28 February 2016

Book Review | Star Trek: Voyager - A Pocket Full of Lies by Kirsten Beyer

Of all the Star Trek television series, none annoy me more than Star Trek: Voyager. Its premise - the crew of a starship marooned some seventy-five-thousand light years from Earth and trying to find their way back home - is arguably even more alluring than that of the original series’ five-year mission of exploration. Yet Voyager failed to capitalise on its potential; so much so that, at times, I struggled to suspend my disbelief. Not only did the ship get through shuttlecraft like there was no tomorrow, but it fired more irreplaceable photon torpedoes than (the writers made a big deal of stressing that) they had; lost many crewmen, yet had an ever-increasing crew complement; and even had the uncanny habit of running into many of the same species time and again - some of them after having put ten or even twenty-thousand light years between their territory and the ship. Such inconsistencies speak to the show’s fundamental failure to deal with consequences - a general failing in episodic television of the time, but Voyager especially so. Indeed, I can think of only a single episode that saw the ship carry damage over from the preceding story, when, really, Voyager should have been a show grounded in attrition. In seven years and 168 episodes, only Captain Janeway’s morals and judgement can claim to have been gradually eroded by circumstance.


Yet in its fourth season, the show offered us a glimpse of what might have been in its spectacular “Year of Hell” two-parter. Under constant attack for months by the time-altering Krenim, Voyager suffers heavy damage and heavy casualties, bridge officers amongst them. Tuvok is blinded, the captain scarred. Of course, the Year of Hell, the most interesting thing ever to happen to Captain Janeway and her crew, never happened - it was all overwritten in an inevitable deus ex machina that saw the so-called “prime timeline” restored. Only an author as bold and as innovative as Kirsten Beyer, Voyager’s literary showrunner these days, could have both the imagination and the gumption to write a sequel to a story that didn’t happen - and to somehow make both count.


Whereas the Voyager television series became almost absurd in its eschewing of consequences, A Pocket Full of Lies, much like The Eternal Tide before it, is an in-depth exploration of them. The effects of things that never were and may not be are felt as keenly here as the devastating after-effects of the preceding trilogy of novels, as well as The Eternal Tide and even the Borg invasion several years prior. In just a hundred thousand words, Beyer plausibly reconciles the never-was Year of Hell with the Full Circle fleet’s first encounter with the Krenim, while at the same time introducing us to a quantum-duplicate Kathryn Janeway who’s betrayed her oath to Starfleet and is prosecuting an alien war to try to force the enemy into giving up her captured husband and daughter. In the process, she borrows Tuvok from the Titan and addresses his feelings about his own lost child, before moving on to deal with Harry and Nancy’s relationship in the wake of her possession by a malevolent alien consciousness in the previous story. She even takes the time to induct the newly-minted Ensign Icheb into the fleet with a charming little sub-plot that quickly sees the youngster learn that he’s a long way to go from knowledge to wisdom.

The story of Denzit Janeway of Sormana is what drives the book, and rightly so. Towards the end of the television series, and in “Year of Hell” in particular, we saw how far Voyager’s then-captain would go for her crew. Here, we see Sormana’s denzit go even further for her real family, before Beyer pulls the rug out from under us to reveal that things aren’t quite as “simple” as they seem. At the time, much was made of Voyager’s creators’ decision to put a woman in the captain’s chair, which is perhaps why the television series’ only ever rarely explored her femininity. Her maternal instincts were always writ large, divided amongst a hundred and forty-odd souls while she herself remained isolated. Well, Denzit Janeway shows what could have happened had she lost her ship and crew only to be rescued from years of torment by a dashing white knight who’d promptly knock her up, making her the only Kathryn Janeway in the multiverse to become a mother. In one of her most touching and terrifying portrayals, Beyer shows us the lines that this denzit would cross to get her daughter back, making our Janeway’s Borg alliances and Hirogen technology handovers seem almost sane in comparison.


What’s most interesting about the denzit though is the reaction that she provokes in others - Tuvok in particular. Circumstances have conspired to push Titan’s tactical officer’s sympathies away from his old friend and towards this quantum echo of her whose pain he shares. I can’t recall an episode or novel that deals with the Vulcan so brilliantly, getting beneath his stoic fa├žade without completely letting it drop.

