Thursday, 30 January 2014

Phase II: Why Aren't You Watching?!

Hi, my name's Clive and I have an admission.

Star Trek: Phase II (nee New Voyages) is a revelation. The downside is that since it's arrival back in 2004 we've only been privy to nine (soon to be ten) episodes. But what a collection they have been so far.

The first thing is that until I saw Kitumba my knowledge of the series was purely based on what I read on the internet.  I'd never watched a single solitary minute. The poster for that episode enthralled me; there was hype, there were Klingons and it was one of the "lost" episodes proposed for the original Phase II show in the late 70's. I watched, I reviewed...and then I thought; OK, that was pretty impressive....what else have they done...?

"More than I thought" was the straight answer so let's rewind back and talk about what I believe to be the best online fan series created. Now I've had several conversations with +Carl Thomson and +Mark Thwaite telling, nay preaching...nay ordering them to watch at least one episode from start to finish. Truth be told I'm still waiting but maybe this post will spur them (or shame them!) into watching some Phase II. I believe I may have said something along the lines of:

"Have you seen Phase II?"
"Then ******* watch it!!!!"

So it's time to prove a point, to reinforce the facts and my argument. From the start then...

Back in the beginning Come What May and to some extent the subsequent In Harm's Way were a little out of focus, definitely fan-produced and reminded me more of 70's Blake's 7 rather than 60's Star Trek. James Cawley's Elvis hairdo sticks out like a sore thumb in the pilot but is mercifully laid to rest by the follow up. They're both fairly average and my attention dropped in and out. The pilot has it's moments with some cute little flash forward moments courtesy of the whirly alien effect and it's bouncy human companion. Now when I watched the first episode after having seen Kitumba I nearly went into cardiac arrest. Was this really the same show I'd reviewed? It seemed light years away but at that moment began a wonderful, somewhat unexpected journey but there were sparks of genius buried within that even I allowed myself to give a little nod and smile to.

So I successfully restarted my heart and ploughed on. While I have to admit the existence of Come What May it was In Harm's Way that really suggested the potential of the show. Bringing back the Guardian of Forever and introducing a substantially larger plot device sibling as well as drawing on Star Trek history with the inclusion of Pike and the crew from The Cage do work a treat. Not only is Phase II exploring the galaxy but also the rich Star Trek universe and history. Cawley, Quinn and Kelley as Kirk, Spock and McCoy are ok but you're always going to be raising comparisons; it's natural. The spark of Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley isn't quite there but these guys are very watchable together. If anything, Jeffrey Quinn does seem a bit young for Spock however the story is very engaging crossing time and space - and reminding me a little (by its conclusion) of the three Enterprise scene at the end of All Good Things....

The script from Doug Drexler and Erik Korngold is total fan immersion with all the references to classic episodes with unexpected cameos from William Windom as Commodore Decker, reprising his role from The Doomsday Machine and Barbara Luna. The latter is ok but Windom looks a little uncomfortable with his lines. A great shame as his return to Star Trek is a great moment that brings in a ton of continuity which is something that New Voyages/Phase II does manage with greater aplomb than The Original Series. More on that in a bit. Oh yes, and while we're mentioning the unexpected, what could be more so than a shuttlecraft in the garage of a suburban house?!

This episode truly drew me in more than the iffy pilot because there's so much going on and a ton of curve balls that make it super watchable. However, it keeps getting better.

The next two episodes could have done with a little more separation as they both deal with main cast members aging so that Walter Koenig and George Takei can guest star as Chekov and Sulu. Now I'm not complaining as it's great to see them back and appearing to thoroughly enjoy the experience. To Serve All My Days, penned by D C Fontana is a something sequel to The Deadly Years while The World Enough and Time offers something akin to Children of Time with a "future" Sulu storyline. The ending of the Chekov focused To Serve All My Days is bitter-sweet but effective and reminds the audience that Phase II does have some poetic licence to mess it up a bit and for good reason here. The Sulu show even did something that surprised me more than the ending of the preceding Chekov one; it set both the prologue and the epilogue in the future. Clearly not something that would have been possible in the 1960's but here it's a beautifully executed maneuver that even Picard would be proud of - and I'm glad of any excuse to see the Excelsior on screen. So it's a big tool just to get Takei into the Phase II universe (and Grace Lee Whitney) but it works and while we expect the reset it kind of makes sense to a degree. George looks totally engrossed playing a not-quite-Sulu Sulu and I'd happily watch this again and again. 

