Friday, 30 January 2015

It's a Strange Thing....

Never has wearing a Star Trek bathrobe looked so intriguing and dangerous - and there's not even a red one in sight.

From the minds of Alrik and Beth Bursell comes Strange Thing, an independent production that has done particularly well in the last year or so.

Running at just under ten minutes, Strange Thing follows the events in one moment of a Star Trek.
couple's lives when a mysterious door appears in their apartment. But the big thing here is that producer and writer team of Beth and Alrik are huge fans of

Explained Alrik who was one of the leading people in this 100% independent production; "So I grew up with Star Trek like so many other people of my generation, watching The Next Generation with my parents right before I went to bed and so on.

"When I met my wife one of the first things I noticed in her apartment were her Uhura and Dr.McCoy action figures. On our second date she asked me if I wanted to go to the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in four months and lo and behold we did, dressed in our star fleet uniforms, me as Riker and her as Nurse Chapel. She has always been a bigger Original Series fan and I'm The Next Generation all the way but we still enjoy both the series together. 

In the initial set-up scenes we get to see the couple going about their evening activities, watching a movie and heading off to bed. There's some great, natural dialogue between the couple attired in their Star Trek robes drinking a morning beverage from their Star Trek mugs.

"Before we made Strange Thing we would wear the Star Trek robes featured in the movie every day." said Alrik.  "When we came up with the idea to make a movie about a doorway appearing in a couple's living room, I thought it was very important to have the lead character based off on my wife because she would totally want to open the door. Originally the husband was also going to be a big nerd but we decided to layer in hints of him being less into Star Trek, to create more conflict and give him a reason to resist opening the door."

That hint is there in his apparent reluctance to previously to wear the command bathrobe but the connection to the franchise doesn't stop there. On screen you'll spot a Borg mug or a glanced Spock action figure but the real inspiration comes from something a lot more familiar and certainly a lot more dangerous (in the Star Trek universe) than ceramics or plastic! 

"Once we had the beginning of the short worked out, I quickly decided that I wanted to base the monster off of the creature from The Next Generation episode, Skin of Evil in which Tasha Yar dies. That was important episode for me as a kid and re-watching it as an adult I came to enjoy it even more."

The mysterious door seems to be a gateway to another, rather foresty location/universe/dimension where our female protagionist confronts a familiar looking entity. It's not a terrifying short film but the acting, the buildup and the great gloopy ending are wonderfully paced and shot from start to finish. I suspect that the sci-fi/fantasy edge will appeal to Star Trek fans as well as general genre followers but it's as much about the relationship as it is about the CGI creation which viewers will be anticipating.

"Once we shot the film we went to the Star Trek Convention in San Francisco to promote the kickstarter and handed out fliers to hundreds of Trekkies (my wife even got one in the hand of Brent Spiner).

Alrik and Beth were married right after they made the movie and had only returned from their honeymoon a couple of days before the convention.

"Taking the film around Film Festivals has been a blast and there is almost always one Star Trek person who can name the episode that inspired the ooze monster. The film plays really well at Sci-Fi festivals but also really well at more broad film festivals where it is the only genre film, just most of the references and memorabilia go over peoples heads!" added Alrik. So far the film has been to 18 festivals in all, including Toronto After Dark and the Morbido International Film Festival

So what was my impression of Strange Thing? Aside from the Star Trek references and influences I was really impressed. It's short, sharp, to the point and a great production all round. The acting of the two leads playing Jake and Kris is wonderfully realistic and I believed their relationship. Having the first piece set up their dynamic played not only to help us get to know them but also just to lull you into a false sense of security before the main event.

The scenario is as far-fetched as they get but that's what makes it all the more interesting to watch and even though I know it's influenced by Skin of Evil I was getting hints of The Thing and The Abyss in there as well. Having so many unanswered questions certainly leaves this open for a (longer?) sequel perhaps but even if that never happens then Alrik and Beth have provided a short which will play havoc with your imagination - heck, I've already run up a feature-length followup in my head.

"Now that I am releasing the film I am hoping it can get out to a wide audience of Trekkies and Non-Trekkies alike. It was a real long process to get the film made and everyone who worked on it dedicated so much blood, sweat and tears into the project, I feel like it's my duty to get it seen by as many people as possible.

I would urge film fans and Star Trek fans to take a look at Strange Thing.  You can take a look right now by following THIS LINK.

If you've watched it, what did you think?

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Monday, 26 January 2015

Fast Flyer and the Metal Flea: The Official Starships Collection Issues 38 and 39

Fittingly with the 20th anniversary this week there's a Voyager issue from the Eaglemoss stable in January.

Maybe something from Caretaker would have been more fitting but the arrival of the Delta Flyer will be one excitedly welcomed by fans.

