Sunday, 11 April 2021

First Contact with the Following...

The announcements didn't disappoint on First Contact Day with Picard, Discovery, Lower Decks and Prodigy all getting their moment in the limelight. But first...

After an absence of what will be 7 years from cinema screens, Paramount have now pencilled in the arrival of the next Star Trek movie for 2023. Aside from the date of June 9th for its release, there's no other news. Odds are that the writer will be recently announced Kalinda Vasquez but could it be Star Trek 4 and a return of Chris Pine and the Kelvin Timeline - or something else that ties more definitely into the current franchise expansion. Certainly this is more of a possibility with all parts now sitting under one roof.  

Now, over to last week's events...

Starting with Picard, the teaser absolutely maxed out on teasing. The tracking shots through Picard's chateau picked out his combadge as well as the painting of the Enterprise-D from that ship's Ready Room, the Mintakan tapestry draped over his desk chair, a lingering pan over the golden USS Stargazer model and the glass-boxed Complete Works of Shakespeare. However, look a bit further and there were some more interesting details - the plough and ox statue from the fireplace of the same house in Family and even the golden Enterprise-D model from the Enterprise-E observation lounge.

But one more thing before THAT final reveal; what appears to be the Bajoran tablet from DS9's The Reckoning. It's about the first thing we see in the trailer and not something you would expect there - although it could be tying in Jean-Luc's love of archaeology. Might this also suggest the inclusion of something orientated around DS9? Would there be the possibility of a visit to the station? Could the rumours of Avery Brooks being tempted back as Sisko be a reality rather than a Reddit whisper?

But hey, there is one thing we DO know and that comes from the disintegrating Queen of Hearts playing card that is accompanied by the voice of John de Lancie (who also appeared in the announcement cast) - Q is back. This falls in line with that earlier news that Guinan will also return for Picard season 2 and therefore (if all goes as we would like) would be the first time the pair will be onscreen together since Q Who in 1989.

It's an all-in season for the show after a real mixed bag for its first year. The Q connection has one that fans have discussed long into the night and this might be the signs that the producers are listening to the fanbase and giving them some of what they are asking for. I'm positive for this coming season as it indicates a move in the right direction.

Over on Discovery there was more of a standard trailer introducing us to the big problem for the season which is coming in the form of a four light year wide gravimetric distortion that's heading in the wrong direction. Cue some scenes of utter devastation.

The headline for the series though has to be the choice to ditch off the grey uniforms the crew donned for the final moments of season 3 to be replaced by the familiar red, blue and gold system. The uniforms don't look quite as cool as those First Contact versions but at least it's a step up and they don't resemble cast offs from Babylon: Crusade

Saru is shown with a last shot handshake that makes it clear he's going to be back in uniform at some stage of the year. Book and Grudge will also be back as are the Vulcans.

My favourite reveals have to come from the Lower Decks trailer. Season two is due at the end of August and if it's as good as season 1 then I'm sold. The 30 second intro reveals that Boimler is still on the Titan commanded by a jazz-obsessed Riker while his friends on the Cerritos are comng face to face with multi-headed serpents, a giant Mugato and even suiting up for a round of Ambo-Jitsu. Blink and you'll miss the arrival of Lower Decks' take on the Cardassians (there are FOUR lights in that room) and a suped-up Miranda class.

Of all the reveals for First Contact Day, Lower Decks was the one I was anticipating the most and it didn't fail, mixing in the tone of the first year with some new and old takes on the franchise. I can't wait for this one.

Finally, Prodigy didn't need to do much to excite fans. So how about showing off the new CG version of Captain Janeway that will be appearing. News has it that this will be a hologram that the kids discover hence why she's dressed in the black one-piece when the series is set after Voyager has returned home. 

All four shows have made the right noises, the right nods to the past as well as the push to the future. The big test is can this all be pulled off over the upcoming seasons. Picard is biding its time and of the four it has the most to risk especially bringing back Q and Guinan. Discovery looks to be testing the waters with another Big Mystery to solve and may well play it safe this year to stabilise itself in the 32nd Century. The jump forward so far was huge and season 3 didn't deliver on its promise of a more optimistic year. Indeed, season 2 was a stronger story thanks in no small part to Captain Pike. Y'know, they should give him his own series. That would work...

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Monday, 5 April 2021

What a Legend

Over the years the mobile gaming platform has been a mixed blessing for Star Trek.

For every Timelines there’s been an Adversaries and for each Fleet Command there’s a Wrath of Gems. I'm not even going to start stepping towards Alien Domain and neither should you.

So you can understand that I was a little cautious with the new offering from Tipping Point. Entitled Star Trek: Legends, this one is a turn-based character game that actually bothers to weave some level of storytelling into the background. For those of you who recognise the name, your experiences with Timelines should be a good indicator for the future since this is the gaming company that recently purchased that property from Disruptor Beam.

The inclusion of the Nexus (from Generations) means that any character from any series can show up and become part of your crew but let’s get to that in turn. Legends offers one on one combat, resource collecting and  character enhancements as you progress however there’s a rather large catch... it’s currently only available on iOS and perhaps even more significantly, it’s part of the Apple Arcade.

