Monday, 18 October 2021

Galactic Proportions: USS Enterprise NCC-1701-J XL


 The largest Enterprise never to grace the screen works to a degree as an XL replica.

As with all the preceeding XLs, this started life in the regular size collection but is well known for its fragile nacelles and pylons. As a gigantic starship - that only appeared on a background display - the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-J could do with being an XXL to allow some of the details on the hull to really breath.

The largest ship to date to be sized up, the Enterprise-J model is beautiful but just seems to hit the mark because even this scale doesn't really suit it.

Formed almost entirely in metal, the J looks great and Eaglemoss have tried to push the envelope further with it, raising the window blockings and adding much more surface aztec detailing on the base layer of the elliptical primary hull. The centre marking does look like a sticker and perhaps cheapens the finish over all. Nor do all of the window markings line up with

One issue I have faced with mine is that the hammerhead piece that sweeps out to the front and carries the ship registry is loose ad wobbles a bit. I'm hoping this is limited to just this model and not the whole production run. There are also a couple of surface blemishes on that piece which are noticeable only because it's such a smooth section of the ship.

It's also really hard to properly judge the model versus the "actual" ship since it's only on a LCARS display but it feels as good a reproduction to Doug Drexler's concept as it could be. The usual images of the J do suggest it's darker but that's space for you, after all, it's black.

Tracing back along the hull, the J has a distinct spine that leads back to the warp field generator (blue dot) and then forks out to the warp engines. While the front of this model is sold and metal as indicated, the rear still looks incredibly fragile. The central supporting structure is fully connected into the primary hull but the pylons are still almost non-existent.

Their attachment to the equally threadbare engines is better than on the regular sized edition but the scale again doesn't seem to be super strong. But - the upper sections of the engines are actually a moulded part of the metal frame with translucent warp grilles and bussard collectors attached into them. 

This works 100 times better but it still all looks scarily haphazard. Yes, I know if it was scaled up more we would see that it's probably the chunkiest and most well constructed Enterprise ever but when you shrink it, not everything works perfectly.

However, frustrations of scale aside, this is decently finished aside from the piece of loose bodywork. I can live with that and a blob of glue will no doubt erase the problem completely. The design is revolutionary, very forward thinking although not enough to have detached nacelles (that's not a point to debate here!!!). Lined up with her predecessors you do lose something because of the variances in scale. 

Yes, there are inherent design similarities most directly between the NX-01 and the J and this is a canon Enterprise yet it still feels oddly - and perhaps should - out of place. I kind of like the design and Eaglemoss have done the ship a lot more justice and respect for choosing to upscale her. Maybe the only issue is that at full price there isn't a lot of ship there for your money as you would expect from a C or a D but that's the nature of the game I guess.

There's a good chunk in the magazine covering the design of the Universe Class starship. From initial sketches through to unused concepts, it's followed with a decent write up on Doug Drexler's ship designs. Drexler' work covered here but isn't limited to, the NX-01, Voyager, the Romulan Shuttle and Borg Tactical Cube. The interesting part here is the mix of sketches and early CG work plus some final images from Drexler's work that has been used in the Ships of the Line calendar.

The NCC-1701-J Special Issue is ok at best. Suitably bigger but for a design that was never actually onscreen it's  not one I would have said was a necessity. Aside from one slight build issue this is however a well-constructed replica yet not one of the finest in the XLs.

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

wej Duj: Lower Decks S02 E09


After labelling last week's Lower Decks as a landmark I'll take a second breath in.

This one surpassed it.

The first episode ever to be titled in Klingon (even on screen), wej Duj marked another step outside of the bounds that confine regular series but can be easily accomplished through animation.

Instead of just isolating this week's story to a single spot, the Cerritos, Lower Decks has branched out to show us life on a Klingon vessel and a Vulcan science ship with spectacular results.

But wej Duj is much, much more clever than you initially give it credit because not only does it spike off into different tales but it also ties into established storylines from the series and make a heck of a lot of sense.