The show is almost a split for me - the stronger stories are certainly the later ones which also include several cast changes with new actors for Spock (Jeffrey Quinn to Ben Tolpin to Brandon Stacey), Chekhov (Andy Bray to Jonathan Zungre), Sulu (John Lim to J T Tepnapa) and Uhura (Juliette Irons to Kim Stinger) as well as the additions of Peter Kirk and Xon. While this may seem like bloating what was already a fairly sizable ensemble it does add a great deal of diversity and more varied character relationships. But that's not exactly what I'm stabbing a finger at here - the stories themselves keep getting better (with the blip of Enemy: Starfleet in the middle actually). 

Starting with Blood and Fire, passing through to The Child and into Kitumba is a masterful batch of lost Star Trek finally able to make it onto the screen. Gerrold's legendary story that touched on homosexuality gets expanded into a superbly acted, directed and written two part/move length story. Justice is truly served after such a long time and the bar just keeps finding it's being raised just a little more. It's no wonder the calibre of guest star that this show can get when you look at how innovative and boundary pushing Phase II has been. Not only are there those mentioned here, but add in Malachi Throne, Grace Lee Whitney, Eddie Paskey and John Winston to what is an exemplary mix. 

OK, so we would never have seen movie uniforms turn up in a flashforward back in the 1960's  (etc) but that's where this series is different. While it's in keeping with The Original Series it can think and act outside of that box with the benefit of 50 years experience. It draws on the known future, the inherited forward-story if you will and makes it even more watchable just to see what we "missed" and what could have been. I particularly like the way in which stories are continued across episodes (Ensign Kirk's loss from Blood and Fire for one or the returning villain Kargh) and, on a little nod to his role in the movies, Chekov making it as Head of Security and putting on a redshirt.

Newcomer to the show (at this point), Bobby Quinn Rice, has a big role to fill here as Peter Kirk and does an admirable job from start to finish. While he's not overly used for the subsequent stories (as with Xon), his presence is still felt in each. For me, his arrival marks a key change in the quality of Phase II. I hit Blood and Fire in one sitting. I was glued. We know why this never originally made it to screen but here, with an additional guest appearance from Denise Crosby it's wonderfully realised with some genuinely decent effects, dialogue and CGI to boot. This story has humanity, action, Klingons, blood worms, geniuinely surprising moments for a few characters and a starship load more to enjoy. A true top notch story that SHOULD have been made.

It does become apparent though, even in the double-length Blood and Fire that budget is restraining the show to the established ship sets with the occasional pop over to a Klingon bridge or sneaky away mission. All of the two-parter appears to be on starship sets however because of the quality you tend to only realise afterwards. It's not until Enemy: Starfleet that we get the real feel of an away mission complete with sandy camera filter. Saying that, the CGI also makes dramatic steps forward along the way from some not-too-bad shots at the start through to full blown battle scenes and fleets of Klingons by the time we reach Kitumba

Actually, I want to stick with Enemy: Starfleet for a moment. The title made this one anticipated episode and while there is a great story at the heart of it, I felt decidedly let down after the two-part juggernaut. The Eagle is a mighty piece of CGI but sadly it's let down by Barbara Luna in my humble opinion. Whether she meant to aim for a panto performance or not I can't say but it's just a little too much and does detract from the episode. Her appearance in In Harm's Way was nothing like the one she puts on here and the seduction scenes with Kirk are slightly toe-curling. Sorry, readers, but I just can't get excited about this one; probably the weakest of the latter half and maybe of the show thus far and I so wanted it to be the best one.

I can't however strike that at The Child. Now I had read a lot about taking it back to the original idea and making the show as it was meant to be -and they weren't joking. This eighth installment is unrecognisable to the "travesty" that introduced the shorter second season of The Next Generation. Itself a "lost" script from the original Phase II production it makes a heck of a lot more sense and praise has to go to both Anna Schnaitter as Lt Isel and Ayla Cordell who plays her rapidly aging daughter Irska. Their performances truly lift the show and make it an excellent example of how Star Trek could and should have been done. John Povill's story and direction show this story has been (no pun intended) his baby for a long time. Great to see a Deltan on the crew as a nod to Illia from The Motion Picture who was originally intended as the mother figure here.

My thoughts on Kitumba have already been well-documented but I honestly can't wait for The Holiest Thing. New Kirk, Carol Marcus...brilliant. It will also mean that John M Kelley is the only main cast member to be retained since the pilot in 2004 as James Cawley moves off screen to focus on the production of the series. I think for Brian Gross this will be a very hard act to follow. While there is the occasional glimpse of a facial movement or vocal intonation that reminds us of Shatner, Cawley has set out his own portrayal of Kirk admirably - even if there was that hint of Elvis at the beginning! Let's also not forget two other long serving cast members. I've been a little harsh on Charles Root's accent in my Kitumba review and I'm going to take that back. He's done a great job in the role and frankly who cares if Scottish isn't his native vocal sound, I really like the part he plays and hope he sticks with the show. Up there as well is Ron Boyd's DeSalle. He's the Phase II version of Kyle - always there but not too prominent - and he's a redshirt that's survived more than one episode so he's clearly doing something right!