A compact model the first thing that struck me is the lack of extremities here.  Everything,  very much due to that infamous 'hot rod'  design is enclosed within the smooth,  bubble-like hull shape.  The finish on mine is pretty decent although a few on Facebook have noted some horrible joins between the metal upper and plastic lower hulls.  Personally I have only one complaint about the finish or the detail on the Delta Flyer and that's in relation to a slightly sloppy paint finish around the main window. I guess being mass produced this is a tricky bit to get right with the different sizes and angles which has left a bit of bleed and misalignment. In fact this is very similar to what we've seen with the misaligned windows on numerous starships over the course.

She might be without extending nacelles however Eaglemoss have included those translucent sections for the warp exhausts and buzzard collectors which also help break up the surface of the Flyer.

Aside from that minor blip on the window finish,  it is very,  very well presented with rear hatch detail,  Starfleet pennants and good underside detail as well as clean panel lines across the surface. Ok,  so there's no green glow effect on the Borg components but that's not likely to be an easy one to replicate as painting them green-tinged might end up just looking horribly tacky.  The decalling is particularly sharp on this model which does contrast a rather blocky paint scheme in places but then there isn't a ton of surface intricacies here. The lack of animated glow does detract from the overall effect but the key surface features are all there including that single torpedo launcher which marks this as the Delta Flyer II rather than the Delta Flyer.

As I've noted many times I'm not the biggest Voyager fan yet this is a good replica from the show however I'm surprised that it's not raised more voices around the inclusion of at least the key shuttlecraft within the series.

Well... That's not strictly true since EU customers are being given the option to pay a bit extra for their subscription and get a four shuttle set featuring iconic craft from The Original Series,  The Next Generation,  Deep Space Nine and Voyager (more at the end!)...

I liked the accompanying magazine with the streamlined Flyer for the history of the craft including it's destruction and replacement (really, Voyager has 18 shuttles eliminated before they built it?!) and a great set of views of the shop which match nicely with the "real" ship in the pack. The design and CG creation sections cover all the aspects of its existence in the real world extensively and there's even a couple of images of the Delta Flyer with the warp nacelles extended in the CG section. Actually the pics in issue 38 are some of the best episode and CG shots produced in the magazines since day one. No fuzzy long shots or blurred motion stills which does make a change and really enhances the quality of the edition. 

Issue 39 brings us into Romulan territory with their unmanned drone ship from the final season of Enterprise. A reused/modified background design, the 'flea' is, unsurprisingly for an entry from the short-lived prequel, meticulously detailed which is unavoidable due to the number of subspace antennae all over the hull. 

It is certainly one of the most unusual designs and in the flesh it's a lot lighter than I remember it from Enterprise. In comparison to the preceding Delta Flyer the surface is much more detailed with both green and silver panelling as well as the external holographic projectors which dot every section of the hull and made the onscreen variant appear as any ship it encountered.

The antennae at the front and on the underside are key pieces of the overall design and Eaglemoss have to be applauded for putting in the effort to make this one a reality. I'm really impressed here although the metal section is buried in the centre underneath the plating and aerials. Why it needed to be metal considering it's hidden away I'm not sure however it does give some weight to the final result and might help weigh it down as the stand design is one of the more bizarre since the Krenim Timeship. The number of aerials at the front is nowhere near the amount that are featured on the magazine cover and while I could easily complain you have to realise just how thin and intricate the threads would be and most likely how expensive and delicate they would have been.

The plan views in the magazine do make the drone look a lot darker than the model itself and more as I recall it from its onscreen appearances however the detail in those images doesn't show up (oddly) as well as it does on the ship. Importantly for both this and the Delta Flyer is that their build quality is second to none. There are no poor joins or sloppy painting which has bugged me on a few ships to this point most notably around window locations (check all the Starfleet entries to the collection for that one). 

I find the insectoid ship incredibly interesting with all it's fins, odd lines and extremities which Eaglemoss have replicated to the best of their abilities considering some of the fiddly points that might have been involved in its design and build.

The magazine covers all the events between the episodes Babel One and The Aenar which saw the drone onscreen. No surprises here as the information is take directly from the episodes but the design section here is one of the most interesting for some time. A guest ship in Voyager more than once, the drone stepped from the shadows into the foreground with some modifications and is now one of the more recognisable vessels from Enterprise.

Both of this month's editions only ever existed as CGI which probably explains the raised detail on both ships however the magazine for the drone highlights that there is quite a bit of surface detail, aside from the thin aerials missing - the larger holoemitters are present and even the smaller versions are replicated but not in such minute detail Indeed, the magazine's images are superb here but do highlight that the model in this instance is slightly substandard. I can't fault Eaglemoss though as price, size and a range of other factors must have come into play. This must have been one of the more difficult to produce given all the facets to account for. Definitely more of a challenge than the straightforward Delta Flyer.

