. What we got was a rapid fire Gatling-gun style onslaught like nothing we'd ever seen. This ship was cool. This series was different and I LOVED it. That was it, I was in raptures. This was the BEST Star Trek series ever. It was a great opener and the revelation around the Founders of the Dominion was sorted out a lot quicker than we expected which was a change so we could get on with the nitty gritty of the story a lot sooner without getting wrapped up in a "Who Are They?" story. 

Personal library photo
I also seem to think that it must have been around this time that I won my first Star Trek themed competition which was a copy of The Nitpicker's Guide for Next Generation Trekkers Volume Two. The first one had been a great read and funny at times with some thought-provoking points on the series as well as pointing out some absolute onscreen clangers. Author and fan Phil Farrand later produced a Deep Space Nine volume which covered everything from Emissary through to season four's cliffhanger, Broken Link as well as a book for Classic Series fans however neither of them ever managed to capture the nuances and individuality of the two The Next Generation editions. Phil, if you're reading, you made me watch the show in a very different light! I'd switched to Dreamwatch fairly recently after following the increasingly poor Star Trek magazine called The Final Frontier. It started well but rapidly got thinner and relied on poor quality images to sell copies. Expensive and rubbish by the end of it's short run.

School-wise I was now heading into two years of GCSE courses between 1994 and 1996. The workload was increasing and evenings were being taken over by mounds of paperwork, coursework, revision and the like. It wasn't getting any lighter I can tell you, even to the point where weekends were getting chunks devoured by essays for English or Technology diagrams. Since I had a zero-level social life it didn't really matter and any time that I did have left was devoted to catching up on Stat Trek news or watching a film or episode in a spare hour or two. Whatever hassles I was getting thrown at from school it was always eased by a bit of relaxation with the crew of an Enterprise. Now this might seem to be ultra-geeky but I managed to get myself a lunchtime job helping out in the school library during this time. It meant if I needed somewhere quite to go on lunches when I was "offduty" it was a suitable bolthole but also, importantly, there was a TV.

It wasn't connected to the main aerial so a bit of daytime telly was out of the question (fortunately) but it was hooked up to a video player. Star Trek:Generations made its way onto video sometime in mid to late 1995 and then only onto rental initially. Hard to imagine but there was a massive gap from its appearance in the cinema. Dad's work contact came in useful however as he did a seriously dodgy copy for me within days of it getting into rental shops and it was of excellent quality. This is where the library TV came in very handy.

Since this was the only copy in known existence (of course) Bondy wanted to watch it. Not willing to hand over the copy I brought it into school and over the course of a few lunchtimes we sat and watched the movie. Initially on Day One of the viewing there was myself, Bondy and a couple of our other friends who had "nothing better to do" than watch Star Trek: Generations. At the end of that lunch hour we were joined by a couple of the younger kids from the school Day Two began with our group plus a couple of hangers on...and, well, over the course of three days the viewing circle had expanded up to the point where people were having trouble getting to the shelves. We realised that there might be a secret audience within the school and over the next few weeks we would spend lunchtimes at the library TV showing a variety of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager episodes to the hungry crowd of Star Trek fans amassing from the lower school years. I still recall watching a group of 20 kids jump about a foot in the air at the "Barclay Spider" moment in Genesis. Sadly as we edged into 1996 this was curtailed severely with first up, our mock exams at the start of the year (just after Christmas believe it or not), then the full-blown GCSE exams in May and June. What we didn't realise at this time was what we'd started.

For those of you in the know, you'll have spotted my glaring(ish) omission. Star Trek: Voyager. While it's not the top of my choice list I still believe that it's a valuable asset to the Roddenberry universe. I first heard about the series in a clipping from Starburst magazine as the seventh season of The Next Generation was coming to an end. Judging from the clipping, which now resides in one of my well-thumbed Star Trek scrapbooks I might have been initially distracted by Borg Universe Riker's incredibly fake super-beard before getting to see what the plan was for the third spin-off. The crew as described were actually pretty spot on to what appeared on the screen just a few months later. The Next Generation finished in 1994 and Voyager premiered in 1995. Bondy was immediately a fan and preferred it over Deep Space Nine anyday. This "disagreement" over the better show was good for a lunchtime discussion and the odd bit of Star Trek related banter and didn't stop us from still lapping up any videos the other bought of the series or magazines we found that covered the latest news. I think it was much more fun looking up new information this way than a few taps of the keyboard and allowing the internet to work its magic. Bondy bought (the last I can remember) every volume of Voyager from the pilot through to at least when we left school in June 1998. For a lot of the time I was probably more up to date with this series than I was with my preferred Deep Space Nine.

That third season of Deep Space Nine was immense and it just got better and better. There were a few duffers but I was at the stage where I would be counting down to a VHS release. After The Search I bought Defiant and Fascination (3.5) if only to see Tom Riker in action (should've had a follow up to this episode) and then Past Tense which had both parts on one cassette. Watching the season was sporadic due to the restrictions of a 15/16 year old's cash flow and parental concern that I was spending too much time and money on Star Trek. Of course in my eyes I wasn't and wished they would just let me get on with it. I managed to get hold of just one more video that year, the finale of the season, The Adversary. I sent Mum to Tesco with some cash when she was doing the weekly shop and was probably waiting on the doorstep to get my hands on it. Impatiently I opened the box....and it was The Die is Cast and Explorers on the VHS label. 

The wonderful people of the supermarket world had failed to check what I'd bought (and so had Mum to be fair). Once the shopping was packed away I demanded a return to Tesco for the correct volume in the correct box (they had managed to give us the right case). Presenting the incorrect cassette it took the shop several attempts before they admitted defeat - and about an hour of wasted time. I was not happy especially after counting the days to see the last episode of the year. Mum demanded the store manager who promptly arrived and offered profuse apologies. He disappeared off following a detailed Trekker explanation of what was wrong and returned five minutes later with the correct tape and a refund. I'd secured £12.99 of Deep Space Nine for nothing. Definitely a result in my book.

Now Voyager does come under a lot of fire, most probably from Niners but even from the start it had some great and unique points that made it stand out and differ from its peers. The Doctor was a stoke of genius as a character, the ship's engines folded up, they were somewhere completely new and Caretaker was a great pilot episode (because they started from Deep Space Nine of course). However, Janeway's accent grated on me like nails on a blackboard and don't start me on Neelix, Over seven years I'd soften considerably mind and come to appreciate the show a lot more. When I get round to the full rewatch I'm certain it'll be a very different experience from 20 years ago. The first year of Voyager wasn't without incident however for the most part it was a bland affair with not much happening. It had similarities to Deep Space Nine's inaugural year with an alien of the week and little else to report...apart from the landing of the ship in the season-straddling The 37's (the only other video I bought from that year of Voyager). Now that was a great touch and I heard about it first through Dad. He came home from work one day and dropped that bomb over tea. Definite kudos was due at that time and like the Defiant opening fire in The Search, Part I, this was one of those series defining moments - but it didn't have anywhere near the same effect on my loyalties and got used sparingly over the following six series. At least it became something to look forward to and not relied on.

The year had much more to offer in Trekdom and I'll explain more next time but there were GCSE's always lurking in the background which meant my focus was elsewhere for a good deal of the time. There was also another challenge rearing its head that would align itself with my journey through Trekdom - girls. Surely I could combine the two without any troubles at all? How wrong can one person be....