Sunday, 24 May 2020

Roddenberry's Novel Approach: The Motion Picture in Print

As important to the franchise as The Cage, Star Trek: The Motion Picture launched a whole new era, almost a decade after Turnabout Intruder first aired. 

To accompany the recent 40th anniversary of the release, Simon and Schuster have published a new edition of the novelisation written by creator Gene Roddenberry. Based on the screenplay from Harold Livingston and the story from Alan Dean Foster, Roddenberry’s narrative is very faithful to the movie but adds in more background to early events especially around the Klingons and Kirk’s return to front line action. 

We get firm details on the belt sensors as well as Kirk apparently having his own cerebral implant for emergency comms plus other sprinklings of information to build on the fragmentally explored return of the cast. Kirk, to be fair, comes across as an arrogant dick for the first half of the book and it’s unusual to have a strong dislike for the character and his actions, the way in which he thinks of himself and the way that he is perceived in the public eye. I have a suspicion that Roddenberry was attempting to imprint something of himself on to the character in a novelisation of a film where he was beginning to be pushed aside. 

He also has a worrying preoccupation with sex and its importance in 23rd Century life which comes over as chilling as getting home one night to find your dad watching porn and inviting you to take a seat. If you’re annoyed by the inclusion of expletives in Picard, don’t read this. It’s not graphic, more sordid and unwelcome, distracting at many points from the plot and in fact making one or two of the cast seem every so creepy (check out the section regarding Illia’s return for example). 

You do understand his reasoning for the Deltan being on the ship if just to satisfy his well known sexual lustings. Enough of that anyway. If you can ignore these occasional slides, the novelisation is faithful to the film but feels a lot more rounded in places to add background or explain a certain moment.  Evidence here including a voyeristic creepy Kirk only go further to cement Ilia's reason to exist to represent Roddenberry's overt issues.

Spock’s emotional turmoil and inability to complete Kolinar are much more credibly handled, the full nature of Decker’s relationship with Ilia is mapped and the conflict within Kirk over his decision to accept a rather forced promotion. What Roddenberry does manage more than ably is the relationship between the admiral, Spock and McCoy. In the movie we only see the doctor return because he's reactivated but her we get the background that he's been back to Yonada and had been instrumental in a campaign to make Kirk turn down his step up in rank. He's lovingly cranky and tends to get the best lines throughout. I could even push to say that the book deals with him better than onscreen.

As fr the rest of the main crew, they receive as much time as you might expect and as such get little development. Their time since the end of the Enterprise's mission is skated across when in comparison Kirk's time is dissected and comes into play even as the starship is leaving port. You always get the sense Roddenberry only ever has one character really in mind from page one onwards. It's a writing style that you just don't see in any other Star Trek book, not even in Blish's adaptations of the episodes. Here, Gene totally immerses himself into Kirk and playing the hero and never again do we have such a lone "saviour" in play and you could think that it's someone attempting to raise his station. 

I raced through this one during a couple of days last week and although the amount of additional material is, erm, questionable thanks to Gene's input, it's still not as considerable as you'll find in The Wrath of Khan for instance. There's also the matter of that preface which really does seal this as Roddenberry trying to wrestle some form of control back over his baby and frankly turning it into a bit of a mess from the start. He does introduce some concepts which will never see the light of day again and are only ever present in this story but it's a quaint way to see some of the possibilities that might have made it into the abandoned Phase II.

It sits now as a cracking little piece of Star Trek history, a glimpse at the might-have been tinged with Gene Roddenberry's personal bitterness(?) and it should be at the top of everyone's reading list just for those very reasons. It's Gene's final attempt to really evoke all that he alone wanted from Star Trek and wasn't allowed to totally pull off  - ok, not in vision but he made a point to on the page and you'd be silly for missing out on a read of it. A true off one off on screen and in print, The Motion Picture still divides fans 40 years later. 

You can read the novelisation now from Simon and Schuster HERE

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Saturday, 23 May 2020

Some of the Best: Voyager's Fifth Season

Ending season four without a cliffhanger meant the following year could start afresh.

Nothing to tie up, all ready to go - into nothing because the year opened with the crew bored rigid in an empty, starless region of the Delta Quadrant.