One thing that I cannot heap enough praise on for this show is the effects and the stunning work of Tobias Richter who is also going to be master of the CGI for the much-hyped Axanar. I didn't think it would be possible to produce such stunning work on very little money but you can when there's this level of ability. The USS Eagle of Enemy: Starfleet, the USS Copernicus and surrounding space in Blood and Fire, even the nebulous materials that the Enterprise encounters in The Child are awe inspiring on the screen and make every episode a fantastic spectacle. Yes, at the beginning the ship movements were a little bit too smooth and some of the graphics a little jittery but things have moved on at a phenomenal rate to create some very memorable moments. In fact, how many times can you remember the original Enterprise carrying severe battle damage through an episode on screen that you could see?

Oh and then there's the vignettes that have popped up in and around the series. I think there are four to date - Centre Seat, No Win Scenario, 1701 Pennsylvania Ave and most recently Going Boldly which act to whet the appetite between episodes. The first deals with both DeSalle and the returning Lt Cmdr Sulu and a minor navigational error, the second with Kargh as he works to devise a plan of attack against the Federation border. The next is set on the day of the Moon landing in 1969. It's an inspired 11 minutes which is, to say the least, off the wall in more than one way. Klingons, tribbles, Nixon - if I say any more it might all make sense.

What I do want to focus on though is the fourth; it's truly the start of a new era. Kirk has a new face and a little less Shatner. Times are a-changing with the arrival of Brian Gross and also this new swanky vignette that offers something of a prelude into the upcoming The Holiest Thing. While saying goodbye to both Enterprise crew lost on missions and real life individuals who passed away and were associated with the show, it's a glimpse of what could well be Phase II.1. After that wonderful, if brief "hello" to Garth of Izar played by Alec Peters (who is the guy behind Axanar) we get to see a few sneak peeks. 

There's The Animated Series' Arex at the navigation console which is perfect sense now Chekov is down in security and Scotty has a nice shiny new warp core to play with (above).  What was that i said - yes - Arex - a CGI character!!! You have to see it. Go on YouTube here and take a look, it's genius!

It's ALSO the exterior shots which just make this a salivating treat of a vignette and there's definitely a homage here to the drydock departure scene in The Motion Picture as we see the starship's new warp engines and torpedo tubes. Clearly Phase II is starting to increase the notable links between the TV series and the first movie. At the core though the USS Enterprise is very recognisable as her original self but these new tweeks do help to add to the production's individuality. Love it.

Not only do we have The Holiest Thing but Bread and Savagery is in post-production and there's work going on to complete The Mind-Sifter for future release. Despite some behind the scenes rumbles, overly-long delays and the fact this is all done on volunteer time, it's a fan-made masterpiece. We may not be getting a new episode each week, Star Trek fans, but at the moment if we want to get the feel of the Roddenberry universe back this is absolutely the first stop you should be making and exploring.

So, gents, ladies, one and all my original question stands - with the quality that we're getting from this series Why Aren't You Watching?

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You can learn more about Star Trek: Phase II at their website and view their episodes too at YouTube

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Sound of Thunder: Into Battle with the Akira Class

Now this is a model I have been waiting to come out for personal reasons more than any other. 

The USS Thunderchild NCC-63549 is a special ship to myself as I, for more years than I care to remember, have gone by and used the handle or tag of Thunderchild on radio as my call sign, and messenger services etc. So this is my starship!

Again Eaglemoss have done a good job on the model as it feels solid and heavy. However SKoST member +Mark Thwaite  noticed that on the United Federation of Planets decal the word "Federation" is missing the "t" poor attention to details is letting Eaglemoss down. (NB: This is actually correct on the original filming model - Clive)

I love the design of the Akira Class much in line with the early NX Class (which it in fact inspired) no secondary engineering hull, but the Thunderchild is nevertheless one mean lean fighting machine! 

Effectively Eaglemoss confirm that the class are aircraft carriers with a fly-through hanger on deck 12 and space to fit 40 fighters as well as a number of shuttles.  That design makes it ideal for operating in some of the more inaccessible regions of space such as the notorious Badlands featured as the base of the Maquis. Did you also know that the Akira Class is fitted with enhanced weapons most notably a weapons pod on the aft dorsal sail housing a number of torpedo launchers? Thought not - and that's the big selling point if you were considering purchasing this new installment in the Collection.