What this episode succeeds at doing is expanding the Lower Decks corner of the Star Trek universe. It feels as though the series has become more than just one ship. There's still that nudge and wink formula, the in jokes and action but this episode feels alive with growth and not an over reliance on the background easter eggs. I appreciated the story more, found that I connected with the characters and was more engrossed than before because the important points were kept to the front of the screen and I wasn't trying to focus massively on the backgrounds. This felt like a more rounded entry to the series and one where the main plot captured my attention from the start. Unusually I may have to go back and watch wej Duj a second time to pick up on all the hidden "nods" that I missed on first viewing.

The choice of characters aboard the Klingon and Vulcan ships help make this a top level episode. Aboard the Klingon Bird of Prey Che'Ta' we have aspiring captain Ma'ah who is given all the dog-awful (and I mean that sincerely) tasks on the ship; disposing of the old dead captain and walking the targ being just two. Over on the Vulcan Sh'Vaal, T'Lynn is stepping outside the bounds of logic and starting to do her own thing which is, frustratingly, illogical. 

The story on the Cerritos, focusing on Boimler attempting to find himself a senior officer best friend doesn't seem to be going anywhere however it's more important seeing how the other members of the lead Lower Decks quartet spend their time while waiting for the ship to reach its destination. Over the 12 hour trip T'Ana and Tendi go rock climbing, Rutherford joins Shaxs at a pottery class and Mariner puts in some mum time.  Note the chunk of references to Star Trek V in here - once again seems that McMahan and co really like to nod to that movie!

wej Duj works in not only broadening the vision of the series but also continuing the running Pakled story which seems to be an undercurrent of both seasons one and two. While not an overpowering element of the show it's interesting to see this pop up again and again.

What is also super successful is in the execution of the Vulcan and Klingon scenes. The animation and backgrounds aside, the practicalities aboard the two ships are just as you would hope and expect. Yes, there is a Lower Decks slant in terms of humour but the two craft run almost diametrically opposite to each other; order and chaos if you will; but with both somehow maintaining structure. 

Overall a good episode for the series with lots to get stuck into in terms of characters and stories. Both the lead Klingon (Ma'ah) and lead Vulcan (T'Lynn) thoroughly deserve to turn up again in future episodes and it might even be a suggestion to focus an episode on each of them and away from the Cerritos

Definitely a season highlight and one that didn't overindulge in fan service for the sake of it.  

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Thursday, 14 October 2021

The Kelvin Associates: USS Armstrong, USS Newton and USS Mayflower



Destroyed only minute after they appeared, the Kelvin fleet has made a first appearance in diecast form.

For fans of the 2009 film will recall that the Enterprise was not alone on its mission to evacuate Vulcan but was the only surviving craft.

Over the next few months Eaglemoss will be releasing three Kelvin Timeline starships. The USS Newton and the USS Mayflower will be following with the USS Armstrong hitting the online shop this week. 

Delayed for a month, the Armstrong has a lot of familiar features in place. There's the saucer connected to two nacelles at either edge, no secondary hull and that rollbar carrying weapons or whatever might be needed for the mission. In essence this is a beefed up Miranda Class with a third, longer nacelle planted in the middle of the ship's underside.

As you become aware from the magazine, the metallic finish is to age the ship and ensure that the Enterprise stood out against the rest of the fleet. If the Armstrong is older though, how come its registry number is NCC-1769? Anyhow, numerals aside, this is a decent little model with a fantastic paint finish that reflects a more industrial perception of the universe in the Kelvin Timeline.

The weathered effect on the metal works as well as it has on Shuttles 4 (which we discussed recently) and what I like there is the continued theme across this range of ships. You know where they're from and they all physically and visually link together. Oddly the Enterprise stands out like a sore thumb being shiny white!

But let's stick with the Armstrong here. The registry on the saucer is super legible namely because it's huge. Both the name and number are edged red but overall the detailing on the hull is basic to say the least. You can make out possible phaser emplacements and the RCS thrusters are just about visible but that's it. The bridge module is recognisable but you can see how far they modellers needed to go when they were making the Kelvin fleet since there's not a lot of very intricate detail anywhere. In fact, we know from the magazine that the fleet itself was a mix of bits reworked for the few craft we got to see.

