Monday, 15 January 2018

Unparalleled; The Official Starships Collection Issues 114 and 115

A fourth new arrival from the seminal battle of Wolf 359 has joined the series with the USS Buran.   

A twin-nacelled Challenger Class starship, the Buran is named after the Russian version of the space shuttle and, now that we know Lorca’s previous command in Discovery, is one of two ships to have borne the name. The similarities to the other Wolf 359 wrecks as well as the Galaxy and Nebula classes are striking from the very front curve of the primary hull. Namely because all the screen-fill wreckage was cobbled together from model kits and available bits. 

The Challenger Class is the smallest of the Wolf 359 ships to be featured both in the show and as a model as well as being one of the smallest Federation craft to grace the series. Oddly for me this feels less detailed than the others from the fleet probably because of that size variation and partially because there’s not a lot to this one when you compare to the three already available. The saucer carries the major panel lines spreading from,the central bridge module as well as the painted on windows which avoid the trademark Eaglemoss misalignment thank goodness. 

The phaser bank too is highlighted in a darker grey than the main hull allowing all the essential elements to be distinguished easily. Thing is that with the distinct registry and name, the lifeboat hatches don't stand out at all, they appear more as slightly raised hull plating. If you do do,take a step,back the lighter colour contrast of the square hatches is more apparent and you can see the difference just in the pictures ive taken here.

That saucer upper part is the standard metal element of the build in the Challenger Class. The underside centre section of the saucer and everything backwards is in plastic of some description. 

Step back from the saucer and we have the secondary hull moulded straight into the back of it. Here that trademark grey paint scheme continues without missing a beat. There are more distinct panelling lines and windows again painted on rather than being lined up with hull recesses. Then protruding up and down from the rear are the two warp nacelles attached via two very chunky pylons. While there are other ships with vertically paired engines this is the only starship where 1) there are just two warp engines and 2) they are unusually - and purposely - misaligned with the top one being set back slightly over its lower twin. 

The warp engines do feature translucent blue engine grilles and crimson bussard collectors to give that more realistic feel to the ship and with this affording the larger scale it is something that could not be avoided; painting them on would have looked shoddy. The one thing that is missing from the back though - and in the magazine - is the tiny registry across the very narrow rear edge. Very small space, not easy to detail. I get it and at least the phaser strips are in place.

Flip this one over and for a second you're not sure if it's the same on both sides but fear not, the belly of the ship is instantly distinguishable with the rows of escape pods littering the sides of the pill-shaped secondary hull and also across a good proportion of the saucer. You can just make out that inlaid plastic section which is boundaried by the ventral phaser bank and the ship name is omitted with only the NCC- number in place as per most (if not all) Starfleet ships.

Note too the smoothing off of what would have been the Captain's Yacht on the Enterprise-D right at the centre of the saucer. In fact if you look even more closely you can see that this is actually two upper hull sections from that ship glued together for the Buran as the elliptical frame around the yacht space is only on the top of a Galaxy Class saucer. Great reuse again!

The slim, vertical construction of the Buran makes for a unique silhouette but of the ships from Wolf 359 this does feel like the least inspired design and certainly the one with the least parts to really get your teeth into. What it does have is some nice decalling especially when it comes to some tiny finishing touches at the back end. It’s not the prettiest of ships either and you can tell more than any other that this was designed as something that would only ever be in the background. Oddly it managed this feat twice with a second appearance in Unification’s starship graveyard.

The magazine skims across some very sketchy background, tending to focus more on the events of Wolf 359 coupled with a few facts and figures around this small Federation ship.

Backing this up we have a fantastic trawl back through the Borg Timeline taking us over the key moments from the series' encounters with the cybernetic lifeforms in chronological order rather than episode order so we start off with First Contact in the 21st Century and run through to Endgame and Voyager. It's a different way to do things and helps place events in a new way especially when you drop in the events from Enterprise's Regeneration.

Continuing the season four themes that have been appearing in recent issues covering the Wolf 359 ships, this edition takes us into the makeup world and Michael Westmore recounting the creation of Noonien Soong, Gowron's unique Klingon forehead, the Cardassians and even the blue-skinned Bolians. Whether intentionally or not, the collection has given us a wonderful overview of one of Star Trek's most successful and well-written seasons.

