Friday, 4 September 2015

From the Collective to the Circuit: Voyager's Manu Intiraymi on Voyager, Producing and More!

Blasting through to the sixth and seventh seasons of Voyager it can be easy to overlook some of the elements that helped evolve the show in its final years.

One of the biggest additions to the ship was Icheb. Originally one of the Borg children discovered in Collective, he would be the only one of that small group of survivors to would remain on the ship and return with it to the Alpha Quadrant (whatever happened to the baby?!).

But actor/producer Manu Intiraymi's (pronounced Inter-aye-may) association with Star Trek doesn't end there and in the last couple of years he's even brought Icheb back for the independent film, Star Trek: Renegades.

"I'd just finished a film called Whatever it Takes," recalled Manu when he spoke to me from Los Angeles shortly before the widespread release of Renegades. "It was a teen comedy with James Franco, Aaron Paul, Shane West and Colin Hanks and then a couple of months later I got the call from my agent to go and read for a part on Voyager. Originally I was reading for the Borg character that dies (First which went to Ryan Spahn) and I didn't get it so I was depressed. They called me and said that I'd actually got the other part of the number two supporting character. I was bummed but I still got to do Star Trek even though it wasn't the bad guy role. It then turned into two years of television because they kept that guy alive and turned him into Icheb."

Whether that was the plan from the start or something that happened along the way is a point Manu still doesn't know to this day. It may well have been they realised that he could be an asset to the show after the Icheb-focused episode Child's Play which took the character back to his homeworld. Not only that but the story revealed how Icheb was linked to the demise of the Borg ship from Collective and also put Manu onscreen alongside sci-fi stalwart Mark Shepherd; "Whether that was a tester episode to see what I could do I don't know," said Manu, "but I do owe thanks to Michael Taylor and Ken Biller as those guys were responsible, as I discovered recently at Las Vegas from Brian Fuller, for creating the character."

"A couple of years ago when we filmed Renegades I went back and watched those last couple of seasons and they were pretty good. I'm very proud of the work I did on that show. It was great opportunity to steal from all those guys (the cast) and learn their acting tricks and camera tricks. There were a lot of really good actors that I was lucky enough and smart enough to get as much knowledge as I could when I had the chance."

Oddly the way in which Manu got the chance to audition for Voyager isn't totally straight-forward. It seems that his first onscreen performance in Senseless alongside Marlon Wayans wasn't the best it could have been. Ron Cerma cast him in that movie and it ended up with the director yelling at Manu with him considering quitting acting and going home depressed. Three years later Ron was getting a pedicure alongside Manu's agent, Julian Lowry-Johnson, who suggested he should see the young actor for the role of Icheb. Ron gave Manu a second chance as his agent got his toe cut in frustration and if not for that, Manu Intiraymi may never have had the opportunity.

Manu's Borg costume was a little different to the standard outfit although it was designed by Bob Blackman. "He had designed an outfit that was half-assimilated (because of the virus Icheb had been carrying which awoke him early). All the way up to my crotch he left the leg open and then on the other side he had holes in the costume for my skin to show. The Borg bodysuits are pretty hard plastics and so anytime I moved where the plastics were and it met my skin it would chafe and slice into my leg or dig into my hip. At the end of the day I would go home and have marks all over me. It was uncomfortable and I threw a fit over the leg piece and said I didn't want to do it, I looked like a dork and would have to hide the open leg every time the camera was on it.

"Brannon Braga had to come down from the main office. He asked what was the problem. I told him that I was this bad-ass Borg with a skinny white leg and he took one look and said "Yeah; I wouldn't want to do that either; tough break man. That's the costume.

"I asked if we could at least put a panty-ho in there so they ended up putting a couple of Borg implants onto a panty-ho that they made me wear to make it look a little less skinny. It was funny because that was enough for me to feel comfortable!"

Manu recalled a lot of experiences on other shows as the guest character where the main cast would treat you as though you weren't there but on Voyager it was different, "Those actors were very welcoming. I felt like a part of the cast immediately. I didn't feel any pressure from the cast and they were all very friendly, enlightened, humble - good people. I got to know them then and I've got to know them even more from doing conventions every now and then. 

"I worked with Kate, Jeri and (Robert) Picardo a lot and Ethan (Phillips) for The Haunting of Deck Twelve and every other character at least once but the only person I only had one scene with was Robert Beltran. Over the last couple of years I've got to know him very well. He's one of the most respectful, funny, welcoming guys around. Now we're working on a project together. I've worked on three things with Tim Russ, I'm trying to get Ethan and Robert into a new movie I'm doing. They were all very kind to me and I don't have anything negative to say about them."

It's been almost two years since Renegades was filmed and Manu found it difficult to slip back into the character of Icheb which was down to how the project had evolved. "The screenplay that I read and thought was great and in which Icheb was a main character, had a lot of dialogue and a lot of scenes which were CG heavy was axed and they had to re-write."

While he was working on Unbelievable!!!!! which has a Star Trek-laden cast in itself, Manu spoke with Tim Russ only to discover that Renegades had undergone some drastic changes with the removal of Icheb which meant that Manu would be playing another character. 

"I got annoyed because I'd spent the previous year promoting it and then I got written back into the movie but whoever wrote him back in didn't seem to know the character because the dialogue wasn't like him. Icheb in Voyager was a genius, he had a big vocabulary and he spoke in a certain way and I remember there were lines in Renegades that would never come out of his mouth or if they did they would be much more creative! I kept fighting against it and would speak to Tim (Russ) who was directing and say "Look what Icheb's about to say in this scene - he wouldn't say that would he?"

"Tim would take a look at the line and say "No man, he wouldn't" and then we'd try and rewrite what he would say and if we couldn't come up with anything then I would just say nothing and drop the line. Even though Icheb is in the film quite a bit he's become a much more silent character. He's not the character we've got to know. If they do another I hope that they let Icheb speak some more and find out a bit about the man he's become because we don't learn a lot in Renegades except that he's been altered by Section 31.