Let's talk a bit more about the specs of the Thunderchild - the usual crew complement is 500 with a top speed of Warp 9.8 which makes her no slouch and equal in speed to some of the more noted ships in Starfleet. Indeed, that saucer is about the same size as a Galaxy Class primary hull! 

One difference is that with this model the name is not shown on the hull, only the registration number. I am gutted at this as I would, from a personal view, have liked to see USS Thunderchild somewhere on her.

The Thunderchild first appeared in First Contact and the battle for Sector 001 against the Borg which was soon followed by appearances in the Deep Space Nine novel The Fall of Terok Nor and a lot of blink-and-gone moments which you might have missed. Fortunately the accompanying magazine does offer some satisfying memory joggers.

In fact this magazine is a bit of a first. Up to this point each ship has in some way "headlined" or at least been a big feature in Star Trek - Borg Sphere, Defiant, the Bird-of-Prey - but this is the first "support ship" if you will. Never truly in the spotlight but glimpsed in the background as part of a fleet maneuver or being engulfed in a ball of Borg energy fire. How much can there be to write about a "lesser" starship? Enough for Issue 12 that's for sure. It's not necessarily about a special feature here either (as with Voyager's Aeroshuttle or saucer separation) but more about the creation and evolution of a ship which seems to be the backbone of the fleet to some extent. Eaglemoss have done a great job in unfolding the story of the class and have shown just the right amount of depth behind the design.

There are some sublime sketches and probably rarely seen images and CGI scattered liberally throughout the pages of the magazine which truly ensure this is the most informative piece about Thunderchild and it's siblings since we first saw her taking on that cube in First Contact.

What becomes apparent is that it's not just about slapping together an image in a computer and dropping it into a battle scene. The Akira Class was originally one of 12 concepts for First Contact and one of only four that were picked. The magazine takes us through not only the design and construction process but also exactly what the point of the class is as we've already noted above. Until this production we at SKoST didn't really have a great understanding of the ship but now it's battling to be among our all time favourites just because of its purpose.

She may not be the prettiest ship in the fleet but was designed as a true warship to face the threat of the Borg where Starfleet needed smaller, faster, heavily armed ships. Perhaps she's not as popular as an Enterprise or Voyager but definitely one I've proudly added to my fleet. It also means I've managed to make an important decision. For personal reasons and if I was going into battle I sure would want the Thunderchild at my side.

While we're at it let's also look ahead and for this I'll just pass over to +Clive Burrell ....

The next four issues are an interesting range covering The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The Jem'Hadar cruiser is a gem of a model which we are looking forward to seeing that one. It looks prepped for war if ever I saw a ship more ready - and it's pictured the right way up too (!) 

The arrival of issue 14's Galor Class means that you can recreate some of the Dominion War if you call on your Bird-of-Prey, USS Defiant, Romulan Warbird and cruiser from issue 13.  As a Deep Space Nine fan it's one to ensure is in the collection but she's not the big draw in the next few installments. That's left for issue 15.

For various reasons the one that we're REALLY looking forward to is the USS Equinox. First suggested way back in The Next Generation Technical Manual it's a classic and, with certain other things happening out in the real world, it seems like the perfect time for this vessel to arrive on the scene. The styling on the Equinox is perfection in my opinion - small, tight lines which make it look a bit like a compact Sovereign Class to some degree. As Voyager goes that show definitely got some of the best looking starships didn't it - Dauntless and Prometheus being the immediate ones that spring to mind and they'll be along soon enough.

Following on from that we have the Ferengi Marauder. Not especially a favourite and not that often seen but still, it's coming and I am intrigued to see whether the markout for the shuttle in the bottom of the hull will make it onto the model given recent variations in quality with the range. Indeed, those errors are a concern when it comes to the ones you wait for such as the Constitution refit back at issue 2 which had a shoddy mirror transfer on one side (and was one of the weakest models to date actually). 

Anyway, we'll hopefully keep you updated with anything new we discover. The next big question is will the USS Vengeance be the third special following the announcement that the JJ USS Enterprise is going to be Special Two...

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Fall: A Ceremony Of Losses - Mack is Back

I like to say I have a linear mind, I like to know the beginning before the middle, or even the end. I even went back to watching Deep Space Nine in anticipation of reading this.

I have read series books from the end, or even the middle, previously. You can always tell proficient writers from experienced writers by reading non-linear – truly experienced writers have the ability to draw you in from any point in their story, even half-way through a particular book. This is especially true when writing about characters you already know, or have grown up getting to know.

