Friday, 26 September 2014

UK Marks 24 Years

26th September 1990; 6pm; BBC2. I was nine.

Where were you?

I was watching Encounter at Farpoint for the very first time as today marks 24 years since the first broadcast on UK terrestrial TV. Most notable is the fact that after this all the shows would be first shown on the satellite channel SKY One before hitting the BBC (or Channel 4 with Enterprise). IN fact I was sitting in our lounge in Ilkeston, Derbyshire at the time. Don't ask me what was for tea, I have no idea; it's been a long time.

It truly harks back to a different age and falls nicely a week and a bit before Destination Star Trek arrives in London for the second time. Sadly though with the recent announcement that Jonathan Frakes won't be attending, the full The Next Generation cast reunion has taken a slight turn although Colm Meaney has now joined the guest list.

Anyway, yep, it's 24 years today - and it was a Wednesday. We'd waited an extra three years for the show to make it across the water and at the time it was well worth it. I know I've talked about all the niggles I have looking back at these fledgling years but without it we wouldn't have the vast amount of material, the reboots and, dare I say it, Some Kind of Star Trek either. 

The big benefit of BBC2 was that we got to see Encounter at Farpoint without a single advert in its full 90 minute run time. For those who had the cash, they could have splashed out in April of the same year for the first in the run of VHS cassettes (78 in total). It's an exceptionally Roddenberry vision and many steps away from the direction that Rick Berman, Michael Piller and co took the show from the beginning of the third season. Watching a Klingon on the bridge was such a big thing even if he was effectively a bit part until the demise of Tasha Yar in Skin of Evil. How it all changed in seven years huh? Just a gimmick...never go anywhere.

From that first shot of the majestic, new USS Enterprise dropping onto the screen until the immortal "Let's see what's out there." it had me hooked. For my Dad it would always be Kirk but for me Picard was the way forward and this was my generation - until Sisko came along that is. It's strange to look back and think I knew nothing about this show before it aired, I knew even less about the characters - who was the guy with the gold eyes? What was that visor thing? I know I enjoyed every second of the show and was right back the following week for The Naked Now which suggested it was all going to be homages to The Original Series and reuse lots of ships and bits from the motion pictures. How wrong was I.

So what were the high points from the episode? Undoubtedly the saucer separation, the arrival of Q and McCoy's cameo (she'll always bring you home...) marked this out as the start of something special. While there were moments of action it wasn't about just phaser fights - there was real substance to this show. 

Picard totally intrigued me (he was all shouty) even at the age of nine and was nothing like Captain Kirk; which was good. Datawas pretty cool especially the bit in that holodeck when he pulled Wesley out of the water. The aliens at the end were a bit drippy and it was all a tad cuddly but hey, this is the utopia of the future. But there were so many sparks which erupted here and a few that didn't - how about the Troi/Riker romance which blipped in and out from here to Nemesis? Those wonderful "skant" uniforms were another which, fortunately didn't make it much further. For one more thing, September 28th marks the anniversary of the first episode of The Next Generation airing in the US in 1987 (27 years for reference) and we covered that anniversary last year with some little homage pics.

It's Been a Long Road

And yes, in 2001 Enterprise premiered today with the rather impressive Broken Bow. While not my favourite, coming behind Emissary and Caretaker in that top six it's a solid effort with some wonderful moments and scoops of prospect, interesting characters, a different spin on the Star Trek universe and the opportunity to see how it all began - which is a shame that it took nearly four years to really hit it's stride and then got cancelled. We can only imagine what that fifth season would have been like and if a certain campaign gets its way, one day we might. We also did a little piccie for the 12th anniversary last year.

For now we can at least bask in the brilliance of that pilot and the later episodes (but not These are the Voyages). It does take a battering at some points but I think there's a place for Enterprise within the family. At least it tried to do something different if nothing else. Stripping back the formula was a risky strategy rather than making another jump into the further future beyond the years of Picard, Sisko and Janeway.

What a great week for Star Trek in the anniversary stakes and all just ahead of Destination Star Trek. The guest list is spectacular, we know that both Simon and Schuster and Eaglemoss will be attending thanks to our sources as well as many other businesses linked into the Star Trek universe. Got your tickets? If not, you can follow the link at the top of our page.

What were your memories of your first viewing of Encounter at Farpoint? Where were you at the time? Let us know below!

Monday, 22 September 2014

For Every Warrior There's a Way: Worf's Initial Influence on Deep Space Nine

"Just what the station needs - more Klingons."

Quark's words as a certain Lieutenant Commander set foot on Deep Space Nine for the second time couldn't have been more correct. It was precisely what the station - and the show - needed.

The Way of the Warrior is not just a high-point of the show but of the franchise as allies became foes and the paranoia and preparations for war slipped up a notch. You could tell it was getting serious because Sisko shaved his head, Kira got a new uniform (in The Visitor) and even Bashir and Dax got promotions. Def Con One, people.

There were even new, less casual titles with ships and workbees buzzing around the station - we even saw the Defiant docked which was nice and amalgamated with the thumping undertones of the remixed theme, everything pointed to a new beginning.