What that dictates is that you’re going to need to pay £4.99 per month for the pleasure of playing it and a host of other games on this feature. Luckily there’s a month free in which you can dabble in Legends and anything else you fancy.

But back to the game in hand. It certainly feels fresh and enjoyable to play from the off. Ok, so you are inevitably handed some decent crew to begin with (I got Burnham, Worf and McCoy to start). There’s the standard level to train you up in the intricacies of the game before you’re let loose on the universe. Within the initial cache of characters are recognisable faces from every live action series from TOS right up to Soji from Picard.

Over time you can collect further crew from the initial roster of 61 and at time of writing I’ve managed to acquire the Very Rare Captain Janeway and Commander Riker and the Rare B’Elanna Torres. Crew come in all sorts of varieties from a Common Starfleet Commander right up to those named and prized individuals who formed the main cast of our favourite sci-fi show. More can be Summoned through playing and collecting in the game as well as ticking off numerous Goals and Achievements.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is a feature that Timelines proposed pre-launch but never delivered in that you would be able to equip Crew you recruited into any suitable positions as part of your Bridge staff. If you were ever waiting to put Locutus at the helm this might be precisely what you were waiting for.

All of your staff whether Common up to Very Rare can have equipment and perks allocated to them which boosts their abilities during missions. Each has a unique set of traits to level up or unlock. Riker for instance totes a phaser rifle and can perform a singular attack or a strafing shot that damages all enemies. Worf is all hand to hand, dicing with his bat'leth while also offering the ability to lessen the morale of your opponents.

With Legends, certain characters can fit to particular positions providing in game bonuses aboard your ship, the USS Artemis. There’s more to that as well as Tilting Point have included a bridge so you can see your mish-mash of characters all seated and working away. 

The missions unlock at level 1 and as you step up the ranks, more options open up. There are shuttle missions, the ability to equip your characters with better weapons and other tech plus arena scenarios. Dive further and unlock the PvP element and Operations and Legends offers a wide range to keep fans interested.

What will be telling is how this develops. There's a lot right from launch with all avenues playable and the question would be, what more can you add?

As Timelines has ably demonstrated, there's an almost infinite diversity of characters and character variations to entice fans to keep playing and collecting. What sets Legends apart from that is its choice to almost "Pixar" the crew. The graphics are a lot more cartoon-orientated and very distinct. Each battle move is unique as well so there's a good deal of animation during fights plus the benefit of some level of narrative to follow.

Perhaps my only other grumble after a couple of days playing is that the Crew selection is extremely sensitive and I've sent one or more off on the wrong mission given its temperamental nature. Also whenever selecting Bridge Officers or even equipping Tech, it takes a couple of goes before the screen recognises your input. On occasion I've had to completely exit the game and go back in just to move an Officer from one chair to another or add a Tricorder to their luggage.

Visually, Legends looks the business and its playability is fantastic. It does appear a little similar to the Star Wars turn-based game which arrived a few months ago and well, you sort of expected this would happen. Legends is worth a free month of play if nothing more and I'll be running out the next 29 days seeing just how much I can collect and level up. After that, I have to say it's very unlikely I'll be sending Apple my money but Tilting Point will still be seeing me over on Timelines...for the time being.

Star Trek: Legends is available now in the Apple Arcade on iOS. The first month is free with £4.99 subscription per month after that.

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Monday, 15 March 2021

Avenger Assembled: The Official Online Starships Collection Issues 11 and 12

First looks can be deceptive and with the USS Avenger it’s easy to fall into thinking it’s a horrendous Starfleet mashup. 

Nacelles from one thing, a primary hull from another and a deflector dish straight out of a Lego set. Yet take a look further into the design and lineage of the Avenger and you begin to understand it a lot more.

Emblazoned with the distinct Star Trek Online Starfleet black and white paint scheme, the colouring actually helps to highlight some of the battlecruiser’s features. Certainly squat for its configuration, the class was conceived to company larger threats most notably following the withdrawal of the Klingons from the Khitomer Accords. 

The design and therefore the model has all those typical Federation hallmarks as alluded to and while it’s not a favourite when it  comes to aesthetics, this is one of Starfleet’s more functional platforms. 

The model conveys that very well with the recessed windows, prominent phaser banks at the front of the saucer and those tightly hung nacelles pressed nearer to the hull.  The most striking part of the ship though has to be the utilisation of the twin neck also seen on the Enterprise-F and the rigid, high-sided spine that runs to the rear of the ship. 

The paintwork does let this one down ever so slightly. Again, the black markings don't cover the whole of the areas its marked out for with some of the panel lines still showing up white and the panels slightly speckled.

But the detail still remains with the overall effect of the ship still coming off strong. Eaglemoss have recreated the main elements that make this one unique although how they would have presented the activation of the ablative armour is another question for another day.

Even down to the front where the class-specific Variable Auto-Targeting Armament (VATA) torpedoes are launched is included on the Avenger and even if this is one of the least smooth Starfleet designs it is important to include given its nature as the first battlecruiser to be included in Online. That is then reflected in the very nature of this model build. Strucurally it's rock solid and Eaglemoss have made the unusal step of making the secondary hull and not the saucer in metal.