Furthermore, having spent three books in the bureaucratic Confederacy, a novel with the ruthless Krenim as the principal antagonists comes as a welcome change of pace. Though Annorax, Voyager’s “Year of Hell” tormentor, is long-dead, not to mention revered, in the prime timeline, his descendants have not heeded his warnings about the “moods” of time and the danger of making temporal incursions to try to affect precise change. A complex character himself, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this novel’s Krenim, Agent Dayne, shares Annorax’s passions and flaws. But what makes him even more fascinating is the fact that, unlike Annorax, he’s already got what he wanted from time, and it’s the timeline we already know. As such, the Full Circle fleet can’t look to undo his meddling, but merely understand it, and it’s on this understanding that the plot turns.

Another appealing aspect of Lies is how it expounds upon some of the Year of Hell’s most fascinating facets, such as the oft-mentioned but never seen on-screen temporal incursions that Annorax spent centuries planning. In one particularly memorable passage, Beyer takes us inside an incursion, and it’s a much more tangible, physical process than “Year of Hell” implied. Beyer’s imagery is as spectacular as it is chilling.


Coming out of the novel, as ever Beyer leaves threads hanging, the most intriguing and emotive of which concerns the fate of Voyager’s chief engineer, Nancy Conlon, and her on/off lover Harry Kim. Beyer could have glossed over Nancy’s possession in the previous novel with a brief acknowledgement or an aside, as the TV series probably would have, but instead she uses it to push both characters in a new direction that raises a whole host of moral dilemmas in true Trek style while exploring issues that I don’t think any Trek series has ever broached in depth: unwanted pregnancy and long-term, potentially terminal illness.

For me, A Pocket Full of Lies is the first Voyager novel since Admiral Janeway’s resurrection to trounce its Alpha and Beta Quadrant sister series’ offerings. By turns harrowing and bold, Beyer finally makes good on the Year of Hell premise, as well as, I dare say, that of the female captain.

A Pocket Full of Lies is available to download from iTunes for £4.99. Amazon charge the same, and also offer a paperback for £7.99.

11 February 2016

Spoiler-Light TV Review | The X-Files: "My Struggle"

Thirteen years after the original series run, the next mind-bending chapter of THE X-FILES is a thrilling, six-episode event series from creator/executive producer Chris Carter, with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson re-inhabiting their roles as iconic FBI Agents FOX MULDER and DANA SCULLY.” - FOX

I was bloody annoyed when The X-Files was reissued in HD in December - largely because I’d spent the early part of last year re-watching every single episode on DVD in readiness for this month’s six-episode “event series”, and I’ll be damned if I’m watching them again for at least another five or six years. Nevertheless, losing myself again in even the standard-def supernatural casebook of FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, which was first opened over two decades ago, I was still reminded what an “event” each week’s episode used to be; it was very much the highlight of my teenage week during the show’s halycon days of its seminal second and third seasons. The show had its own unique look, its own unique sound… even its own subject matter, which quickly became far from unique as it ran roughshod over pop culture, prompting countless cash-in alien autopsy programmes and so-called “real” X-file documentaries. Now The X-Files is back, and to both its credit and its detriment, it’s exactly the same.


Almost fourteen years ago, The X-Files ran into its dramatic end in the feature-length finale, “The Truth”. The series’ desolate conclusion left our heroes as outlaws on the run from the bureau that they once served, and set the stage for the extraterrestrial colonisation of Earth in 2012. Many fans of the show, myself amongst them, expected FOX to tie up the show’s lauded mythology with a big-budget feature film in or around 2012 – something somewhere between 1998’s The X-Files: Fight the Future and mass-market blockbuster movies the like of Independence Day. Of course, that wouldn’t have been very X-Files, and with a budget decreasing in sync with the show’s profile, showrunner Chris Carter decided to make his 2008 X-Files movie, I Want to Believe, a touching coda to the will they / won’t they / did they? Mulder and Scully relationship, rather than what would have surely been a cheap attempt to tie-up almost a decade’s worth of mythology. Couched in the mould of the series’ famed “monster of the week” episodes, I Want to Believe was unfairly hammered by almost all of the few who bothered to see it, driving what I thought would be the final nails into the series’ coffin lid. 


And so after having my hopes all but extinguished, I was incredibly excited at the prospect of The X-Files being closed properly; the prospect of the world either being saved or damned as the colonisation prophesised by “The Truth” began. “My Struggle”, however, is not what I expected. Texturally it has the feel of an old-school X-Files episode – its pace, its style, even its sweeping voiceovers and poorly upscaled title sequence (which seems to drop frames all over the place in the iTunes download) all reek of the once beloved show. I’d half-expected the series to conform to modern stylistics; to layer its sprawling story over its short season, as opposed to telling six stand-alone tales, but Carter has been uncompromising in his vision. Whether this pleases or disappoints is in the eye of the beholder, but I was certainly expecting something… more.