The double-length season premiere did punch out a new era for the show. The board and the pieces had all been laid out over the course of the first three seasons - and then we took a huge left turn and went to war with the Klingons. Like we all saw that coming after The Adversary...

It made perfect sense in hindsight for the Dominion to kick back and let the two remaining Alpha Quadrant superpowers duke it out and then take on whoever was left standing but we were all ready for huge battles and - oh, hang on...that's what we got.

Bringing Worf over from The Next Generation might have been a plot device to draw in some of that show's viewers who hadn't migrated to the Bajoran Wormhole but his appearance did change the dynamic of the show. The grit was there as ever but now there was more heart; Avery Brooks stepped up his game, Dax got frisky and made Kira play Guinevere at Camelot, Bashir became more cynical, Odo tried to forget killing one of his own and got slapped down for it and O'Brien took more of a beating from the writers and his wife to boot. To be fair to the chief, this was pretty much business as usual for him until Keiko got pregnant.

While that didn't all happen in The Way of the Warrior it is a key turning point, one of the significant game-changers in the history of the show alongside Call to Arms and In the Pale Moonlight at the very least. J G Hertzler and Robert O'Reilly bring a lot of fight and honour to the roles of Martok and Gowron here as their return to the Old Ways take hold and that's only multiplied with the first appearance of the mammoth Negh'Var.

The series opener is bleaker, there's less musical scoring and Quark has taken to much darker observations which conversing with Garak can only magnify. Not only does the former spy take a pummelling from some Klingon opportunists, but we even see the tailor taking up arms alongside long-time adversary Gul Dukat to save the Cardassian civilian government. It's a great moment that seethes with tension and hatred but also a begrudged admiration between the pair. It's a change - not only in the way our core of characters have had to mature and evolve but also in the very geography of the galaxy. The Cardassians are the ones in need of help (enter Dukat) and worth risking life and limb for while avoiding Klingon disruptor fire. It's a blaring contrast to Emissary where we were firmly told these guys were not to be trusted and that Deep Space Nine was only significant for the fact it was close to Bajor who wanted in on the Federation's act ASAP. That pilot is a lot calmer in comparison and to some degree closes a lot more optimistically.

How times have changed. The once six-torpedo defended station is now bristling with armaments that would make a weapons dealer blush and has a captain who chews out Klingons for breakfast (wait til we get to season five's Apocalypse Rising...). I for one was in fan heaven back in 1995 when I cracked open the VHS case and slotted the tape in for the first time. They'd even changed the cover art for volume 4.1 going for the full on war effect, tilting the station and sticking a ton of Klingon ships around Deep Space Nine. Another tick on the Impressed List.

Worf has lost none of his gruffness and seems to fit much better here in the darker, less "perfect" environment of Deep Space Nine. Dorn's arrival might have been a shoehorn in for ratings at the time but he kicks more butt in this episode than he managed in a couple of seasons on board the Enterprise. Once he stops moping around and gets into command red it's all plain sailing. I love The Way of the Warrior just as much now as I did back on the first run and to this point it was my favourite episode of the show. As the script suggested, Worf did indeed have a purpose again although he effectively became a galactic traffic warden as Strategic Operations Officer and while it wasn't security it allowed the role to grow and Dorn to explore the Klingon a lot more. The station suited his ways but we wouldn't get many indications of that for some time as the producers chose to move Worf-centric episodes to later in the year so as not to ignore the rest of the ensemble.

Over on Voyager at the start of their fourth year we saw the introduction of Seven of Nine to do a similar thing and reboot the show. That meant the exit of Jennifer Lien's Kes and a focus on the character from day one. Seven provided the much-needed human observer role that the show had lacked from Caretaker. Both the former Borg and the ex-communicated Klingon changed the feel of the show, leading them both into a darker period where their main adversary would rear its head but in Seven's case her appearance put a new character at the forefront of the show and a lot of the stories - there was a lot that could be done with the character.

But let's stick with Worf in this fourth season because he becomes much more a part of the wheel rather than the axle if you forgive the analogy. His appearance is a big hit in The Way of the Warrior and brings the Klingons closer into the story for the first time, perhaps obviously developing the bond to the seven year voyage of The Next Generation further by having two of its former cast among the crew. Placing Worf alongside Kor in the Klingon-heavy The Sword of Kahless allows for more exploration of the culture but it doesn't do much to back the reasons for bringing him on board but Sons of Mogh and Rules of Engagement do add some layers to the character but again there's not much keeping him around in these Worf-driven stories.

The bigger influence he has comes when placed in conflict with the established senior staff or when put into a military command position. Here he truly flourishes during the year and I would highlight Starship Down and Paradise Lost to see these moments in action. In fact To the Death works because of his inclusion among the crew and adds true edge to the story which is one of Deep Space Nine's more violent episodes. Having the Jem'Hadar relishing a fight with a Klingon here paves the way for By Inferno's Light in season five as well as making the relationship with Gowron even more delicate when he turns up from time to time and of course we would get the semi-regular full-blooded General Martok to bounce against Worf in the future.