In turn this gives the Avenger a lot more stability. Plus, the detail level is consistent. Along the spine you can easily make out the shield generator and the eight warp plasma phase conditioners needed to deal with the immense amount of power this craft generates and requires.

Out to the engines and the pylons (ridiculously thick!), the level of detail matches the main hulls with the ship registry evident on the nacelles. The bussard collectors and warp grilles are painted in this time since they are buried within the hull in line with the ship's mission directive.

Perhaps the only things working against this model are the recessed windows whch are just recesses with no indication of detail. Along the saucer edges the choice to paint them on has worked and the little touches here are what makes the Avenger really shine. The stripes, the edging, the lifeboat hatches; all of them are meticulously added.

The sensor array at the tip of the primary hull is also lacking the detail you can make out on the magazine cover however it is a very thin edge along which to add any fiddly painting and it's one point against a very impressive vista for such a compact design. 

Issue 11 covers the usual ship specific points, an explanation of the VATA feature and the design history of the class adding a good deal of meat the to bones. The plan views are uninspiring and lack much detail save for some obvious features. The design article covers the path from the real world and the reason for the Avenger's existence in the game. This time round we also have the backstory for Starfleet at War expanding on the changes to the galaxy as part of the Online story.

Following the surprisingly cool (yep, changed my mind by the end of that review) Avenger is the Klingon Raptor-style IKS Mat'Ha.

A design lineage that was lost through the alignment with the Khitomer Accords, the attacking Raptor class vessel is initially a bit of an eyefull. The colour palette on these Online Klingon ships is very overpowering and a sharp contrast to the two colours of Starfleet's ships.

The bright green base and brown highlights do make the Mat'Ha stand out. The neck/wings design marks it out immediately as one of the Empire's vessels with hints in there from the Somraw, the Bird of Prey and also the Vor'Cha class.

Eaglemoss have forged the main body, wings and engines in metal here with impulse blocks and structural cabling added in plastic. The colours are a lot more vibrant than we ever saw in the live action series and here it emphasises the different panel depths and features of the ship.

The features themselves are incredibly prominent from an oddly menacing forward deflector to the blatant primary and secondary weapon emplacements on the nose and wings. These are fairly stable and will take some punishment even as protrusions from the main hull. 

The buzzard collectors and exhaust points on the warp engines are another matter. The collectors themselves are a bit gappy when it comes to a smooth and aligned fit with the metal nacelles. They are fairly large pieces of translucent plastic which, maybe, could have just been painted metal. Saying that, the effect looks great if you’re not too close to start spotting fitting errors. 

Simplistic is definitely the word when it comes to the Mat’Ha. The paint is blocky, the style is a set of simple shapes and it all combines here to present a craft very much as functional as the USS Avenger which we have already had the pleasure of getting to know. It’s not as stunning as the bulky Bortasqu’ or the more recent Mogh but it still cuts a spectacular swathe in the collection. 

As to the mini magazine in the box, the usual rules apply. Background details and screenshots from the game including standard in universe backstory followed by an equally comprehensive note on the work that goes on from Cryptic to transfer the initial need and vision into a playable craft in the game. This time’s expansion on the Online lore deals with a very specific section of the game, Delta Rising, which introduced a whole new section of the galaxy to the game.

This in turn explains how classic races from Voyager’s seven year trek were incorporated into the larger framework of the story and continue to be involved today. 

Just a note on display for both of these ships; there are no issues with the clips around the ships with the fitting for them being around the wing/pylons. One thing that does need to be brought up is that the bases don’t seem to accommodate the plastic pegs very well. I think every one I’ve seen in the last six months has needed some amount of filing to fit snugly.

The Avenger and the Mat’Ha have both grown on me considerably during the time of writing this review and Eaglemoss have done immense justice to both Online ships. Certainly the magazines go a long way here to explaining the design decisions and making sense of the spins placed on established Star Trek starship design.

Check out all our Online Starships posts HERE

You can find out more on the Star Trek Online Official Starships Collection by visiting the Hero Collector website HERE

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Saturday, 13 March 2021

Behind the Trek: Updates and Thoughts

Two new stories about Trek movie productions in as many weeks and now the History Channel looking to delve deep into franchise lore with a Centre Seat documentary series. 

Set for an eight part series, Centre Seat will be deep diving into the franchise's extensive 55 year story - and hopefully we can learn a thing or two from this new angle.

What’s really exciting is that these are all bona fide projects taking place away from the Kurtzman series spotlight at a time where the fourth and fifth incarnations of the televised universe are soon to be revealed.

The news of Kalinda Vasquez’s movie proposal with Paramount was a wonderful piece to hear especially given that it was offered without even a script proposal and would include the most recent production company of Trek movies, Bad Robot and therefore under the wing of rebooted JJ Abrams. Vasquez has previous with Star Trek having written Terra Firma, Part II and also the Short Trek, Ask Not.

No confirmation whether this is a fourth instalment of the Kelvin Universe or something completely different however the note that Michelle Paradise, exec producer on Discovery, commented on a tweet relating to the matter seems to cement this as happening.

Even more sensational perhaps is the news that Nicholas Meyer, the man who saved The Wrath of Khan in six days, has also dropped a proposal for a new movie to Paramount. Now if memory serves, the last we heard of Meyer was that he was working on a Khan mini series. 

