Thursday, 30 March 2017

FCD: Preview and Tribute

For the last three years I have been a big fan of the First Contact Day events in the U.K.

They may not be the vast, globe-dominating Showmasters pieces, crazily priced, attended by thousands and milked for every penny possible because they are better than that in my opinion and FCD is genuinely produced by fans and run with love for the genre and all it encompasses.

Whether it's been the Leicester Space Centre in 2015 (did we really all fit into that one room?!!!), the Telford Park Inn hotel in 2016 or this year, the Telford International Centre, every minute has been entertaining, fun and amazing to experience. It's given me the chance to meet up with fellow fans I've only chatted to on the internet (Dan Adams!), have a scout through some memorabilia, see a Red Shirt world record be created and chat to Trekkies and actors from the franchise that I love. 

Indeed, to this day, two of my favourite interviews have come out of FCD from John Carrigan and Aron Eisenberg. Both were a delight to talk to and it was only though the universe of FCD that I got a chance to meet both of these gents; thank you.

It truly is a fan event from fans for fans and at its core it comes down to the unwavering efforts and energy of Wil Ross and David Limburg. Now this week I had hoped to chat to the faces of FCD but due to their focus on the event other things have taken a much greater priority and I believe it's really important to recognise their efforts because man, do they put in a lot of effort, time and their very souls.

Hell, Out of the Ashes 2016 was their brilliant recovery from a series of crushing blows which totalled the original plan for FCD (least said the better). Others might have walked away but these guys didn't, ploughing time and funds into the event which was, in the end, a resounding success but came at a price which could have grounded this year's event before its name was even whispered.

Their spirit and ethic is at the beating heart of FCD and has been since the very beginning making each event bigger and building on the success of the previous year. Now I can't speak for them but it does seem these guys - and the team they have in support - pretty much live FCD when they're not doing the "day job". Every day there seems to be some new news from these two, something else that's happening and there's a real feeling of passion and love for the subject and the event itself. I wish I knew these guys better than catching them once a year in the flesh and then on a smattering of Skype calls because they are some of the most genuine and friendly people I have ever met. Each time I've been to FCD there's always been a warm welcome and the team are always accommodating. It's a wonderful experience.

What I never understand is some of the grief that the FCD team get because things don't quite work out. So what if Jonathan Frakes couldn't make it or things changed the format of last year? They still soldiered on through and made it the best it could possibly be. I challenge those who have been negative to try running their own event - I suspect it's not as easy as they might think and I seem to remember from last year the organisers virtually not sleeping for three days. Things happen, life happens and they have adjusted accordingly. Last year's guest list wasn't as large as planned but it was still entertaining from the first to the last minute and you couldn't complain in any way.

Over the last trio of years Wil and David have managed to book Star Trek authors James Swallow and Una McCormack, Voyager's Garrett Wang and Robert Picardo, Star Wars stormtrooper Alan Flyng, Deep Space Nine's J G Hertzler and Aron Eisenberg, Babylon 5's Claudia Christian and Bruce Boxleitner, Stargate's David Blue and Rainbow Sun Francks and Star Trek Phase II and friend of Gene Roddenberry, John Carrigan. But it's not just about the guests. FCD feels like a sci-fi family, the feeling of support and dedication to the organisers flows through every nuance of the weekend whatever happens. Y'know it's not 100% slick 100% of the time but that's some of it's charm and warmth. In a way it shouldn't be perfect and streamlined like some of the bigger events because this is 100% fan-made and has never lost that unique feeling along the way.

Once again this year promises to be huge with a great guest line up, talks and much more across the weekend. In fact, tonight will see the the first of the weekend's events and I wish I could be there but other matters have to take priority. I am really excited for FCD once again and look forward to another packed weekend. For me this has become the must-attend event of the year; hands down. 

Now we do know that this will be the last Out of the Ashes but will it be the end of FCD? I hope that this weekend closes that book and helps start a new chapter in the life of this event because I reckon the calendar would be a lot emptier without it.

So to all those involved with FCD this weekend, I salute you. You make one heck of a good event and here's to many more. See you there!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Simple Lines: The Official Starships Collection Issues 94 and 95

The latest offerings from Eaglemoss highlight two great traits of the designers from Star Trek; the ability to keep it simple and the brains to think outside the box - or several model boxes in this case. 

The Suliban Cell Ship in issue 94 comes from Enterprise and for once you're getting something incredibly basic from the prequel rather than one of the more intricate and finely detailed starships. 

Following in in the wake of the Borg Sphere (issue 10) and the Borg Tactical Cube (issue 58), the hexagonally shaped craft seems somewhere between a space skip and a large gaming dice with all the grace of a brick.  It's certainly as repetitively patterned as the two geometric Borg craft from previous issues but it's not a shade as exciting. The individual panel lines are well marked and very distinctive here but there's no real substance. 