Seven in comparison has to be at the core of an episode to make her character work but Worf is a team player through and through even if he doesn't agree with everything that happens.While Worf wants to be accepted by the culture he left, she wants the exact opposite - to leave the Collective behind and never return even though it's offered on a plate several times.

Worf isn't a revelation to the show but instead reinforces it's darker, more hard-edged tendencies and almost drags the show towards the inevitable war with the Dominion. His attitude towards the Klingon Empire might not sit too well initially but the role of the outcast is perfect with the withdrawal from the Khitomer Accords and, absolutely, the Dominion's desires to spread discontent in the Alpha Quadrant ahead of their invasion. While glory might await on Cardassia according to one Klingon Chancellor, Worf's true virtues hold out when he, as we all knew he would, picks the Federation over his people.

And while Worf has influence on the direction of the show, the show likewise has designs on him. This is initially a troubled and lost Worf doing his duty by the numbers than because he wants to be in Starfleet but season four allows him a great deal more openness and perhaps closer,  more emotional relationships than he experienced on the hi-tech Galaxy Class USS Enterprise. It would take perhaps another year for Worf to fully integrate and maybe the arrival of an occularly challenged general might have further effect on his development but with The Way of the Warrior leading the season it was easy to see that Worf was one of the team and we were in for a change of pace like never before.

Was The Way of the Warrior such a key moment in the history of Deep Space Nine? Let's talk below...

Monday, 15 September 2014

DataLal: Jeffrey Lang Explores The Light Fantastic

Cold Equations was the first novel series I read when getting back into the non-canon Star Trek universe.

And I loved it. All three volumes were excellent and I was hooked. Since then I haven't missed a novel and there have been some of varying quality which hasn't put me off. Eyes down and get ready for SPOILERS as we take a trip...

Thing is, I saw the cover of The Light Fantastic and I went a bit cold. Could Lang pull off a sequel to the Resurrection of Data Trilogy? It was inevitable that it would arrive and since closing the final page of The Body Electric I've been waiting.

I didn't want to enjoy it or even like it a little after all, David Mack was responsible for that trilogy and did a sterling job and after his recent homophobe-bashing I have even more respect for him so Lang has a hard job ahead.

The initial foray into The Light Fantastic had me uneasy. This is after all a very different Data to the one we saw unload a phaser into the tharlaron weapon core in Nemesis (not a bad thing then...) and one who is as near-as-dammit human as he ever will be but this whole body-shifting ability didn't wash and I couldn't see Data being a chef in some restaurant. But anyway, I misjudged the novel based on those experiences and quite rightfully reprimanded myself by about page 50.

Casting aside 80% of The Next Generation cast for a The Next Generation sub-headed novel is a gamble because you expect Picard and co to turn up and happily,  they don't,  leaving Data and La Forge to spearhead operations. Why it needed to be classed as a The Next Generation book is puzzling when Cold Equations wasn't and had a lot more of the classic Picard crew committed to the narrative. In a nutshell The Light Fantastic places Data firmly in the father role, risking everything to secure the safety of his daughter while running into some familiar faces - and not just Moriarty - along the way. Speaking of Moriarty he's not exactly in the best of moods since we last saw him on board a shuttle in his mini-holodeck and is looking for an in-body experience.

Happily, Jeffrey Lang has taken a few hints from David Mack, placing the main thread of the story around flashbacks to events during The Next Generation as well as side-shifting between locations to keep the story at a decent pace. There's certainly a few continuity nods we all recognise and not only are we tipping the hat to televised and movie Star Trek but events from the recent literary universe as well. We get to meet up with infamous super-collector Kivas Fajo, revisit Exo III from What Are Little Girls Made Of? ion search of some android-making technology and take a quick trip out to a certain circular space station as we piece together the clues and formulate the answer that Data's holographic nemesis is hunting for. Lang's descriptions aren't the most detailed but there's just enough to give you a good impression of what's going on and the later events certainly make up for it when we arrive at Mudd's World. I think you can guess who resides there.

The characters are very varied, snatching at elements of both The Next Generation and The Original Series to fulfil its promise. While there are moments where it does appear to go around the houses to get to the point in a similar way to how Greg Cox had Seven of Nine and Captain Kirk running all over the galaxy in No Time Like the Past there's a more theatrical quality to The Light Fantastic which I think is more down to the sections which tend to encircle both Moriarty and the Countess Bartholomew. Their Victorian tendencies and style punches further than their scenes and lifts  the story from just being another chase novel as with the Greg Cox example. The strength of the characters here places this story well above that recent publication and relies less on gimmick. Their environment is not too dissimilar to the Matrix - it's white, non-descriptive, a Placeless Place in fact where items appear and disappear as required. You just know it's all part of an illusion but here Moriarty is the master magician, the man holding all the cards who acts with a flourish in this environment of his making.

There's a wonderful sense of fanciful adventure and romanticism about this novel as it strikes out and you can almost hear a Jerry Goldsmith theme rising from the pages as events weave through the story. Lang manages to bring a lot of easily recognisable elements together with very little effort and although there are segments of planet-hopping it's a very memorable narrative overall. At the core there is the father/daughter dynamic but not just confined to the obvious Data/Lal relationship which allows a much broader appreciation of both that and the larger theme of family. Data is very much on the back foot here and we see elements of illogical actions creeping in as the importance of his daughter outweighs the legal standpoint he would have once maintained.