"I'm very proud of Renegades and I do hope they do another. It'll be good to find out what happened to Icheb and why. He certainly looks cool in Renegades and I enjoyed making it!"

Talking of Star Trek (which we always like to do on here, surprisingly), we had to ask how the Icheb actor had found the recent Las Vegas convention; "It was amazing! It was a really nice show. The fans were great and I got to see so many fans, showrunners and writers that I'd not seen in so long. The panels were good and I got reconnected with Brannon Braga, bumped into Brian Fuller, saw friends and family and talked about developing The Circuit."

We'll come to that project in a bit as there's even more on his plate at the moment. You may recall from a while back that he's also involved with 5th Passenger and on this project, as a producer for the third time.

Written by Morgan Lariah and Scott Baker, it's the story of a group of characters stuck together on a lifepod with something sinister in there with them. The big thing that Manu brought to the table here was the cast, calling in stalwarts from the sci-fi sphere including Armin Shimerman, Tim Russ, Marina Sirtis and Hana Hatae among others.

"It was a blessing to get Armin," explained Manu as the part had been recast twice with Ethan Phillips then Robert Picardo in the role, "He brings something to the character that Ethan or Robert might not have done. Originally the character was a talky guy but over the rewrites his lines began to go away as he's a supporting character but Armin is such a good actor that even when he's in a scene not saying anything you're still focused on him. He brought this great subtle silence to his scenes."

"I think this film has a chance to be great," said Manu; "We have 70 minutes cut, we have a lot of digital effects to wait for and we probably won't be out until some time late next year but the film looks really good!

"We have to make sure that it's perfect. We shot a film for a little bit of money that looks like a big budget film and my terror going into it was that we were making a B-movie because we didn't have enough money. About a week in I knew we were shooting a really good movie and now the last thing we need to do is to raise the extra money and don't release it before each and every visual effect looks as good as the rest of the film."

So what has made 5th Passenger just so good an experience to work on? "Everything came together;" said Manu, "All the guys involved aren't getting paid what they're used to and with that usually one department (makeup, special effects, wardrobe, art, actors...) doesn't bring their best work and it only makes one thing to make a movie bad. In this case everyone brought their A-game. We had three guys building sets that were literally ready an hour before we were using them. I remember the roof for the lower half of our spaceship was up minutes before we moved the cameras over there. It was a miracle movie in so many ways - I didn't think it was going to get made for a few years and then we found these ship sets and we could go in and get the right to shoot on and redesign from an art design perspective.

"The fans were amazing. We knew we had to shoot the ship within a certain time-frame and we had three weeks to raise the funds so I called all the actors, we threw up a last minute Kickstarter and the fans donated $82,000 which was a miracle. Thank you to every one of them. Matching funds and getting more money meant we could get it all filmed in 17 days rather than three separate shoots. I'm really proud of everyone who worked on it but I don't think I could ever recreate all those miracles that happened to bring it all together!"

The movie Unbelievable is also due to come out with a 50-something cast list of sci-fi actors. A farce, it's cost $3 million dollars and Manu has yet to see the finished product; "It's going to be a funny and weird film. If it's terribly bad it might get to the point it's good!"

Now the big thing that is coming in 2016 is The Circuit. "I'm putting together this project which is ten different stories about ten different genres that have happened over the last 50 years of Star Trek/sci-fi/pop culture conventions. Five stories based on absolute fiction and five based on a true story. The first 12 minutes will be a thriller then that will end and the camera will follow someone and the genre will twist and suddenly you'll be watching a romance and that will end and you'll be in a noire film then a horror and then maybe a sci-fi epic. What's neat about it is that we want to tell the ten best stories that have happened in 50 years of this phenomenon of the convention.

"There's so many stories that happen behind the scenes that the fans don't get to see and that they need to know about. There's ten different directors, ten different writers and a single cinematographer to keep a certain look. All these stories will intertwine so it's one movie. Usually in an anthology film you would fade to black after ten minutes, a title card comes up but in this one we're going to switch genres instead.

"So far we have Walter Koenig, Tim Russ, Armin Shimerman, Gary Graham, JG Herzler, Robert O'Reilly, Vaughn Armstrong, Gigi Edgley (Farscape), Corin Nemec (Stargate) and probably Ethan Phillips and Robert Picardo (if they like what I write!), Robert Beltran, Nana Visitor, Terry Farrell, Bernard Wells (Mad Max: The Road Warrior), Doug Jones (Hellboy), Hana Hatae, Jerry Doyle (Babylon 5) and more!" (that is one HELL of a list)

Once this gets opened up next year, Manu is looking for five of these stories to come from the fanbase because these aren't just the actors' stories. "I was standing on the stage at the closing ceremony for Fedcon last year and looking out thinking 'look at all those stories! All these people are living lives and there must be some great stories out there. I know the stories I've heard over 15 years of going to conventions so I have lots to share but I know the fans must have them too. 

"We will be opening it for direct submissions from the fans and they will be story editor and work alongside our writers to get it right. Whoever that story is about be it them or their friends will then get played by famous actors if their piece is picked. It may be the first time that the fans and the actors will be involved directly and creatively in the making of a film. It's a really fun thing and I hope people get behind it. The first Indiegogo campaign should go live in April next year."

So to finish I had to ask - what was Manu's biggest moment from his association with Star Trek in the last 15 years?

"When I got the episode Imperfection I thought it was so well written and said so much about human kind's ability to do brave things and sacrifice oneself for friends and family. I called my mother and cried that I was finally going to get to do something that counts. I put everything I had into making sure that episode came off right. When you do TV it's different to doing theatre because you don't see if you've affected someone anywhere. The main reason that I act is because once in a while you get a chance to do a story that really affects people on a deep emotional level and vicariously through another human being's experience something that is important to us all.