The top of the saucer is rendered in metal with the engines, the ventral saucer section and the rollbar all plastic addons. The engines do have a familiar feel to them as well since they are almost identical to the one found on the USS Kelvin. The third is longer and just a stretched version of the other two. Detail again is sketchy at best but you can make out the exhaust points and the bustard collectors. Sadly the latter are just moulded parts of the ship due to their scale. 

In all honesty though, the Armstrong leaves me a little cold and has also let a tiny bit of concern in as to the quality of the upcoming Newton and Mayflower. It’s an OK model but there have been many far superior replicas done on this scale since day one of the original collection. Even the multiple Miranda variants have been more impressive and this, while it’s a rare chance to see the Kelvin universe fleet, just doesn’t match the Prime Universe quality in any way. I’d be as bold as to say that it shows up just how much of a cut and paste job the other ships in Starfleet were.

The magazine didn’t fair too well with me either. There’s some glossy CG of the Armstrong but under that it’s a recap of the disastrous mission to Vulcan and an extensive (and decent) look through the design process of the Kelvin Starfleet vessels. Reading this does make you look back at the model and perhaps be more harsh towards it but, strangely, my biggest gripe was the use of dark blue font on a black background. With the shrinking of the magazines, the text was already microscopic but now it’s verging on illegible especially the picture captions. Sort it out Eaglemoss!!!

To conclude - a steady and average model backed with an interesting magazine. Not the stuff dreams are made of but an interesting aside if nothing else.

Second in this Kelvin trio is the USS Newton NCC-1727. This is the most diverse of the three ships when it comes to design however the news that they were all effectively variations on one design makes these a bit disappointing upon arrival.

Anyway, the Newton continues the same blotched stained steel paintjob from the Armstrong but you have to look deeper than a couple of shades of grey here. First up she has a semi-circular primary hull connected to both a pair of warp engines on the top and twin secondary hulls below. 

The main hull is cast in metal and carries adequate bridge detail and also phaser emplacements. Everything beyond that primary piece though is in plastic but the painting helps draw all the elements together. The hull colouring really suits these ships and accentuates the already quite deep deflector grid lines curving round the ship. 

On the two warp engines above the primary hull the bussard collectors are a dulled yellow/grey in translucent plastic with the exhaust tips at the other ends recessed in blue, mirroring their onscreen appearance. The joint lines on the tops of the nacelles are strangely raised with the rear tips not quite fully closed. Not the best bit of model work to date by any stretch. The connecting rollbar arm is fairly bland with only the blip of gold paint to help isolate the warp field regulator.

The bottom two attached tubes are a bit more interesting with twin shuttle bay doors at the back and deflector dishes to the front. From memory this is the only ship with such a configuration especially with the double blue dishes facing forward. The joins on these shorter tube sections aren't as noticeable and the "caps" that are provided by the shuttle bay doors certainly help. It's only on a closer look that you realise the split for them is horizontal beneath the doors rather than top to bottom.

To the rear of the structure connecting them back to the main hull you can just make out the red of the impulse drive. It's a narrow slip of paint but nicely touched in.

The USS Newton is a sturdy build with no flex or movement in those rear outslung hulls and engines. The look of it easily makes it the most interesting of the three Kelvin fleet starships.

The 18 page magazine still doesn't clarify what class of ship the Newton is but does revisit the events of Vulcan's destruction and the ship's fleeting involvement before its destruction by the Narada. For anyone who loves John Eaves' work, the second second focuses on concept art for the 2009 movie and ties in well with Shuttle set 4 as well as exploring the aesthetics of such things as the police bike and the Enterprise's dry dock.

Last up in this sequence of bonus editions is the impressively bland USS Mayflower NCC-1621. The easiest way to explain this one would be to remove the rollbar and the middle nacelle, Hey presto, it's the Mayflower.  

