Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Blocked Up: The Official Starships Collection Issues 84 and 85

Firstly my apologies fellow starship collectors for this comes out of sequence due to a house move and a missing delivery (should be here this week...).

So skipping (for now) issues 82 and 83 we arrive at a rare Starfleet coupling. Two issues in one delivery from another two ends of the timeline in Enterprise and the penultimate The Next Generation movie, Insurrection.

So first to the NX-Alpha and a ship featured in the episode First Flight. On appearance it's actually a fairly small craft with a slender fuselage and two very abrupt wings carrying the warp two engines.  It's also immediately apparent that the design is heavily influenced by the Phoenix which carried Zephram Cochrane into the Star Trek history books especially since the cockpit section of that craft was used to film the forward section of this test vehicle.

The nose section is virtually a carbon copy from the Phoenix and that missile structure echo continues as you head back along the body. Eaglemoss have replicated some beautiful detail onto the plastic upper hull section here including that cockpit canopy design and those twin tail fins connected laterally with a strengthening bar/stabiliser. On the underside that plastic twin fin/stabiliser is repeated with the same curve angle but on a slightly bigger scale and the fit and finish on it is perfection. 

The etched panelling and open engine details on top of the craft add to its experimental, early Starfleet history undertones as does the huge first-stage rocket exhaust that bursts from the rear. Worth noting that the join between the plastic and metal components of the NX-Alpha fit together exceptionally well here and there's little evidence of gaps or any misalignment between the two sections.  In fact the join is hidden by that rear fin stabiliser to some extent. 

The whole underside is forged in metal and continues the detail started on the dorsal section precisely and that's most evident around the raised sections marked out on that nose section. As you get further back the surface detail does lessen significantly on the underbelly but you can still make out the pylon fold lines at least. What is very prominent on the main hull are the understated Starfleet markings (red circle, yellow chevron) and the NX project emblem just behind the cockpit on the starboard side. Microscopic but yet these would have been conspicuous through their absence. Also on both sides of the starboard wing is the Greek "alpha" symbol indicating precisely which of the two ships from the episode this is. 

Ok; at the end of those strong metal pylons we have the stumpy warp three engines bearing the familiar red bussard collectors to the front and the "golf ball" exhausts to the rear. There is some finer red highlighted edging in place but what does catch the eye are the air bubbles used to give the bussard collectors a bit more definition and depth. Perfectly aligned they are clearly not an accident and bring the early warp engines to life on this great collection addition. The engines even have inset blue venting which you'll have to squint to make out but I can guarantee Eaglemoss have managed to squeeze it in beneath the piping.

On first look the NX-Alpha is fairly plain and almost a re-run of the more famous Phoenix we've already added to the collection but spend a few minutes to really get to know here and its the smaller details that make her stand out much in the same way as we saw with the ECS Fortunate in its finishing touches. The stand clip around the warp pylons is a sturdy fit here, holding the NX-Alpha from the rear rather than the mid section although the more central placing over the base works well on the eye.

There are a couple of gappy joins around the warp engines towards the rear yet this remains a decent replica to have. Fans will unquestionably prefer the Phoenix but the inclusion of this craft in the series does mark out a very specific journey from that converted missile through to the warp five Enterprise captained by Jonathan Archer. 

Issue 84 packs in a lot of backstory here, running us through the whole warp programme from the Phoenix to the warp three flights and then onto Enterprise. The section covers everything from the ship design through to the tests themselves and of course an overview of the episode First Flight as you would well expect. John Eaves' section on the realisation of the Alpha is essential reading as ever and explores a very different path before the issue of money and available, existing sets tightened the reins and made him steer into line with the craft used by Cochrane for his first warp flight. As always Eaves' sketches and thoughts are a delight to experience and understand what could have been had there been more cash on offer. 

There's also an unusually techie article here on The Road to Warp 5 which offers an impressive insight into the warp scale and precisely how it's supposed to work (if you ignore the bulk of The Original Series) in relation to speed and also in terms of construction materials and techniques. Definitely a great piece for new fans to read and understand some of the deeper parts of the franchise but also a handy bytesize refresher for us more seasoned fans!

Next up and jeez, this is a duffer. I could try and big this one up but I fear we may have one of the most disappointing results since records began with the Federation Holoship. It's wonderful that Eaglemoss are packing in the ships from Insurrection and this makes three after the Cousteau Captain's Yacht and the Mission Scoutship but in essence it's a moderately well detailed plastic block.

Referred to by the wife as "looking like a remote control", the John Eaves designed Holoship looks impressive on screen especially when cloaked in the Baku lake but sadly that doesn't translate well into a three-dimensional display item. 

It's not that it's presented badly because there's a good covering of detail from front to back and top to bottom it's just that, well, it feels a bit cheap given that it is two pieces of plastic stuck together. On the upper hull there's a ton of panelling detail, the prominent forward-placed bridge module as well as computer relay blocks and other greebles to break up the otherwise rectangular design. To the front are the reds of the bussard collectors and to the sides two blue lines indicate the locations of the warp engines themselves within the body of the craft. At the back; two yellow lined indents mark out the placement of the impulse engines and flipping her over there's once again a high level of surface panelling to feast your eyes on.

Problem is, that's it. No translucent engine sections, no metallic fiddly bits and a recess at the front which steps back to - a blank wall. Admittedly the surface is packed with various levels of plastic BUT it truly is one of the most bland and uninspiring ships in the collection. It might even give the Malon Freighter a run for its money as the worst entry to date. Even the rear-grip stand doesn't help it and instead makes it look even more clumsy than it is. I just hope that including this now wasn't just a knee-jerk reaction because there's been so little from Insurrection and nothing so far from Nemesis.

So once you've taken a cursory look over the details of the Holoship it's much more productive to open up issue 85 and get a recap on the craft's part within Insurrection to fool initially the Baku and then later (spoiler!) Ru'afo and the Son'a. There are a couple of new CG images of the flying brick as well as the standard views of the ship. Heck, I can see why there aren't a lot of points to note on those this time round.

Not only is it a double bubble Starfleet month but also a double John Eaves spectacular as he also worked on the design for the Holoship. His original designs were very cool and held those familiar Starfleet lines with a more bulbous shape before he was redirected (as with the NX-Alpha) towards something else; in this case a freighter/old tanker style craft and due to time constraints it's not actually the right way round... 

Closing out the magazine ahead of the standard Key Appearances (Insurrection) is a fitting piece on the screenplay for the ninth Star Trek movie. Given that Sandra Piller has recently had her late husband's book on writing Insurrection published. It's a movie that does come in for its fair amount of criticism but these few brief pages on its evolution do go some way to explaining Michael Piller's decision to take the story in a whole different direction to that posed in First Contact.

What a month huh? The NX-Alpha is a nice piece, well crafted and presented as has become the norm from Enterprise but the Holoship, despite the design work and efforts of John Eaves, just doesn't hold up. Sorry, it's poor and I was actually lost for words with the latter of this month's issues. End of. Nothing more to see.

What's your thoughts on the NX-Alpha and the Holoship?

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