Night is memorable for that, Jonathan Del Arco guesting as one of the void aliens and for the arrival of the universe's grubbiest bin men, the Malon. Kings of pollution certainly and here we got an allegory to present day Earth and environmental damage. Go Voyager for being on the button but also because this episode is a rare moment where Janeway doubts herself and the real possibility of actually getting home. The characterisation and brutality of being thousands of light years from home is a good and welcome touch that could have been played on a lot more often and was worked to the max in this season opener.

The Malon were heavily hyped as I recall and we did see them again in Extreme Risk and then much later Juggernaut - a better episode which built on the larger background story around the radiation-sickened crew and the very foundations of Malon society.

Five episodes from the end of the year it might be, but Juggernaut is a cracking episode. Lots of eerie shadows, tales of mutants and some genuine moments of brilliance it's one of Voyager's darkest hours and I bloody love it. Simple idea, well told.

In fact the Malon were managed only slightly worse than Species 8472 who turned up for their fourth (if you count Scorpion as two episodes) appearance but you can forget about them after the early part of this season. So with utter darkness out of the way, we head into more familiar space with the Borg and indeed, Future Borg (Drone) as Seven's nanoprobes and the Doctor's holoemitter get all funky in Sickbay. It's a clear parallel to Frankenstein but with less horror and Seven in a maternal role as this new creation adjusts to existence before heroically destroying itself when the Borg of the 24th Century attempt to assimilate it. Fairly predictable stuff with the whole "humanising" element in there plus the sacrifice - didn't The Next Generation do something a bit similar with I, Borg?

Extreme Risk will forever be remember as the episode that reminded us all of just how many shuttles Voyager got through in 97 episodes with the introduction of the (first) Delta Flyer. Y'know what? It's a damn cool little ship with those moveable teeny warp nacelles, glowing Borg tech, the retro controls a la Captain Proton plus the fact it's almost indestructible. Using it to recover a probe in a race against the Malon was a good, well-paced story and again gave the show a new twist for the new season. The Delta Flyer was a big staple of the year so much so that shuttles hardly needed to be ever used again - although where did they get all the materials to build it from?!

Then there's the humanising of Species 8472. If there's one thing that becomes more evident when you rewatch Star Trek is that the baddies always have that key episode where the writers try and make them understandable. While the episode might be good and give some great twists I always feel let down because the whole point of them being opponents is to be opponents. The Next Generation attempted to humanise the Borg with Hugh, Deep Space Nine with The Abandoned and Hippocratic Oath and Voyager cuddles up with 8472 in their recreation of Starfleet. It's a cool idea that they are training and learning about their enemies but by the end it's all a bit too nice and the sting is neutered. Oh - and nice to see Boothby back and Kate Vernon guest-starring with some very early, cutting edge CG for the day - and a step up from the quality of the lifeforms in season three's Macrocosm.

Now to Once Upon a Time. Repeatedly I have expressed the view that this is my least liked episode of any series ever made without question. It's appalling in every respect. What could have been a decent A story about Naomi's mum being lost is annihilated under the schmaltz and saccharine s**tness of Flotter. Adding a dash of Neelix in there just made it worse and this was at a time when I thought that the Talaxian was getting much better material to work with. I was sadly wrong. A big mess up and one to avoid - which is exactly the polar opposite of the next ep, Timeless.

Garrett Wang's favourite story (surprise!) it delivers in everything. Time travel, crashing ships, future Geordi, dilemmas, great character building and strong roles for two of the show's most maligned crew with both Kim and Chakotay taking a very prominent centre stage. Quite a bold move to make two of the "lesser" crew key players in what is the show's 100th episode but it works. Who could possibly forget them ploughing Voyager into that icefield? One of the show's best ironically after easily its worst.

Followed up by Infinite Regress, we have a fine example of mental health issues tackled by Star Trek as Seven experiences the personalities of others assimilated by the Borg during her time within the Collective. Certainly an opportunity for Jeri Ryan to stretch her acting muscles beyond the placid Seven - who would have thought we'd get to see her imitating a Ferengi? It's a good story but it's at this point that the season really kicks in. Thirty Days does the previously unthinkable and demotes Tom Paris to Ensign in a very bold move which is carried through for a good chunk of the year (although why he gets promoted ahead of Kim...) and deals out a wonderful "this is what happened" tale as we get to find out why he's in the holding cell for a month. Nicely played, unexpected and at least an episode where the issues aren't wrapped up in 42 minutes
Next is the brilliant - and I do mean brilliant - Counterpoint. Laced with the ironically calming classical soundtrack, it's a gripping take on the persecution and suspicion of one race (telepaths) by another. Definitely hallmarks of the Holocaust and many other examples of displaced and threatened populations across every century of our history. The relationship between Janeway and her nemesis, played by Mark Harelik are the stuff of TV dreams. The verbal repartee is sparkling with the duplicity that unravels between them just mesmerising. Another of the best that Voyager ever offered not just in this season but ever.