"Then a year later I was in Germany at my first convention (Fedcon). I didn't know what a Q&A was and someone handed me a microphone and said that I had to go on stage and talk for a couple of hours. I went out and started talking. It was the first Q&A I did, it was also the best Q&A I ever did. I really connected with the audience in a way I've never had since. 

"About halfway through a man stood up and said that he wanted to thank me for the episode Imperfection because his cousin, who was standing next to him, had a kidney operation he was going through and they had watched that episode. It had given them the courage to believe that he was going to get a kidney, believe that he was going to be OK and it helped them get through that experience. They just wanted to thank me and the guy was in tears. It was powerful to the point where I just started crying with that individual and said thank you. That was the whole point to give everything you have to get more empathy and love if you can. I'm most thankful for that moment."

The show also gave Manu two great years of working with great actors, telling great stories but also gave him the opportunity to see the world, get cultured "...and most importantly meet fans. There's no other show in the world that I could have done which would have given me that."

You can follow Manu on Facebook, on Twitter as @manuintiraymi or on Istagram as @manuintiraymi - do it now!

What are your memories of Icheb in Voyager? Tell us below!

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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Core Components: Attack Wing Wave 17

OK, that title actually covers two points. The first being that we have a wave that comprises of Federation, Klingon and Romulan ships and secondly that a central feature has been reworked after two years. 

So let's deal with our trio of new arrivals first starting with the Akira Class USS Thunderchild.  This has to be one of the best miniatures that Wizkids have produced when it comes to starships. Choosing to go with a shiny silver paint scheme rather than a grey/blue hue with a four inch brush the effect was a fine choice. The hull detail is a lot clearer and defined, the darker grey segments do well to highlight the plating of the hull and lifeboat hatches. Even the warp engines are more precisely painted and overall this is just a brilliant little replica. Shame it's not a trait that's replicated across the whole of the seventeenth wave but more on that in a bit.

The Thunderchild is a hugely popular ship in Trekdom so any expansion featuring it needs to impress. To begin, it's pretty well decked out on the stats front. Bearing the standard Federation quadrilogy of actions -  evade, battle stations,  scan and target lock,  we also have a four attack, a two defence, five hull and three shields which means you'll stand a fair chance in a fire fight. Additionally it's unique action allows you to roll another die should you take no damage when defending and hope to inflict a hit on your opponent.

Her range of movement is impressive with almost every turn available between one and three plus a four forward and a 180 at speed three into the mix. Funny thing is that all three of the ships in this wave also have virtually the exact same movement template. To the maneuver in fact.

Over to your captains and there's a choice of three including the generic zero pointer. Both Hayes and Shanthi can double as admirals which is an unusual choice for an expansion (usually there's just one) and both can field an elite action. Hayes, seen in First Contact and Voyager, allows ships at range one to gain an extra attack die and it's two if against those annoying Borg. Shanthi, seen only once in Redemption and therefore with zero link to this ship, lets you target a ship at range one or two and re-roll all your blanks. Both are nice moves and shout out "Admiral" even in their captain positions.

What becomes more apparent is just how situational this pack actually is. The elite action, Persistence,  can only be used if you roll critical or standard damage on every one of your attack dice and it's then that you get the chance to roll more dice to add to your initial result. Whether you would want to use this I'm not sure since five points is a lot for a discard and one that relies on hitting such a tight number of criteria. The same can be said for Intercept, the second of three -  yes three - elite actions with the Thunderchild. Here you need to be in the same firing arc as a ship being attacked to force that opponent to hit you rather than the chosen target. All a bit fiddly which might make you run for the photon torpedo upgrades for safety. Federation Task Force does pull this one back a little with a modicum of hope as it does allow you to target up to two friendly ships within range one to two to perform a free Target Lock action. Again a discard for five points so it's not one to take lightly but should assist in making those final blows on your opposition.

Given that the Thunderchild comes with three weapons and a crew slot, you'd expect there to be some crew options with the ship but you'll be disappointed (or a little surprised) that for a Federation ship there are none in this expansion. There are two weapons upgrades for the three slots available; one is the standard Photon Torpedoes card which players seem to ignore and choose to play the Target Lock re-roll instead. However with a new game dynamic it seems this may change.

The introduction of time tokens now means that instead of using an Action to re-enable the photons you have a set number of turns before they become active again as if being "real-time" reloaded. When you fire the weapon you place a set number of the tokens onto the card and remove one per round. Both Photon Torpedoes and Quantum Torpedoes here utilise this new feature. Choosing between the two cards can be tricky as the both operate over the same two to three range and offer five attack dice. The winner with the heftier Quantum Torpedoes though is an extra damage should the target ship be hit. Photon Torpedoes on the other hand still only converts one of your Battle Station results into a critical damage should you roll one.

If you have used up two slots with these weapon upgrades then Rapid Reload is definitely a strong option to fill either the last weapon slot or the crew slot. Counting as whatever type of upgrade you want it works harmoniously with the time token feature by disabling the card and placing only one of the blips onto your weapon card. Truly it does actually cut down the time it takes to lock and load. 

Finishing out the pack is the Federation Task Force mission which takes you to the blockade formed by the Dominion to stop Sisko and the Federation fleet from reaching and retaking Deep Space Nine. Just as with the episodes Favor the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels the Dominion has the potential to build a squad double the size of the Federation but only one of the Federation ships needs to get past to ensure their success. Looks a lot of fun this one and very tactical from the Federation perspective.