Envisaged as a single occupant craft with some impressive technological capabilities, the Cell Ship might actually work best on display with another two or three formed into some sort of display with them interconnected to provide a vision of the Suliban helix being formed. The previews, even with their slight colour retouching and very forgiving lighting, didn't manage to make this look much more interesting and it does come across much better in the flesh. 

The colour - mainly due to John Eaves having some left over from Ghosts of Mars - isn't too far off the reds of the Vulcan fleet and gives it a used and worn feel emphasised with the "blotchy" effect finished off on the larger, square panels but isn't carried through into the smaller observation window sections which are placed at the corners.

Tragically these sections are left in the same colour as the rest of the ship meaning there is some definition and differentiation between features that is utterly lost with this one. Could have done with being translucent or a different colour at the least but I would think that fiddly angles and tight shapes have restricted the flexibilty to make that happen here. It just ends up being incredibly flat even with the best intents and purposes. The Borg Tactical Cube and the Sphere were different from a number of angles but whichever way you look at this one - and that's by design - it's identical. Clearly a decent bit of worksmanship to build but from a photographic and reviewing perspective this is hell on Earth. 

For note there are two points additionally worth calling out. Here both halves of the ship are plastic with the central connecting ring being metal. This is the only thing on the whole ship that defines exactly which way is "up". Secondly the stand fitting is a literal "drop on" this time and fits comfortably around one of the square panels.Could be a toppler though since there's no proper securing clip. Best stick her on a lower shelf although with no protrusions anywhere this might well be in the top three most durable models in the collection but unfortunately at the same time it's probably one of the most boring and simplistic to come out. 

The Suliban ship is an unavoidable entry into the series and I'm surprised it's taken until issue 95 to slot it in. Countering that though I'm not shocked because I can imagine the conversations over how to make something this basic more exciting must have been a nightmare. 

The cover pic on the magazine do the model a lot more justice because those transparent viewing ports are called out and there's a little more depth to the detail on the hull. The ship overview provides a potted history of the NX-01's encounters with the Suliban while covering off some of the key details of the boxy craft. The ship info is a bit sketchy with the magazine relying more on the stories to fill space this time. Had to laugh at the views of this one since they are all nigh on identical except when viewed from the top. Well played on space filling, Eaglemoss, well played.

For those of us who like to find out what went into making these ships come to life, there's a staggering eight pages dedicated to the designing of this cell ship. Yes, amazingly for a ship with such a basic, plain design there are eight pages handed over to discussing its creation and a ton of drawings that chart its development. While I can't say I'm it's number one fan, the originality factor here is top-notch with John Eaves steering away from a traditional hull and engines/wings design for something more unusual. It certainly works on the screen although in the flesh it's not as impressive!

Now the next one up has been long awaiting and hotly demanded by collectors. When the First Contact fleet was ticked off and completed there could only be one other way to go and that was to resurrect the classes featured in the Battle of Wolf 359.

A lot of those ships were seen only for a few seconds passing the Enterprise or drifting across her viewscreen but their inclusion in the show and the background of their creation is legendary in franchise circles. They were onscreen therefore they are canon. Period.

So the first of those graveyard ships comes out of the box and it's the New Orleans Class USS Kyushu NCC-65491. A blatant Galaxy Class kitbash, the Kyushu has the same distinct saucer and secondary hull shape as the Enterprise-D but that's where the similarities end as there are a significant number of modifications.

According to the stats the Kyushu is half the size of the Galaxy Class which, technically, means we get to see everything a little bit larger(!). The most immediate difference when comparing the two is the significantly smaller number of windows on the saucer. While the Enterprise-D has three rows between the lifeboat hatches and the outer edge, the Kyushu has just one. Impressively those windows are perfectly aligned with the saucer grooves as they should be but not, as collectors will know, as they always are. The larger scale will definitely be a help in ensuring this fine tuning and if this is an indication of the quality here it's going to be a great ship to review. Keep that in mind because when you flip her over the recessed windows on the underside are totally misaligned, sinking towards the centre of the saucer rather than sitting in their respective slots.

Moving back there's a single row of lifeboat hatches which circles the primary hull. Again larger than the Enterprise-D versions they are very pronounced against the flush saucer surface and draw your eye ever inwards to the dark grey phaser strip and then the massive ship registry. Sadly though the colour difference of hull versus lifeboats that we see on the magazine cover isn't carried across but at least you can make out their locations.

With such defined hull lines, the ship name and number do sit into the panel edges which at a couple of points has meant that the decal has split due to the slight variation in level. Nothing that a fine line marker won't sort I'm sure but it was a little disappointing. 

The increased surface detail on this Galaxy Class kitbash is at its best right at the centre of the primary hull and the bridge/shuttlebay complex. Here Eaglemoss have really gone to town with different surface structures and definitions which make it easy to navigate to the bridge dome and break up the smooth surface with some bobbly greebling. We also have the ship registry number planted firmly to the rear on the shuttlebay landing pad. Must be a tricky landing because...a tour of the primary hull of the New Orleans Class wouldn't be complete without noting the two distinctive dorsal pods.