There is, sadly, very little to say about it. It is for all intents and purposes the basis for the Armstrong but does benefit from a slightly larger finish. Notable points are that the registry is located in the same place as the USS Kelvin, just behind the bridge and the nacelle design is identical to the other two ships featured here. That said, it's not just a straight reuse on at least one of them since the Newton's engines are longer by a few centimetres. The front and rear caps are the same colours with the engines and the lower saucer insert all in plastic. 

Apart from the thin impulse engine to the rear and some minor greebling on the underside - also identical on the other two ships so you see a pattern - the Mayflower has the distinction of being totally indistinct. Even the Reliant had a rollbar yet this may well class as the dullest Starfleet ship to ever grace a HeroCollector box. I can't even raise an eyebrow in excitement here. 

Its included magazine is a familiar story since it glosses over the details of the fateful rescue mission to Vulcan. The Designing the Mayflower section is, ironically, short and to the point. They needed ships designed, there wasn't a lot of time; hey presto in four paragraphs.

Last up and taking a good chunk of the issue we have an article on the design of Nero's Narada. Given that this will never ever get produced in the collection its a good choice to add in but also fair confirmation that Eaglemoss won't try and replicate the upgraded Romulan mining ship. 

OK. Let's be straight on this trio. The Newton is the outright best of the three because of the variations but overall these are pretty uninspiring and very very completist. The magazines are almost too apologetic in mentioning the speed at which these ships were CG'd for the 2009 reboot and building them for collectors highlights how much CG kitbashing went on to get them ready for the big screen. Even worse? The damn numbering. It makes no sense when it comes to sequence and starship class which was set up Back In the Day. I can't imagine that logical numbering would have gone the way of the dodo in the Kelvin Timeline - 1727 commissioned before 1701? Really?

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Tuesday, 5 October 2021

I, Excretus; Lower Decks S02 E08


I LOVED this one.

Providing a real ensemble performance from both the four main cast members and the senior staff, I, Excretus is one of the finest moments this season has produced to date.

Choosing to head a single storyline really works with the crew of the Cerritos lined up for evaluations at the behest of Shar Yen Yeb who is a Pandronian, the same species as Bem from TAS's episode of the same name. 

The opening skit with the quartet stranded on the satellite sets up the story clearly with the difference in rank and standing highlighted, precisely pinpointing the lower decks expendability in life or death situations.

Allowing Lower Decks to step outside of its own confines, the crew get the chance to step inside personal simulators (mini one-person holodecks) and be assessed. The scores certainly aren't racking up but as the episode progresses we are witness to a succession of famous encounters and moments from the past 55 years. The ensigns y'see re now placed into the positions of the senior officers and vice versa to see how the other half lives and for both it's eye opening.

Rutherford has to perform a life-threatening warp reactor repair (The Wrath of Khan), Tendi
must end a Klingon's life after a crippling injury (TNG's Ethics), Mariner is placed into the Mirror Universe and a Western town while Boimler handles the Borg. In at least three instances (plus the rest of the crew), the results are a disaster but the experience here is phenomenal and steps up the quality of Lower Decks yet another rung.

It's inspired to be able to freely enter all of these classic environments so easily and as part of the plot AND we have a guest voice provided by the Queen herself, Alice Krige. The Borg bits are classic. There's the changing of phaser frequencies (and throwing the weapon when it fails) all backed with the classic orchestral score from The Best of Both Worlds. Amazing.

This episode is again awash with references and while the last couple have been hat-tip light, it's a kick to remind viewers that actually that's one of the key elements that makes Lower Decks work. Yes, some of the situations are ludicrous and the execution of duties by the crew horrendous on virtually every occasion but it's the ability of this show - and the nature of it  - to poke fun at the absurdities of the past five and a half decades that kills it. 

Lower Decks has stomped on the stuffiness and occasional pretentiousness of Star Trek with a firm size 11 this week, even having the "gall" to trek back to the famous Spock death scene from the second movie and fluff the "Steal the ship" piece from The Search for Spock.  Both are executed magnificently and failed perfectly in the most extreme Cerritos way possible - spot on with a script and pacing to match.