Second to the table this month is the IRW Vrax. It's the second Nemesis Warbird we've had with the first, the Valdore right back in Wave 0 believe it or not. Well, this is the other ship that took part in the Bassen Rift battle alongside the Valdore and the Enterprise-E. As I said earlier, the model quality with this wave really is bizarre. The Thunderchild was superb, A-grade given the scale and cost but this one left me scratching my head. Why oh why was it made from translucent green plastic? I almost thought I'd won it in a goddamn cracker.

Now the actual mould and build is great. There's a nice level of hull detail but given the nature of the material used it's hard as hell to see any of the detail unless you've in a moderately lit room. Paintwork is minimal here with only a few dark markings spotted onto the hull. Nor is there a gap between the eliptical wings but that's more likely to be due to scale. Also the plastic means you can see the joints through those expansive wings. Not as bad as some I've seen where the glue has blobbed and is very visible. On my Vrax the joints were pretty spot on - and I could tell because I could see them all.

Anyway I'll stop moaning. It's a big model with the same width as the Scimitar and it has upgrades to match it's formidable size.Attacking with four dice, defending with two and packing a hull score of six and three shields she's a match for the Thunderchild given there's one hull point splitting them. Also the two ships are a perfect match on maneuvers given that their cards are identical (as said) but the Vrax does have a green "two" bank available as a slight variation. It's also loaded, as you would expect, with that crucial cloak and sensor echo pairing available. Also her special action allows you to change a revealed four forward movement into a banking four maneuver even though the movement card doesn't allow that motion. It does mean you'll receive an Auxiliary Power Token but if it gets you into/out of position it may be worth the risk.

Of the two skilled captains, Suran is the higher at six and gives the ability to choose the result of one of your dice when attacking as long as you're within range one of another friendly ship. That should ensure you keep a tight-knit unit in battle. Oddly Velal with a captain skill of five can be used as a Fleet Admiral and takes a much more defensive stance. He lets players roll two defence die less in one round for a guaranteed Evade result. What it doesn't say is when you should declare this - is it your action for the round or do you declare whenever you defend as there's no point to discard or disable this one.

There's only one Elite Action in here, Coordinated Attack, probably balancing out against the Thunderchild's overkill. Discarding it will allow you to "jump the queue" during the Combat Phase and attack straight after another friendly ship at the cost of one attack die. Another cost heavy discard at five but one that might turn the tide and let you get an upper hand.

The Vrax does provide two crew upgrades again in deference to the Thunderchild's conspicuous lack thereof. Tal'Aura lets you discard an upgrade from an enemy ship at range three while Bridge Officer acts in the same way as Rapid Reload in that you can reduce the number of Time Tokens you place on a used upgrade.

For weapons (second ship also with no tech upgrades), there is the always-haunting-the-pack Photon Torpedoes now using the time tokens dynamic. Plasma Torpedoes operate at a closer range of one to two and use the tokens but with an equally useful five attack dice in hand you will be able to re-roll any blank results. Hope you get some.

The final weapons option with the Vrax is Flanking Attack. Yet another high costing discard at six points, it can only be used against a ship that is in your forward firing arc but you are not in the forward firing arc of the target. It reduces the opponent's defence by one and does give you a solid six dice for attack. Again, very specific and situational but potentially worth it given that you could inflict a ton of damage from it.

I guess one of the disappointments here is that the scenario is the Battle in the Bassen Rift which we've already effectively had in the Scimitar pack. Here the focus is more on the Romulan/Federation force against a ship that can be suped up with a ton of stuff. Personally I'd use the Scimitar straight away and get all of its heavy duty upgrades installed. I suppose the challenge with these missions is keeping them relevant to the ships although where that might be restricted such as the Vrax maybe scenarios could be theoretical: I'm sure noone would mind.

Last up there's our Klingon entry. Another D-7/K'T'inga reuse and it's good to see the sideways bridge module has finally been fixed - only for someone to put the warp engines on backwards. Jeez; how hard is it?!

Colour-wise it's pretty good and the detail has been stepped up. This paintwork is certainly getting better as we go along and it seems the Wizkid modellers have learnt to paint within the lines which must be difficult on such small items.

The IKS T'ong has the weakest stats of the three ships in Wave 17 with a cost of only 24 squadron points against the 28 of the Thunderchild and the 30 of the Vrax. Attacking with four dice, defending with one and carrying a hull score of four with three shields, the T'ong is no slouch and will certainly provide a challenge to other ships around that squadron point total given that she also has a cloaking device - pretty much the Klingon standard. Movement is exactly the same as her two other Wave 17 compatriots so we can skip over that and head into the options for captain.

Taking lead from the second season The Next Generation episode, The Emissary, the pack is focused around the Klingon sleeper ship the Enterprise is sent to intercept. K'Temoc can command your ship here and reduces the cost of each of your Klingon upgrades by one point but doubles the cost of any non-Klingon ones you choose to add. A nice option which means you can pack more in with a not-too-bad skill of five as well.

Morag is your second named captain option included with this expansion and, yes, once more he's a very situational card to carry in your fleet. He lets you disable an upgrade of your choice on a ship within range one to two that isn't cloaked or has any active shields as long as you're not cloaked and prepared to drop your shields and receive an auxiliary power token for your efforts. Very, very risky move and I would suspect a very rare thing to see occur in the game. My other point with the captains is the odd choice to use an image of Kurn for your generic zero points cost captain. Surely there are other Klingons to pick?

The sole Elite Action with the T'ong is Devotion to Duty which really is there should you be hanging on by a thread. It's the last stand of last stands allowing you to add up to a maximum of two more dice to your attack. These dice equivalent to the number of damage cards you have beside your ship (up to the two max) and can only be used with your primary weapon. It's a last gasp chance for victory and a discard so handle with care. 