Rounding out the magazine is actually a bit of a gem, giving a hint at what could have been for the fifth season of Enterprise covering the genesis of the Romulan War which was ushered in through the appearance of the drone. 

In conclusion a good month once more (bad ones just don't seem to happen these days) and not without a couple of additional stories. It seems that the Klingon Bird-of-Prey from Star Trek Into Darkness got its first photocall and is due out in March. It looks like a beast in every respect and will be causing a few shelf shuffles given the extended wingspan pictured here.

However, the big one that has UK fans talking is the Shuttlecraft Pack that EU customers will be able to collect for an extra 1.50 Euros per issue. Dropped without any warning and almost totally under the radar, demand and conversation on its appearance and availability is already rife. Comprising of The Original Series' Galileo II, The Next Generation's Type-6, the  Type-9 from Voyager and the Chauffee Type-10 from Deep Space Nine the availability to UK customers who have stayed with the collection since its first day has been causing some grumbles. Hopefully we will see it over here and not have to pay over the odds to get it imported. Apparently these are also a little smaller than the regular ships but I would love to get hold of a set as I've wanted and hoped they would include shuttles at some point.

Additionally we got to see our first peeks at the Intrepid from Issue 44 and the Malon Freighter in Issue 45 thanks to Memory Alpha. Of the three we got to see the D-4 is mega-impressive if only for its size. The Intrepid from Enterprise does look pretty plain and I can't help but mentally compare it to the NX-01 which is still a series highlight nearly 40 issues in. The freighter is, well, brown but with the quality of the pic I can't get a good scan over the hull detail however it does seem to be well defined. Nice image on the mag cover too. I've dropped the pics here for you all to have a good look. I'm not very excited by either with the Enterprise-B and the Pasteur being major must haves for the moment. After these latest reveals I think the Enterprise-C is the next one I can't wait to see.

Fan of the Flyer or revelling in the Romulan Drone this month? Drop us a line!

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Got it Pegged

At least this one has foundation.

Unlike Riker directing and the CW network wanting to air a non-existent new Star Trek show,  the news that Simon Pegg will be penning Star Trek 3 with Doug Jong is true.
Yes,  true. I repeat -  True.

A lot of news focus has gone on his work with the Cornetto Trilogy of Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and The World's End but his sci-fi credentials are much stronger. Aside from his obvious appearances as Scotty in the two reboots, he's taken to the screen in Doctor Who during its first year return to TV in 2005 but his earlier work on the brilliant Spaced shows the depth of his knowledge in the genre. That show was heavily peppered with geek references and themes all the way through its two seasons (deserved a third) and those familiar with that as well as his other works will be nodding in approval I'm sure.

It would be easy to say that the best films were penned by those not familiar with the genre a la Nicolas Meyer but Nimoy had more than a hand in both The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country.  Pegg will have a challenge ahead and this is very much sticking his neck on the train tracks after two big money spinning but critically average movies. I believe that Pegg will understand exactly what fans want from the franchise and where it's gone both right and wrong.  Most difficult to do will be balancing the direction in which JJ took the franchise as well as drawing on its rich 50 year history. Question here is whether or not we've gone too far down the reboot path to start fixing any of the issues fans might well have.

And what of his co-writer Doug Jong?

IMDB lists just seven entries for this guy, none of which I can admit to having seen let alone heard of although a lot of sites seem to be noting Dark Blue and Confidence: After Dark as two of his key works to date. Notably I don't see anything that would scream at him being the ideal candidate to co-write the third Star Trek reboot - but then the same could have been said of a certain Nicholas Meyer in the early 1980's.... Perhaps having that mix of Nerd royalty and non-descript Star Trek newcomer will be a perfect formula for the future with each balancing the other's weaknesses.

This move also indicates to me that Orci, while still producing, will have minimal involvement with the writing process and that the script he contributed to was not anywhere near the standard it needed to be.  Pegg's experience within the franchise as well as his Nerd (K)nowledge will be priceless to ensure that it is both a financial and critical success avoiding the repetitive errors of Into Darkness.

I would suspect that the Powers are starting to get sweaty palms over the movie too since a while back we were gearing up to start filming only now to find that the brakes have been firmly slammed and we're back to square one writing the script.  My faith in the project has been knocked by the wranglings we've openly seen around directing,  producing and writing virtually from the moment Into Darkness premiered but the acquisition of Simon Pegg to the third movie is a move which has eased some of that feeling. 