This new Data certainly has a lot more to offer and is more driven than the first generation model and his disinterest in Starfleet is both continually puzzling and uncomfortable as these changes also affect the dynamic of his relationship with Geordi who seems to get dragged around a lot here whether he likes it or not. This Data is a lot more emotional than the emotion chip upgraded Generations - Nemesis android and a lot more driven. Logic is a player but in The Light Fantastic his motivation is clearly driven by the "heart". Lang has a lot of flexibility with Data because while we saw him evolve a little in Cold Equations a lot can has happened in the in-universe time since that story-line concluded. Lang is effectively setting the ground rules for anyone who chooses to explore this path in the future.

Assisted by the ever faithful Watson Geordi, the pair are a great double-act with La Forge acting as Data's conscience and reining him back not too dissimilar to Dax's relationship with Worf in Deep Space Nine. Rather than being the one to explain the fact, Geordi fits much more into a side-kick role here and is still having all the women issues we knew him for aboard the Enterprise-D although he does fit in some time for Leah Brahms here and there.

Lal meanwhile has changed too, more a disgruntled and confused teenager under the guidance of yet another android, the Alice model as seen in The Original Series' I, Mudd. Whether a nanny or a guardian for Data's daughter is a question you find yourself asking throughout the story and the conclusion is a lot darker than I was expecting. She's not the stilted, basic android child of The Offspring rather a drastic evolution that provides a challenge for both father and chosen companion.

The character of Alice, that companion, is very well written and I found myself feeling fairly edgy when she appeared on the scene. Her interactions are mainly with Moriarty and while not as dynamic a foil as Data was in Elementary Dear Data they make for entertaining reading, sparring and provoking while also evoking a playful mood. This Moriarty is not evil, he's not the uber-nemesis and nor does this book have a distinct "good vs evil" concept rather a view of right and wrong and a further exploration of sentience. Moriarty is exactly as Daniel Davis portrayed him and this story does feel like his story is satisfied through The Light Fantastic. The problem is that I fear of revealing too much but I reckon I can trust you all just a little?! I'm not sure.

Lang has done an excellent job of capturing not only the characters but the very feel of the universe, telling a more classic style than we might have expected, relying more on the interaction than gimmicky actions. Yes there's crossovers here but they work within the fabric of the plot and tell a great story - it all makes sense. That addition of Moriarty adds class to the book and in turn makes it much more satisfying and relaxing a read. The author has produced a piece of the Star Trek universe I didn't expect to like nor planned to read in depth but in the end succeeded on both counts. There's no big sense of danger or peril, we know it'll work out in the end but this is about the learnings and experiences that lead to the conclusion; desperate fathers, powerful emotions and more mudd than you could ever wish to see.

The Light Fantastic is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781476750514

Have you read this book? What did you think? Was it up to par and a suitable sequel to David Mack's Cold Equations? Let us know below!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Crowning Achievement: Eaglemoss Special Edition: Deep Space Nine

Ah the wondrous postal service has struck again.

As you may recall from our post on the Vor'Cha and the Enterprise-E, the great UK postal service we call Royal Mail continues to amaze. The delivery from Eaglemoss turned up this week - nearly a month after it was sent and impressively only one model has arrived - Deep Space Nine minus the magazine. That's right, just the station in a box; a strapped box but one box nonetheless.

Which in turn means this review is going to be either a) delayed even more or b) two parts. Let's see how far we get. Even more significant is that this has somehow arrived ahead of the replacement...

Arriving well packaged and supported in foam, this larger edition instantly became one of my favourites of the whole collection. In a word; Brilliant.

Surprised by that reaction? I suspect you might be. In the past we've been accused of being a little on the negative side when it comes to the Official Starships Collection and I want to make sure the record is straightened out - we're just giving all the viewpoints possible. We do genuinely love this series and occasionally we get frustrated by the slight stumble or inconsistency but overall we are more than happy, nay, ecstatic that these ships are available. 

There are a lot of grumbles and complaints about quality and cost and we will give both the positive and negative space because readers want to know exactly what they're getting. In relation to Deep Space Nine though there is no doubt it's Grade A quality.

Constructed for the most part in metal this is a magnificent recreation of the station and well worth every penny. To be frank I could just end the review there; go out, buy it; but I won't. Let's examine her features further.

Being mostly metal, Deep Space Nine is a little heavier than usual but is the first and probably one of the few ships models in the range which won't need a stand for display, sitting quite steadily on the tips of the lower docking pylons. The level of detail here is amazing and places it easily into a class of it's own - and if not on it's own then probably alongside the NX-01 in terms of quality. I'm genuinely over the moon with Eaglemoss' efforts here.

On the outer docking ring we have the exposed panelling and docking ports as well as the three upper and three lower docking pylons again made from metal. On the inner docking ring are the smaller docking arms as well as window detail and the runabout pads. 