This was after he’d worked on season one of Discovery but nothing has even been rumoured since. Given that we bow know that only five series are being produced at one time, that Khan show could be way off - even further away than Section 31. This may in turn be part of the reason Meyer has shifted his focus away from the small screen.

But finally and most recently, let’s indeed lock on to TV. Strange New Worlds is now in production in Toronto as confirmed by a new video from the cast. But not just Mount, Romjin  and Peck. Five new faces have now been added to the line up.

Babs Olusanmokun (Black Mirror), Christina Chong (Line of Duty, Doctor Who), Celia Rose Gooding (Broadway production Jagged Little Pill), Jess Bush (Australia's Next Top Model, Playing for Keeps pictured left) and Melissa Navia (Billions, Homeland) have all now been confirmed to take their stations aboard the USS Enterprise although who they will be playing is still a cast iron secret.

Along with the established Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks and upcoming Prodigy, this looks to be the Trek lineup for at least the next 18/24 months although there’s probably a fair wait until we see something back on screen...

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Sunday, 7 March 2021

Episode Archive: Silicon Avatar

Having nattered on about TOS' Obsession, TNG's Silicon Avatar came up as a natural successor to the story.

Both are focused around a mysterious space creature that seems to be up to no good but there's more to this 1991 instalment than just that.

Coming four years after Datalore, in which the Crystalline Entity first appeared, Silicon Avatar questions the nature of the creature as well as to what level of redemption is necessary.

Beginning the colonisation of a new Federation world, the initial scouting party finds itself up against the destructive power of the Entity as it strips the planet of all natural resources. The Borg would be proud of its efficiency but for some reason it leaves the colonists who hide away in the caverns alive. A first.

Enter Doctor Kila Marr, a scientist who has spent her life studying the Crystalline Entity and whose son perished on Omicron Theta. Now for reference that's the world where Data was discovered and that was ravaged by the same Crystalline Entity.

Marr is all out to destroy it from the off although Picard is considering all the options and ultimately would rather it live than die. As an episode it compares well to Obsession since the two creatures initially seem to be driven to survive only and lack sentience however this is where the two episodes take a turn away from each other. Through the episode she sees Data as the embodiment of all that is left of her son since he carries the colony's database. IN the end though, Data is as logical as ever in noting that her Marr's son would not have been pleased with her ruthless solution. Certainly a good episode for Data's understanding of humanity and one person's driving force in life.

In the case of Silicon Avatar, the being can communicate but its cares are for survival only. The classic Obsession has but one priority from the start and never sways from it, focusing purely on the destruction of the gas creature and never anything else. There is no doubt of its malevolence, only backed up by Kirk's previous encounter on the USS Farragut. Picard of course differs in that he looks further than his one past experience with the creature and hopes for something more.

The something more is indeed there as is revealed through the communication attempt yet Marr takes it as a chance to eliminate the creature.  But is it her right to have that choice? 

We never know if it would have understood reasoning or come to terms with the notion that it was killing people. Lore took full advantage of the Crystalline Entity for his own ends and perhaps the audience's perception of it is mired by this initial appearance.

Both Obsession and Silicon Avatar end up with their respective creatures destroyed but the feelings left by the action are polar opposites. The mist of Obsession was relentless and seemingly without remorse or sentience, existing to survive if you will and is eradicated for the survival of thousands of lives. The Crystalline Entity however isn't. It's sentience is revisited in the closing minutes of the episode and there's a chance that it might "see" the error of its ways - but we are robbed of this through Marr's singular resolution.

Apparently in the name of her lost son, Marr was always set on eliminating the entity and her plan is executed coldly, calmly and precisely. The reminder of the colony at Omicron Theta, Data's recovery and the stored memories and journals of the colonists makes this just as hard-hitting as Obsession although that feels more personal due to the Kirk connection.

The initial death of Carmen Divila is brushed past quickly once the colonists are back on the Enterprise with the focus of the story clearly switched to Kila Marr and her (dare I say it) obsession. But in the cold, hard light of day, this is nothing like that gas creature. Just look at the way in which the entity rips the landscape apart in seconds, devastating everything in its path not unlike the destruction at Jouret IV in The Best of Both Worlds. It's easily more terrifying and devastating than the effects of Kirk's Obsession cloud which was pretty slow moving and confined to very localised targets. The massive spacefaring Entity on the other hand is at quite the other end of the obliteration scale.and...could Kila Marr actually be right in what she does? This is planet-killing stuff not seen since the Borg and her action is decisive and may well save millions. Does it matter if this creature is sentientSomething to think about there!

While perhaps not remembered as strongly as Datalore, Silicon Avatar is still a strong episode that adds more to the tragic backstory of Data's creation. Well worth a stop off if you're heading through that way!

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Saturday, 27 February 2021

Son'a Collector: The Official Starships Collection Special 25

The Official Starships Collection has been notoriously light when it's come to featuring the last two TNG movies although recent specials have finally put that to bed.

There's been the Scimitar from Nemesis and more recently the Son'a Command Ship from Insurrection. This time round we get another larger than average model in the lengthy shape of the Son'a Collector.

The site of the ninth Star Trek movie's climax, the Collector sadly doesn't come fully deployed and remains in it's more elegant "closed" form. 