Fans will know these are, in reality, two highlighter pens glued on and coloured but somehow they just, well, work. Not only do they create a very individual silhouette for the starship but clearly they have a very effective and highly scientific purpose as well...

Moving every rearwards the stubby cobra neck (again clearly halved in size from a kit of the Galaxy Class) opens out onto the oval secondary hull. Interestingly the New Orleans Class retains three impulse engines - two at the rear of the saucer and the third in the neck however there doesn't seem to be a need for it since there's no indication of a saucer sep feature.

The lower hull again has some very precise window alignment in play as well as some minor yellow venting detail evident at multiple points on the ship as a whole. The scale opens up the chance to get much clearer hull panel definition once again plus even the spine running along the back of the secondary hull has variations in the detail packed onto it. It also seem quite long with two phaser strips lying across the underside with a third "highlighter pen" ventral pod slotted between them and protruding down from the hull.

To the front is the eye-shaped deflector dish once more atypical of the larger Galaxy Class but here much easier to see with at least a bit of the edged/ribbed detail marked in for effect. Again comparing this to the "D" it does add more depth and realism to the model even though it's fairly well hidden under the saucer.

What isn't too evident is the subtle aztec paint scheme. Since issue one this has been refined, refined and refined more to the point now where the two shades are almost impossible to tell apart and the only way to really see it is to get the right lighting angle. I think this is a strong move that doesn't make the starships look too basic or toy-like and reflects the development of the series furthermore. Notably the scheme is fluid right across the metal saucer and down into the plastic secondary hull. There are a couple of very obvious join lines under the saucer but it moulds together nicely even around that fiddly neck section.

While I keep coming back to the Enterprise-D here, the construction of the pylons and warp engines have a very unique look. Sweeping back from the neck section rather than the rear of the secondary hull as in so many other cases, the wings actually end up placing the nacelles in exactly the same place if they were hung from the back of the hull. On both sets of wings you'll find the ship registry which is a tiny but cool touch as is the panelling detail which covers their whole length. While these could have been forgotten they carry on the two-tone aztec colour scheme but in a more blocked out form. Very nice to see this distinction in such a small part.

It's a striking design feature with the engines actually appearing slim and long emphasised by the twin sets of (what I can best describe as) vertical holes. The engines do feature the usual translucent bussard collectors and blue warp coils as well as the fine finishing details of the Starfleet pennant. Only grumble here is that one of my engines is a little bit gappy at the front end. A slight fitting issue but nothing that affects the build of the vessel.

The Kyushu is a cracking little ship to display. Aside from the larger decals and markings, the small finishing touches around the ends of the phaser banks and the markings behind the saucer impulse engines add a touch of flair to the result. It is certainly not bland and counters the disappointing (but necessary) Suliban ship it accompanies for subscribers.

Over in the pages of the magazine and the CG shots are just magnificent showing off the best angles of the New Orleans Class. Noting the stats for the stumpy kitbash, the opening Ship Profile also reminds readers that the class was "featured" in Conspiracy as well as it's more famous appearance in the wreckage at Wolf 359.

We do get to see the ship both in pristine condition thanks to an efficient Rich Sternbach taking some "before" shots plus we have the "after" pics as the class took to the screen for its fleeting appearance. I did note that the aztec scheme seems a lot stronger on the page than it does on the model while in contrast the bright blue of the pod ends is totally against what we have in the magazine at every angle and on every reference photo.

Unsurprisingly the issue is rounded out with a huge article on the writing of The Best of Both Worlds. I mean, how could it not be? The real tragedy here is that Michael Piller is no longer with us, robbing fans of his current take on the classic two-parter which cemented The Next Generation as a hit and a show no longer overshadowed by its 1960's predecessor.

Again there's a real big gap between the two issues this month. On the one hand we have the essential Suliban Cell Ship which, while super-bland has to be included and is, for all intents and purposes, a well-finished and nicely It will however always play lesser fiddle this month to the USS Kyushu. It may only be a screen filler for a second but its reputation and very existence as a Federation starship are sure to drive fans wild. It's this month's clear winner because of the detail and maybe solely because it's rare to get this close to such a cracking kitbash. 

Slight niggle mind that there are a few cartoony features on the Kyushu which make it look a little odd and therefore the Cell Ship the more screen accurate but a good Federation replica will always pull at the heart strings more. Remember we still have the Springfield, Cheyenne and Challenger classes to make an appearance over the next 18 months if the leaked list is to be believed.

Little bit of news too is that has now been updated with the Phase II USS Enterprise (as above). I'm over-excited for this one. It's a fine piece of lost Star Trek history and an essential. A critical essential to any collection. Check out the views of this stunner and try and resist buying when it's released...!

Next month we have another remastered starship, this time with the Orions making an appearance in their ship from The Original Series' Journey to Babel and then it's the upgraded Nova Class USS Rhode Island featured in the Voyager finale Endgame

Looking forward to the other Wolf 359 ships or is this the best of the lot?