The more intricate detail though comes in the central hub - Eaglemoss have replicated the oval windows of the Promenade as well as the sensor arrays perfectly. Some of the finer aerials and masts are omitted but I can understand that from a safety point of view as well as production aspect they won't be the easiest thing to replicate. The other shame here is the lack of windows on the outer docking ring. Considering the lengths gone to on the other sections of Deep Space Nine it was a bit of a glaring omission but it doesn't detract from the overall magnificent aesthetic of the Cardassian monstrosity.

I have to be fair with Eaglemoss, while there are some things I could get picky over, I've been hard pushed to find anything here that isn't of an exceptionally high standard and makes me love this a little bit more. The joint lines are faultess, the pylons all face the right way and are at the right angle, even the circles of the two concentric rings are circular and concentric. She also photographs really well, highlighting the surface detail and key exterior features such as the landing pads and ports. This is quite simply the best model that has been produced. All arguments otherwise are hereby invalid. If you suggest otherwise I'll be forced to stick my fingers in my ears and sing "La La La" repeatedly until you desist.

Size is on her side and making this a regular issue would have been a total waste if not a rule bender - both of which can be easily sidestepped by using the "Specials" umbrella. To be fair there couldn't be any other option but to do the station as the first XL model but it does open up one heck of a can of worms especially when we're talking from a point when nearly 30 issues have been published and only two specials with two more planned - but we'll come to that in a bit.

Turning to the magazine, it's a few pages thicker than the standard issues providing a chunk more info than usual. If you've read or own The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book from 1994 you'll be overly familiar with the content, especially the station design sections but the new CGI images included are stunning to behold.

Now here's a minor confession - I'm actually using the online archive to review the magazine which also means I can drag out some images and talk about what the archive is like to use - and this is all because my delivery went AWOL and I still haven't seen a physical magazine. Just for added note here, while Issue 27, the Romulan Bird-of-Prey from Enterprise has been released, the online archive only covers to issue 26, the Tholian Webspinner and has yet to add a PDF for the JJverse USS Enterprise

As always there's a potted history of the featured ship/station from it's origins as Terek Nor through it's transfer to the control of Starfleet, their loss of Deep Space Nine to the Dominion and it's retaking. The problem with reading the magazine on the subscribers archive is the need to zoom into every page which resets when you turn to the next spread. The pictures are uninterrupted by staples but reading a page does mean grabbing and looking at a quarter of it at a time. It's a little frustrating BUT you do get a good crisp image to view and these copies won't bend or get chewed by the dog when you're not looking. Talking of images there's a relatively unusual one here of the USS Defiant docked nose-first at one of the lower pylons rather than it's familiar port on the outer docking ring.

Flipping over we have a Key Locations double page which includes pics from Emissary, The Wire, Necessary Evil and Duet among others and the average viewer will be more than aware of what places are featured in the show. After the standard three-view labelled diagrams of the station it's into the meat of the mag with four pages dedicated to the creation of Deep Space Nine. As I noted, this has all been seen before but I love seeing how graphic design has changed in 20 years - the quality of these images is incredibly basic compared to what you would see today but that said, look what the result was!

The filming section though does detail more since it can encompass the five years of the series that The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine didn't - especially when you discover how often the CGI version of the station was used (clue - more than none and less than two). Closing off are three key appearances that you can't really argue with and won't pull any surprises (apart from the fact there are three and not the usual two as you would find in the regular fortnightly issues).

It's a comprehensive package for the first of the specials and posting this now seems to be more relevant given the recent announcements that specials three and four will be focusing on the JJ Universe with the USS Vengeance and Klingon Bird-of-Prey from Star Trek Into Darkness. Will we get to see a special that isn't from the reboot? At the moment it would be logical to assume that specials five and six will be the USS Kelvin and the Narada - the latter is giving the Eaglemoss team some headaches due to all those fins and points.

However when the series started a year and three days ago, the prospect of special one being Deep Space Nine did get us all excited that we'd get K-7, Regula One or even the refit USS Enterprise in spacedock as larger models. So what are the long term plans for the specials? 

There does seem to be a lot of ambiguity over where they're heading after the JJ domination and the recent 41-50 announcements have certainly taken the focus away from them but looking back now to the news that Deep Space Nine would be the first of these larger models there could be a suggestion we're getting short-changed. Do the JJ models really need to be on super-scale? Aren't there other ships that could have benefitted more from more detail such as the Enterprise-E or the Excelsior?

Just a thought. Anyway, I had estimated that the third special would be announced around the time the Xindi Insectoid ship was on the shelves and that never happened and now the indication is a November release for the Vengeance. With that ship confirmed at least we know the specials range is going to continue although how it will pan out across the now-likely 90 issue minimum run is one for much debate - and a few more space stations if you will.

The Eaglemoss Official Starships Collection is available from newsagents priced £9.99 (UK) every fortnight. You can also subscribe by clicking on the link in the sidebar and head there now to secure your ships.

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Monday, 8 September 2014

Is it a Captain Kirk Rule? Make a Date with the Red Shirt Diaries

I flicked through YouTube and watched the trailer; Ugh. 

This was not going to review well when it went live but hey,  it could be worse.

The only reason it could be worse is if I was completely wrong in my face-value assessment and ended up looking like a prize tit.  I'll let you guess where this is going.