The timescale is now the challenge to ensure its written, filmed and premieres on that July date which has already been confirmed. How silly does that look now that Paramount are pretty much admitting that the story was pap as was rumoured? In a word; very.  My only fear now is a potential overfamiliarity with the material that could come from Pegg's love but when you compare his inevitable excitement and thrill to work on such a project against Abrams' lightning quick jump to his preferred works in a galaxy far, far away I feel confident that the 50th anniversary will be well served with a fresh outlook to drive the franchise into the next half-century.

How do you feel about the announcement that Simon Pegg will co-write Star Trek 3?

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Saturday, 24 January 2015

The CW or Any Other Network

Slow news month?!

Both December and January have provided their share of tepid Star Trek stories be it #bringinriker or more recently the news that the CW would love to air a new Star Trek series.

Quick background point -  the CW did pick up some of the pieces when the UPN network closed in 2006. That network launched with Voyager if you recall (very relevant given the anniversary last week) and it is linked to CBS which would make even more sense since they own the TV rights to Star Trek. Anyway,  this is just about as heavy a news story as the possibility that Frakes could, maybe direct Star Trek 3

Apparently a network would like to show a new series.  To quote myself from a previous post,  I'm sure any network if you asked them would like to air a new Star Trek series. Heck, anyone called Nickelodeon yet?  OK - the demographic would be a factor here and looking at the CW Network they do have shows such as Supernatural, The Flash, Arrow and more which certainly fit the fantasy genre which might mean Star Trek gaining a younger audience. Cue young cast.

With production under way in some form for the next movie interest will be rife. Saying this will raise interest in your network in turn and finding a home for new Star Trek show would be a sinch. It's a lot hotter property than it was in 2005 thanks to JJ Abrams but it's rebirth in the cinema rather than its original intended TV format certainly mixes things up.

However it's not finding a home that's the issue.  It's the nature of the show. Times they are a (constantly) changing and just as the movies have had to adapt and even reboot,  the show would need to as well to engage an audience that will be familiar with shows that changed the TV landscape since These are the Voyages narked off the fan base.

So I've been thinking,  what would the show need to have that it wouldn't have had back in the day to make it a success?  I reckon there are a few we need to adhere to and I'm only mentioning three that seem very relevant because it's a no-brainer that we'll need a complex, diverse crew on a starship exploring new worlds and new civilisations. Heck, if we can't get that in there we've no chance.

No One is Safe

In line with every major series going from Lost to Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead and more, the cast can't be a steady nine characters for the duration of the show. Hit the "realism" button and make us believe that this is real - people do die and that is something that a lot of shows do grip firmly these days. The franchise managed to kill high profile regular Spock, Yar, Dax, Kirk, Data and Tucker so it's not afraid to stick its neck out occasionally. What we're calling for is regular cast changes and updates to keep it fresh.

Reduced Seasons

A sign of the times that will mean this has to be a tight, honed, well-produced show where not a minute is wasted. There's no more time for filler episodes that we could all name in a second from Deep Space Nine in a 13 or 16 episode run. Every one has to count, has to have an impact and that weekly reset button has to be disconnected. 

Could this maybe mean a slightly longer running time on each episode that in turn would mean avoiding some of those horribly rushed endings we tended to get to close it all down within 44 minutes? If you recall when The Next Generation started the episode run time was nearer 50 minutes discounting adverts and by the end of Voyager it was close to 42. 

Real Issues

Not that Star Trek has ever shied away from that but now these need to be hit head on. There HAS to be an openly gay/lesbian/bisexual character; there has to be a modernisation of storytelling and style to make this modern and attractive to the cinema-goer who is only familiar with the JJ Abrams movies. 

No coping out on those issues either as I kind of feel they did with Rejoined which sidestepped the issue by making it a Trill storyline. The kiss, just like the one in Plato's Stepchildren ended up just a flash in the pan sensation in a fairly average episode. Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the franchise that it has failed to make a full and proper acknowledgement of single sex relationships.

Sadly the JJ-verse is probably going to need to be the setting due to that cinematic presence so bye bye Captain Worf/Sulu et al.

And Finally...

Maybe the other consideration is who precisely is going to be responsible for bringing back Star Trek to the TV? I don't mean which network will consider it right for their demographic but who will be the Roddenberry or Berman for the 21st Century? Who could be a contender? Would Ronald D Moore think about a return to the franchise that made him? (I'm seeing a follow-up piece here).

Maybe that conversation is for another day. Right now, today though the interest in bringing back Star Trek to its natural format on the small screen is increasing and next year will only magnify that interest 100 times over. Could 2016 be the year that we get that new show or at least get the announcement of a new show? Only today I discovered that The X-Files could be getting a restart with the original Mulder and Scully partnership and if that's possible then anything can happen in this crazy madcap world.