The Doctor is the focus of Latent Image wherein he uncovers a "forgotten" crewmember (Ensign Jetal), leading to a key revelation about his development that we didn't see in the previous season (because it hadn't been written!). As with all the Doctor stories you wonder about the relevance given that he is a computer programme but the character and Picardo's portrayal easily make you forget that and remember how much a part of the crew he has become. 

Fortunately for a season that is heavily dramatic and character developing we have Bride of Chaotica! another great concept episode that turns the action monochromatic and puts us into a holodeck adventure which (sort of) makes sense for once. Incorporating photonic lifeforms and Paris' Captain Proton programme it's played more tongue in cheek than 100% serious with everyone getting a chance to open up a little especially Janeway as Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. While it's good and certainly unique, I actually found myself loving Gravity.

Mainly played out between Tuvok and Lori Petty's guest character Noss, we find a shuttle party trapped on the wrong side of a subspace sinkhole with seemingly zero chance of every returning home and being forced to scavenge the desolate landscape they are marooned in for the remainder of their lives. Partially a chase episode as others on the planet seek to steal the new technology Tuvok, Paris and the deactivated Doctor have brought with them, Gravity just has it. There's an emotional punch and the combination of Russ and Petty is unusual but beautifully worked - just as well as the sparring we experienced in Counterpoint. I genuinely love this episode with the crew's efforts to rescue the shuttle on one side and on the other the dawning realisation that the nothingness of the wasteland is all that the shuttle crew will have for eternity. Well played and even though you know they will be rescued there's still a looming vulnerability right to the end.

Bliss seeks out the solo strength of Jeri Ryan as she deals with a silent starship with the crew all KO'd by a sinister space anomaly leaving them all convinced their journey home is over and done. Great gravitas brought to this one through the arrival of W Morgan Shepherd as an alien captain obsessed with the phenomenon.

Dark Frontier is a rarity in Star Trek, acting as a feature length story slap-bang in the middle of a season. I've recently covered over this return of the Borg and the expansion of Seven's backstory in Breaking Borg but it's still well worth a good note. Susanna Thompson's Borg Queen is ok but doesn't have the smooth gravitas that Alice Krige brought to the role in First Contact. The pair would share the role across her Voyager appearances and even with all the danger and darkness here, you know Seven will never leave her new family. Dark Frontier is a major event for the series and the pacing, for once, over 90 minutes is pretty even. Helps when you're planning both parts of a two-parter at the same time.

Course: Oblivion is one of those stories that changes with a second viewing. The twist, which (SPOILER) links back to season four's Demon is held back for a while and divides the episode clean in two. With a few differences thrown in on the "demon" Voyager, it's an entertaining watch with a tragic conclusion which both pulls at the ol' heart strings but does that Voyager reset that the series was so fond of pulling.

For Chakotay fans - and Robert Beltran - the sidelined first officer claws his way back to the surface for his most impactful performance since Timeless. Problem here is that the episode is fairly run of the mill. The boxing scenario framed within Chakotay's mind is fairly forgettable and one of the show's alltime weakest. Even now I'm pushed to remember what the hell happened and you have to feel sorry for him almost getting a "token" episode.

Think Tank is memorable for the inclusion of Jason Alexander as a member of the cerebral super-group as well as a revelation that they have cured the Vidiians of the Phage. It's ok, leading to a standard kidnap plot and probably another weak point in the season which started favourably. At least there's Juggernaut and then the superb Someone to Watch Over Me to follow. The second one there is truly one of Voyager's key stories and utilises, surprise, surprise, the Doctor and Seven. By this point you start to realise that the writers did love to scribe for these two and Janeway creating a new triumvirate on the intrepid starship. 

Both actors are, admittedly, on top form here and every single scene is electric. One that's well worth a re-watch again and again - another for a best of... collection.