Such is the case with this book – A Ceremony of Losses. I had no idea what to expect, nor what to write about, it being my first review. So let me start, at the beginning, of the middle...and be warned I might drop some of those pesky SPOILERS in along the way.

Perseverance is the key to this story's start. For someone starting on this book, David Mack does a admirable job of filling in the blanks. Not so much to believe you know all the previous stories, but enough to make you want to explore the detail of them – a tricky balance to achieve, to be sure.

The negative here being that with so many Andorian names, references, titles and terms to grasp so early on, you actually have to be Andorian just to make it through the first chapter without a headache, or the literacy version of brain-freeze.
As a newcomer to the non-canon series of novels, I have to admit, a little catch up was necessary in order to put the novel into perspective. For example; the new Deep Space Nine space station, a new 'Frontier Class' station. Another addition is the USS Aventine; a rather impressive new Vesta class starship equipped with slipstream technology. I was however unaware of precisely how much I'd missed ...

Mack's use of characters – Dr Bashir, to name one of many old faces, is done well. Capturing Julian's childish demeanour whilst keeping his suppressed ego has been done remarkably well. This should come as no surprise to those who know the author though, as history recalls, he did have a writing hand in two interesting Deep Space Nine episodes - season four's Starship Down and season seven's It's Only a Paper Moon

I did have a puzzling moment with one Captain Ezri Dax, I first picked up on it from +Clive Burrell's review. I struggled to see how Dax has gone from a jittery councillor, to a commanding, confident captain, without a massive personality change. I do not wish to dwell on this though, as after catching up a little background reading (no spoilers), Ezri's character actually has gone through an extreme makeover.

Beyond the old faces, there are some very well defined characters alongside and supporting. With moderate access to certain characters' features and a background or two, it serves to understand them, but not emphasise them. One who I'm sure will catch your attention, and who has already been made known to us of the 'TV series only' bunch - Sarina Douglas (Deep Space Nine - Statistical Probabilities, Chrysalis). I'm sorry, a little spoiler alert here... Again, another person who has undergone a huge transformation. Here we had a reclusive, socio-phobic person - turned Section 31 super spy! It's the Trek version of 007 starting off in the loony bin, asking for his medication to be 'shaken, no stirred'...

Away from familiar faces, and for spoilers sake I won't dwell on this, but if you're looking for clues to forthcoming installments - pay close attention to Admiral Akaar, especially towards the end. I won't say much but I would say it is definitely David Mack's clear nod to the starting of book four.

The plot, without giving too much information away, centers around a major upheaval in the Federation, contemplating the extinction of the Andorians. The politics within this story can at times, make for tough reading. Again, perseverance is the key here. If you were after a book to 'settle in bed' with - this is not it. There is too much detail and too many (multi-layer) political plots to grasp. Try speed reading through this and I guarantee you'll spend twice as long having to reread the last paragraph, only to forget what happened previously. Or, as my colleague eloquently put; a "Thinking Man's Star Trek". After looking over book one's review, plus a few group discussions, it does seem that this is going to a common theme along the entire series. They all give you the impression you're in way over your head, that you don't have the attention span of a nuclear physicist and you're going to be brutally brow-beaten for not having so.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning the detail throughout the whole book; most is quite relevant and informative. I especially like the build up near the end; everything balancing on a whim, an entire species hanging in the balance, a beautifully described orbital action scene. I was quite gratified at that moment to find I had, for the first time in the book, suspended all of my other senses, just temporarily until I was confident it had passed.

Only one terrible grievance remains from this whole experience - but it's as big as Bajor itself. As I mentioned before, the plot focuses around the Andorians and their cessation from the Federation. After this, the Federation interim President has declared an embargo of Andor. No food, medicine, commerce or communication to or from the Federation. 

To be quite frank - I just cannot see this. I understand that from a story perspective, it is a key plot line and there are the political aspects that give it cause, but the Federation is by nature a peacekeeping force. I just can't imagine the democratic processes allowing for such an action, even with a despotic President at the helm. There are too many allies and political elements within the Federation that would resist such a move. It is as if David Mack has thrown much politics into this, but failed to grasp the true nature of Federation politics.

That being said, if you can overlook this flaw (if it is indeed one at all for you), the rest of this book is very well thought out, structured and written. Yes, there are some moments that really test you, but you are rewarded for your persistence at the end. Pros and cons considered, here's my conclusion:

The story as a whole is actually quite riveting - a medical mystery, wrapped up in political turmoil, lightly sprinkled with well played espionage, finished with a good side helping of action.
I'll be having a ceremony of loss if I don't read them all, but I won't stand on ceremony over this – until I've read them all. Is it fundamentally flawed? Too political? Perhaps, but also perhaps that's just me, and I'd happily read it again. In fact, I intend to. Whilst I'm doing that - you decide!