The Red Shirt Diaries is the brainchild of actor and Star Trek fan Ashley V. Robinson and co-produced with Jason Inman. Last week saw the arrival of the 'pilot'  episode in a run of ten with each entry running at just over three minutes. With today being the 48th anniversary of the first showing of The Man Trap on US TV, it seems very relevant to be discussing this first episode which is set during that very story.

The first tick is that we're not having to sit down for a long duration which makes these vignettes perfect for filling a bit of time and at the very least raising a smile. So what's it all about?

Providing a somewhat unique perspective on ten first season episodes of The Original Series we go below decks to see just what's happening in the life of one crewman (you can tell she's not an officer since she doesn't have sleeves). Begrudgingly taken off the landing party for some average mission to check on a scientist, Ashley is much more interested in tasting food cubes or training sentient plant Gertrude. 

This is absolutely tongue in cheek and while I wouldn't say it's laugh out loud funny it is well acted and does come across very naturally. It's not what I'd expect to be watching but I was genuinely entertained with this initial personal log. Sliding in the events of The Man Trap - salt, the M-113 monster, Sulu's plant - help place the narrative with a nice comedic twist. In a typically The Original Series moment, choosing to ignore the salt vampire is the perfect satire - just what you would have expected everyone to do until the danger becomes absolutely unavoidable. I also dare anyone not to at least raise a smile at the special effects used to create co-star Gertrude.

As shows go this is not my usual forte nor was I absolutely raving about it BUT having said that it's quirky and off-the-wall enough that I know I'll be watching each new ep every Monday. It's not an action/adventure hour filled with a ton of effects, phasers and danger; it's a little more personal a heck of a lot different to the "usual" fare we get to see.

Now we were also blessed that the star of The Red Shirt Diaries is a Genuinely Nice Person because Ashley has also allowed us a sneaky look at the second episode. Just as off-the-wall as episode one, it's focused on Charlie X and the rigors of physical exercise day including the infamous Klingon Block, Romulan Bow, Xindi Zig-Zag (not best in an enclosed space) and rather random Vulcan Dodge. Going solus on her log entry this time, Ensign Williams is getting into the swing of Physical Training Day even if it does see the ship's trainer getting blinked out of existence by the Enterprise's latest guest. No plants or Uhura's to share the limelight this time.

I actually preferred the narrative in episode two - it flowed better, there was a little more activity and Ashley brings across a magnificent level of over-exuberance at the unfolding events. Captain Kirk however is a bit of a sleaze it seems and she's not too happy about the standard attire - but hey, it's just another average day on the ship!

Having seen episodes one and two I'm ;looking forward to seeing the remaining eight installments of this bite-size web-series and what a better way to understand it than a chat with series star, Ashley herself. So, what was the inspiration for this slightly surreal but all the more enrapturing series?

"I had always wanted to go back and watch The Original Series in order having only seen a few episodes here and there." explained Ashley. "Initially the idea was to watch them and do vlog reviews of each episode. When I pitched the idea to Jason Inman it turned into 'why don't we do a red shirt recording her mission logs?' Everything kind of went from there!"

A confessed Deep Space Nine fan, which immediately places her high up on our list of Favourite People to Interview, Ashley learned how to speak some Klingon in high school is the proud owner of four different Spock action figures as an adult. This is also the first fan project she's ever worked on. "It's been a great learning experience about what you can do with great materials, an invested crew and absolutely no money!"

And the format? It's quite short considering some of the other fan material that's populating various internet sites these days? 

"[We decided that] three minutes is a good length for something we're distributing on YouTube. It's long enough that we can get a full narrative told, but not too long that it would take time away from something else a viewer's attention might be focused on (like work). We really want The Red Shirt Diaries to be short and sweet and the scripts, and later episodes, all landed right around 3 minutes. It also seems it was an easy choice to go for the Kirk era when the show was developed; The Original Series is more iconic visually, with a lot of strong colour and lighting choice due to the fact that it was filmed in the 1960's. 

It's also easily the most iconic of all the series and one that Jason and I have a ton of love for. One of the reasons I believe it has become as iconic as it is are the strong characters and themes and those two things lend themselves to easily parody. It's immensely fun and great privilege to be able to play with these characters in this world. We never had any thought of placing Ensign Williams anywhere else besides Kirk's Enterprise until well after shooting had wrapped."

As for the big picture, there are ten episodes in this initial run which follow the original airing order of the show. "We're looking at the second season of The Red Shirt Diaries finishing out the first season of The Original Series. How far we go will be largely determined by reaction and interest from the Star Trek fandom. We do have ideas that could carry us through every Star Trek series and the movies, but that's just wishful thinking for right now."

After a week of being on the Jawiin YouTube channel, The Man Trap had received over 5,500 views which is not something to sneer at and with the release of the second episode it can only get better and more far reaching. 

"People's reaction has been overwhelmingly positive! I was very nervous that some fans would be unreceptive or that they would view The Red Shirt Diaries' satirical nature as somehow mean-spirited and that couldn't be further from our intention. The show has received a lot of compliments, which I think speaks to Star Trek fans' acceptance of fan projects and their appetite for on-going content. I'm very surprised and grateful for everyone's kind words and interest in The Red Shirt Diaries."