11:59 capitalises on the upcoming (at the time) millennium celebrations spending 99% of the episode in the late 90's retelling the story of Janeway's ancestor, Shannon O'Donnell. The captain's knowledge of Shannon differs to the actual account with the story uncovering O'Donnell's battle to help a bookshop owner stop the development of the Millennium Gate project. The episode places a pin into the era in which Voyager was filmed but fails to capture the magic we have seen in other "non-Trek time period" stories where the main cast have been used for other roles. 

Following on we have Relativity which kind of sequels the third season Future's End with the return of (a recast) Captain Braxton and chucks Seven through a helluva mill to try and work out a mystery on Voyager that takes her back to a time before the ship launched and into a Starfleet uniform for the one and only time. It's a fun episode and makes up for the shortcomings of the previous week's time-adjusted story with lots of dips into Voyager history although, ultimately, the end reveal is a lot more disappointing than it should be and almost robs the episode of its soul. Harsh, but I think that sums it up pretty fairly!

Then Warhead might have just been called Dreadnought II since it's the return of a sentient weapon with a mission to complete. While the "original" from season two pitted Torries against her own ingenuity, Warhead gives Robert Picardo one more chance to stretch his acting talents from the usual sarcastic Doctor to the cold personality of an alien weapon. A neat bottle show for the series, Warhead utilises the cast perfectly around the possessed EMH to deliver a satisfying but rushed last ten minutes. It's an episode that feels like there's a lot of quality build up only to be skipped over to reach the titles in the allotted time frame - this 42 minute format (plus ads makes an hour) really killed Star Trek's creativity and writing muscles in the '90's.

The season finale does make up for a lot of the mediocrity that fills out year five. At least these days with a limited run per series we get higher quality each week without too much filler to bulk the schedule. 

Equinox is fantastic. A new type of starship onscreen with the Nova Class (an initial design for the Defiant) and the distinct parallel to Voyager's journey home. This is a sublime "What If" storyline treading the water of events if Janeway had chosen to do anything to get home and not follow Starfleet principles.  Captain Ransom is a captain well out of depth to being with, commanding an ill-suited, small research ship on a lengthy trip home and also without the depth of character we see in Janeway. All the cards are against him from the beginning with the bleakest touch being the fate of Equinox's EMH and the removal of his moral subroutines.

This is top ten Voyager stuff with a genuinely terrifying conclusion leaving Voyager in dire straits and it looking as though the Equinox is going to succeed and escape retribution once again. Class from start to finish and with a conclusion that would open the sixth season and actually be well worth waiting for.

Season Five never really hits its potential with an inspired, gritty opener that is quickly dispensed with as soon as the stars reappear at the end of Night. Voyager could have explored the bleak reality that the journey was now in its fifth year a lot more than it did although you can understand the need not to make the show too dark for too long. 

While Seven would receive a lot of screentime, there are some real key moments for the others who do feel horribly underused on occasion with Robert Duncan McNeill fairing the best outside the "big three" with genuine character changing events unseen outside of this series (until Burnham was stripped of rank in Discovery). What it does do well is the sense of continuation in some of the stories with callbacks to other Voyager episodes thanks to Braxton in Relativity, the continuing Seven and Borg Queen head to head in Dark Frontier and the Demon crew for Course: Oblivion - it feels like there are some real consequences to actions taken which Equinox would hint at and be addressed further by stories such as Flesh and Blood.

It's a year heading towards a more satisfying sixth season. Voyager finally seemed to be fitting into its own Star Trek niche, doing conceptual, off the track stories - and would continue so in the following year...

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Monday, 18 May 2020

End of an Era; May 2005

With a final flourish of starships and the famous narrative, Enterprise left our screens on this day in 2005.

Now, 15 years later we are in a new era, that of Alex Kurtzman, Discovery, Picard, two animated series and so much more but significantly that May day marked the end of Rick Berman's control over the franchise.

When I asked for positives on the final episode from social media they ranged from "The Enterprise-D looked good" through to "nothing" which mind of says a lot about how These Are the Voyages is perceived.

Regularly you hear about it in the same paragraph as Shades of Gray or Spock's Brain because a lot of fans felt it stuck two fingers up at the franchise and also made the Enterprise cast guest stars in their own series finale.