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Friday, 10 March 2017

Spinning a Yarn

After a rather leisurely five year stint to watch all of Star Trek I've finally come to the end of watching The Original Series.

Not that it's taken me five years to watch everything from The Cage to Turnabout Intruder but I only ever intended to watch The Next Generation which led to Deep Space Nine which led to... you get the picture. 

Anyway, it's been too many years since I last watched the show that started it all and as part of that, one of the greatest episodes the show produced in probably one of its darkest times; The Tholian Web.

When I started Some Kind of Star Trek back in 2013 I intended to do a lot more episodic reviews and talky bits about the show but then others things crept in - the books, Attack Wing, starship collections... and while all this is great I realise that an element I always wanted to hold on to was discussion about the show itself. Starships are great but there's more to the show than that and I wanted this site to offer that alternative.

Which brings me back to The Tholian Web because ever since the day I realised I would be going through every episode I would eventually wind up coming to one of the episodes that helped lure me into Star Trek in the first place. So here I am; doing just that and I've been really looking forward to it. This is my love letter to one of the episodes that drove me to Trek.

Produced in the severely budget-restrained third and final season of The Original Series, it was the ninth episode made and also the ninth to air which was unusual considering how the order was chopped and changed over time. How early in my viewing of the show it actually came I can't remember but it's iconic imagery of the USS Enterprise gradually being encased in the net has stayed with me for decades.

In a nutshell Kirk is stranded in another dimension while Spock commands the Enterprise and has to deal with the Tholians but I actually think this is one of the most multifaceted episodes of the show as a whole, added to by the legacy of the show as it later unfolded. However, more on that in a bit.

At it's heart, The Tholian Web is a rescue story as Spock balances diplomacy with a non-humanoid race against the necessity to confirm Kirk's death and later engineer his retrieval. It's an unusual time for Spock in this episode because for the large majority of the time the captain is out of the picture which sets up a more explosive dynamic between the Vulcan and McCoy. Without Kirk to balance the pair they are initially much more confrontational before setting aside their issues to bring their friend home. I love the fact that one of the instrumental elements of the show is absent for a good portion of the episode and by his absence you realise how key Kirk actually is to the balance of the crew.

For a bottle show (one filmed entirely on the existing Desilu starship sets) this is easily Star Trek's finest example. We get two starships out of one with the appearance - and disappearance - of the USS Defiant but yet that restraint takes nothing from the intensity of the episode. The initial visit to the Defiant introduces the stunning atmospheric suits for their one and only outing and the teaser cleverly avoids stranding Kirk instead focusing on the phasing from reality of the Enterprise's sister ship.

Spock's turn in command is, unsurprisingly logical and of course we get Kirk back but look again at the episode and you'll see that this loss of the captain and his return is only a piece of the puzzle here. But is there just a smidgen of emotion in there? Should he really have stayed to confirm the captain's demise or was there something more in there - a trace of his humanity leaking through? I suspect so.

The danger posed by the Tholians as well as the danger posed by the region of space that the Enterprise is waiting in also add elements to the story (crack out your fish-eye camera lense). Then there's Kirk's ghost-like reappearances throughout which actually give Uhura a lot more to do than just open hailing frequencies or contact Starfleet. We get to see her quarters and the comms officer off-duty all at once plus it's a character expanding moment that wasn't afforded to all as well as Uhura was provided.

The Spock/McCoy dynamic is at its most exposed in The Tholian Web but by its conclusion they are perhaps at their most united in their denial of viewing Kirk's final orders. Most un-Vulcan-like but fitting that the captain's absence has cemented their friendship to a higher point.

The episode is a goldmine of concept and brilliance and we're not just talking about those spacesuits. The Tholians themselves are a standout moment for the series. Refraining from simply dressing up another actor we have non-humanoid species distinctly different from anything else we'd seen. Admittedly Enterprise would later expand beyond the head and shoulders we see here but the spark was there. Their ships too are a landmark even in their non-remastered format. Combined with their intricate lattice-work web it takes them away from the standard warp nacelles and phasers compliment that we've had from the likes of the Romulans and the Klingons. It's all hugely forward-thinking and like nothing else that appears in The Original Series

The Tholian Web, for all its budgetary restraints is a classic of The Original Series due to its scope and vision. It truly offers character exploration, a threat, true danger for the ship and multiple smaller events throughout the show which all play a key part in the episode. Amazingly it's all crammed into less than one hour of TV and works tirelessly and in fairness it's one of the more complex stories given the ton of angles it tackles the incident from. A lot of the episodes in the third year are linear in their nature and steer away from smaller incidents and keep on a straight and narrow from the beginning. The Tholian Web is a huge exception adding elements to the whole and exploring a time and a place rather than one single story thread. Look to other episodes in the last year and you'll see that the core story is pretty much the focus of the whole show without deviation.