K'Ehleyr, memorably played by Suzie Plakson, is provided with the T'ong as one of the Klingon crew options. Not a member of it's crew in the episode, K'Ehleyr was key in the mission to intercept the sleeper ship before it attacked. A five point cost gets you a discard to stop a ship at range one from attacking you nor can you attack it. I'm not a massive fan of this one unless you're intending to run and regroup or simply looking to take a breather in the action. The Tactical Officer crew upgrade allows you to re-roll your blank attack dice results at the cost of a disabled card but it's not dependant on any specifics nor does it need to be activated as an action so happy days all round.

To weapons and your standard Photon Torpedoes make an appearance with the new time token rules and alongside those you can choose Concussive Charges with a four dice attack. While this is the same as the standard ship can use it does allow you to remove game tokens from your target for each uncancelled damage or critical damage. I'm not certain whether this would be used very often although it does use the time token feature rather than a disable or a dreaded discard. I tend to find there aren't that many tokens bar target locks lying around!

The Tech upgrade is a little controversial here as you can slip two non-Borg upgrades under the Cryogenic Stasis card and as an action you can activate them one at a time. Now it says that they should be crew upgrades with a cost of five or less - but is that combined or individually??? While this will cost you five points it does mean you can exceed your ship's restrictions - now does that mean point wise and/or feature-wise? I'll have to play around with it and see what comes about. Cracking little addition to the pack which could play nicely into your hands late in the day.

For the mission this time it's a one on one Federation versus Klingon as the T'ong attempts to attack a remote outpost. While it's fairly straight-forward for the Klingon player to take out the station (or their opponent's ship), the Federation player needs to convince the Klingon player to stand down through sacrificing its action to gain a mission token. Three mission tokens and it's achieved it's goal. If the Klingons start attacking the outpost the Federation player can win by destroying the K'T'inga Class ship. Of the three scenarios this seems the most interesting to play from Wave 17 given its not a straight out attack and destroy. Definitely top of my "to play" list.

Aside from advertising the Vrax and the T'ong very differently to their actual models (specs may vary etc), the accompanying sleeve leaflet also details the upcoming Temporal Cold War storyline organised play event for 2015. Bearing an image of the Xindi weapon sphere I think it's a safe bet that we're going to be seeing a third oversize model as the prize and then much later as (we would think) a retail option to go alongside the existing Deep Space Nine and Borg Cube. The Xindi weapon sphere has already been leaked in a couple of photos around the web in prototype form a couple of shelves away from a Borg Cube which appears to have a portal to fit a Sphere inside (Borg one that is).

So Wave 17 offers some new techniques and some very specific upgrades. I think it was a risk to go so situational but it means there are more variations to the game and they're not just recycling the same old cards and features in later wings. The addition of the time tokens and the yet-to-be-seen Continuous Effect Tokens means that the game's not wallowing in the doldrums and churning out average packs. With these new options there are reasons to get these expansions and play on. While I'm hankering for more unusual packs from the Independents or Mirror Universe factions these are OK for now. Looking at what's ahead though I think we're in for some brilliant - and very unique - packs in the next few months.

Picked out a ship to add from Wave 17? Which was your choice? Let us know below!

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Monday, 31 August 2015

This Place Where I Belong: Deep Space Nine: Season Five

How much do I love season five of Deep Space Nine?

It has everything going for it - battles, treachery, death, big character developments, the Dominion and, most importantly, Martok.

Yes, I'm a fan of the most Klingon of Klingons to the point where I would have trouble deciding if he or Sisko is my favourite Deep Space Nine character ahead of Weyoun and Garak; First COntact Day can't come soon enough so I can meet the man behind the prosthetics himself, JG Hertzler.

Anyway, where did I finish - yes, that's it, Broken Link. Wow. Big finish there huh? I remember sitting with my dad when the revelation over Gowron spilt from Odo's lips about what he'd experienced in the Great Link and spending days trying to work out what it would all mean - was Gowron dead? If so for how long? What had happened? How were they going to stop the Klingons and reveal him as a Changeling???

No fear because the veritable Powers would unleash Apocalypse Rising on us for the season opener and for my dad seeing a ton of Klingons punching seven shades out of each other as well as Sisko, O'Brien and Odo made up with full foreheads was worth the price of admission alone. It's not as explosive as The Way of the Warrior and you do get a softer start in the storytelling as the crew go undercover to expose the Changeling infiltrator plus provide us with further insight into the wonders of Klingon Kulture. Playing the long game overnight does make this episode feel a lot longer than it is with all the serious action happening in the last five minutes but this is a slow, steady buildup as everything gets put in place. Shame of the story is that while we get the reveal and it's a cunning little twist that will come back later in the year, the show is upstaged by the fantastic episode that follows it; The Ship.

Simple in execution, the 100th Deep Space Nine episode gets shockingly overlooked against Redemption and Timeless as I discussed in our 100th post yet it perhaps has a stronger twist than Apocalypse Rising manages. Claustrophobic, tense, tinged with the sadness of losing a comrade and topped with Dominion sliminess it's a top story, well-written that, again, has echoes that will reverberate further down the line.

I can't say that for the subsequent Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places. A Klingon episode that falls flat nay stumbles first and then falls flat. Attempting a sequel to season three's nicely played The House of Quark was never going to be easy and while adding Worf into the mix might make it a tempting offering I didn't connect in the '90's or now. Average season fodder that doesn't really affect anything else around it. I suppose the same could be directed at Nor the Battle to the Strong as it does tie back into the Klingon war arc which is coming to a close following Apocalypse Rising but it's more than just a military story. 

What my re-watch has made me realise is how much development went into Jake Sisko once Cirroc Lofton matured. The Muse isn't mind-blowing but it pushed the character onwards after the legendary The Visitor and here we get to peel back another layer and expose his fears and find out just how much he isn't nor will ever be Starfleet material. I admire the writers for their line on making Jake terrified of the ugliness of war and highlighting his cowardice because it makes him more human. This story really made me appreciate Lofton and the contributions he made to the show. Allowing him stories like this was a master stroke and Wesley never got anything this good to work with on The Next Generation.