Second out of the stable this month is the Tellarite Warship. I’ll be honest, it took me a good couple of days to get this out of the box due to all the seasonal festivities yet I knew it would be quality since it’s from the Enterprise fold. These inclusions to the collection rarely disappoint since they were CG created from day one and it seems Eaglemoss are working directly from those images to create their replicas.

After such a long run of high quality Enterprise models it was only going to be a matter of time before we got a bit of a duffer and this is it.

Offering up a rather aquatic aesthetic, the warship comes in a metallic green with only a couple of light green and red highlights giving a second colour to the model. It's also a model where the metal sections themselves are hidden "deep" within the main structure. The whole outer casing here is plastic with an inlaid section between the nose and the tail being the only metal piece present.

For an Enterprise ship this one has very distinctive panelling across the whole ship with that crescent-shaped forward section showing off a range of different levels of hull casing. It’s not got the intricate aztec scheme or small panel lines you find on the Buran but it’s a distinct look which relies on the contours of the craft rather than multiple colours to give it depth and form. 

To the front there are two groups of antennas formed in plastic and a decent thickness which means they shouldn’t suffer collision damage if the worst happens.  Unusually there’s a good bit of detail going on around the leading edge with further recessed details and also features highlighted in that lighter green colour. That colour is also present in the two crescent-edge formations giving some variety to the metallic green overcoat. Now to be fair these could have done with being translucent to give a stronger feeling of the mechanics of the ship as the cover and the plan views show there are some form of bussard collector evident inside them. Also those exhaust ports to the rear of the engine crescents just look a bit unwieldy. As we’ll see it’s almost as if they worked on this one from the back to the front and kinda got bored along the way.

If we look closely at this one, the form of the Warship is actually quite clever because from behind that raised bridge section it tapers back to the significant engine block but not before we have a section where the middle of the craft has open space within its frame. 

This has to be one of the few - if only - occasions where this has been achieved and I would think it’s a lot easier than it looks on the model. It appears therefore that the metal section which is buried in the middle of this is there more as a structural support rather than an afterthought of where the metal pieces could go. It makes total sense to drop in here as I suspect a complete plastic ship especially in this central area would be very flimsy.

Ok, let’s follow the slender top section to the rear and the vertically stacked engine block. 

There’s a hint of colour here both on top and below with a red highlight indicating (maybe) a form of bussard collector set back into the frame. It’s also here that the Warship seems to contain most of the detailed elements of the design. That vertical engine is unique but doesn’t set the whole design alight. The detail is good but a final few greebles at the back end aren’t enough to save what is a very average ship design.

The stand clip fits right around the rear of that semi-circular main hull giving a central balance to the ship and an even keel for display. Nice and steady with this one and no tipping concerns.

Into the magazine for a bit now and it’s an alright read but, because the ship isn’t one of the stellar collection attractions it doesn’t make this a must-read. 

The background of the warship suggests that some of the elements within the vessel would be later absorbed into the designs of future Federation craft. It also covers the events of the the Romulan arc from the fourth season of Enterprise in which the Tellarites played a part alongside their Andorian nemeses.

Cleverly the third section here, after some rather good plan views which (as noted) highlight a few shortcomings of the model's construction at the front end, opens up the tetchy subject of Tellarite appearances. It's a title that covers a multitude of sins for sure.

In between these two articles we actually have something relevant to the ship. The designing section covers four pages and reveals that the Tellarite ship began life in season one of Enterprise as something completely different in a quick appearance before being resurrected for more screen time three years later. The sketches and concepts for the ship are as interesting as ever with Eaves' ship being one of the rare occasions where they utilised CG to allow for the open spacing, something that hadn't really been explored in that format before.

Exploring the terrible attempt from Journey to Babel, the more suitable reworking for Whom Gods Destroy through to the fleeting appearances during the movies before reappearing fully realised if you will during the Star Trek prequel series. Not only does this discuss the makeup of the Tellerites but also how these aliens were written and how they evolved over the course of the franchise's TV history. It's a good solid read because these guys received such little airtime but there was still a great amount of development put into their background.