Now we move to matters that only come to light many years later and The Tholian Web becomes a huge piece of the Star Trek universe puzzle. In fact before we even reach a certain Enterprise episode there's Deep Space Nine. Yes, the episode's influences are there even by 1994 and the arrival of a prototype starship - USS Defiant. Originally the Valiant (which did actually come later...), the Borg-busting starship was indeed named as a part homage to one of The Original Series' most prolific guest ships (or ghost ship?).

There have been nods to the Tholians during the course of the franchise's history in The Next Generation and again lip service in Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War but it's the short-lived prequel that cements The Tholian Web even more profoundly.

In a Mirror, Darkly is widely regarded as one of the defining stories of the final year and - personal opinion - the show as a whole but aside from a brilliant two-part story it actually reinforces how spectacular and seminal The Tholian Web - an episode that aired 37 years previous - is to Star Trek.

The key to the whole thing is the USS Defiant and the decision to attempt its capture from the Tholians of the Mirror Universe. The high-temp loving hexapods are very alike to their Prime Universe counterparts in their technology and it raises the question for me that perhaps the two versions of these creatures are in communication? Are the Tholians of the Prime Universe aware of the rifts and where they are sending items. As a side point how come there's not more of the Prime Universe stuff (and vice versa) floating around in either universe?

Enough of that mind-melting material though because the arrival of the Defiant is a universe-defining moment which changes the political overview and gives (spoiler) Empress Sato a massive advantage over her rivals.

But look more closely at the episode than just the plot because In a Mirror, Darkly is one of those great visual experiences which shows the love and honours its forebears. Yes it's effectively a sequel to the brilliant The Tholian Web by answering the question as to where the hell the Defiant and provides a prequel to the sublime Mirror, Mirror yet there are some key touches that are too good to ignore.

Check out the initial sequence of the NX-01 crew beaming into the Defiant and the positioning of the crew on the bridge. It's a perfect recreation of the duplicate scene from The Tholian Web. The actors are in precisely the same spots as their 1960's originals were when that episode was filmed. The original starship sets are of course recreated with love but we have the Defiant emblem rather than the USS Enterprise delta (take note Timelines because Mirror Archer has the wrong emblem on his tunic). The remastered version retains the mythos fortunately but does change one significant point - the design of the Tholian ships become more akin to their Enterprise CG counterparts than the simple lines of The Original Series models.

Undeniably the arrival and use of the Defiant should have more influence on the development of starships and general technology in the Mirror Universe but how were they going to know in 1968 that this prequel/sequel would be made let alone dreamt about? So it does make continuity less than perfect but the return of the Tholians in full body form breathes new life into that original episode and I think makes it stronger than ever. Being able to relate later events to it makes The Original Series even more integral to the franchise as a whole. 

Deep Space Nine certainly honoured its illustrious forebear with the return of the Tribbles, three legendary Klingons and the Mirror Universe saga but The Tholian Web retroactively becomes a cornerstone of the franchise because of the way its legacy has been woven into the later (or earlier?) generations of Star Trek. It's a clever twist in that it gains importance due to a later story. Perhaps this is only the case in one other episode, that being Trials and Tribble-ations and even then that is more a "reworking" of a classic than a story which builds more onto an existing tale.

For me, The Tholian Web is one of those late signs of Star Trek that even in those harsh production times there were still some shining lights and this Judy Burns written episode is one of those that illuminated the final year. Burns has the characters down-pat even though there's a piece missing and turns in a winner that is always in my top ten episodes of the franchise. Visually it's stunning thanks to the unique way in which the Tholians choose to capture and eliminate their opponents but the script cannot be ignored. It overcomes the boundaries of being a bottle show to create a genuinely thrilling experience that actually has something for all the cast to do while being original and creative.

Everything here comes together and over time I've seen The Tholian Web from different perspectives; the action adventure as a boy through to the character-defining moment that it is for Spock as he commands the Enterprise and the exploration of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate with the removal of the balancing element. Unique and brilliant, The Tholian Web still firmly remains my favourite episode of The Original Series. So thank you Judy Burns, you were a big influence on my life!!!

What are your memories of The Tholian Web?

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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Isaacs Brings the Magic

The centre seat is filled.

Discovery has it's captain with the news yesterday that Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs will be giving the orders as Captain Lorca.

Following in the footsteps of Shatner, Stewart, Brooks, Mulgrew and Bakula, Isaacs joins an illustrious line of commanding officers but this time there's a big difference - Lorca won't be the lead character in the show. The less than human sounding name also makes me think that this could be the first time that the captain of the series vessel is not human.

Isaacs casting set the fandom alight last night and it all seemed to be positive. I couldn't be happier and loved him as Lucius Malfoy. Could this new captain have a Sisko-style darker side to him? Say yes, please!

Having both him and Michelle Yeoh on board as the older commanding officers is big. The news that the Liverpool-born actor was joining the crew was, it seems, announced by Isaacs a little too quickly and then rapidly taken down from his Twitter feed (thanks to Ian Kimmins for grabbing this screenshot) before confirmation from CBS officially broke.

