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USS Enterprise

Star Trek
by Artemis

The name "Enterprise" is arguably the most famous in spaceflight - probably more people know "The Eagle has landed," but that's really more about Armstrong and Aldrin, not the weird-looking, spidery craft that carried them. But Enterprise continues to resonate throughout space exploration, right up to the present day, with VSS Enterprise, the world's first commercial spaceship, under construction at Virgin Galactic. Roddenberry's ship was called the "Yorktown" in the first draft of his series concept, though. Difficult to imagine it working the same way, isn't it?

Launched in 2245, the Constitution-class U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 is perhaps the most famous starship in Federation history. Under the command of Captains Robert April, Christopher Pike and most notably James T. Kirk, the Enterprise was responsible for making first contact with a variety of intelligent species, making scientific discoveries and even defending the entire Galaxy against hostile forces. Whether travelling through time or engaging Klingon battlecruisers, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise exceeded expectations and 40 years later, continues to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Matt Jeffries (for whom the Jeffries Tubes are named) designed the Enterprise, though not without going through a bunch of ideas first - one of them, based on hollow cylinder hull modules, can be seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as a piece of art in the ship's rec room, and others featured spherical main hulls (which later showed up in TNG as Beverly's USS Pasteur), a secondary hull that hinged open at the top like the Space Shuttle cargo bay, and one rather strikingly similar to the recent movie's USS Kelvin, with the warp nacelles (two in this case) down below the saucer, but the secondary hull above and behind it. But, after many draft designs and review sessions, Jeffries finally turned out the shape that Trekkies the world over know and love. Then Roddenberry turned it upside-down, and they used it.

This replica by Diamond Select/Art Asylum is based on the "production model" of the first Enterprise, an 11-foot filming model first built for the pilot episode "The Cage," modified for the other pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," modified yet again for the rest of the show, and nowadays on display in the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum, keeping an eye on Jetfire. Since Star Trek had a budget of about a buck fifty per episode they couldn't afford to reshoot old model footage, so over the course of some episodes the ship's exact design flips about randomly, with occasional silver ramscoops, grills on the back of the nacelles, a radial grid on the top of the saucer and so on - but this version is the main one, the one everyone knows.

The packaging calls it a 16" starship - I make it 15½", but that's still a pretty impressive model to have sitting on your desk or shelf. Harking from the days before Star Wars invented the "stick random bits on until it looks complicated" school of starship design and Star Trek: The Motion Picture's response of sculpting intricate patterns of hull panels and painting them with interference paint to jazz it up, the old girl has a smooth, sleek hull in plain light grey. It's not without detail - far from it, with all manner of sculpted and/or painted markings and features, all faithful to the original - but the wide, smooth surface of the saucer and the long, slender nacelles give it the elegance of something which has been designed with art as well as engineering. So far as sculpt goes, the only flaws are the necessary construction seams - the cut-out segments on the secondary hull, where the nacelle assembly and the battery compartment go, and the visible rim around the upper edge of the saucer. That last is the most obvious at a glance - luckily, since the seam conforms to the saucer's actual edge quite closely, it's very easy to pass off as just part of the ship's design, rather than a sign that it's really just a model.

The paintwork is without fault. Every single window is painted - in a dark grey rather than pure black, so as not to stand out too much - as are all the necessary hull markings, most obviously the ship's name and registry, but also the slim red lines marking the vessel's centerline from the bridge back down to the spine of the secondary hull, the twin registry numbers beneath the saucer, the docking markings behind the bridge and beneath the secondary hull, the rings behind the ramscoop cowls, and the Starfleet pennants along the sides of the secondary hull and the nacelles, with the flattened sideways chevron where later ships would have the distinctive arrowhead derived from this Enterprise's unique ship insignia. The deflector dish is a lustrous copper, while the bridge dome atop the saucer and the sensor/weapons/whatever dome beneath are both left clear. Of particular note paintwise are the inner surfaces of the nacelles, where the plasma vents (the bits that glow blue on later ships) sport a dense pattern of reflective black on a white backing, and the ramscoops cast in clear dark orange with a red starburst painted onto them, both do a great job of looking like the real thing.

Pressing the bridge - the whole section is the button, not just the dome - activates the light and sound features. A single press triggers one of a cycle of eight soundbytes: a "short warp" (that's what the instructions call it) with the engines cycling up, Kirk ordering "Prepare to attack, all hands to battle stations," Kirk again, ordering "All weapons to full power" (with the bridge's familiar beeps in the background), the transporter lock and beaming sounds, the red alert siren (repeated once), three photon torpedoes firing, phasers initializing, firing, and hitting a target which explodes, and lastly the communicator chirp followed by "Kirk to Enterprise..." The sounds always cycle through in the same order; while they play, the ramscoops light up, pulsing gently from dim orange through to fierce red and back again, both upper and lower domes light up pure white (intensifying in time with the speech, where the sound is Kirk's voice rather than a sound effect), and the running lights on the sides of the saucer, above and below, blink red (port) and green (starboard).

Even better - and putting this baby head and shoulders above Playmates' movie Enterprise (which it was already besting in every category by some margin) - holding down the bridge dome for five seconds triggers a "display lit" mode, which lights up all the lights - ramscoops pulsing, domes steady, and running lights blinking - and leaves them on until you press the dome again. It really shows off the model, especially the ramscoop lights - they're not as mechanically complex as the real thing (which had actual rotating light fixtures inside them), but they really do match the on-screen appearance beautifully. There is one slight flaw, sadly: the red and green running lights blink too quickly, three or four times a second, when they really should only blink on briefly once a second.

The model has its own stand, in smoky blue-grey plastic with the base appropriately moulded in the shape of an Enterprise arrowhead with the elongated command star in the centre. The stand rises elegantly from the left side, curving inwards to support the ship with a sturdy balljoint-mounted peg that fits tightly into the battery compartment cover beneath the secondary hull - it looks thin and flimsy (though very elegant), but it has no trouble supporting the weight of the model. If you fancy suspending the ship in flight using fishing wire or some other method, Diamond Select have thoughtfully included an alternate battery compartment cover without the socket for the base.

I'm not one of your argumentative purists who disdain everything but their personal favourites, but I'll admit that this isn't my Enterprise, exactly - The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to capture my imagination, so naturally the Galaxy-class ship has a favoured place in my heart, and for sheer austere grandeur the refit/1701-A version wins hands down. This one, though - it's special. It's the original, the first, and this is a beautiful replica of it, especially given the surprisingly reasonable price it's going for. The blink rate on the running lights is the only drawback, but even then, I can't imagine any Trekkie not loving this.

-- 08/14/09

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