The story itself on the NX-01 is massively overwhelmed by the Riker story which is, in itself, happening in the background of The Next Generation's excellent The Pegasus from halfway through its own final season. In itself that's a bit of a kick since Picard's crew made it to the end of seven years, got a feature length finale and went on to do four motion pictures - Archer's got These are the Voyages.

However, looking at it now there are a few things which mark it out for distinction some 15 years after its first airing. For one, as said, it marked the end of the "Golden Era" started in 1987 by Encounter at Farpoint which saw a Star Trek series in production every year until 2005. It closed the book on the Berman and with it the contributions to the franchise from individuals such as Ronald D Moore and Brannon Braga (for example) who would be among the many to go on to other significant projects.

But it also shares some interesting parallels to the previous Star Trek era from 1966 to 1969 - you know, that one with Kirk and Spock. It too suffered the indignity of cancellation after only three years and 79 episodes and although Enterprise managed to stick it out to 98 and make its final season one of its best, there would be no big fanfare at the end as its more popular siblings The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, all of which would receive their double-length finales.

In fact, even if Picard and Discovery were to never see another episode produced (I can hear some people cheering already), they would both have ended on double-length stories albeit in two part format (which would happen to all the series when in syndication/repeat). This means that only The Original Series and Enterprise ended on a standard duration story.

Ok, that's a bit rubbishy but These are the Voyages is a sign of the state of the franchise at the time it was written. What was considered by writers Berman and Braga to be a love letter to the fans was actually taken in a completely different light. It screams of the excesses, perhaps some of the tropes and monotony of the later years of that "Golden Age" where  the expectations of Star Trek were a lot higher than it was producing. There was a familiarity by this time - ship/base plus crew with a strong captain going out and meeting aliens with forehead bumps before the status quo was returned at the end of the hour.

Deep Space Nine certainly toyed with that but in the big scheme of things, the franchise was getting comfy and it needed a shakeup. Trip's death is hardly that but slipping in Riker and Troi, who look decidedly uncomfortable at times in their uniforms and back on reconstructed Enterprise-D sets after 11 years trying to tie in a plot to an episode they filmed years ago.

It doesn't work to a large degree and, credit where credit's due, Michael Chabon's Picard did wonders for their return in Nepenthe. Here though it's feeling tired, the story lacks real pace and effectively tells you everything you needed to know about where Star Trek was at the time. If it was a racehorse, this would have been it's time to pasture.

Anyway, their inclusion does wrap up that '87 to '05 period even more with two characters who appeared in Encounter at Farpoint back to wave off the franchise, close it down and leave the keys under the mat for another person to take on. Riker's time on the recreation of the NX-01 puts him into close contact with Archer, Tucker and T'Pol most prominently but seems to forget that there were a few other members of the ensemble cast - another issue with the 42 minute run time in a story that could probably have been better structured over 84 minutes 

Jumping the narrative forward several years from Terra Prime at least allows for some rounding out of the series and the creation of the Federation that we would have hoped to have seen develop over the series but is ultimately rushed into service here. Again, it's a merit for the episode that it tries to encapsulate so much - returning characters, a major event in Star Trek lore, a character death, action sequences and a final bow for three ships named Enterprise that These are the Voyages mutates into one of those long hugs from an elderly relative that lasts just that little bit too long.

A bloated, saccharine finale it might be with all these nods, references and "fan pleasing" pointers but we know where all that kind of thing can lead - look at where both Star Wars and Doctor Who have ended up in the last 12 months for instance with their attempts at doing the same. Star Trek had made the error of trying to bow to the fanbase here and give them what they thought Trekkies wanted and failed. Overconfidence? Overfamiliarity? Perhaps when you've been doing it for 18 years straight. At least Riker makes his decision after consulting with the crew - not that we already sort of knew that from The Next Generation...

Star Trek did of course recover with the successful Kelvin Timeline movies from 2009 onwards but a TV resurrection would be a lot further off. That would be a divisive turning point again with a distinct tonal shift from the two series currently available to watch. However there's a few differences that seem to have been learnt from the Berman era.

No longer was the captain the central star (Burnham) and no longer was a ship the key  element (Picard's La Sirena didn't appear for the first few episodes) and there was less of a formulaic approach. They did continue to expand on the larger story arcs that were a signature of Enterprise's last season but crucially each show now has a distinct identity to set it apart.

Going back to it's bonds to The Original Series though, Enterprise has grown in appreciation since its cancellation - in fact I think it's a damn fine series that I underappreciated immensely when I was younger and now think is one of the strongest shows the franchise has delivered - maybe with a few episodic exceptions.