"The episode I'm looking forward to the most, which would come up in our second season, is Arena." noted Ashley,  "It was the first episode of The Original Series I ever saw and has always remained close to my heart ... and you better believe if we get there we will have a Gorn!"

As one of own favourite episodes of the show we can't wait for that one so if you've not seen The Red Shirt Diaries, start now and make sure you're commenting - the more views, the more likely we'll get to see the Gorn (and I'll volunteer to play it if you'll fly me over!).

So what can we expect from the remaining eight episodes as we celebrate the 48th Anniversary of Star Trek on this very day? Ashley has one word for each of the webisodes coming up - 

3 - Flashback Where No Man Has Gone Before
4 - Kidnapping The Naked Time
5 - Evil The Enemy Within
6 - Blackout Mudd's Women
7 - Friends What Are Little Girls Made Of?
8 - Doctor Miri
9 - Screaming Dagger of the Mind
10 - Lights The Corbomite Maneuver

And Gertrude will return....

Head over to the Jawiin Channel now to check out The Red Shirt Diaries Episode One and Episode Two and place your tongue firmly in cheek for your lower decks access to the most intimate and unusual look at the activities of the unseen USS Enterprise crew.

Have you seen The Red Shirt Diaries? Drop your thoughts to us below now!

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All images courtesy of The Red Shirt Diaries

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Renegades and Rhinos: The Official Starships Collection Issues 28 and 29

After last month's domination by Enterprise,  September kicks off with a trip to the other end of the Star Trek timeline,  namely my beloved Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Out of the gate first is the Maquis raider used by,  erm,  the Maquis. Actually a replica of the Val Jean from Voyager's Caretaker,  I am really impressed with the level of hull detail on this 60-something metre long ship. The scale works in its favour meaning we get a lot clearer map of the skin of this small craft but when you compare it to the crisp promo pictures there does seem to be some element of colour difference. Ok,  that's why it's called a promo image because things can change however it has kicked up a fair bit of dust with some fans respraying their models for a more 'authentic'  look. The real fist-biting moment though is the fact that the windows at the front are incorrectly marked and should be in the strip above, not the segmented sections as you can see in the pics of the model here and the image of the cockpit I've also included. Whoops. Thanks to the AVForum regulars for drawing my attention to that one.

The raider is almost totally rendered in metal which strikes it out over numerous other included releases and is very striking when you sit her on the rear-clip stand.  The raider was pretty well used through Deep Space Nine as the Maquis found themselves a more conflict - welcoming environment there once the two crews on Voyager had kissed and made up after Parallax.

Clear plastic detail is minimal,  being contained to just the small engine outlets to the rear of the ship however the remainder of the ship is much more eye-catching. While fans may want to see the Enterprise-D or a Klingon D-7, this is one of the models which shouts out Eaglemoss' attention to detail and the hard work they have put in the recreate these ships using the available archives from CBS. I was a fan of the Maquis when they dropped into the Deep Space Nine sphere of influence, especially the Eddington episode, For the Uniform which is among my favorites. 

It was also an outing for the raider but on screen you don't get to see the level of detail set into the metallic hull plating. The metallic paint finish does have a great sparkle in the light however when you compare the finished model to the apparent high definition promotional image from Eaglemoss, the panelling highlights don't stand out as well and it does seem to be a slightly different shade of grey. The odd thing is that in every image you see it doesn't look metallic at all and a fair bit more matt in its finish and in certain magazine pictures (page 10) there's a patch more detail around the nose section.

I'm pretty happy with the final result due to the level of detail which wraps fully around the hull and isn't limited to certain spots - probably benefitting from the unusually high metal to plastic ratio.  I tend to take these teaser images with a pinch of salt since we can't guarantee that they are the final version and you can do a lot with photoshop(!)

There's minimal plastic on the raider, limited to warp engines at the sides and impulse engines to the rear which are very, very small even on this larger scale model. I do like it but the promo images have made this ship look a lot cleaner than it did when it turned up. Even the cockpit windows seemed to be brighter on the page.

The opening profile pages are much less an episode synopsis this time around since the raider featured in a lot of stories but was never a key player if you will.  Covering the raider's origins as a modified transport it does focus more on its use by Eddington and Chakotay and key operations. The standard low-info views come with some additional highlighted views of the ship and the usual data feed side points before delving into the behind-the-scenes detail.

What marks this ship out is that it's not an original design unlike every single ship thus far and was actually a modification of a ship we saw back in Pre-Emptive Strike, the penultimate The Next Generation episode from 1994. No filming story this time as we're treated to a potted history of the Maquis (saw this coming) from their origins in Journey's End through to their total annihilation by the Jem'Hadar as revealed in Blaze of Glory. What really amazes me here is that while they were planted as a seed to grow for Voyager in the later The Next Generation episodes, they were much more effective in the conflict-rich environment of Deep Space Nine. Voyager on the other hand chose to tone down the dissent and conflict relatively early in its lifespan meaning later years could focus on marriage, 50's retro sci-fi, Borg babies and Jerry Ryan. 