The Assignment however leaves me fairly cold. It's not risen in my expectations over the years and even with the introduction of the Pah-Wraiths it's not the most endearing hour of my watching time. I like Keiko and Miles but Rosalind Chao doesn't make for electrifying viewing even when coupled up with Meaney. Luckily the arc that flushes out of this into the sixth and seventh seasons bore better material which would ultimately end up in What You Leave Behind. I do sense that this was a filler episode at the time with the Pah-Wraiths as a nice idea but with no vision to take it any further.

Happily though it gets the season to Trials and Tribble-ations marking 30 years of Star Trek. Worryingly it's now 48 years of age which makes this episode 18 years old in its own right.  It's utter indulgence from start to finish and a solid, very clever, episode. In fact on this rewatch it was one of the few that light up the start of this season. Truth be told season five has a very average kick off aside from The Ship and the 30th anniversary story with Let He Who is Without Sin next up and the Necessary Evil semi-sequel, Things Past dropping next. The former makes me want to curl up and hide and even worse is that I don't think I minded about it that much back in 1996. Now I do and I found it slightly uncomfortable to watch if a little sexist and very dated. Things Past is a firmly-based Odo story again looking back to his days under Cardassian management in near-monotone effect. The vehicle to send them back is ok but the way in which the story unfolds as opposed to the narrative flashback of Necessary Evil isn't as effective.

The Ascent too keeps Odo in the frame but this time alongside Quark and marks a route into much more character-centric episodes than the ensemble affairs that opened the '96-'97 series. I never rated this one but with some degree of middle-aged maturity I can see that it's a platform for Auberjonois and Shimerman to play out the sparks of their bromance with the benefits of some rare location filming (I say rare but this is the third location-based ep this season after The Ship and Let He Who is Without Sin). This pairing is always watchable and with an average script and story they still pull out a great and watchable show.

Rapture welcomed the new First Contact greys and blacks with Sisko not getting to grips with combadge placement until Darkness and the Light. I know this isn't a big hit with a lot of people as it returns us to Bajoran society (second time this year) and the role of the Emissary. I really enjoy this one. I've watched it a few times over the years and I think the whole archaeological aspect appeals to me. Kasidy's return after her incarceration in season four's For the Cause is underplayed against Sisko's monolithic obsession. I also becaome more aware this time around of how all these Bajoran storylines are starting to link together and become as prophetic as we may have been promised as far back as Emissary and the set up of season one. The real killer moment is Sisko's resolute determination to stop Bajor from entering the Federation. For the first time there is a real sense that the conflict we have had suggested since The Jem'Hadar, the season two finale, is just around the corner.

Indeed that realisation is half-played out in the season's brilliant, near-perfect two-part entry which is only a hop and a skip away in the season - By Purgatory's Shadow and By Inferno's Light. As a split story and a 90 minute movie it's spot on every step playing every key secondary figure from Weyoun, Dukat, Garak, Gowron and Martok onto the board and showing that they are just as important as the main cast. Setting up an apparent invasion that then turns out to be the invasion of Cardassia is a shock to most but even when I knew the plan it didn't detract from the setup, the second-guessing and the preparation for what could be coming through the wormhole. For character development it's one of the best ever action-orientated episodes to do so, adding more layers to Worf and claustrophobic Garak as well as, later, Martok. What's not to love. 

It also feels that this is a staggered storyline opened in Apocalypse Rising with the restoration of the Khitomer Accords by Gowron through this double and then leaping straight into one of my all-time favourites and the best season-closer ever, A Call to Arms - but more on that one in a bit.

That Dominion storyline still isn't that evident. Everyone talks about it; a lot but when it comes down to it there's not a lot seen on screen save for key points in the season. That doesn't make it a bad year in any way though. The arcs are well-paced and later two-thirds of season five are magnificent. Even the Ferengi episodes aren't that bad this year. 

Kenneth Marshall's return in For the Uniform is Eddington's finest moment as he toys with Sisko in a way not too dissimilar to a certain Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II using historical literature as his beating stick. Once more it's the more emotional Sisko that makes this so watchable and I've lost count how many times I've sat through this one. In my mind I can never be sure how much of this was Brooks acting and how much of it was him genuinely being seriously p***ed off with the punchbag. There is the two-episode holographic communicator and one of our few chances to see the refit Excelsior Class which also add to a great episode. Probably not on everyone's chart but for me it's one of Deep Space Nine's most intense episodes ever. I recall talking about this one for weeks after I saw it for the first time. Blaze of Glory which turns up in the last handful of the season's episodes nicely ties up the Eddington arc but I felt then as I do now that it could have been so much more. It is very much a one-on-one but the spark that we saw in For the Uniform doesn't leap from the screen and while I enjoyed it I feel Eddington deserved a stronger sendoff even if here he does go out as a hero.

Thinking that I've forgotten to mention the Kira-heavy The Darkness and the Light and The Begotten off this? Sorry - for a second I did. The Darkness and the Light is a return to the Shakaar resistance cell we finally met in season three but their gradual demise through the episode didn't concern me. Kira's capture was well realised and the imminent danger to her unborn child at the hands of a slightly deranged Cardassian is chilling to the core if somewhat wrapped up more quickly than I can sneeze. Her tormentor remains hidden for a great deal of the time, playing in the words of the episode title although exactly which one is in which category is the true debate here. Again, I find that years on the more cerebral episodes, the ones with a lot more base in character carry much more weight for me and The Darkness and the Light is certainly one of those.

