Sunday, 14 February 2016

Two Birds with One Review: The Official Starships Collection Issues 66 and 67


After last month's so-so entries, I was hoping that mid-February would bring two ships that would restore the balance of brilliance.

Opening up the bid is the USS Raven featured in Voyager's The Raven as a crumpled derelict and later in the feature-length Dark Frontier during a series of flashbacks to the Hansen family's illl-fated Borg research mission.

During my recent guest spot on IrishTrekkie's channel, I casually mentioned that the Raven was little more than three oblongs stuck together. I admit that was a bit tongue in cheek as the finished model is much more than a series of joined regular shapes.

On first impression it does look pretty blocky but you can immediately recognise the familiar Runabout lines that partly inspired the design for the compact science vessel. Aside from a few darker highlights the whole hull is decked out in a light grey, differentiating her immediately with "pure" Starfleet vessels. She's not that "streamlined" either  with a very angular shape to the overall structure. The panel lines are very clear and while there's not a ton of intricate shapes and colouring, the mechanics of the hull are well-formed and outlined. Another plus here is that the central horizontal join lines between the metal upper and plastic lower sections are a very tight fit and perfectly aligned. Saying that the nose of my Raven does creak a little bit but it's not a dealbreaker like those wonky nacelles last month.

Given that she's just four decks high we get a good level of accuracy in the detail of the  Raven with windows precisely located and the decalling of the hull spot on. There really isn't a lot of decalling here aside from the sides of the command section and the top of the nacelles, both of which carry the registry number. In the case of the command section it also has the SS Raven moniker just behind the entry door however the hull contours do distort it a bit so mine reads as the SS Raen. After the bendy Phoenix it's also nice to have straight warp nacelles which is a direct benefit of having metal struts off the main hull. 

As for the warp nacelles, they bring a spot of colour to the greys of the main hull (and there's a lot of grey). On the pylons we have highlighted red impulse exhaust vents with translucent blue plasma coils but not translucent red bussard collectors (sad face) on the engines. The construction of the two engines are rock solid and - noticably, we have red tracer lights on the bottom of the port nacelle and green on the starboard one - not that you'll have two the same!

The underside is also damn well finished with panel lines but instead of the shades of grey we get on the upper surfaces there is a toned brown marking out a few vents and what I assume are cargo bay doors at the centre of the rear module.


Stand attachment is good and solid too for the Raven, fitting firmly around the warp engine struts to provide a "flying" effect thanks to the rear-end grip and makes this a very presentable little package. She's also exceptionally light so there's no stress on the stand at any point. I was actually surprised at just how "weightless" she was!

OK, the Raven isn't going to win any awards for looks here but it's great to get a good up close look at one of the key ships from Voyager and a really unique Federation design. Whether you call her USS or SS makes no bones with me but could we have had consistency across the whole mag/model? I know these are screen accurate but could that have been done?

Aside from that one insignificant niggle, I really do like this model. Simple, accurate and very well presented. The magazine (issue 66) recounts the flashback sequences of Dark Frontier, the recollections of The Gift and The Raven perfectly and in a clear linear fashion that we might not have appreciated from the sequence of the episodes from Voyager's fourth and fifth seasons.

The ship views do carry some weathering that's not evident on the model but pound for pound the images and the craft are damn near identical. The pics do indicate a teeny bit more definition on some of the hull mechanics but I can live with that given the size and cost to produce the miniatures.

Rick Sternbach's recollections on the design and creation of, initially, the wrecked Raven for The Raven and the later shrinking and "rebuilding" of the ship for the unexpected appearance in Dark Frontier is a fascinating read as all of the concept stuff is within the collection's magazines. (Note that the ship's plaque is nice and ambiguous with the wording of THE Raven rather than SS or USS).

It is confined to just a double-page spread as we have six devoted to the making of the double-length Dark Frontier. I remember getting this on limited edition, numbered VHS back in the day (card box not plastic so no expense spared) and within these pages the behind the scenes info is documented monumentally better than the sub-standard Voyager Companion. For Voyager fans the magazines in that respect are worth their weight in gold and here we actually have details from people who were there and were involved with the frantic workings of this story.

It's a good all round package for the Raven and not a ship I was super-excited for when I found out she was coming. Now I can say that she's more than three oblongs and a return to quality after last month's slight dip. I'm sure some fans will find points to grumble over but in the case of the Raven it's a firm entry into the collection that will sit nicely alongside your Orinoco Runabout or alongside that light-up Borg cube.