Next up in The Fall we have The Poisoned Chalice. Time to head back aboard the USS Titan.

Image by Tobias Richter

A Ceremony of Losses is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99; ISBN 9781476722245.

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Saturday, 25 January 2014

Carried Away by a Crimson Shadow: Una McCormack Books into The Fall

Welcome back weary traveller to the second installment of The Fall. We're spent some time on Deep Space Nine so what's happening over there on the USS Enterprise? Well let me tell you...

For fear of falling into the one trap we avoid, this book is again set within a tight sixty day window. Not sure why? Well there is a reason which is pretty much explained in every book. If you've not read any we won't give it away but it's a nice little twist. As always, dear reader, SPOILER ALERT - we don't mean to but sometimes it's unavoidable. Sorry.

From the cover of The Crimson Shadow you might assume that the focus is going to be on the crew of the Enterprise however Picard and his officers actually don't stand on the front line here as the limelight falls much more solidly on one Elim Garak.

Now the Cardassian ambassador to the United Federation of Planets this is quite an individual story in which Garak is extremely influential. It's not something I was expecting but it works particularly well - at least to being with. The concept is great and having Garak as our guide really marks this novel out from the rest of the series which appear to stay on safer ground using more familiar characters to lead the action. Introducing each chapter with a letter from the spy/tailor/ambassador adds something of a flair to proceedings however after a while it gets a bit bland and getting half way through there was enough political intrigue to crash a Jem'Hadar cruiser. It's not that it's badly written but McCormack does go on for a while as Garak has a televised debate, gets an undercover officer out of prison, discusses the troubles of Cardassia (which reminded me of The Circle) and the like. 

What is a completely different tack from the last 12 months worth of Star Trek novels is that it relies on the strength of a regular recurring character to carry the show but you do welcome any appearance of the Enterprise crew namely Picard or Worf to provide some form of respite along the way. They do appear and while they act as more of sub-characters to the events on Cardassia it's nice to have them along. Smrhova and Glynn Dygan also return for The Crimson Shadow with the latter having a much greater role since he is himself Cardassian. However, whatever angle I tackle their involvement it still feels like they are tacked on to the story rather than integral to its narrative and conclusion. Sorry, Una but I was expecting more from our regulars.

The characters of Mhevet and Temet in comparison are interesting asides however they never seem to break out as strong personalities and I found that after a prominent debate Temet shrank away. Mhevet does come away better as a law enforcement officer investigating an apparent murder but it all seems a bit wishy washy. They do appear to be the typical security officer and political opponent respectively but the events around them are more interesting than the characters themselves. The political instability around the Federation withdrawl is certainly a parallel to real events we know of in this day and age. In that frame, McCormack hits the mark because Star Trek never shied away from attempting an angle on the surrounding world's troubles. Cardassia is recovering and Temet in particular acts as the link back to the old ways, the times before the arrival of the Dominion.

Against Garak, the leader of Cardassia First makes an interesting counterpoint to one who used to operate for the Obsidian Order and, effectively, everything that Temet rallies in favour of returning. This Garak is much more forward thinking, open to new ideas rather than dug-in concepts. Nevertheless there are occasions where we can see him just as confrontational but purposeful in his beliefs. His discourse with the Cardassian castellan is especially telling of his changed character; more thoughtful, less brutal and maybe understanding his place in society and his responsibilities a little more. This Garak is markedly different to the character we knew of old. He's "grown up" if you will, looking out for Cardassia's best interests rather than wholly self-preservation. Being home has altered his primary goal in life.

An ambassador he may be but his loyalty is clearly to his homeworld and his personal beliefs. I liked that but, as I've just said, he is very different. There are some hints of the past which remind us effectively where he has come from but that sneakiness is pretty much non-existent. At times I waited for some of the old Garak to slip out - the only piece I could note was his love of Cardassian literature which he fondly shares with Picard and gives the novel it's title.

I really hoped that the second book would bring more excitement than the first but I found I was getting jealous of +Mark Thwaite who had dibs on Book Three and a return to the world of Deep Space Nine

I do squirm a bit because this isn't a badly written book at all and if you like crime novels it's probably up your street; I just found it, well, forgettable. Saying that, you might be wondering how it all fits with the rest of this loose five book arc. I can assure you it does and there is an element which, quite late on, does segway into the events that transpired in the (much better) first book, Revelation and Dust. I'm upset in some respects because it takes so long to reach that point and I found myself questioning the relevance of the previous 200 something pages. However,The Fall, as I found with Cold Equations is about the sum of the parts.