 
Yet, rather ironically given the above, “My Struggle” looks to draw a line under the whole X-Files story to date, dismissing its celebrated canon of mythology in favour of an easy-to-resolve, man-made conspiracy that, admittedly, is unlikely to deter new and casual viewers – but only at the expense of long-time X-Philes looking for a satisfying resolution. Granted, the series has thrown us curveballs before, fourth-season finale “Gethsemane” being a case in point, but the retcon feels different this time. With the script citing everything from constitutional violations in the name of defence to increasingly violent and unpredictable weather in support of its new conspiracy, the series’ change in direction is as much a change in tone as it is devilish detail. Unlike the unyielding format of the twenty-year-old series that houses it, “My Struggle” is very much a contemporary piece.


Of course, that’s not to say that “My Struggle” isn’t a gripping drama, or even good X-Files episode. Visually, the show has never done a better job of portraying alien bodies and ships – its pre-title montage alone is peppered with breathtaking UFO sightings and engagements, and that’s before we even get to the meat of the matter and the episode’s fiery resolution. More importantly though, the performances of the story’s two supporting stars, and particularly the returning regulars, are unreservedly excellent, Carter’s script beautifully building upon the emotional turmoil of I Want to Believe and thus giving the cast some incredible material to work with. Whilst Gillian Anderson’s ineradicable good looks belie the hell that her character has been through since we last saw her, David Duchovny’s Mulder is most definitely looking weathered. Unshaven and unkempt, the former agent’s depression and obsession have driven a wedge between him and his former partner - a wedge that this episode really drives in through the pair’s dealings with TV host and wannabe whistleblower, Tad O’Malley, before slowly and painfully pulling it out.


And so the truth is still out there, but it seems to have changed – only its packaging remains the same. “My Struggle”, and I suspect the whole “event series”, will live and die as such.

The X-Files’ six-episode event series is available to download from iTunes in 1080p HD for £12.99. Episodes drop on a Tuesday morning in the UK following broadcast on Channel 5 the night before.

09 February 2016

The Anti-Inflammatory Cookbook | New-tella Pro Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Since posting my New-tella recipe last year, I’ve been hard at work refining it to try to make it more nutritious and less reliant on extraneous ingredients. At last, I’ve succeeded. Its distinctive taste is still present and correct, but it now also packs a protein punch that makes the indulgence at least a little more justifiable – particularly if it’s spread on top of one of my post-workout PrOAT Cakes.
Introducing New-tella Pro – a protein-rich, Nutella®-like chocolate and hazelnut spread that’s perfect for pancakes, but far easier to make.

 

200g whole hazelnuts [£1.79]

25g cocoa [I’d recommend Cadbury’s Bourneville as the ingredients are limited to cocoa. You can usually get it for about £2.00 per 250g, so 20p]

300ml skimmed milk [89p per 2.72l, so 10p]

125g clear honey [99p for 340g, so 36p]

150g Bulk Powders pure whey isolate unflavoured powder [£46.79 per 5kg, so £1.40]

TOTAL COST TO MAKE ONE BATCH (APPROXIMATELY 20 SERVINGS):

£1.79 + £0.20+ £0.10 + £0.36 + £1.40 = £3.85

 
TOTAL COST PER SERVING: £0.19


 


ONE
Pre-heat the oven to 180°c. 

TWO
Tip the hazelnuts onto a baking tray and roast them in the oven for 10-12 minutes.

THREE
Add all the ingredients to the blender. The roasted hazelnuts should go in last for best results.

FOUR
Blend the ingredients until the spread is as thick as you like it. The longer you blend the mixture, the more paste-like it will become. I find that it reaches the consistency of Nutella® within about a minute.

04 February 2016

Technology Review | Apple TV (Fourth Generation) by Apple Inc

I learned long ago that, as peerless as their products generally are, it pays to wait before upgrading to whatever new device or operating system it is that Apple are pushing. From time to time, their updates squash one bug only to unleash several more; their newer devices, meanwhile, have a troubling predisposition towards restricting their users’ control over certain functions while enforcing library-confusing “store integration”. Whilst I’ve no objection to buying apps and media from Apple, I have no interest in most streaming services and I don’t want the total sum of the iTunes Store’s catalogue mixed in with my own painstakingly organised iTunes library. It was with some caution, then, that I finally approached the long-awaited fourth generation of Apple TV. 