I think this is fantastic news. Isaacs is a solid, experienced casting with credits including The Patriot, The West Wing, The OA and a lot of voiceovers including Star Wars Rebels. In no way can I see this in a negative light. Everything about this screams quality and I can't see why Isaacs would do the show unless it was good in his eyes (cough pay-packet cough). How significant the role of Lorca will be in the show and how it will play alongside Sonequa Martin-Green's Rainford could shape the show. Their relationship and how it develops may well define the nature of the series and where it goes in years to come.

Somewhat overshadowed by the news of the Discovery captaincy casting was the announcement that Mary Wiseman will be onboard the title ship as a Starfleet Cadet in her final year of training. Now that's a big turnaround because previously cadets have only been added to the show later (Nog in Deep Space Nine) so we might be seeing this one developing from the start and ending up in quite a different place and role by the time the show concludes. The lowest starting rank we've had before this was Chekov or Kim as ensigns.

Wiseman is another fairly new arrival into the TV world with only six credits to her name since 2012 with the most recent being Baskets (not seen it, can't comment). 

So here's my dilemma - so how many of these guys are going to be "main" and how many are going to be "recurring" and I'm still thinking we have more announcements. Perhaps we've being teased to be left wondering how everybody will fit into the big picture and if there will be enough room.

The diversity of experience is exceptional bringing some real class acts along with young/new starters into what will easily be the most radical departure for Star Trek since someone suggested setting the show on a space station (like that'll work...).

We've already discussed the potentials for crossovers in the show and at least that has come to fruition with that link to The Original Series with a younger Sarek taking to the screen plus a new revision of the Klingons (apparently). Does this leave some room for a send-off from a character from Enterprise perhaps? Could we get a hand-off from T'Pol or even Archer? It would stick with tradition as each show since The Next Generation has indulged - McCoy, Picard, Quark, Cochrane...

I suspect they may avoid that now since Sarek will provide the link to the rest of the franchise but we will have answers by the later half of the year at least if Moonves is to be believed - this time. I'm not going to speculate over the rumours of Fuller being removed from the production and a whole host of background issues that mean Discovery "won't work" because they will only be proved or disproved by the end result that makes it to the screen. That said, I am running low on salt...

What's your expectation from Discovery? Are you happy with the castings?

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Monday, 6 March 2017

Passing the Torch in a Good Way

It's been over 20 years since the brilliant Trials and Tribbleations crossover which in turn celebrated 30 years of Star Trek back in 1996.

It's a conversation that naturally spilled onto Twitter as we reminisced over its brilliance and appeal and got a few people wondering a couple of things about 2017. Will be 30 years of The Next Generation and therefore a potential excuse for a crossover/homage in a certain new Star Trek show plus could there be a way of "handing off" old to new?

Bryan Fuller has publicly said that Discovery will be very different to anything we've seen before so might we actually miss out on this event because he wanted it to forge a very specific identity? 

Being objective it would be logical for the handover to be from Captain Archer or T'Pol for instance since that would be the earlier series in the timeline. I recall that there were suggestions of an Admiral Archer appearance back when it came out that the show would be set 30 years before the five year mission of the USS Enterprise as commanded by Captain Kirk. It would be very fitting too since Enterprise was the last Star Trek show to be on screens eleven years ago and when is seeing Scott Bakula on TV a bad thing anyway (although Archer would be over 100)?!

However, is this really essential to the show? Do we need to have a homage to 30 years of The Next Generation or even an appearance from a character from one of the older series to welcome in this new era of the 50 year strong Star Trek franchise? Might it in fact just be a cheap stunt that would look like the new show seeking out approval for its existence from its predecessor? 

If we look back to The Next Generation, Roddenberry was loathe to link back to The Original Series avoiding any major character connections until Sarek in season three. It's well recorded that Worf was a late addition to the crew as he even wanted to avoid the inclusion of any races featured in the 1960's show. We now know that this character will be turning up in Discovery but is it too soon? Is it right that we should be linking the show in to its illustrious predecessor so soon and with such a well-known Vulcan at that? 

DeForest Kelley of course made an appearance in Encounter at Farpoint but the role was not specified (at the time) as McCoy and The Naked Now mined a season one episode, Heart of Glory did bring back the Klingons with a bit more force but does Discovery actually need this kind of link to the past? The reference of the Klingon War (or whatever the event the season will focus on) should surely be enough to tie it into the franchise's rich history and plotted timeline. I don't think a nod to The Next Generation is necessary and given that it will be 100 years in the future of the new show it might be a little shoehorned. In that respect it's time for Picard and crew to celebrate their 30th in some other way and let Discovery get on with its own thing. Those early links didn't damage the show in this instance but rather linked it firmly into the same universe and reassured fans that they were still in the same place just a few years later. 