Our thoughts here are just a starter born from a slow news story - but what would make this new show DIFFERENT? What would we get in today's environment that we would not have seen in 80's or 90's Star Trek

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Friday, 16 January 2015

20 Years to the Journey

January 1995. I was in secondary school and with a lot to learn.

But enough of me.  January 1995 was the first time we'd step aboard the Intrepid Class USS Voyager and start our trip home,  70,000 light years away in the uncharted Delta Quadrant.

As a few of you may or may not know I'm not a big Voyager fan although my rewatch is barely three episodes of Deep Space Nine away but with the 20th anniversary here and now, what better time to go back and revisit the fourth incarnation of the show?

At the time that we first saw Caretaker, Deep Space Nine was airing Past Tense (literally yesterday) and really growing into a Star Trek force to be reckoned with. It's best years were undoubtedly still ahead but there were already signs of greatness. We were in the wilderness between Generations in 1994 and First Contact in 1995 and securely inside the "golden age" of the franchise. Two crews were flourishing and into the arena stepped Captain Janeway and the turbulent mix of a Starfleet and Maquis crew desperate to return home.

The concept itself wasn't all that fresh with series such as Lost in Space and even Battlestar Galactica in the 1970's searching for Earth, mixing different personalities together on the long, arduous trip but here was the opportunity to tell the story from a Star Trek perspective on a small, resource-limited ship not designed for long-term deep space deployment. Stir in the chance to see some amazing new aliens in a totally fresh segment of the universe and this could only be a winner.

For me though it wasn't. Now I am counting the days until the Voyager season one box set comes out of the shelf for the first time with a slight sense of trepidation and not just because it'll be coming after What You Leave Behind. The first episode, Caretaker, is a damn good opener. It establishes, as you would expect, the two crews, joins them together and has them stop a villainous, tribal race from getting hold of advanced technology. All good, game on, top marks.

Caretaker is much more action orientated than Deep Space Nine's Emissary, setting the show as the punchy new kid on the block, a young person's Star Trek if you will with a host of younger, quirky characters along with a no-nonsense, hands-on hips and bun-on-head captain and one of the greatest characters in the whole franchise, the Doctor to add gravitas to the proceedings. Before we forget it also brought to us one of the Nicest People on Twitter Ever, Garrett Wang (see you at FCD, Garrett!) as eternal Ensign Kim.

Problem for me is that while the pilot sets up the conflicts, the long road ahead, the challenges and the risks, this all seems to get forgotten within weeks. The crews integrate scarily quickly, regular off-course detours take presidence and the less said about fromage the better. Caretaker does everything right, it gives us interesting characters in a diverse crew, the options to continue plotlines and expand on the ethos of the ship and it's dysfunctional crew but these significant strands seem to get as lost as the ship itself and just about as quickly. All of which gets walked all over in a matter of episodes. In fact the big hope of finding the second Caretaker is all wrapped up by the midpoint of the second season and fairly disappointingly as well. 

My good friend at the time, Stephen Bond was a big Voyager fan and I would agree that there are episodes which are of an exceptional standard but there's always that "what if" factor with the show. It just never quite hit that high mark even with the addition of Seven of Nine. A great character without question but still not enough to propel Voyager from the shadow of either The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. Was this the straw that broke the franchise's back? Was it the show too far? Possibly since it did flood the marketplace with a third active generation across TV and cinema but we were lapping it up in droves and I don't recall us complaining that there was too much Star Trek available - and new star Trek at that. Hey, look at it with the benefit of living in 2015 where we're clawing for any news on a rebooted movie franchise following a lacklustre second installment and it's nearly comical.

Caretaker, 20 years on is in my mind a pilot better than Encounter at Farpoint  and on a par with Broken Bow. I still remember buying the VHS cassette and admiring the way it had been packaged with tech specs and episodic detail. Very in-line with what had been produced for Deep Space Nine but perhaps more anticipated. I had been very excited because this could well be a fine replacement for The Next Generation

I do tend to lean favourably on Emissary for a lot of reasons (which I talked about a while back here) and from a development perspective it'll always be good to return to and see where the show came from. We can say that the show was definitely not stagnant and while it wasn't stationary we still managed to get some wonderful recurring villains - the hunting heavies the Hirogen, the budget Klingons aka the Kazon (hmmm), the cleverly realised Vidiians and ultimately Star Trek's greatest alien villain creation, the Borg in their natural environment of the Delta Quadrant. My opinion on their return is not the best since Voyager had to borrow a baddie from The Next Generation although they did expand on the background however I personally felt the Borg were ruined by the show through overuse. That said, Scorpion has one of the best, shortest teasers ever and more cubes than we'd ever seen in one place before. In it's fourth season conclusion, Seven was a mark of genius and worked well to explore the human condition from the outside perspective that Odo, Data and Spock had done before and which was evidently missing from the spin-off.