 
Once nothing more than a Steve Jobs hobby horse, the third generation of Apple’s unassuming black box has served me and my family well since late 2012, all but eradicating our reliance on disc-based media. In fact, I found it hard to see how it could possibly be improved upon at all, save for perhaps loading our media library a little faster or embracing cross-media playlists. Indeed, I held out from upgrading until now as the vast majority of the box’s reviews have focused on the flashy new features that I care little about – little or nothing has been said about the fundamental features that I do. Well, that’s about to change...


Physically, the unit is about twice as thick its predecessor, presumably to accommodate the its new 32GB / 64GB disc space. As ever, Apple package it beautifully inside a luxurious obsidian box that doesn’t have to be torn open or half-destroyed to get at what’s inside, and if you buy from them directly you’ll also get a first-class service in which their couriers will text you a one-hour window that they’ll deliver within (they told me from 7:58am this morning, and the parcel arrived at 8:01. Take that, Amazon Prime). My only complaint about the ordering and delivery process was that I deliberately waited until after the 6pm despatch deadline on Tuesday to place my order, so that it’d be delivered today rather than yesterday, when I was out at work. Apple being Apple, though, they only went and pulled out all the stops to get it despatched in time for a delivery yesterday even though I’d deliberately missed their 6pm “next-day delivery” deadline. This meant that I had to contact their couriers to re-arrange delivery for today, which annoyed me. If I order after a deadline, it’s for a reason; I’m not a chimp.


Having opened the box up, I was pleased to find that I could simply unplug the power and HDMI cables from the back of my existing Apple TV and switch the units around (old Gen Three is being relegated to the master bedroom). I didn’t relish the prospect of dismounting an alcove-mounted TV and then trying to pull cables and plugs up through narrow canyons in the wall behind it without damaging them, so this was a major windfall for me. Almost as welcomely, the Apple TV was up and running in less than five minutes – it even obtained the necessary Wi-Fi password and “Home Sharing” settings directly from my iPhone via Bluetooth. Fair dues, I had to later alter the Wi-Fi network when I realised that it had connected to my slower iPhone / iPad / MacBook 2.4GHz network rather than my Apple TV-exclusive 5GHz network, but this was easily fixed.


Another relief was finding that I didn’t have to upgrade my media centre to the latest, store-integrated version of iTunes in order to connect to its iTunes library. I’d been really concerned about this beforehand, and couldn’t find any firm guidance on the point in other online reviews, so let it be known: I’m running iTunes 11.4.0.18 on my media centre and the new Apple TV connects to it quickly and without any fuss.

Once connected to Wi-Fi, the first thing to strike me about the setup was the new “Touch remote”. It’s larger, and with far more buttons than its metallic forerunner (seven, if you count the invisible touch-pad button). Having grown so used to just two buttons and a dial, I was as overwhelmed as a nonagenarian in front of a PC keyboard. Amongst the new buttons is a volume control that, without any setting up, alters my television set’s volume directly. Combined with the device’s automatic turning on and off of my telly along with itself, this neatly dispenses with the need for me to keep my TV’s comparatively colossal remote control within reach (it’s not as if we ever change the channel from Apple TV. Who watches broadcast TV these days?)

 
There’s also the much-hyped Siri button, which when held down listens to what you say and then scours online media providers (except for the enemy Amazon, obviously) to find it for you. This is an impressive weapon to deploy if you’re a frequent Netflix user, for instance, or are just after a Saturday-night movie to rent or buy from iTunes. If you say, “Show me a good film from the last year,” it really will present you with a selection of critically-acclaimed movies from the last twelve months. But what I was interested in was its ability to search and retrieve media from my own iTunes library. When I say “Breaking Bad” to Siri, for instance, I don’t want her to give me the options of either subscribing to Netflix to watch it or streaming it from my “Purchased” account within the iTunes Store online – I want it to take me to Breaking Bad in my own iTunes library on my media centre. Not only would this save me using up precious gigabytes’ download allowance and allow me to keep accurate play counts, but it’d also allow me to see the episodes as I’ve re-tagged and sorted† them, with my own custom artwork and all the spelling mistakes and typos corrected in the episode descriptions.

Incidentally, something that deterred me from taking the plunge sooner were reports that users like me, who’ve lost hours re-tagging every single item in their iTunes libraries, could no longer see their unique episode / movie descriptions on the new Apple TV. Either this issue has been fixed in an update since they flagged this up, or those users had only edited their files’ “Short Description” field within iTunes itself, as opposed to amending their “Long Description” field using third-party software (like MetaX). In line with iOS 9, the fourth generation’s tvOS actually goes further than the third did in displaying the “Long Description” for every meticulously-edited item in my library.