The ship is fairly back-end heavy given all the fins and must have some form of counterweight inside to balance it out for the stand. What's also intriguing is that I can't seem to work out where the metal on the ship is - and if there is indeed any! It seems to be 100% externally plastic at least.

So to the detail and even though it's not shown with "sails unfurled", the Son'a Collector worth an entry into the series. The bulbous head and it's cutaway sections are particularly cool with the six flattened winglets curving out from the main structure. The panelling here is very simple in design and, because of tat, is also very effective. The patterning is also very tactile with the lines distinctly raised or dropped back against the hull.

Most of the "fiddly" work is encapsulated under that shuttlecock nose piece and if you look close there are signs of mechanics set right in the middle. 

Whether intentional or not, the speckled grey on grey paintwork for the main body of the ship adds a few years onto the craft while picking out further details. There are some more solid, darker grey pieces seeming to represent venting along the sides of the main body and also to the rear. Surprisingly for such a simple paint job these areas aren't very carefully coloured with bleed and also patchy finishing evident in more than one or two places. 

Check out along all the mirrored sides too because on this one the patterning has been replicated onto each of the three angles meaning some of those - perhaps intentional - marks do transfer around the ship. Do take note of some of the more "spotty" paint choices which are placed to indicate some of the lighting along the hull and are barely visible against the darker of the greys.

The only other points of colour adding anything different to the surface of the Son'a Collector are hidden behind the curved, large nose section. Each of the splayed arms has a blue engine unit fitted into the rear also helping to identify it's direction of travel! Getting a closer look, these do seem to be the only decals applied to the ship since they have a slight sheen when held up to the light that isn't seen anywhere else on the surfaces of the vessel.

The stand design for the Collector is another new take on display. Offering a longer, stable cradle for the lengthy craft means that the weight is distributed well and it's securely held in place. Just make sure you have a shelf with a bit of depth to accommodate it!

Also a first for the series is the choice to shrink the magazine down to A5 size as is the case with the new Online Starships series. In this case I seriously thought they'd forgotten the magazine (as happened with the Beyond USS Enterprise) but I could breathe again as it was just in the box.

That magazine does show up the precision of the grey paintwork on the Collector especially around the nose and the vent panels. The blue reactor core is also nowhere near as prominent on the model as it is in the CG renderings. On the ship it's only a shade or three different to the light grey of the hull even in the best of illumination.

At least the mag does illustrate the Collector with its sails deployed and ready to sweep up that youthful metaphasic radiation from the rings of the Baku homeworld. There's lots to learn about the design of the ship and also the rest of the fleet from John Eaves. Given this is one of those rarely seen or discussed vessels, the mag for it provides one of - if not the - best source of info on the Son'a fleet from concept drawings and general ideas  through to detailed final plans of both its external and internal layout. 

This was all down to the fact that the finale of Insurrection would be played out between Picard and Ru'afo inside the towering skeleton of the Collector. Therefore the two elements had to match on screen to ensure its believability.

As a model in the series, the Son'a Collector is never going to be a looker or blow you away but given its rarity this is something that is almost certainly worth a second look. It's well constructed and finding a join line is a mission and a half more than just analysing the metal to plastic ratio.

I like that Eaglemoss have taken the time to research and painstakingly recreate this oddment from the ninth Star Trek movie and now we just need that Son'a Command Ship to round out the three!

You can order the Son'a Collector from the Eaglemoss shop now by clicking here and it's priced at £34.99.

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Friday, 19 February 2021

Voyager: Death Wish @ 25

Q had been a raging success on The Next Generation, appearing in eight stories and six of its seven seasons.

Not bad for something intended to pad out the pilot of TNG.

The same couldn't be said of his lone appearance on DS9 accompanied by Vash where the one endearing memory is THAT punch and the response.

DS9 didn't lend itself to Q's mischief and nor did the tone of the show as it headed out into much darker, dysfunctional territory. Voyager on the other hand lent itself perfectly to Q. The counter of the female captain to the arrogant omnipotent being plus the chance to include a potential recurring character on the journey must have been tempting.

Yet of all the Q episodes across the franchise, Death Wish (which is 25 years old this month) is the one with the most serious message and tone through all of his appearances to date. Opening with the release of Q2 and the chase through the universe, Death Wish opens with the suggestion of some of the usual Q shenanigans. However nothing could be further from the truth.

One of Star Trek's most serious challenges to real world conundrums, Death Wish examines the very nature of life, immortality and death within 46 minutes. Q2's quality of life within his eternal confinement is, as we see, cramped and inhumane even for a Q. Can he accept that? A mortal life or ultimately suicide?

Utilising a courtroom story which flips the Humanity on Trial of Encounter at Farpoint to Q on Trial, the episode might be remembered more clearly for the appearance of Isaac Newton, Maury Ginsberg (playing Maury Ginsberg) and Jonathan Frakes returning to the role of a pre-Generations Will Riker. Riker's appearance certainly has implications to the future of the franchise and not so Frakes could notch another series up on his list but for the mention of "Ol' Ironboots", Thaddeus Riker - a name that he would later use for his son.