The Begotten brought Odo's penalty of being a solid to an equally speedy conclusion and if that kind of sentence for murder was in place in the real world we'd all be dead by now. Watching Rene Auberjonois play with a jar of semi-solid goo isn't what I signed up for and the fact I could remember bare seconds of this episode this time around makes me believe I didn't care for it when it was originally aired. James Sloyan is good as Mora Pol but even he can't pull this one out of the "Average" bin.

I was holding back mentioning them to go alongside A Simple InvestigationBusiness as Usual and Ferengi Love Songs. Now I seem to remember season five being way better than it was on this revisit as sporadically throughout the year there are some slow-burners I'd forgotten and those five sit firmly in that category. The addition of Steven Berkoff did raise at least my interest for a few minutes but at this stage in the game any offhand episodes seem to badly detract from the main Dominion thread and seem a bit out of place. That's not to say I don't, 20-odd years on, appreciate the writing and the subtexts here but you do get the sense that there's a chunk of season padding to make the 26 episode quota. Imagine if they did make a new Star Trek show now and restricted it to the more popular 13 episode run?

Luckily the season spills out a gem dead centre with the two part In Purgatory's Shadow/By Inferno's Light. As with last year's The Way of the Warrior it's a game-changer and significantly impressive for it's Bashir twist as well as the return of Martok who would continue as a semi-regular for the remainder of the show's seasons. How I missed the huge significance of this two part story back in the '90's is beyond me. I suspect that having the wonders of foreknowledge of seasons six and seven helps a lot. This one sets up the Dominion/Cardassian alliance and ramps up the danger level, pre-empting the darkest season close in the whole history of Star Trek bar a certain Borg one from The Next Generation. Watching this one as a single movie is a nice experience and for once the pacing works across the full 88 minutes without a second-half slump which was a particular failing of Picard's Enterprise in later years. For once the second part might actually be my preference.

Season five keeps them coming with Robert Picardo guesting in the surprisingly clever and character redefining Doctor Bashir, I Presume. Alexander Siddig might not have liked the redirection but it does bring in the often-mentioned genetic enhancements a la Khan Noonien Singh in a more positive light and would lead the arrival of the "Jack Pack" in season six. Bashir's English parents might not be the best actors on the planet and that had been my one memory of the episode for years, even moreso than Doctor Zimmerman's letching over Leeta. It's a good piece for Picardo to stretch and become one of the few actors to don all three uniform shades during his tenure and play a slightly more flexible character than the Doctor on Voyager (barely) however it is all about Bashir and Siddig adds more to the role than ever. I would go as far to say he's the most developed character in the seven years of the show and to think how annoying he nearly was in Emissary.

Having already mentioned a few slow burners mid-season the year closed on an explosive run starting with Soldiers of the Empire. Now my dad was always one for the Klingon episodes and they could get bogged down with all that honour and chest-beating, totally avoiding any decent character evolution and plot but in this one, we tick all the key boxes and it has to be said it's down to the return of Martok who is perfect against Worf and is the regular counter that character has been needing since the midpoint of The Next Generation. It's easily become one of my favourite Klingon episodes that cemented Martok as one of my all-time Star Trek favourites. 

Recalling the VHS that this episode came on, it was a double-winner with the second ep being Children of Time. At the time it was a classic but since I think it gets hugely overshadowed by the more emotion-kicking The Visitor. Children of Time is one of my all-time favourites. Not for the Kira/Odo relationship reveal but more for the dilemma itself. We know they are going to survive but the how and the ultimate decision NOT to change the course of time are more Deep Space Nine curveballs. This isn't explosions, twists and turns but good, character-defining TV solidly performed. It does, at the end, slightly miss the edge that The Visitor found but I'd pick it to watch anyday.

Season Five also introduced us to another Nor Class space station. With a bit of a camera tilt we were on Empok Nor and being hunted by Cardassian sleeper soldiers and then by a rogue Garak. Good thing there's Nog or O'Brien around in that mass of not-seen-before security folk and engineers or it would have been a total bloodbath. Nice, edgy, dark stuff that means Andy Robinson got to chew the scenery and go full out evil/psycho on drugs. Also this episode raised the question as to why Deep Space Nine only rarely got to use the First Contact rifles while Voyager seemed to have a plentiful supply of them and also some nifty other pieces of weapon tech. We would return to the slanty station for season seven's religious cult episode Covenant.

Closing off the boxset were two Dominion episodes. The first being In the Cards with Jake hunting for the perfect gift for dad with the assistance of Nog. Wrapping in Weyoun, the bizarre Dr Giger and the Kai made for one heck of a weird setup but somehow it works and makes this a great, calming story with some comedic turns, which acts to mis-step us all into a false sense of security right before Call to Arms

This is how to do a season finale, easily on a par with The Best of Both Worlds and showing how you go down fighting until the bitter end - Voyager take note. Sisko truly flourished in season five and the speech he gives on the steps of the Bajoran temple before he beams away to the Defiant is one of the series best, emphasising his links to the station and just how far we've come since the reluctant Commander Sisko grumped his way though his first few days looking for a quick way out. The VHS cover in the UK was even different to emphasise the importance of the episode with Jem'Hadar and Cardassian ships attacking the station as, literally, everything changed. One of the best to finish the year, one of the best not-a-cliffhanger cliffhangers, one of the most infuriating fade-to-blacks of all time. Oh - and there's that magical moment where Dukat gets his hands on the baseball...we too know Sisko will be back. All round, every second of Call to Arms has something to love, another piece to add in and we really do get to understand what this station oand the Bajoran people have come to mean for the defeated Starfleet crew. Five out of five.