I admit too that I've had to write this review over quite a long time period for no other reason than I didn't know what to say. Usually I can hammer out a review and discuss every aspect of it, where it succeeded, failed or was just plain mind-blowing but here it's all very average; straight-forward and matter of fact. There's no real big revelation and it feels like the characters are wasted in what is a quite wordy novel which misses some serious action to spice it up. 

Individual stories do run through them but there is still an overriding arc to follow. While it has been said they can be read out of order my experience with the first two books is that I definitely wouldn't follow this advice because of the later revelations. I would hate to read three, four or five and find then that I should have read The Crimson Shadow. I might even suggest that reading it later with perhaps knowledge of the later stories and twists could ruin enjoyment of this book further. My opinion - don't take it as gospel!!!

Overall then, is it worth the cover price? If you're intending to buy the whole series then absolutely and you'll, if nothing else, get to understand all the machinations, the twists and events happening all across the galaxy in this tight 60 day period. I suspect that events alluded to here will be played out/referred to elsewhere but then again, there might be assumptions made (?) as to the reader's knowledge in books three, four and five. Certainly this will fit into the overall tapestry leading from the events of Revelation and Dust and will conclude in Peaceable Kingdoms but my fascination is how it will all come together. Will it only make sense if I read all five (in whatever order I choose) - will all the clues be explained at the end or is it necessary to have, at the least, read all of them to understand the big reveal? Phew. Hope that made sense because this could get very confusing...might have to set myself up one of those situation boards just to work out where everyone is....

Next up we're with +Mark Thwaite as he takes us back for a second trip to Deep Space Nine in A Ceremony of Losses. This review will be LIVE on 26th January!

The Crimson Shadow is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99; ISBN 9781476722207

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Monday, 20 January 2014

One Last Time

One thing I've noticed as we celebrate and remember the life of DeForest Kelley is that we seem to have mislaid any photos from his work in the movies.

So here's our nod to the Southern Doctor in what would be his final movie - and final scene playing McCoy on the bridge of NCC-1701-A.

Happy birthday Bones!

Russ, Renegades and a Review

This begins our dark introduction into the world of Star Trek: Renegades, the trailer descends on what appears to be a jail cell; a lone woman chalks her words onto a wall... 

As this trailer unfolds it becomes very clear that this will be more than your average Trek. Tim Russ definitely intends to take us to the outer edges of the Federation, and possibly beyond.

This is just the beginning of both the teaser trailers, click here to see them both in full length, plus some very fascinating interviews with cast members! 

Maybe it's the unexpected all star cast? It's quite one thing to have Tim Russ directing this, let alone reprising his role as Tuvok (Voyager). Then we look at the caliber of actors all along for the ride, the mix of talent available to this production is truly impressive. You'd be forgiven thinking that this is your run-of-the-mill fan fiction. Don't be fooled however, as we have truly seasoned Star Trek actors involved...

Tim Russ - That's right, he's not only the director, but he'll also be slapping those pointed ears back on (and likely slapping down some more ensigns too!). Logic has never been so dark.This will be Tuvok's first on screen appearance since 2001 and Voyager's finale, Endgame

No pressure then. In the intervening years it's good to see Mr Russ has been honing his skills on such wonderous TV programmes as I, Carly... Seriously, should be awesome to see him back in action as the joint lead with...

Walter Koenig - It's nice to see him beyond commander, but whatever you do, please don't ask him to say Nuclear Wessels or he vill haf to stun you.

Yes, the original Chekov will be back on screen for the first time since 1994 (Star Trek: Generations) because officially we don't class his appearance in Phase II ...although we probably should if we're talking about another fan-made production. Oh, hang on. We are.

Robert Picardo - Stop the press... He won't be playing our neighbourhood EMH so we won't get to know the nature of the medical emergency this time around.

Instead, he'll be reprising his brief role as Dr Lewis Zimmerman, a character not seen on our screens since 2000 in Lifeline from season six of Voyager. Actually Zimmerman wasn't around that much at all - fleetingly in the first few years - ProjectionsThe Swarm to name a few before he turned up in Deep Space Nine's Doctor Bashir, I Presume as an actual real person. How Zimmerman is going to fit into what looks like Star Trek mixed with Rambo is up for discussion.

Now I imagine at this point you're thinking "Great, but why am I going to bother with ANOTHER spin off?"

Well, as the full teaser suggests, the Federation is faced with yet another threat, however this new nemesis is beyond the reach of the Federation's typical 'good will politics'. 