The relationship Q has with Janeway is also a significant move from the way in which he dealt with Picard. There was a matching of intellects at times and a level of respect that isn't present in Death Wish. Q sees Janeway as more of a new amusement and is to a degree infatuated with her, only gaining that respect once a verdict is reached in the hearing and Q has come to terms with his own change of style.

The sparring between Q and Janeway does get a little more spicy over the course of the three Voyager episodes in which he appears but the choice to continue the civil war and then child stories in The Q and the Grey and Q2 cause more harm than good when it comes to the franchise. Fortunately the lighter-hearted Lower Decks would provide Q with some of his dignity and character traits once again.

Death Wish is the most serious and hard-hitting of all Q's appearances in the Star Trek franchise and De Lancie is perhaps at his best when not being quite the precocious brat he was in earlier TNG episodes. There's a more mature head at points here, darkened only by the realisation that Q has himself become euthanised by the Continuum to the point where he is now tasked with controlling someone who has stepped out of the state's prescribed behaviours. Q2's uniqueness and outspoken individualistic views are a "danger to the Continuum" - a place in which everything has been done and said, even being the scarecrow.

In comparison to the Continuum of The Q and the Grey, the gas station metaphor seems fairly sane and perfectly sets the tone for the nature of the Q. Even in the way the visitors are ignored seethes with distain and arrogance that has marked the omnipotent beings since their first appearance in Star Trek. The Q have become lazy, bored and so isolated in millennia that to have one of their own think is, well, unthinkable since there's nothing more to do... except die.

For Q ultimately to be the one to assist Q2 (Quinn's) suicide is not even a remote possibility given the adversarial nature of their interactions through most of the episode but by the conclusion it definitely isn't. That one moment at the gas station where Q2 reveals how Q was his inspiration for breaking the rules and living immortality on the edge finally chinks at the armour of De Lancie's character. The real Q is in there but he needed to be reminded. 

Death Wish was something of an anomaly for Voyager. An episode with a strong moral message on a series that would become more and more high concept as it stepped into its third and fourth seasons before embracing the Borg and the darker aspects of the Delta Quadrant. Q's return was on a higher level to the misstep that was Q Less although as with Vash, Riker provided a little reminder and link back to Q's time on the Enterprise. The tonal shift suits the characters and De Lancie in particular is at the top of his Q game. By the end the shift in his opinions is distinct and believable with real hope that the omnipotent being has turned a corner. However both The Q and the Grey and Q2 would redress the balance and not in a beneficial manner...

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Thursday, 18 February 2021

Lockdown Interviews: Phil Farrand

Sixty five minutes into a thirty minute interview and I’ve definitely used up more of Phil Farrand’s time than I should have.

I’m now eating into his writing time. At the moment Phil is writing book 14 of a 24 book series and chatting to me is cutting into valuable time. I need to call this; now.

“Moffat was a great writer for Doctor Who - Girl in the Fireplace is one of THE greats!”

I’ve fanned the flames around some great sci-fi TV which leads into us episode dropping some more from the glory years of rebooted Who. My mistake... 70 minutes.

But why am I speaking to an IT project manager from the US on a Friday night? 

The answer is, of course, Star Trek related because Phil Farrand is a bit of a literary legend - he penned the four Nitpickers Guides for Trekkers covering TOS, TNG (x2) and the first four seasons of DS9. But why did he stop? Why was the only further publication a Guide to The X-Files? 

"I actually grew up in the Philippines about 8 miles north of Manilla," recalled Phil as we started off checking all my recording equipment was actually doing its job. "To call my friend I had to walk over to the Bible School because we didn't have a phone in our house. Then I had to dial 9 because the phone system we were on was different to the phone system he was on and about six times out of ten you would get a busy tone so you'd keep hanging up and trying again then you would dial his number and half the time it wouldn't go through so you'd have to start that whole process again... It's amazing to think that now we can just video call halfway across the world instantly!"

"I loved The Original Series, I was a fan of Next Gen but with DS9 I felt they were fundamentally trying to take the franchise in a new way to boldly go where no man has gone before... but we're just going to stay on the station. So it was like, ok, it's in the universe, that's fine but what really killed it for me was when Voyager started up and Paramount wanted to start their own cable network and so it shifted off my local station and at the time we wren't getting cable because I felt it was overpriced and I just lost touch with the series."

"The thing that gave me a lot of love for the original series was that my mom did not watch TV except Star Trek. She was a very religious woman, really did some amazing things n terms of knowing things and intuiting things. She just didn't see the point of television but Star Trek she would watch with us.

Every week Phil's mom would watch the show with the family and afterwards explain the spiritual applications of the episode. "She would go through it and say 'See when Spock had that thing on his back and making him do things that's how we have to stand up against temptation and discipline ourselves'.

"The original stories were rich enough and enough fodder than you could indulge in those types of discussions. It wasn't just about who was going to die today. We seem to have shifted away from these big philosophical issues in science fiction and trying to do justice to both sides. We've shifted into the same dogma and hammering people over the head with it."

Phil applies this also to the latest Jodie Whittaker led series of Doctor Who which he also feels has been let down by the storylines. "There's not the richness we got in something like Blink with the Weeping Angels and The Pandorica Opens - probably one of the finest pieces of writing in science fiction television I have ever seen. Everybody had a moment and it was gorgeous."