Ok, overall these two are a steady pair to induct into the Starships Collection. These "scene fillers" as you could call them does really push home that the series is now getting into serious completist territory with most, if not all of the series most recognisable ships ticked off the list. Of the two the Buran is easily the better product in my eyes because of its place within the Wolf 359 set although it could have done with being a shade bigger.

Next month's Curry Class from Deep Space Nine and Ferengi Cruiser from Enterprise continue this trend of kit-bashers and one-ep wonders. Hoping that prequel entry is back up to the usual standards!

Buran or Tellarite? What's your call on this time's ships?

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Friday, 12 January 2018

Be Careful: S1 E10 Despite Yourself

The destination of the USS Discovery couldn't have been any less of a surprise as the series returned for the final six hours of its first season.

Yet this managed to be one of the most surprising episodes of the series right from the start.

So we can now categorically confirm that the Discovery becomes only the second starship ever to cross over into the Mirror Universe leaving the crew in a desperate situation to return to their own universe in order to alert Starfleet with a way to crack the Klingon cloaking device.

Problem is the Spore Drive is now inoperable due to an exhausted Lieutenant Stamets who is unable to act as the conduit for the distance (and dimension) jumping engine. Fortunately it appears that 1) the ISS Discovery jumped out of its universe when the USS Discovery popped in and 2) there might be another way back if they can locate some information about a starship called Defiant that might have appeared there some time before. Still with me? Excellent because don't forget that we also have L'Rell, the Klingon battle commander/traitor apparent locked up in the brig mindf**king with Lieutenant Tyler.

Discovery's arrival in the Mirror Universe fooled absolutely no-one but it has raised questions as to whether Lorca is actually his Mirror self or not. He seems to want to return back to the other universe and integrates himself into the plan to make that a reality. From the start of this we get a really good look at the machinations of the Terran Empire since the last time we saw it in In a Mirror, Darkly; the Emperor is a faceless despot, the Empire is trying to quell a rebellion from all the other races  including the Klingons, Vulcans and Andorians who are identified in the wreckage near to the Discovery and we find out what has happened to all the main cast in this parallel time.

Burnham is of course the central piece here, drawing together the plan that will get the ship home but it seems Martin-Green takes a backseat to Isaacs' Lorca and Mary Wiseman's Tilly in this thread, The captain puts himself at great risk by playing his alternate self so Burnham can "retake" her command of the USS Shenzhou and acquire information that will help them escape. My one query is that the Mirror Lorca is stated to have escaped in a shuttle after killing Burnham and was never seen again. My brain did suggest this might mean he is the Mirror Lorca after all but there has, honestly, been no hint of this sort so far. Wiseman is also exceptional at playing Captain Killy, her parallel self, hamming it up in the captain's seat after some initial trepidation. Also of note was Lorca's lie to Burnham and Saru that Stamets was keen to explore other dimensions once the mission was over.

This interpretation of the Mirror Universe is an exciting yet grim addition to Discovery. The parallel universe always excites a large proportion of fandom but this show has gone further than ever before with this thread, making the alternative versions of the cast achieve some of their inner goals in life but through twisted and darker paths than they would have planned to walk in their own universe. It’s a far cry from the snarling alternates of Mirror Mirror or the virtual caricatures that Deep Space Nine’s Resurrection and The Emperor’s New Cloak spurred into.  

The reflection of this exposition of the Mirror Universe does feel a little tougher and more brutal thanks in no small part to the metallic uniform additions and the worn weaponry. Cleverly the delta shield is flipped vertically and slipped behind the recognisable world/sword emblem on the uniforms with each officer also carrying an array of medals on their breastplates which do indicate several different awards.

The choice to disguise the ship as it's "evil" self with a tweak of registry and some software updates is inspired and forces the crew to step a little outside their comfort zones as Starfleet personnel. But here's another thought - for a show that has added a less than positive outlook for the Prime Universe, this could be the more insightful trip through the looking glass of all time - is the Mirror Universe not quite the dark territory we have come to expect in comparison to the events of this Klingon war.