While the feelings for These are the Voyages are still mixed 15 years on, it's an episode and a pivotal point in the franchise that attracts discussion. Lessons have, I think, been learned and the new era of Star Trek is trying a lot of different things from the way in which it explores its characters to how the stories evolve over the course of a season. There's no overconfidence but I know one thing that might be levelled at the current Powers That Be is that perception that we might be approaching saturation level and we're only three years in. 

There's a mass of Star Trek on the way and we felt that it was getting too much back in the early 2000's when we only had to deal with one series per year and an occasional movie - now we are well on the way to having new Star Trek content each and every week of the year for at least the next three years.

These are the Voyages is, as I realised after an observation from @CaptainRevo on Twitter, a rare occasion where the parts do not make a greater sum. It's fragmented with good ideas that don't come together and satisfy its audience and hopefully a time in Star Trek history that all future writers and producers will be able to learn from...

What are your thoughts on These are the Voyages 15 years on? What worked? 

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Sunday, 17 May 2020

Party of Three: Strange New Worlds Straight to Series

While not confirmed by CBS All Access until today, social media has been alight with rumours around the much-demanded Captain Pike series for many weeks.

Sixty-six years in the making, the crew from The Cage are finally getting to tell their story on the small screen. We've had the comics, the novels, but now - and due to the call from fandom - Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is official and will bring Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romjin as Number One and Ethan Peck as Lieutenant Spock back to the franchise.

Already this show is being touted as a more episodic series with each story a closed narrative giving us a Trek we haven't really experienced since a sprinkling of tales in Enterprise but possibly not solidly since Voyager.

The calls for Yeoman Colt, Doctor Boyce and Jose Tyler are already coming from fans, soon after the rumours that Jake Cannavale from The Mandalorian could show up as a young Kirk.

I mean this is all speculation at the moment since we've only just had the news that it IS going ahead. However the first episode has already been written for a series that has been fully green-lit. This will mean that for the first time ever there will be four live action Star Trek's in some form of production at the same time - Discovery, Picard, Section 31 and Pike's much rumoured/anticipated/demanded show.

The short video that helped announce the news saw Mount, Romjin and Peck all revealing the show's title and just how much influence the creation of the series had due to fans.

Cleverly there's also another way to look at this. Both Discovery and Picard were shows created by the studio because they felt that would satisfy fans but both have, in some degree with a portion of the fanbase, failed to do so. With Strange New Worlds, there's the fallback - a a point - that if it fails then some of the blame could fall on the baying voices of Trekkies across the world. After all, this is a show they wanted after the success of Mount's Captain Pike in Discovery.

It could well be a very shrewd, calculated risk to see if the studio is better going for fan input into what should be happening or go with their own direction. That said, I would expect Strange New Worlds to have the highest premiere audience of any of the new shows straight away and, if it does remain solidly episodic, avoids arcs and goes back to the basics of the 1960's Star Trek ethos then how can it possibly fail? This has the potential to be THE most Star Trek since, well, Star Trek in essence going back to where it quite literally all began. Imagine though if Strange New Worlds is a huge, galactic success - might that signal a change in the focus and direction of the franchise? Is the creation of this series potentially a make or break to win over those fans not convinced by bringing back a much-loved character in Picard?

If fans of classic Star Trek felt that was wrong then might the shift to episodic and self-contained stories be the next gamble - is this actually what those fans of the "Golden Age" and before want to see? I would think it'll depend a lot on the quality of the writing, the strength of the cast and maybe avoiding dropping an occasional "f-bomb" to appease those who feel the last two series have widdled all over the very concept of Star Trek and the Roddenberry vision. 

But what would I want to see in a new show? What can Strange New Worlds bring to a franchise which will have a series set in The Original Series era, one in the distant future and one in The Next Generation timeframe?

A return of Klingons for one would be amazing, plus let's explore the lingering effects of the mission that saw the Enterprise crew lose many of its number prior to The Cage. What about seeing how those visions from Discovery of his own future will affect Pike? How about a fully realised CG crewmember for the first time (I'm not saying they could retcon in Arex but...). Could we see Garth of Izar before he went a bit mad? It does need to deliver on the series title in every sense or a lot of people will be feeling very, very shortchanged from the start.