In recent times the former Nitpicker has tried to dip back into Star Trek with its appearance on Netflix but even a few minutes in he's finding it fairly predictable although Picard did pique his interest.

"But those books were a lot of fun to write," recalled Phil in reference to the four Star Trek reference works he penned in the 1990's and are still read by observant Trek fans to this day.

After Star Trek went off the air in 1969, Phil watched the reruns, then The Motionless Picture(!), "Then the second movie comes out and it was good, third comes out; it's ok, fourth movie's fun so we're rolling with that and then they announced Next Gen.

"I thought they did some neat stuff. But it didn't have the nostalgia of The Original Series because that's what I'd grown up with but it was very fun. I would get together with my friends and we would talk about Star Trek and that was happening in the background. At the same time I was producing a music notation system that did fairly well and that made me want to go off and write the great American novel. However, it's not quite that easy and it can be dangerous becoming that financially independent so young."

Phil wanted to do something away from music and started looking around, writing and didn't know how to publish. But publishers are only confident with things and authors they know will sell. Taking a more entrepreneurial approach, Phil realised that he needed a product that everyone knew, that was doing well and people wanted to read about.

"I was talking with my friends and we stumbled on, during one of the episodes, about how the communicators worked. That was the trigger. Sometimes they tap them, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they tap them to end the call. That kind of just snowballed. 

"What every Star Trek fan does once they get into the mythos far enough... they start nitpicking and so then that started up.. It was such fun and we would meet up every week and I thought there have to be other Star Trek geeks who do this?"

Phil went home and said that he was going to watch every episode of TNG's first four seasons and write down everything they did wrong.

"So I started doing it," continued Phil, "Then I had to find someone to help publish it and that was Steve Eplinger who was a book producer at that time. He was essential but the problem with Steve was that he didn't watch TV and know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek and he kept calling it the other thing!"

Confident of a winning product, Phil continued to badger Steve until one day Eplinger called him; "He was with his son, and he called to say he was in a shop and did I realise they did Star Trek toys?! I said yes and then he realised we could sell the book."

Steve then hunted and hunted for a publisher which eventually led to a friend of a friend who knew an editor at Bantham Trade Paperbacks. At the time they were a novel company.

"Jean Cavelos was there and Gene was a Trekkie. She pulled the proposal out of the envelope, read a couple of the chapters, picked up the phone and told Steve Eplinger 'I want to do this book'."

Within the books not only is there a synopsis of each episode but a couple of trivia questions to test your grey cells and sprinkled throughout are some top tens to add even more flavour.

"Sometimes they tap them, sometimes they don't. That snowballed into what every fan does and when you get far enough into the mythos and you start nitpicking. We met up each week to discuss in detail and I started to think that there must be other people who were doing the same thing."

Off the back of the first book, which sold something in the region of 250,000 copies, three further volumes of Star Trek and one on The X-Files followed. However confidence in unlicenced products took a slight turn.

"We were right on the front edge of a change in fandom and publishing," explained Phil, "What had happened was that everything was a protected property until William Shatner wrote Star Trek Memories. It sold gang-busters because it was William Shatner but it was not an official property and not done through the official publisher. Everybody said that was because he was famous so then right on the heels of that came this quirky guy writing The Nitpicker's Guides. While they're not producing Star Trek Memories numbers they are a solid seller.

"Then they started moving into this media tie-in market. We were very very careful and had a good lawyer and they said what to do, no photos, you have to put a significant amount of new content in - that was part of the reason for the tote boards and top tens."

This helped drive the format as Phil and his publisher ensured they were towing the correct line and in 1998 he was already working on a Star Wars guide ahead of the imminent release of The Phantom Menace.

"By that time publishers had been pushing the line of media tie ins that were based on fair use and they just pushed it so far that Paramount decided to go on the warpath. While I was writing up the Star Wars guide there's a book on the Godzilla movies and not by those that were authorised which had detailed synopses, pictures, no original content and of course they got sued and the studio won.

"Then there's a guy who wrote a little book called The Joy of Trek and it was about how to improve your relationship with a Trekker. Just a 100 page book and they sued him for about $22 million. They won. I spoke to the guy afterwards and he said that the Paramount lawyers stood up in court and used The Nitpicker's Guide to show an example of what's legal."

The two big hits on the media tie ins combined with the departure of the publisher's lawyer and Jean Cavelos shut down any further intentions from Bantham.

Which in turn meant that plans for Star Wars, a possible Buffy book and then loop back to complete DS9 were shelved. Permanently. Steve Eplinger tried for six months to see if another publisher would take the books but after the impact of the court cases it proved fruitless.

But that's not been the end to Phil Farrand's journey into writing. No sir. In fact he continues to write to this day but now focuses on his own projects. 

Alongside jobs in computer consulting, a few unexpected turns and a position as the music minister at his local church for 18 months, Phil got back into writing after some time away and is now working on a mammoth project which will take him (easily!!!) to retirement.

"I wanted something to keep me in writing and keep me pushed and then have a goal to complete it by retirement. The plan was to release 24 books in 12 years. Each is about 160,000 words and they are set at the end of a period of time called the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ."