Seven certainly resonated with the fans and for the first few seasons only the Doctor really shone for me. Janeway was tough, uncompromising but still fair (and nearly extremely French) while her first officer seemed to be near non-existent at some points or being stereotyped hunting for spirit guides. Tom and Harry were troublesome kids, B'Elanna wasn't quite hitting the mark as a Klingon or a human and took a lead from Chakotay, grumping through the first few years. Then there was something altogether unsettling about the relationship that Neelix had with the short-lived Ocampa, Kes. Neelix has to be one of the worst conceived main characters in Star Trek history and that's not a smear on Ethan Phillips who worked as much magic as he could on what seems to have been a cuddly comic relief that attempted to be Quark in the Delta Quadrant and missed the boat. You might even say that the best characters had already been written in the preceding three shows and now the ideas were running dry which didn't make for good viewing early on. The first few seasons really did show it took a while for Voyager to find her landing legs.

Even when there weren't great villains or maybe an attempt at a character piece, Voyager could pull out a good concept story and there are a ton to choose from - Living Witness, Blink of an Eye or Memorial jump to mind immediately and in this respect it did take some chances that neither of its immediate peers had done. Being that little detached did mean there was a lot more to play with although we did get a good reminder of what the show could have turned out like in the landmark two parter Equinox. One of the finest stories of any show ever.

The return of Barclay (on occasion with Troi) made for great viewing with Pathfinder taking place anywhere but Voyager on the real ship as indeed did Course: Oblivion (again) for the most part. Certainly there was no chance of getting too familiar with the setup here as the writers weren't averse to trying something different. You can certainly say it's identity was distinct from Deep Space Nine. Taking the time to regain contact with the Alpha Quadrant was well timed. It could have happened early on but instead that was thrown in unexpectedly in the fourth season through a clever multi-story arc. Season four is one of the years I look forward to the most with that Hirogen/Earth arc (and the Prometheus), Year of Hell and a personal favourite in Hope and Fear. Tragically at the other end of all that there was a Threshold, a Jetrel or a Q2. And talking of the omnipotent ones, how much damage did that episode and The Q and the Grey do? I loved the story of Death Wish - one of the show's early crowing glories but any step into the world of Q after that was an utter disaster. Even Q-Less was better and that's only due to the Picard line. It was, to say the least inconsistent and that's why it'll never make it as my favourite show. Sometimes hit but sometimes an uncomfortable miss as I could lay at the uneven Flashback. Bizarrely though I was having a brief chat with Wayne Emery from TrekMate that touched on guilty pleasure episodes and I could probably pick more than a handful from Voyager if truth be told - The 37's would certainly be one (and watch the come back on that remark!)

I don't want to get too heavily into the mechanics of the exactly 20 year old Caretaker here because I haven't watched it for years and to review something with a slight haze of memory would do the show and this blog a great disservice. I can say that when I do watch it I will give it a fair trial(!) and report my findings warts and all.  I have some great memories of the show and over the next few months these will bubble to the surface and I'll end up jotting a few notes down here and there. I do promise not to go blow by blow on every episode - not my thing! I do hope that my memory has just been playing horrible tricks and actually Voyager is much better with the passage of time - apparently Enterprise is from what I hear.

So let's leave it with this thought. Voyager was a bold move and the Marmite series that divided fans opinions in the years that followed the closure of The Next Generation. The beginning of the end of Classic Star Trek? For many the best show there was?  I'm sure this year we will be keenly reminded of the highlights of the Journey and what it brought to the franchise. For now though let's fold those nacelles and get ourselves right back home.

Happy memories 20 years on or is this the series that still leaves you cold? Why not drop a line and tell us why! 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Starfinder, Klingon, Gorn

An unexpected year's gap between episodes was a long wait for fans of audio series Starfinder but 2014 ended with a flourish as episodes two, three and four landed with a little help from some Klingon friends.

Messages from the Outback kicks off a mini-arc of episodes in this first season and ties in with The Gates of Sto'vo'kor who are a fan group now in their third season of audio adventures focusing on the crew of a the IKS Kradec, a BortaSqu' Dreadnought Cruiser from the realms of Star Trek Online While this isn't an episode of Starfinder per se it is worth a listen to broaden your library of podcasts as well as to get another thread on the activities in and around the region known as the Outback. For those of you who are fans of the show, be careful as you read on as I may be SPOILING. There's your warning, take it or leave it people.

That initial crossover episode helps to introduce the crew of the IKS Kradec and an initial conflict with the Tholians which leads them onto a trail pointing straight in the direction of the Starfinder. It was a total change of pace to listen to Messages... and then Gorn of a Different Colour as we're 100% onboard with the Klingon crew for two and a bit episodes. It's only 15 minutes into the second part of Gorn... that the crew of the Starfinder reappear.

