31 July 2014

B5 Review: No Surrender, No Retreat, Season Four

Babylon 5's fourth season, No Surrender, No Retreat delivered everything you could want from a science fiction series. Three wars, tonnes of major conflicts between our characters as well as in space, bringing us a resolution to the Shadow War and the problems in Earth.

Part of the reason it is so action packed was because there was no guarantee that the show was going to get its fifth season, so stories were 'accelerated' to make sure the story JMS wanted was told.

Picking up from the season three (and my all time favourite) cliffhanger, Z'ha'dum we soon find out what became of Sheridan and Garibaldi, and we finally get to meet Emperor Cartagia on Centauri Prime.

The Shadow War changes pace with the Vorlons taking out Shadow influenced worlds and the Shadows returning form. Sheridan forces a showdown between the two powers which brings the conflict to an end as they step aside.

In the 'quiet' time mid-season, we are reminded of the problems on Earth with the arrival of an ISN news crew, the embargo placed on Babylon 5 becoming ever tighter, Marcus and Franklin head to Mars to make contact with the Resistance.

Conflict comes to Minbar and sees Delenn involved in what's going on there as a result of breaking the Grey Council a year prior. We meet the Drakh, who we learn were servants of huge Shadows before they left. Delenn and Neroon resolve their differences to reunite Minbar.

Finally, a news report documenting atrocities by Earthforce personnel on civilian targets prompts Sheridan to take action and liberate Earth and her colonies from President Clark.

Our characters go through some major changes. G'Kar risks his sanctuary in search of Garibaldi and ends up captured and brought to Centauri Prime. Only then is he able to forge a deal with Londo - both who want to save their worlds. 

Sheridan returns from the dead and Z'ha'dum with Lorien, proposes to Delenn, confronts the Vorlons and the Shadows and leads the liberation of Earth. Garibaldi returns and things seemed normal at first until the Shadow War ended and he resigned as Head of Security. He and Sheridan soon butt heads often, driving a wedge through their relationship. It's not until the end of the season we realise what has happened to Michael.

Marcus and Franklin head to Mars to contact the Resistance there in preparation for the retaking of Earth and Ivanova becomes the face of the Voice of the Resistance, then taking over command of the liberation fleet from Sheridan when he's captured. Ultimately, Marcus gets to show his love for Ivanova.

There are so many action packed episodes in this season including most of the episodes at the beginning and end. The Summoning is always a standout for me as it introduces the Vorlon Planet Killer, Falling Toward Apotheosis confronts the Vorlon Ambassador and The Long Night and Into the Fire finish up the conflict. Lines of Communication introduces a new race to watch out for in the Drakh and Moments of Transition finalises the Minbari conflict while being the prelude to the Liberation of Earth through No Surrender, No Retreat to Endgame.

While there are many high scoring episodes in this season, there's also The Illusionof Truth which for me, is probably my least favourite episode of the series and there are some more 'experimental' episodes such as Intersections in Real Time and The Deconstruction of Falling Stars.

In the middle of the season, the second movie Thirdspace takes place. Thirdspace is a standalone event but features some decent back story to the Vorlons and their discovery of another realm ruled by a dangerous race hellbent on destroying everything.

Overall, season four rates fairly well with an average score of 7/10 per episode. Including the lowest score awarded to a Babylon 5 episode so far, a 5/10 for The Illusion of Truth, season four gains from Into the Fire, Moments of Transition, The Face of the Enemy, Between the Darkness and the Light and Endgame all scoring 8's.

With the wars and conflict over, it's hard to think what Season Five can offer but some of this was previewed in the season four finale The Deconstruction of Falling Stars. 

The Wheel of Fire awaits...

15 July 2014

Trek Review: Official Starships Collection - USS Excelsior

With this issue of reviews we come to one of my favourite starship designs and one of the most recognisable throughout the Star Trek timeline, the Excelsior.

The Magazine
Eaglemoss have done another nice job with this magazine. The first Federation starship they've featured that's not a hero ship (and for Australian subscribers, it's the first ship from them that's not named Enterprise). There are great pictures of the Excelsior from her big screen appearances in the Star Trek movies as well as the Voyager episode Flashback.

The CGI model used for the profiles of the ship are notably blank without name or registry depicted, and while there are many different Excelsior class ships throughout all of Star Trek, the magazine almost entirely focuses on the Excelsior under Captain's Styles and Sulu from Star Trek's III, IV, V and VI. Details of the filmed version mainly focus on the filming model which was last used in a Deep Space Nine episode as the Lakota.

There is a typo on the magazine cover where the ship is referred to as Celsior instead of Excelsior, and on some of the CGI views of the ship there's a torpedo launcher missing from the primary hull, but aside from these, the issue remains accurate and informative.

For those wanting information on the many other Excelsior class ships though this isn't really about them.

Magazine rating: 7/10

The Ship
As said above, this is one of my favourite starship designs, ever since first seeing it in the movies. It has a purposeful look that's not graceful like the Constitution class but has something cool about it.

Eaglemoss have reproduced the model nicely enough including Aztec panelling on the saucer and all the pin striping and other details on display. I will say some of the panel lines are etched a little deep though and that the sizing of the Eaglemoss ships means that due to the Excelsior's length, this looks like such a small ship, particularly next to its movie counterparts in the refit-Enterprise.

The warp engines feature the translucent plastic for that lit up effect once again though the pegs used to attach them to the rest of the nacelle are also on show. Also, the ships name is printed incorrectly on top of the saucer as it doesn't follow the curvature of the saucer edge like the registry does.