Burnham's return to the Shenzhou is a harrowing experience as she faces multiple ghosts from her past including a very-much alive Captain Connor (previously Ensign Connor played by Sam Varthemelos) and an uninjured Detmer. Indeed, the Connor/Burnham confrontation in the turbolift has a cluttered claustrophobia about it as they fight for their lives and command of the starship. 

It’s a brilliantly tense plot line with darker tones than the (later?!) Deep Space Nine arc but positively continuing the bleak and totalitarian regime we saw in Enterprise.  The new style to the Empire and it’s return is most welcome with a clever twist that it’s all linked back to The Tholian Web which might well be one of the most pivotal episodes in the history of the franchise - who would have imagined that in 1968? On that point, yes, the Defiant does look slightly different with saucer cut-outs and amendments to the engine pylons but I would expect that over the time since it’s been in the Mirror Universe it might have received more than a couple of modifications and repairs to keep it operational. 

While that story dominates the 48 minutes of Despite Yourself, there are two further threads which weave in and out of the narrative. Firstly there’s Stamets who is recovering in sickbay and is now receiving, it appears, prophetic visions of the future leading him to warn Doctor Culber that the enemy ‘is here’. Anthony Rapp might not have the most to do this week but his appearances are significant in hinting at other elements of the plot and I’m interested to see how this ‘Spore Drive Vision’ is worked as the season continues.

But, with the impending doom of encountering more than just some rebel Vulcans and boarding the Mirror Shenzhou you might well have forgotten there’s a Klingon festering in the brig. 

Mary Chieffo’s L’Rell has been one of the biggest wins of the show for me since day one and in Despite Yourself it feels that some of the promises and plans we saw hatched right at the genesis of the series are beginning to bear fruit although it seems some of it has gone a little aray.

Her relationship with Tyler is the centrepoint. There might be a whole new universe out there to try and escape but the Klingon war is still raging and L’Rell is our constant reminder. Here she is also the confirmation that Ash Tyler is not what he seems in any way, a theory backed up by Doctor Culber’s analysis that the lieutenant has received some significant surgery altering bone structure at the least. The Tyler personality is an overlay and we have to be plain dumb not to know that it’s Voq hiding underneath. I’m certain the flashbacks - which apparently will reveal more as we go - are memories of his surgical alteration and love affair with L’Rell rather than torture and rape. It all makes perfect sense and I’m glad that the writers haven’t dragged this line out for too much longer and respected the intelligence of their audience. 

Tyler’s dramatic and unforeseen disposal of Culber when he puts the pieces together left me speechless. It stamped a clear mark on the show that no-one is safe at any time and my god was it a jaw-dropping moment. It's unexpected, abrupt and perhaps for Tyler a moment out of control for his human side. 

Now we have more understanding of the darkness around Tyler and L’Rell it really has become a fascinating element of the season and both actors should be applauded for their excellent work as it’s some of the best in the show. Added cudos for the fact that L’Rell’s attempt to ‘wake up’ the sleeper agent buried inside Tyler didn’t work as planned. At least not everything we might have expected came to pass all in one go.

Despite Yourself has opened the second half of the season with a swagger and a strong sense of purpose. All the set up and suggestion from the early part of the year is coming to fruition and the show is really forging its identity. Already there seem to be grumblings about the show’s choice to dive into the Mirror Universe so early and at all but on the quality of this entry I think it was a brave move to do so and has paid off, giving this concluding batch of stories it’s own identity and differentiation from the Klingon war which dominated the first nine episodes.

What this episode has also done is restored my faith in the Mirror Universe episodes, removing the dodgy comedy elements and actually made this parallel dimension feel the same yet noticably different. It oozes danger that I haven’t seen in this type of story, honestly, since Crossover. Everything here works. Yes, it is going to be different from The Original Series vision (like 50 years ago...can we get over these "inconsistencies" please...) but the core of our understanding of the Mirror Universe and its part within Star Trek lore has been maintained and even strengthened by its inclusion and also by the inherent links to both the Kirk era and Enterprise.

For a return to our screens after a short and unwelcome(!) break, Despite Yourself has raised the bar again and could well prove to be highlight of Year One. The questions have just got harder to answer. Is Lorca the Mirror Universe version that escaped? How will Culber return? What's the score with Tyler's muddled mind and what else can be thrown at us?

What's your take on Despite Yourself

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