My favourite season of Deep Space Nine and by default, Star Trek, is a close toss up between five and six. Five packs a ton of character with the most intense build up in anything the franchise has ever done and ever would do. It started out with layers of suspicion and the potential that the Dominion may have infiltrated further than we thought and left with the very future of the series in balance. Twist in there some major character revelations, the introduction of two of the show's best recurring characters in Martok and Weyoun (proper) and magnificent standalone episodes and you know it's a winner. While we knew the station would be returned to Sisko, it was a very real case of just how long that would be. The best thing was that season six  was going to be just as strong. It could well be said this was the year that got it right from start to finish, solidly maintaining the back-story while managing, somehow to build the existing main cast and enhance the stories of several recurring characters. Season Five cemented without doubt that Deep Space Nine was the best of the franchise and like Sisko, there is no other place I would rather be. It's the place where my love of the series firmly belongs.

Was season five of Deep Space Nine the perfect year? Was there a more quintessential season of Star Trek?

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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Full Trek Jacket

The latest photos from the set of Star Trek Beyond have raised just as much interest into Chris Pine's Kirk wardrobe as they have into the background of Sophie Boutella's pale-faced character.

The recent images have again come from what appears to be a crash-landed starship and has Pine, Boutella, Chekov actor Anton Yelchin and writer/Scotty actor Simon Pegg emerging from the wreckage.

Whether the Kingsman actress' character is a friend or foe has still to be revealed but here it does look as though she is assisting the Starfleet officers. Is she doing this willingly? Is Boutella some sort of mercenary as might be construed from the leather-effect attire? Maybe not but hey, this is only a photo from one moment of one day of shooting so we can conjecture as much as we want and still be miles away.

Talking of cast briefly, there was also the addition of Lydia Wilson announced last week. Known for About Time as well as Ripper Street and Misfits, she's joined in an as-yet unknown role. While it's great to see new faces as part of the franchise we do know that Joseph Gatt will not be returning as Science Officer 0718 (even though IMDB lists him on the cast). Apparently he was in it and then the role was cut out. 

So too it seems we won't be getting the return of Alice Eve as Carol Marcus unless she's showing up for a brief cameo or later in filming that we don't yet know about. Bit of a shame since there was a fairly big thing made of her joining the crew for the five year mission at the end of Into Darkness. Guess that also means that Lin will need to find someone else to undress to their pants this time round.

Anyone else also noticed that Pegg's Starfleet uniform seems subtlety different to the one he's worn in 2009 and Into Darkness? T|he collar shape has definitely altered and I cant make out if the uniform is still adorned with those tiny Starfleet deltas however that might just be down to distance. 

The collar is certainly thicker and more defined with the seams also adjusted. Is it me or is the shade of red somewhat, well, redder and shinier too? Take a look at this comparison shot from Into Darkness and judge for yourself but I certainly think there's been some changes. I personally felt that the previous version was a bit too casual and the neckline too low with black undershirts rather than collars as per The Original Series. Of course this might be some form of away mission shirt which will blow my theory right out of the water (apologies for image quality - had to be cropped).

Now going back to the start of all the Beyond hype kick-off, director Justin Lin tweeted that image of the Starfleet emblem. It now seems that the badge was attached to the jacket that Kirk is wearing in the scenes being filmed here. Starfleet jackets seem to have become a "thing" with the reboots as we had cadet jackets in the 2009 movie, the more formal dress greys complete with caps (very military) in Into Darkness and now these blue options worn by Kirk and Chekov. They may well be away team attire (why isn't Scotty wearing the same?!) or they could be a formal variant but again, conjecture conjecture conjecture.

I like the look of it but it would have been cool if this was a captain's variant perhaps just for Kirk akin to his season one and two wraparounds from The Original Series or perhaps more in line with the super-cool Picard leather and suede combo from The Next Generation designed by Robert Blackman. That was hands down my favourite but given the cost from Anovos I doubt I'll ever get to own it!

Sisko obviously wasn't important enough to get his own version and had to do with a two piece version of the First Contact grey/black which could open up jacket-stylee. However, he did get to rock the captain's waistcoat with full threatening potential on more than one occasion. Janeway didn't get anything sadly aside from the odd Die Hard vest moment (Macrocosm) and Archer's bomber jacket very rarely made an outing as the NX-01 crew were firmly restricted to their combat flight-suit uniforms. 

If we go back to basics though fans will recall that an away team uniform -  nay jacket -  has been there since the very beginning. Right back in The Cage,  Pike's crew are kitted out in some very plain and simple grey jackets designed by the legendary Bill Theiss.  So simple that there's no ship emblem or anything to distinguish the Enterprise officers. The concept was never carried forward to The Original Series and it remains one of those lovely lost bits of Star Trek which it seems has now oddly come full circle! 

Looking back to the previous two movies as well it is apparent that the away team gear has been redesigned for a third time (if you count the atmosphere suits in 2009) abandoning the skin-tight jumpsuits that were seen in the opening sequence of Into Darkness in favour of something a little more flattering for the cast. I can't imagine they were all too thrilled with their websuits.

The new blues, which also feature gold shoulder detailing and that previously seen Starfleet patch on the arm. They do appear more hard-wearing Starfleet issue especially when combined with the boots we can see Pine and Yelchin wearing here. I suspect that given the near-release of the Costumes book from Titan these won't be featured (grumpy face). What I think I can say is that the piping on the shoulder does reflect division since both are gold. Think I'm right? It also suggests Chekov will be sticking with the command division and not being pedalled off into Engineering to don a redshirt.

Certainly we're looking at some part of a major action sequence here but exactly what just can't be guessed. Interesting to see, certainly but we've been disappointed before - need I remind us all of the great sneak pics from Into Darkness and how that turned out in the end. This pic does also give us a chance to see the movie's phaser design (seems unchanged) and also the communicator hanging from Yelchin's clip belt. The other item might be a communicator but we haven't had a good enough angle to confirm.

The full set of pictures can be seen via ScreenCrush. Some have been reproduced here as part of this article.

What are your thoughts on these new pics? What do you think it suggests about Star Trek Beyond?

Carry on the conversation now...
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