Turning to the Jem'Hadar fighter - the first proper Deep Space Nine edition since issue 18's Solar Sailor - we have an unusual double in that both these ships are approximately 68 metres in length. The fighter though is the Dominion's second entry into the Starships Collection following the Jem'Hadar Battlecruiser in issue 14. That was a great model and the attack ship from the Gamma Quadrant is no different. There's a little bit more plastic than the Maquis raider with both the rear "beetle shell" and warp nacelles made from the lighter material.

The scarab beetle concept is very clear from the shape of the hull, especially from the underside. It's much smoother in profile than the raider with much less raised detail to see although I think the final product is more pleasing to the eye. The paint scheme too, which was toned down for the screen is also one of the more unusual using a shade of purple against the silvers and blues of the hull.  One thing I would have liked to see would have been the clear plastic sections used in the underside as my mind is telling me that this area was illuminated in the show and is then backed up by more than one shot of the pulsing strips at the rear. Why the engine pods don't have purple colouring in their transparent pieces is also puzzling me.

Construction is very good again with the larger scale allowing for more detail which means every panel and vent is perfectly marked out. Neither of this month's releases have any glaring mold lines or gaps where they're fitted together. The front end of the Jem'Hadar fighter for one is a single solid piece with the thorax/abdomen section a single plastic block. Only only on the raider can you see the separation line where the top and bottom have been joined.

For once the cover art on the magazine doesn't do the model justice, portraying it as a much smoother design and a lot less purple than is evident even in those wonderful silver tones. Bizarrely every other CGI image in the magazine then tends to make the fighter look overly purple as if trying to make up for it.

As becomes clear reading the magazine, which I didn enjoy this time since it didn't have any of the shocking printing errors that appeared in the Maquis Fighter issue (spacesbetweenwordshelps) and again the story of the ship and its appearances in Deep Space Nine are actually enhanced by the fact it wasn't a "key" ship in a particular story or the Enterprise

OK, so there is a fair bit handed over to the episodes The Ship and Time to Stand which featured the captured fighter  I never could work out why the upside down hatch looked like it did when it never matched any part of the fighter - nor why they all climb the wrong way through the ship.

I won't hide the fact that the Dominion were my preferred nemesis to Voyager's Borg so this magazine is a welcome addition to the library and the information on the "history" of the fighter brings together a lot from their first appearance in The Jem'Hadar through to Tears of the Prophets. There are episodic notes but also data on aspects of the craft and upgrades that took place during the war. The plan views seem even more sparsely labelled than ever and again, like the cover, are less detailed than the physical model.

The magazine also reminds us that the Jem'Hadar are unusual in the realms of major enemies that the crews met during their adventures in that they were never humanised, shown to have a weakness or allowed to grow beyond their origins. Nor did any of this change when they were viewed as individuals. They truly were developed purely as a force to be reckoned with.

Issue 29 does have a considerable amount of info not only on that but also on the development of the ship itself and it's angular origins. There's a great picture of the original filming model - which looks even more blue and purple than any other image. The thing with this issue is that there's no clear image of the fighter among the chosen images aside from the new CGI reproductions. Jim Martin's drawings are magnificent but what the quality of the pictures does reinforce is the need for Deep Space Nine in HD - the final image used on the On Screen section from A Time to Stand is the best example for this.

This month's offerings have certainly caused some rumbles in fandom - more with the Maquis raider than the fighter. What we do see is that Eaglemoss are going to town on this collection and doing as much as they can to recreate the ships exactly and it shows nowhere better than here in the smallest ships so far released. 

Speaking to +Nils W. recently it's also become apparent that Eaglemoss are cracking down on their replacements. Both his Nebula Class and Xindi-Insectoid ships came damaged and had to be returned before he could have them replaced. Me thinks that this could be because people are getting extra "replacements" to sell on a certain auction site beginning with an "e"? Or perhaps I'm being cynical. I can understand the need to get these damaged ones back if only to understand what's happened in transit or production but why has it taken this long? One of the Contingent still has a second Excelsior with two left nacelles. Is this a change in policy? What's your experience of getting replacements? Are you having to send wrecked ships back first? Let us know below.

Also we had a subscriber question sent out to see if anyone fancied some limited edition binders. Three designs were suggested featuring adversaries, the first ten issues and back cover images of some earlier Starfleet ships. I've included one of the promo shots from Eaglemoss here for reference. Anyone have a preference? I was more inclined to the green "enemy" one.

October brings us the Nausicaan raider and the third Romulan entry, the Valdore from Nemesis. The raider is another Enterprise release so we can expect sublime detail but very little general interest while the Valdore will be (timewise) the latest ship to grace the collection. I know a few people who are looking forward to that one and I can see a Romulan photoshoot coming on alongside the Warbird and the Bird-of-Prey. Oh and while we're at it, here's a gratuitous shot of the lesser-spotted Starfleet Runabout. This one's been in hiding for a while but finally we got some shots of the one ship that seemed to get skipped over. She's a beauty and definitely one I can't wait to get my hands on. Nice to see the addition of the weapons pod too although if it was detachable that would have been an extra tick.

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