What other little links in could there be if we remove this necessity to honour 30 years of The Next Generation? How about a younger Number One in the earlier years of her career perhaps? Maybe Commander Robert April could turn up or what about us seeing the ship that crashed on Talos IV be launched on its mission? These could all be well woven into the story or even in a quick insert scene but are we, the fans, just too wrapped up in Star Trek's history and what HAS to happen that we're not actually giving Discovery the space it needs to grow and develop? Cameos and crossovers are all good but we don't want to only be talking about those aspects of the show the night after its May 2017 premiere. We want to be discussing the new characters, if the ship is better than the previews, was the story suitable - did it push the boundaries that The Original Series dared to push? 

I think that a passing of the torch might well be the worst thing that could happen to Discovery and already the "different" approach is worrying some fans because there's the fear it will stray too far from the established Star Trek concept. I don't believe that Discovery is going to be terrible and I'm taking all the conspiracy vids with a pinch of salt and a spade of scepticism but I would feel more comfortable if it went it's own way before chucking in the familiars (maybe) just to get some viewing figures from long-time fans whoa re wanting to see how f**ked up Fuller and his successors have managed to make it.

That's definitely going to happen if we take the inclusion of a Klingon captain and two admirals in the cast that injects the point that there will be multiple base locations for the show which is a break from the single starship or starbase proposition of previous series.  Oh and that's nothing to say about the resistance to the intimated new/revised look of the Klingons from that sneaky on-set pic.  Just one additional note it says Klingon captain but does not say that its a Klingon captain of a Starfleet ship so I think Worf's position as the first of his race in the ranks is safe. Calm down people, there's clearly gonna be more than one ship in the picture on this new show.

Previous Star Trek series have handled these nods to the past with varying levels of success - Relics was the ultimate in character-worship homage episodes with Scotty returning from the confines of the transport buffer and regaling the crew with stories from the five year mission. Deep Space Nine's Blood Oath immortalised the Klingons from The Original Series, Flashback wobbled precariously between celebration and a bit over hammy while Unification was all build-up and then lacked the punch that we all hoped Spock would bring. Ultimately the 30th anniversary Tribbles installment is pure love in every frame and is the best tip of the hat to the franchise's history ever. 

I think a guest appearance is something that will make fans happy but might rub against Fuller's concept that Discovery is going to be radically different. Enterprise's inclusion of Zephram Cochrane and the homage to The Motion Picture through the departure of the NX-01 were smart moves and the new series needs to offer that subtlety if it is going to honour its past.  Discovery can and I believe will intelligently hint at its five decades of history in a way that it will not detract from the flow of the story, not alienate new viewers and yet please long term fans. Not a lot to ask of the producers and writers then huh?

I don't think so and let's give it a couple of years at least before Captain Worf travels back  in time from the 24th Century for that commemorative episode. 

Who would you like to see turn up in Discovery for a cameo? For a recurring role perhaps or maybe you don't want to see any familiar faces?

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Friday, 3 March 2017

New Heights in Ascendancy

Off the bat I want to say this - I'm in love with Ascendancy.

I've been playing Attack Wing for some time now and that's offered at least one foray into tabletop gaming with Star Trek with a very one-on-one combat focus with a ton of upgrades but nothing much beyond (excellent) space battles with a handful of ships.

Ascendancy by Gale Force Nine on the other hand puts you at the head of your own empire. At the beginning you've just got a home planet and some limited resources but as you Build and Command your fleet those vital Production, Culture and Research tokens will start to trickle in and soon you're venturing out into the galaxy to seek out new life a - I think you know how it goes. 

For starters, let's take a closer look at the contents of the box...

The principle of Ascendancy is straight forward; explore, annex/invade the worlds you find to reach an Ascendancy level of five or conquer your two opponents outright by capturing their home worlds. Except that it's not that simple and I'd recommend setting aside a whole afternoon if you're looking to play at least for the first venture into the game.

Ascendancy is an incredibly immersive experience and you do need to dedicate the time to it. It's not something you can rush through and even the set up can be a bit of a task with numerous tokens to assign to each player, cards to place, planets to establish, control panels to zero...and more. It is all well worth it though and the key to a successful campaign/domination of your enemies lies initially in that set up. If you know where everything is and what everything does then you're already in good grasp of the game and stand a much better chance of making it to full Ascendancy. 

Initially the starting game box provides three powers to control; the Federation, Klingons and Romulans with two additional packs adding the Ferengi and Cardassians which means you could turn this into a massive five player game. We just started off with the boxed three factions and it's probably best enjoyed with three players to give you the variety in the game. I reckon two player is manageable but a third brings a more balanced chord to proceedings.

Playing Ascendancy takes the form of three stages; Building, Command and Maintenance. During the Building phase you can construct new starships, increase your abilities and add resources to your research projects as well as establish Production, Research and Culture nodes on your planets. Each player completes a Building phase before moving on and you can use as much or as little of your resources as you want and in some cases it might be better to conserve and spend on larger items further down the road.