There does need to be more exploration of Pike, certainly lots of deep diving into the character of Number One - will she be Una??? Plus it does allow for us to see Spock in a new light, one where he's an officer but not a senior rank and still learning the ropes to an extent. I wouldn't be too surprised if there's an occasional guest from James Frain's Sarek.

Yet telling new, exciting, self-contained Star Trek stories that fit with the pillars on which it was founded have to be the priority. The series has to rekindle that flame from the 1960's show and clearly demonstrate a strong cast chemistry and real moral ground around real issues to truly be a successor to The Cage - and perhaps it could be a little too cerebral along the way.

Who would you want to see cast in Strange New Worlds and as whom? What would be your mission objectives for this new voyage?

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Thursday, 14 May 2020

First Aider: The Official Starships Collection Issues 170 and 171

A missing delivery has slightly delayed a look at the Tsunkatse Arena Ship and the Denobulan Medical Shuttle.

Featured in, oddly enough, Tsunkatse, Penk's ship (as it's labelled on the base) was probably eclipsed by the appearance of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the Penthari Figher which is a bit of a shame since it's one very unique design.

The arena itself takes up over a third of the ship, with the bridge and engineering sections attached at either end to complete the design.  The silver base coat is elevated with the duck egg blue highlights that provide emphasis to the hull detail but also act to age the vessel, providing a worn finish. 

Comparing the surface detail to the CG cover model you can see this one's been a helluva challenge to Eaglemoss, perhaps a reason it's taken this long to appear in the collection. The forward section especially has lost a lot of definition in it's panelling but this does seem to improve as you move further backwards.

There is actually a lot going on with this one and the arena section has a familiar stadium feel to it. The buttress supports around the sides don't have the definition we see in the magazine but they are clearly present surrounding the combat oval. 

The TV ship of course had the benefit of some nice lighting across its surface to accentuate the recesses of the plating but also the sides of the arena and the Tsunkatse Arena ship model does fall flat due to the absence of this effect. What does add a striking point to her are the golden sensor palettes dotted around the edges. Providing a functional purpose to the ship, the change of colour does indicate their substantial purpose to provide media connections.

What does fall down slightly is the quality of the four radar style dishes. On the CG model and in the blurry magazine episode pictures you can see these are a mesh design and fairly fragile in construction. As we saw with Friendship One recently, rebuilding this in plastic and metal isn't easy so what we end up with here are four sink plungers sticking out to the sides. They are also part of the plastic insert clipped into the underside of the ship, but we'll address that when we turn her over.

The impulse engines to the back and the warp engines in the rear edge of the arena section are simply recessed elements within the metal of the top piece without any sign of colouring or translucent plastic to highlight their locations.

On the underside the ragged blue colouring is a lot stronger, darker and covers a much larger surface area. It almost makes you wonder if the blue is the top coat and teh silver is the colour that has worn through over the years of use.

Underneath the blue does have flakes of the silver present but it seems to be a flatter and more even covering than on the top. There it helped highlight panelling while here it adds, particularly to the front and rear sections, a look of severe wear to the point where it does look like it's disintegrating to leave the silver base coat.

Either way, this is a cracking effect and does counter those four sink plungers to a degree. The clever insert of the arena underside is also barely noticeable, clipping in between the two elongated sections bordering the centrepiece and also fitting perfectly against the two outer edge sensor palettes.

In respect to the paintwork and the combination of materials this is an epic build only let down with the unavoidably dodgy extremities. It's an interesting craft from an episode that really does date the series (seriously, go back and watch it...) but is a ship that feels right to have been included.

Issue 170 explains the reasons for the shape of the Arena Ship as well as it's layout and features which are key to its presentation of the Tsunkatse fights broadcast to millions. It's actually extensive when it comes to its role in the episode and the events that occurred, giving clear background on the vessel.  The plan views back up the worn look of the ship suggesting it's been in use for a considerable time, noting some of the key features such as the sensors and location of the main bridge. 

It's a good thing that the plans are so detailed because there are only two poor screenshots from Tsunkatse to be able to compare with the model and those are of the ship at a distance and then a close up of one part of one side of the central arena. That's disappointing and there are no pictures of the CG model used in the episode,only new ones created for the issue.

Rick Sternbach's design goes through a two page analysis including original concepts for the craft as well as how it was adjusted for the screen from his final plan. 