Flipping the script, the senior officers realise how poor rations are and also just how much they are kept out of the loop. Initially their time in simpler quarters (a corridor) looks to be a quiet life. That's spat out when they have to stack hexagonal boxes while the rest of the ship deals with Klingons and then the Q - however they aren't involved in any way. Don't worry about it, those crates won't stack themselves.

Bringing the cast all together for one story is another brilliant strike actioned here. There's no inner bickering, no fighting or whining but a crew that is united and working as one for a desired goal. It might not be completely ethical but you can't help but root for the crew to win through in the end.

However, there is one sequence that may or may not have further consequences off screen. One of Mariner's experiences is The Naked Time in which the crew shed their inhibitions as per the classic (and TNG) episodes. Now, Lower Decks has never been for kids (that's Prodigy) but there are definitely a couple of jokes and at least one visual that may have stepped over the line from funny to possibly offensive. Was I personally that bothered? Not really but I'm sure there will be a line of fandom spouting about it "Not being my Star Trek" which is all well and good - so don't watch it.

The episode itself does play like a Greatest Hits collection and nails every one of them absolutely perfectly. To be fair, even that Naked Time sequence was generally hinted at in the episodes but never seen. Here we've just been a little closer to the "action" so to speak.

With the whole crew working as one there is a much more united goal this week although Boimler takes more than just one for the team to ensure that they don't utterly flunk the tests. While returning the Borg Queen it clearly pastiche's First Contact and just a little of the assimilation probes from The Best of Both Worlds with even a sprinkling of early Borg babies and long johns more likely to be seen in Q Who. Visually you have to say that the recreated sequences are perfect with the fun of a Lower Decks episode and a percentage of comedic "What If...?" added to the mix.

I, Excretus is a benchmark for the show, exposing its brilliance and attention to detail as well as the series' ability to make something new from the established every single week. Mariner has mellowed this season. While still occasionally extreme it's now more Boimler's turn to be stretching the boundaries thanks to his numerous and repeatedly mentioned time on the Titan.

Episode eight is, aside from maybe one graphic moment, a superb story that does everything you'd want from Lower Decks. Absurdity, canon nods and a surprise or two that you won't have seen in the trailers. Overall, the best of the season to date.

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Monday, 4 October 2021

Where Pleasant Fountains Lie: Lower Decks S02 E07


Tables are turned a little for Where Pleasant Fountains Lie with a focus on Chief Engineer Billups.

Hailed by a troubled starship, it turns out that it's from Billups' own culture (the planet Hyspiria) which is based around medieval fantasy. Billups himself is the heir to the throne although he has renounced his heritage. Problem is, his mother hasn't and has committed her efforts to trick him into having intercourse. Usually this wouldn't be an issue but if he does then Billups will become king; something he is actively trying to avoid.

You sort of know where it's going from the beginning here and even the episode's event signposts the direction of the story. Yes, it's a little obvious where it's heading but this storyline is fairly entertaining and certainly geeky enough with the fantasy beliefs of Billups' own people. How space travel and castles collide is a headache but it's just ridiculous enough that it works even if you do question it. It also means some nice uses of LCARS on screen through the episode in relation to the Queen's starship. Rutherford is assigned to hep with repairs and things seem to go from bad to worse but there's a nod to The Most Toys here (maybe) with Tendi not believing it's all as bleak as events go.

Flipping the channel over, Boimler and Mariner are tasked with transporting an evil computer to a safe archive. Plus points in the episode since the computer is voiced by the man of a thousand Star Trek faces, Jeffery Combs and is vainly hoping that someone will plug it back into a terminal and continue its plan for universal domination and worship as a god.

Taking in every good Star Trek cliché, the shuttle on which the pair are transporting their evil cargo crash-lands and it becomes all about survival. The sarcasm, chastising and dry wit of Combs computer is great fun and it's just as interesting to watch the sparring between Mariner and Boimler. The latter's brief visit to the USS Titan is really playing hell with Mariner particularly with its frequent mentions and comparisons, driving a wedge between them. 

The paranoia and desperation kicks in but is everything what it seems especially when you
have an evil computer in tow? 