The IKS Kradec originally appeared back in the pilot episode as the counter to the title starship and I'm not sure if a two-parter plus a crossover and another episode to come was a necessity at such an early stage of the series. We've only had two pure Starfinder episodes to this point plus a smattering of vignettes to keep our interests peaked and the we get something which takes us totally away from the focus of the series for a whole hour. Did I feel a bit cheated? Yes, I did BUT I can see what they've done here.

Why does the show have to stick to the rules and be 100% on the Starfinder every episode? What we have here is a story which adds depth to the backstory, fleshes out the ethos of the series and builds the Outback into a genuinely interesting region of space in three audio dimensions. The whole thing with modern TV drama is that they punch outside the box and certainly it might have made for some very different Star Trek moments if we'd had episodes that didn't focus purely on the crew of each headline ship or station. I might not have been a huge Voyager fan but if you look at Distant OriginsCourse: Oblivion and Living Witness they bear that very hallmark and make for three hours of fantastic telly.

In that same vain, Starfinder has made a bold move, taking us out of the safety net of the Federation starship and introducing the listener to a group of Klingons, Orions, Gorn and a Lethean. Looking at the plot, the ship encounters a world which may be home to an offshoot of the Gorn known as the Tyr'Gash with whom Commander Valkara chooses to annex as part of the Empire since they have laid claim to the Outback.

This in turn leads to conflict within the mixed crew, especially with everyone's favourite Arena guests, the Gorn, who are rather against turning violent towards their different coloured cousins - and at that point the Starfinder returns to the fold.

I did feel that the Klingon crew weren't anywhere near as warrior-like and honourable as they should have been. Everything in the Star Trek universe emphasises their proud heritage and their aggressive nature but here, in one or two particular cases I didn't feel the strength of the Empire. In fact the conflict which erupts onboard the Kradec is allowed to happen without any attempt to be quashed as the crew begin to take sides.

Michael Medeiros, a friend with Starfinder creator George Silsby for many years, is one of the brains behind the new episodes as he co-produced, wrote and directed them.

"I approached my team over at Gates of Sto’vo’kor and discussed it with them." said Michael, "We started working out the details of the story such as the crew, ship, and even the race of Gorn we would utilize. Ross Bullock developed the story idea and we took some liberties with the story that would become Gorn of A Different Color, such as making the Tyr Gash a separate species of Gorn entirely, the Kradec’s Captain is a woman, and other ideas as well. One of the aspects, we bantered about was an epic tale that would be told in three parts. 

"The first part would be a crossover with Gates of Sto’vo’kor that would establish the Klingon presence in the Outback, then the actual Starfinder episode (originally slated for six or seven on the release schedule), and another crossover that would act as an epilogue to the Klingon series, which would finish them off and keep them busy until Starfinder’s second season."

So there has been a big plan in place for the arrival of the Klingons within the folds of the Starfinder series.

Explained Michael; "With our outline in place, I approached George and we discussed our plans. We made a few adjustments, but in the end, he loved the ideas and even started discussing ideas on how to bring the Klingons back and have them hold a more important role in Starfinder in their second season. With the approval, I began writing the script that would become Gorn of A Different Colour

"I passed the script to Ross once the first draft was completed. He added a scene and made some adjustments throughout, while I started working on the scripts for the prologue and epilogue crossovers (Messages From The Outback). When Ross finished the Gorn script, I gave him the Messages... scripts and took one last look at Gorn. When all three scripts were done, I forwarded them to George for review. He loved them and believed the Gorn script to be long enough to split into a two-part episode. It already offered a good place to cut the episode at the end of third act, so few changes were required. The story was also brought up in the line up to third and fourth.

"After an exhaustive search, we found the actors to help us voice all of the roles we would need. With everything ready, production began and we spent several weeks getting the audio we required for the episodes. Ross and I directed every line of dialogue we could to ensure it met our standards for quality. The arduous act of prepping the audio for assembly began after that. Then, life and some unforeseen circumstances occurred and the project was shelved while they were dealt with. Once everything settled down, I got to work on the Gorn episodes. 

"After two months of editing, I sent the first draft of the completed episode to Ross, George, and a few others. There were a few minor tweaks, but in the end, Part I was ready for release. With Starfinder’s second episode on the verge of release, and at my urging, we agreed to sit on it until everything was ready. Two more months later, Part II was ready to go as well. While I worked on the first part, Ross took on Messages.... We waited until the prologue piece was completed before we started releasing episodes, once every two weeks, giving Ross ample time to finish the epilogue of Messages... before the end of the year."