Command then allows you to explore the galaxy by developing space lanes (each planet can only have a certain number spreading from it), charting planets, taking on hazards and challenges that they unearth and even engaging in combat to win worlds or defeat your opponents. Closing out the round is Maintenance where you assess if victory has been achieved, dish out collected resources from your developed/developing worlds and reset any hazards on the board.

Klingon Empire Command Console
Now at the beginning I tried to be a bit of a smart arse and failed because I set out to divide and conquer as the Klingon Empire and generally forgot about actually developing my civilisation.

Y'see Ascendancy is not as clear cut as I imagined and that's what makes it such an immersive experience. You really do need to plan out your Building phase and utilise the resources at your command to help upgrade your weapons and make your Command phase therefore easier to manage. As you discover new worlds and new civilisations by boldly going you will begin to gain a regular source of resource "income" if you will, which in turn makes advancement easier and allows you to spin your people off onto a more successful path of your choosing. Also you will be able to issue more Commands as you gain Ascendancy that will let you act more across your expanding empire.

You might go for all out domination or consolidate your borders against invasion choosing to pool your resources more inwardly while others might seek to plunder what you have constructed.

Full game layout for three players
In the three hours we bashed out our empires there was a lot of discussion and arguing over just what each rule meant and whether there was a point to warping or impulse speed. Needless to say there is a point to everything and at the end we all had a good gist of exactly how the game mechanics worked and how each player's civilisation differed in its style. I cannot stress how important it is to keep the rule book to hand in those early stages.

One of the big twists in the game comes from uncovering your next unexplored world at the end of a space lane. In fact when you flip the top card on the Exploration deck you don't know what you'll get. In some cases it's a totally blank canvas, in others a dangerous hazard to overcome and in a few it might be a pre- or post-warp civilisation that you'll need to coax into your way of life. As you research and spend resources these actions do become easier but at the beginning trying to create an hegemony was a total waste of tokens since I didn't have enough experience behind me. My advice would be to spend internally before branching out to developed and developing worlds. Make sure you're fully prepped for the big unknown.

Even at three hours we barely scratched the surface of this epic game. Each time we play it, the outcome and layout will be distinctly different because you'll find something unexpected to do each time. We did get quicker at running through the trio of stages but I do again recommend laying aside a good afternoon to really pick apart your understanding of Ascendancy at least the first time you crack open the box.

Romulans advancing to Excalbia
One niggle was the heavy focus on The Original Series and The Next Generation within the look and feel of the game even down to the planet choices and a lot of the Exploration cards. While the subsequent expansions added Ferengi and Cardassian factions I would think expanding the cards to deal with events from Deep Space Nine and Enterprise at the least might encourage more players to take it up. I even pose that a Voyager expansion pack could add transwarp elements and Borg encounters. Deep Space Nine might add the station itself and a dicey passage to the uncharted Gamma Quadrant.

Saying that it is a very small niggle because this really does celebrate some of the great elements and events of Star Trek. Given it's the 50th anniversary it's more than understandable that the focus is on the two more popular series even down to your ships being Galaxy Class, Vor'Cha or Warbird starships, Each faction has their own agenda set out on their Command Console and while there is a part of the game which does rely on inter-player combat it's also about construction, exploration, negotiation (trade agreements) and the hazards that those pieces bring with them. Ascendancy is very multi-faceted and I'm fascinated as to where each journey will take me.

The rulebook is a hefty piece of kit too and I recommend a good read through at least twice before kicking off with your first game. It will speed up your set up period and probably your first couple of rounds where there's likely to be zero first contact with new worlds. I did find that I was referring back quite a bit especially during the combat phases to make sure I was rolling the right number of dice and similarly when we pitched up to our first spacial anomaly. Watch out for those by the way since they'll either be a useful goldmine or an unwelcome reset button for your ships.

Federation starting from Earth - note the hub and resources
I'd also suggest grabbing hold of this game right now because there are an extra batch of 50th Anniversary Exploration cards included which add in a few more scenarios to deal with when you reach a new planet. Yet even without those few extra helpings, this is still an incredible game for Star Trek fans that provides more than just "pew-pew" action and makes you think beyond the turn you're playing. It is a little more costly than other Star Trek games with the big box retailing for anywhere between £55 and £75 in the UK. The expansions are retailing for around the £22-£25 mark.

As a fan I absolutely love this game but you do need some like-minded fans to enjoy it with you. I have some family who will play and enjoy it more as a big tabletop experience more than it being Star Trek but I would love to play it against people who "get" the franchise and will really understand all the nuances of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. It's not a game I'm going to be pulling out every day to play because of the big set up process but it is one that will keep me and others entertained and engrossed for many hours on a weekend or a day off. The price might put some off but this is probably the best all-round Star Trek gaming experience available right now and if you're into your strategy then this is a must on all levels.

You can find out more about Gale Force Nine's Ascendancy at their website now. Thanks also to Gale Force Nine for giving us the chance to review their game.

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