Taking up the remaining six pages of the magazine is an article on episode writer Robert J Doherty who was also involved in bringing Vis a Vis, Infinite Regress and Bliss to the screen for Voyager before embarking on a career on other shows.

Up next, what could be mistaken for a Vulcan craft but is actually a Denobulan Medical Ship or more accurately a Denobulan Medical Shuttle with its crew of one.

Coloured in the Enterprise-era rusty red sand tones that would immediately link it to the notable Federation race, the medical ship is the only series entry connected to the NX-01's physician, Phlox.

A stubby, weighty little number, this vessel was featured in the Augment trilogy from the prequel's final series which makes it just over 15 years since it's screen appearance. 

Unusually the single rusty red paint doesn't hide any subtle aztecing if you tilt it in the light. This one is a solid colour all over with a couple of minor exceptions for features. The panelling is clear with a cool set of lines reproduced from the CG model used in the show. The detail is, unsurprising for an Enterprise craft, spot on and the magazine does have some good stills from the episodes it appeared in to allow much better and more accurate comparisons than we could manage with the Tsunkatse Arena Ship.

Around the nose and I would believe due to reentry there are some scuffing lines and burn marks which would be caused by the heat of dropping into an atmosphere although aside from this "damage" there are no other signs of wear and tear present. 

The hull is indeed very clean with what appear to be black segments marking out windows to the sides and also on top towards the nose for the cockpit. For a stumpy little design it's sort of cute with the aquatic overtones clear from the fins to the top and bottom plus that shape which screams "fish" as loudly as possible. Careful of those two top fins which are an insert as they are slightly flimsy. 

But have a closer look at the images in the magazine and then at the ship and you'll notice that there are a lot of deep recesses in here resembling gills and a mouth. Around that probe at the front, the underslung "intake" and then around the oval-shaped sections on the side there are a lot of spaces and gaps which this blocky model have not been able to recreate - again a similarity to the buttresses on the Arena Ship.

But you're never going to get those fine slits and deep grooves on this kind of model and for the price you pay per issue for the collection. It's a damn fine approximation 99.6% of the time with even the exhausts and propulsion points really well coloured against the sand hull. Maybe the one to the back could have been more accurately painted since the rust segments were prominent on the sides but hey, that might have been a fiddly point on the ship.

I also can't quite work out if the plastic belly on this thing is one or two segments because of he very tight lip evident just below the blue exhaust points. This ventral section of the Medical Ship has the most detailing with a slight change to a two-tone scheme etched with finer silver detailing. For the underneath of a ship to get that kind of attention is odd and to have it completely repeated here is an honour of sorts.

I did suspect that I'd damaged it on arrival too since there was a white spot on the nose probe. Fortunately I realised that there are a further two more on the port and starboard sides which would indicate that they are running lights. Emergency averted thankfully and a minor detail well worth including.

Into the magazine we go with the Medical Ship we go and learn about how a specific one, the Barzai, was used by the Augments as part of their plan to get aboard Cold Station 12. It was subsequently cast adrift with the Denobulan pilot to stall Archer and the Enterprise in their pursuit of the fugitives.

Designed by John Eaves, the oddly vertically-orientated vessel is devolved back to its origins on the drawing board and "augmented" with original sketches to show it as part of the episode. These sections have always proved to be a winner and keeping it episode and ship focused has always made for a stronger magazine. Linked in with the plan views, this is no exception and nicely rounding off the story of the ship is an actor interview (not a frequent occurrence) with Alec Newman who played Malik in Borderlands, Cold Station 12 and The Augments.

This issue and the heavy little Denobulan Medical Ship give a quality 360 degree immersion into the story from that final Enterprise season and even with some parts of the ship which could not be fully realised in the format and size that we are given here, it feels whole which hasn't been said enough in this series - usually there's one part of the magazine for example that just doesn't quite hang together. 

In fact for both of these ships they have been presented in a good, thoughtful way which ticks every box when it comes to fleshing out the background of the ship and why it was in Star Trek. I honestly can't pick a winner this time because they are both middle of the road. There were no high expectations to begin with and both have fulfilled their aim as replicas. If there was perhaps a slight edge it would have to go to the Medical Ship but only on some of the panel detailing which it has an advantage on when it comes to scale as these two are at very different ends of that particular spectrum.

Read all our other reviews of The Official Starships Collection from issue ONE here.

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