It is, I remind you again, a very different Starfinder. Getting to know so many new characters in such a short period of time - and so many that are in a lot of ways very similar be they Gorn or Klingon - was a bit confusing and maybe scattering the Klingon events amongst the two parter might have helped, linking events more directly because I did find my mind wondering when the main cast would be turning up - and when they do it is a limited selection that we know from the first two episodes.

Ok, so how does the script weigh in? I'd say pretty average. The first two episodes had a lot more action, edge and pacing whereas here the pace is fairly steady. Having the knowledge of the two part format did mean I was expecting the cliffhanger but when it came I was hoping for something with a bit more impact. The trouble is that at this stage we don't know the main crew that well and we definitely don't recognise the Klingon crew and this meant I personally felt distant and non-committal to caring about the crew of the Kradec as the mutiny begins to take effect.

Today being a good day to die is noted a fair few times here and I was concerned that the crew were falling into a slightly stereotypical formula for Klingons. Now I know I've also said that they weren't honourable enough and that's my problem here in some respects because they fall into a place where they say the lines, project an air of being true warriors but then don't deliver the goods. Starfinder didn't need to emphasise this aspect and in some ways I hope that they find a better way to promote the enthusiastic spirit of the Klingons. 

The differing quality between the actors recorded lines is an issue here with massive variations during a single conversation and the interactions of the Klingons did feel a little odd. Not uncomfortable but almost a tad too polite. I know; odd, but there you are. Probably the reason the mutiny actually took place.

The arrival of the Starfinder crew in Part II does help to lift the adventure as they attempt to diffuse the situation, reunite the fragmented crew of the Kradec and stop a massive interstellar incident from blowing up with the Tyr'Gash. Commander Krang, the Klingon first officer does give in much too easily when Captain Ann-D offers unwanted assistance and this keeps flagging up the big issue with this larger story arc - the Klingons don't seem to work with the amount of airtime they have received at the sake of the Starfinder crew. 

They are, of course, the heroes of the piece but their arrival highlights their absence even more. Indeed, they are much better catered for in the script, likely due to the fact that they have had two episodes and the vignettes already dedicated to their journey. Only the captain, the Jem'Hadar, their Vorta overseer, Sergeant Byrnes and Penn and Zeller get airtime in this second part however it does feel as though there should have been more.

Gorn of a Different Colour is a bold, daring step by the Starfinder team but it's timing and execution are not what I've come to expect or hope from them. There are simply too many people we've not got to know in the course of the first part and the preceding Messages from the Outback courtesy of the Gates of Sto'vo'kor and the audio format does not help differentiate them easily before launching into a fully fledged two hour story. Separating Gorn from Klingon is easy but specific individuals and names are numerous and not that easy to remember. As we know it would have originally been further into the season and if that was the case it would have worked more effectively as I still don't know the main characters well enough.

Exec producer and voice of MACO Sergeant Byrnes, George Silsby was also keen to shed light on Starfinder developments; "We had one small dilemma when episode two was late being released; we had another team cranking out 4 episodes and we had a huge setback with just one.

"Those four episodes just happened to focus on the Klingons. What can you do? It was a content decision. The fans wanted content. They wanted a story to be told, sure it caused us to shift gears perhaps much sooner than we planned, but we don't feel it hurt the show, quite the opposite. 
There's no harm side stepping the focus on the Kradec for the benefit of offering another chapter in what is building up to be a shared audio universe experience, and our vision is much bolder now."

And who are we to argue you could say as the number of Starfinder followers on social media and web reach has quadrupled since the Gorn/Klingon arc started.

We still have Messages from the Outback, Part II to come which is the concluding segment more heavily produced by Gates of Sto'vo'kor. With the adventure itself rounded off and the situation cooled in the Outback at the expense of some of the Kradec's Gorn contingent I do look forward to seeing how this finale rounds out the story.

I've been a fan of the Starfinder series from the beginning and never expected every episode to be of absolute mindblowingly good quality. Every show has challenges, attempts different things and this one has been bold enough to step away from its pilot-established parameters and tackle an unexpected facet of the overall picture. I'm certain that the show will return us to the Kradec in the future and that upcoming installments will continue to push out of it's observed boundaries and provide new adventures expanding from the Star Trek Online universe.

Gorn of a Different Colour has been a clever experiment and one that has offered new tangents to explore in this first season. Let's hope that this move is one that will continue to pay off and not be a single flash in the pan.

Added George Silsby; "We have a things coming that no-one and I mean no-one has ever done before out there in the audio world.

It will be worth it in the big picture, trust me!"

Star Trek: Starfinder Gorn of a Different Colour is available now to download. On the site you'll also be able to find short stories and the vignettes from the last year. You can find out more about Gates of Sto'vo'kor by visiting their site.