A race of Titans arrives on Earth, takes over all the governments and establish a utopia. All energy is free, you can grow and eat all the food in your garden. Banks are eliminated, all needs are taken care of and there's no need to work.

"There's two rules. Submit or die and treat others as you wish to be treated. That's it! Some people can live with it and some can't. Some claim that these are Jesus and his followers returned as prophesied and others say they're just aliens.who have used the mythology to get people to submit to them.

"There are those who have gone with it and then there are those that have drifted away," continued Phil, "and some have gone far out into space and established their own colonies. But at 960 years everybody wakes up and the Titans have gone. No-one knows if and when they'll come back. Some of their technology works, other bits don't. You have these people who haven't had to fend for themselves for 960 years and believe in a high moral code but out in the night there are those looking at the resources of Earth and it's ramping up towards the big battle."

Now completing book 14 (which I was by this point in the conversation interrupting the progress of!) there's still a lot more to come. However if literature's not your thing then it's definitely worth dropping on Phil Farrand's Facebook with his now weekly celebrations of National Days.

Certainly a highlight of the week, it'd be wrong to spoil the surprise but the effort that goes into each production is incredible and especially during current times it's sure to raise a smile. That's all I'll say!

Many thanks to Phil Farrand for joining Some Kind of Star Trek for this interview!

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Sunday, 14 February 2021

The Depth of DS9: HeroCollector's Illustrated Handbook

Over Christmas I finally submitted to HeroCollector's will and got hold of the three Illustrated Handbooks.

Covering the Constitution Class USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and NCC-1701-A, the second on Picard's Galaxy Class vessel and a third on Voyager, these are masterful guides to the hero craft of the franchise. With one notable exception.

Which has now been solved with the publication of the Deep Space Nine Illustrated Handbook. Excited? Yes, yes, yes and it's about time.

Once more diving into the wealthy archive of the Star Trek Fact Files, the book pulls together all the material on the series you could desire including the station, Runabouts and the iconic USS Defiant

I was, shamefully, not a collector of the Fact Files back in the day. An ex-girlfriend did and I remember spending a substantial part of a day just flicking through the binders and being really impressed with the graphics and notes alongside. Possibly one of the reasons I became an ex!

Anyway... this book just goes that step further. If you've collected and still have the files, then this is money you can avoid spending because 99% of the content is exactly the same but just in one place and not filling half a wall. 

So let's take a look under the hood and flip open this hardback compendium.  The first thing you'll naturally do is compare it to the '90's DS9 Technical Manual. As with previous entries, these books are, when aligned with those schematic heavyweights from the likes of Okuda and Sternbach, like two halves of a medallion. One provides in depth "real world" technical understandings of the workings of just about everything while the Handbook provides a more relaxed and informative read. This handbook book is much more a journey through DS9 rather than a guide on how to fix a broken warp engine and relates more as a story backed by CG as well as episode reference shots which you wouldn't find in the technical manuals but still keeps it grounded in the Trek universe.

Yes, there are technical aspects to it, but this new volume excels in its cutaway drawings of Ops or the Promenade as well as relating the construction path of the station by its Cardassian builders. The superb images also have further areas expanded on such as control panels and in the case of the Promenade it even goes into specific operations on that deck. Notes indicate specific items and key points with the main narrative exploding the background.

The Illustrated Handbook adeptly covers just about everything and links it back to the series itself in many cases. The Cardassian counterinsurgency programmes from Civil Defence are referenced as are the away team desert uniforms from Shadows and Symbols. Even the optolythic data rod from In the Pale Moonlight gets a section devoted to it. That's where the technical manual and this really part ways. Ben Robinson and editor Simon Hugo have gathered together information which is made accessible to all levels of fandom and just looks amazing.

Beyond the station there's even more with the Runabout sections even showing that mid-section only used on TNG as well as a decent recap on the fates of DS9's fleet over the series along with further annotated views of the utility craft.

For those wanting a bit more starship action then there's the Defiant with close up looks into the engine room, the bridge and even the cramped mess hall. Each section not only explains some over technical pieces in plain English but the relation to the show through an in universe explanation. All aspects of the ship are covered from its creation right up to its destruction and resurrection in the final season. There are also pieces on the features of the ship which made it unique in Starfleet.

It's difficult not to come away from this, the fourth book in the reconstituted Fact Files series and be highly impressed, disappointed and slightly hopeful all in one go. Let me explain.

The work that has gone into scouring the man, many volumes of the classic part work cannot be underestimated and to have it all here is, as said, just wonderful but it this going to be the last one since the Fact Files never touched on anything more recently. Is there a chance that we might get an Illustrated Handbook for Discovery for example? I think fans would be excited to see that but it would be a project from the ground up (I have time, Ben, if you need a hand!). 

Just as a good reference book was an absolute necessity for your library back in the 1990's, this is another piece of Star Trek history that every fan should have in whatever form. Personally I'm ecstatic to have a hold of it in a single book that logically details the elements of arguably Star Trek's best and most unique show in one place. At this place and time, HeroCollector is the place to go if you're looking for that more inquisitive look into the workings of the Roddenberry-created universe. Let's have some more. 

The Deep Space Nine Illustrated Handbook will soon be available from HeroCollector in the UK...

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