The stand attaches firmly in the same way the Constitution class Enterprise Refit does. But, as said before, the ship still looks small on its stand and base due to the skinny design. 

It's a nice ship but there are just a few details that could have helped it become something great, also, the sizing is a little disappointing compared to the other models we've had so far.

Ship rating: 6/10

13 July 2014

B5 Review: Rising Star & The Deconstruction of Falling Stars

Season Four draws to a close with these final two episodes, wrapping up with the aftermath of the Earth conflict and looking to the future and the legacy our heroes are leaving behind...

Rising Star
Sheridan turns himself over to Earthforce following his victory over the now dead President Clark. Ivanova comes to terms with Marcus' actions and Delenn brings a proposition to the other alien governments.

This episode wraps up the events of the latter half of the season and outlines the fate of some of our characters with Ivanova having been revived by Marcus, Sheridan facing Earth's newly installed President and Delenn hoping to form a new alliance of all the races.

Sheridan is offered an ultimatum by the President and is threatened by Bester after he learns of the telepath involvement in the Mars attack. Ultimately, with the arrival of Delenn, G'Kar and Londo at Earth, we see that Sheridan's future looks bright - or complicated and Earth is invited to join the new Interstellar Alliance.

As a wrap-up episode, this one works well and provides something to look forward to in the fifth season with the first year of this new alliance. We get to see Sheridan's father and Ivanova is given her own ship and G'Kar finally puts his prosthetic eye to use in a creepy way! There's a lot of talking and certainly much less action than we have become used to in the recent episodes but resolution is provided which is something many sci-fi shows stay away from.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Deconstruction of Falling Stars
Following their return to Babylon 5, Sheridan wonders whether the new alliance they have recently created will endure and whether those who worked hard in its creation will be remembered.

The episode is framed around 2262 but is told from the point of view a million years in the future, looking at key dates from the beginning of the Interstellar Alliance to 100, 500 and 1000 years beyond.

We see the initial Earth reaction to the alliance and a panel determining if Sheridan can lead it in the wake of the recent Earth conflict. We then jump ahead 100 years where a panel of academics look back on the beginnings of the alliance and whether Sheridan and Delenn were as influential as has been suggested.

Five hundred years on and Earth is divided once again, wanting to deconstruct the origins of the alliance in order to allow Earth to expand from the 'restrictions' it feels have been imposed since alliance membership. Five hundred more years after that and we see that Earth suffered greatly from a devastating conflict and the Rangers are at work piecing things back together for us.

Move to the end of the world and we see that all of these records are being catalogued as our sun is about to go nova and humans, now an evolved race are leaving for New Earth.

An interesting episode, but also one that I never found that interesting, except the final scene. I always took issue with 'The Great Burn' sending us back to the stone age. That we would have all this technology and become a space-faring race, only to bomb ourselves so stupid that we would be without interstellar travel for over five hundred years.

It was an episode that may never have happened if the show had only lasted four seasons, so its very existence at the time meant that Babylon 5 would run for its intended five years and we have already been given a peak and several hints at what's to come...

Rating: 6.5/10

02 July 2014

Trek Review: Official Starships Collection - Klingon K't'inga Battlecruiser

The keen eyed will notice this isn't a review of Issue 6 as expected. For some reason, Bissett Magazines, the Australian distributor for the Official Starships collection has not received any Voyager's. So, here we have the famous Klingon K't'inga class battlecruiser. The first ship we would see when Star Trek hit the big screen and the flagship of Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI

The Magazine
Eaglemoss has done a nice job with this issue including some beautiful graphics of the ship and master displays with Klingon script all over accompanying screenshots from the ship's appearances - mostly from Star Trek The Motion Picture and Star Trek VI. 

The issue includes details on the Klingon military and their way of life as well as the general layout of the K't'inga class. Some of the information comes from a generalisation of facts from The Next Generation episode Unification aboard a Bird of Prey but it is reasonable to assume that conditions on all Klingon ships are very similar - harsh! 

As in other issues relating to the ships designed before the use of computers, a lot of interesting points come from the sections that deal with designing the ship and filming it. The K't'inga was derived from the Original Series D7 after serious modifications for The Motion Picture were made.

I think the magazine presents some great information about the K't'inga (and in some respects, the D7) with new images of a ship that spanned all the series (except Enterprise) in its basic form.

Magazine Rating: 9/10

The Ship
The model continues the standard set with some beautiful details on this grey, imposing ship of the Klingon Empire. It is deceptively lightweight with only the 'main hull' incorporating diecast metal and the rest being in plastic. The connecting neck feels a little fragile due to how thin it is and the fact it is a plastic component. 

The hull details look great and while this isn't modelled after Gorkon's Kronos One which featured dark red panelling, when held in different lighting, this model still shows up extremely well. The underside appears to be its own interpretation however as it is simply grey, with a yellow circular bit towards the rear centre. On the filming model (featured in the magazine), this is where a coloured Klingon Empire logo appears, and on the Kronos One version, this area isn't highlighted or noteworthy at all.

Actually, it's a bit of a shame the model is simply different shades of grey, as in at least one of the preview images, there were definitely some areas of burgundy shown which could have made for an even prettier model.

Like the other alien ships designs we've seen so far, there's very few translucent areas - the only notable part on the K't'inga comes from the impulse engines at the rear.

The display stand connects at the rear of the ship, much like the Klingon Bird of Prey and Romulan Warbird, but probably has the best hold of the alien ships so far. The Bird of Prey is ridiculously perched and the Warbird too are prone to falling off their stands when handled lightly. The K't'inga appears to better supported so points there for that improvement!

Model Rating: 9/10