Combs return to the Trek fold is more than welcome and maybe even a little late. The marooning due to a shuttle crash is a oft-used (and wisely used here) situation allowing for some good soul searching and a few fisticuffs as well. We know that the pair will work things out but the gem here is working out precisely why Boimler has gone space-happy and if there's a cunning plan buried in there. 

The writing on this arc of the episode is fantastically written, again proving that Lower Decks is currently the best series in Trek at the moment. The combination of humour and lateral thinking really pulls together and actually parallels the obvious Billups challenge with his over-enthusiastic and duplicitous mother.

Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a charming little episode that fits snuggly into the season. Memorable for the cameo from Combs it's still not one of the season's best but the challenge with Lower Decks is that it is now setting its own standards as it goes meaning each new episode has a huge hill to climb.


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The Spy Humongous: Lower Decks S02 E06


If episode six tells us anything about Lower Decks it's that the last couple of weeks actually haven't been as brilliant as they should have been.

The Spy Humongous brings us once again back to the events of season one and the Pakleds and shows us some of the less fun activities waiting for junior officers.

Following a now typical three thread story, episode six has us watching a hostage negotiation for the release of Captain Freeman and Lt Shaxs while the Cerritos hosts a Pakled "terrorist". Then there's Boimler taking lessons from the pretentious Redshirts on how to step up and become an acting captain. Third there's Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford assigned to Anomaly Consolidation  Duty (ACD). It's trash day as Mariner points out as this is the activity to go round the ship and clean up all the materials collected on away missions. As you would expect from Lower Decks it's less than plain sailing.

The Spy Humongous succeeds in every way with all three lines of narrative proving to be great attention grabbers. While Freeman and Shaxs are under guard on Pakled Planet seeking the highest ranking leader (the one with the biggest hat), Ransom and Kayshon have to deal with the universe's most inept Pakled spy. Like ACD he thoroughly lives up to expectations and the play on the Pakleds simple nature and self-belief of brilliance is both clever and fun to watch. Feeding him with merchandise and a pointless tour of the ship, the seemingly stupid Pakled loses his hosts (rather, it would seem than managing to evade them). That in turn causes some issues when the Pakleds on the surface want to talk to their absconding associate.

Boimler's journey with the Redshirts is so quintessential command it could be direct from TNG. The posturing, the speeches and the air of superiority seethes from each of the quartet as they seek promotion. The inclusion of a Kzinti nods nicely to a reference in Picard's Nepenthe and also more significantly back to TAS where the pink-clothed cat-like creatures originated. This group of ensigns see everything menial as below their status on the Cerritos which is, ironically, itself pretty far down the pecking list when it comes to starships!

While this does dovetail into the story arc with Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford, it stands alone pretty firmly as every command cliche is pumped in although there's a decent moral twist at the end of the line.

The best bit of The Spy Humongous and the element that downright had me laughing out loud this week was ACD. Haphazard crystals, dangerous skulls and rogue cubes of energy can clearly be a plague for any ship but then not every ship will have a clean up crew like this one. Each of the event does verge on slapstick but there's a lovable quality to each that you can't avoid.

Separating Boimler here does allow the other three main characters time to gel more although it all looks, initially, as though Mariner is getting the worst end of the deal while Tendi's intentions all the way through have been only to bring the team closer together. In fact she's responsible for the grouping in the first place.

As an exploration of friendship versus duty, The Spy Humongous is a great attempt and actually thrives on the fact that it's not background overloaded with references to other series. As usual there are some but it feels toned down with the story and its repercussions front and centre all the way through. Lighthearted, suspenseful and with the most impressive speed-listing of food items ever, episode six of the run is a tour de force for Lower Decks. This is now a show that really understands both its characters and its audience, delivering fun with a slightly deeper theme each week and something that requires two or even three watches to get to the core of the narrative. 

Oh - one more thing - the last minute of the show this time; GENIUS. Pure and simple brilliance and an inspired way to round off the episode. It's about as near perfect a moment as Lower Decks has ever scripted.

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