Let's now flashback to the 1960's and smooth out those panel lines but keep those grey tones as we welcome along the Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser.

Way back in issue seven we had the K'T'inga Class cruiser from the movies and the later series but, as we did with the Romulans, we've headed back to their origins here and the classic design.

If you're a fan of your panelling you'll be very disappointed as the whole hull is plain, simple and grey with only a few Klingon markings on the pylons and one on the port wing to break up the otherwise unmarked surface. While the magazine cover does have some surface detail and the absence of even windows on the finished model is very obvious. For those fans who recall that this collection is supposed to be screen accurate, the missing windows from the leading edge of the command module and the "ball" section of that same section will grind; a lot. 

I can appreciate that this has to be smooth-finished to reflect the original TV prop but this one does seem overly simplified and the added highlights of the impulse engine and the radiator gridding on the upper module seen in the magazine just emphasise that even more. She is a beauty and her precise lines are stunningly realised but you do look at her and think that something is missing - and it gets annoying the more you stare. It's as though the D7 isn't quite finished if you will (and as we've noted, she actually isn't). Additionally the leading edges of the wings on mine are a bit jagged - not hugely but enough that I caught my finger a couple of times on the less than die-straight surface.

Structurally the main body (except the central, lower section) is formed in metal with the neck and command module and the two nacelles made from plastic. The warp engines have very little raised detail on their surface, the shuttle/hangar unit is also smooth and featureless while the underside of the ship proper has absolutely zero detail - and I'm not exaggerating. There's nothing. Only on the underbelly of the command module do you have the dip to indicate the torpedo launcher but it really is one of the most minimalist ships to have made the list.

As with the Raven the stand is rear-clipped around the hangar pod and therefore to the heavier section of the craft, allowing her to be displayed in the "flying" position - and she looks all the better for it.

I still prefer the basic D7 to the stubby little Antares we received recently but for The Original Series the highlight is still the magnificent Bird-of-Prey without question. Standing her next to the highly detailed Raven from the previous issue the transition of design over 30 years is dramatically evident in just about every way and that's one of the wonderful points of this series. You get to see the development, the changes and the different visions as technology evolves and is capable of producing more intricate designs.

Klingon fans will have to have this one because it's iconic and the first in the line. The D7 is a piece of Star Trek history and however plain she may be it's still a cracking vessel to have in your line up. For all my cynicism over the finish, it represents the time, the imminent demise of the series and a prop constructed on a budget so tight that a model company had to pay for all the leg work.

As for the paperwork, issue 67 offers a brief tour through the appearance of the D7 in both the original and remastered versions of Star Trek, namely the episodes Errand of Mercy, The Trouble with Tribbles, Elaan of Troyius, The Day of the Dove and The Enterprise Incident where it featured in its Romulan guise. The magazine nicely points out some of the window and venting detail that's omitted from the model on the cover as well as copiously inside so you'll be referring to the miniature fairly often as you spot another bit that's not there.

The inclusion of Matt Jefferies' design story here is mandatory and leaving that out would have been darn near criminal if you ask me. His sketches are wonderful to examine and trace the origins of the cruiser and Eaglemoss are gracious enough to provide four full pages of text and pictures to narrate the process. It's followed up with an unexpected four page divergence into the real world origins of the Klingon language from its original gutturals spoken in the first few minutes of The Motion Picture to its evolution at the hands of Mark Okrand and through the later Star Trek series and the Klingon Language Institute. While not specifically focused on the ships it maintains the Klingon balance of the issue and is a nice "have" within the series. You have to wonder what other little asides will find their way into these publications as we get nearer to the 110 we have been told will happen (and what about beyond that?!).


So to conclude for February's releases, a good injection of improvement here for me over January's two entries to the series. Both the Raven and the D7 look great, feel great and tick all the right boxes even if there are a few bits which make you wince a bit. Something about these two more simplistic realisations has worked for me. The chunkiness of the Raven is very unusual for a Federation ship especially when you look to things like the Sovereign Class or even Voyager. As for the Klingon D7, she may not be totally what you might want but she's still a cut above a lot of other ships we've had. Am I a bit disappointed with her? Yes, a little but it's only because of those windows.

March will bring issues 68 and 69 with the Federation Attack Fighter and what has seen to be a garishly coloured Breen warship, both of which have featured in Deep Space Nine.

For note you can now also get your hands on the dedication plaques for the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, USS Voyager and USS Defiant from the Eaglemoss shop online.

How does the D7 fair for you? Is the Raven more than a chunky set of blocks?!

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