Tuvok, now head of Section 31, is tasked with answering this unknown enemy head on. Not an easy job considering this adversary has the ability of cutting the Federation off from dilithium, and also appears to be annexing planets from space and time. Nice.

As you peruse through the library of information on the Renegades website, the trailers, masses of interview footage, promo videos, even the new comedy segments. You definitely get an idea of the work that has gone into making this a reality. 

Although I was a little disappointed with the second trailer if I can be honest. How can I put this... it was a Transformers take on Star Trek. The deep soundtrack behind it, the transforming title at the end, the mash of apparently random scenes. I was intrigued, but not satisfied. It felt, incomplete. 

Now, as you can tell, I watched both trailers in completely the wrong order, something in fact I recommend as an introduction to Renegades. The first trailer, whilst it lacks the 'epic' text segments, does trump the second. There is better introduction and explanation, they haven't tried to mash it together and hope for the best. The structure is very well done for this, a short briefing, melding into an invigorating and progressive background sound piece, with the scenes building up into... *enter transforming title sequence.*

So what's exactly in the trailers? What can we take from the limited glimpse? Well, you have some curious segments from Chekov and Tuvok, setting the story, it leads us to believe that this new threat could provide a tipping point in the Federation's affairs. The fact they have resorted to bringing Section 31 in to deal with the crisis I believe is meant to portray the seriousness of the situation. 
So what of moving forward? 

At present, we know of this new enemy the Syphons, we don't know anything of them other than one Syphon in particular, Borrada, has a serious grudge with the Federation for an incident with portals? This is the full detail at present, other than this new species appears to be particularly aggressive. I guess we'll have to wait and see as more information feeds through.

When +Clive Burrell and I were discussing Renegades (amongst many other upcoming titles), it became clear from the outset that this was something special. It immediately gave you a 'Where No Man has Gone Before' thrill. Sure, you can throw many examples of promising fan fiction at us, but there is something quite different about Renegades - something I'm yet to put my finger on.

To say that these are just the tip of the iceberg would be quite an understatement, having looked at the accompanying cast, we can see echoes of other popular shows.. Stargate SG-1, Charmed, ER, That 70's Show, CSI: Miami, this list is endless and well worth a click here for the full cast listing, we think you'll be surprised and excited (Edward Furlong?!).

It's a unique situation, which requires a unique crew. Cue the Renegades (would have screwed the title if this wasn't the case...). A rag-tag crew whose abilities - and lack of restriction to Starfleet regulations - are just the right kind of crazy to possibly get the job done. Even the audio wasn't up to scratch, with imbalances between the background and the scene audio. Not to say it wasn't good, I was thoroughly hooked on the first scene. It certainly teased my curiosity. If this is their worst, then it would appear promising.

But I can't shake the feeling that Tim and Walter's involvement in this story will actually be quite limited, the Hors d'oeuvre to the Renegades crew. I can certainly understand though, given how much time Tim must be putting in to direct this as well as acting in it. 

Captain Lexxa Singh (Adrienne Wilkinson pictured left) on the other hand... she appears to have quite a major role and back-story in this. Even from the first trailer it is clear she will be a lead role as (the sexy) captain of the renegade starship, her appearances in this trailer alone are quite a few. 

It's curious to find from the website and trailers, this character delves once again into the Eugenics Wars sub-story that has been present throughout canon Trek. However, this time there's an interesting twist - her character is apparently a direct decendant of one Khan Noonien Singh. I certainly hope moving forward, there is good explanation for this, as at present there is no evidence that Khan had any siblings or indeed lineage (being genetically engineered). For the moment, I'll stick to saying Kirk would be crushed to hear this...

Hang on a moment, surely if Admiral Chekov knew of this, he'd never let her out of that cell in the first place? Wow, the explanation had better be award winning to explain away this curve-ball! One other thing I have noticed even though principle photography finished in October 2013 is the lack of CGI - ships, planets...or anything aside from a glowy globe (trailer one) and the title effect...I suspect that's being kept under wraps and will need to be pretty impressive to beat Axanar's CGI tests and the work of Phase II among others.

All of this leaves me (I'm almost ashamed to admit), priapic with anticipation. You can blame the influences of one Jeremy Clarkson for that...

But where does this leave us? I'm sure by now you've watched both the trailers, and have come to your own conclusions. But it would be very remiss of me not too provide my own thoughts, in true SKoST tradition. We aren't however, above reproach. If you feel there's even more than meets the eye, why not get involved? Drop us a comment below!

All images taken from the Star Trek: Renegades trailers available on YouTube. No infringement of copyright is intended.
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