Furthermore, after some playing around, I’ve found that if you drill down into your own library’s menus – “Movies”, for instance – and then use Siri to say the full name of a film in there, it will start playing it; similarly, in “TV Shows”, it will take you to the most recent season of the series that you say. Now that’s useful, but with future updates I’d still like to see items retrieved from my own library when I access Siri from the main menu. Even if they were to appear as a third option behind the iTunes Store and Netflix, it’d do for me. 

Something else that I was curious about were playlists. I love ’em, but I seem to be on my own when it comes to visual media. As with the previous version of Apple TV, I had to opt-in to accessing my playlists for non-music media, and even now I still can’t play a full playlist through if it contains different types of media. This continues to infuriate me, but at least I’m no worse off than I was with the third-generation box. In fact, as one TV episode now finishes and the next begins to play automatically, as in iOS 9, I’m actually a little better off as I can do away with many of my daughter’s straightforward TV playlists, which I’d only made to avoid having to jump up every five minutes to press play.

The fourth-gen box has absolutely wowed me in some unexpected areas too. General performance is unreservedly excellent – my large library loads in seconds, and media plays almost instantaneously, as if it were stored on the device itself to begin with rather than beamed and buffered. I started to play an extended episode of Star Wars Rebels in 1080p (“The Siege of Lothal”, which sees James Earl Jones reprise his role as Darth Vader throughout the whole episode) and paused it after ten seconds to see how much of it had been buffered, and it was about three-quarters loaded. Even for my 5Ghz network, that’s fast.

There’s also a fantastic audio tweak that was absent on the previous device – you can choose to limit loud sounds, which is ideal if you’re watching a movie late at night when everyone else is in bed. There’s nothing worse than having to keep turning it up to hear dialogue and then hurriedly turning it down whenever a bomb goes off – in that situation, I always lacked the Jedi-like reflexes not to wake the family. The tvOS interface is slicker too – it’s iOS 9-white, and everything blends and slides and feels super-slick. If you’re watching something and swipe down to read its description or toggle the audio / subtitles settings, the box smoothly slides down rather than just popping up as it did with the last model.


Best of all though are the apps. Apple’s marketing of the new Apple TV has been built around apps, and I see why – these days everyone is streaming and gaming, there’s an app for everything on our phones and tablets, so why not our tellies too? The last version of Apple TV had certain apps pre-installed, while others were automatically downloaded whenever the firmware was updated, which for a curmudgeon like me meant going to great labours to hide the various NFL and BBC News apps that I was never, ever going to use. This new version, though, allows you to download what you want – and only what you want – from the App Store. The only apps that you’re stuck with are the ineradicable iTunes Store links, but even these can be moved out of sight if you hold down the play/pause button and then use the pad to rearrange them. I was therefore able to download the few apps that I’ll actually use – BBC iPlayer now amongst them! – and have these set out alphabetically along the top row, along with the orange “Computers” link to my iTunes library, which means that the shortcuts that now automatically populate the top half of the screen aren’t advertising trending movies that I have no interest in, but offering quick links to the eclectic mix of children’s and adult’s cartoons that account for almost all of our recent family viewing.

There’s no doubting that this latest incarnation of Apple TV has once again made Apple a player in the media player market, and I have little doubt that it’ll become a market leader on the strength of its distinctive features that are tailored to most of today’s consumers. Obviously, I’m not one of them – I’m a fastidious, easy-to-irritate and borderline obsessive geek who needs the box that buffers his media library to do it exactly how he wants it to, and not how someone else thinks that he’ll probably want it to. The fact that it comes so close to pleasing even me is a testament to its greatness.

Apple TV is available directly from Apple Inc from £129.00 including free delivery.


† I noticed in the iTunes Store that someone had actually given the Star Wars Digital Movie Collection a poor review on the basis that the six Star Wars movies appear in alphabetical order in his iTunes library, as opposed to chronologically or even in release order. Whilst for serious librarians I’d recommend getting hold of some decent third-party software like MetaX, which gives you complete control over your iTunes files’ metadata (DRM-protected or not, you can still amend those tags - there’s no law against it!), you can very simply alter a file’s “Sort Name” by right-clicking on it in your iTunes library, pressing “Get Info”, going to the “Sorting” tab, and then altering the “Sort Name” to, say, “Star Wars Episode 4” and so on. You can then label The Clone Wars movie as “Star Wars Episode 2.5” and, once it’s out on home video next year, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as “Star Wars Episode 3.5”. Alternatively, go for “Star Wars 1977” etc to see the films listed in release order.

Takara Tomy Transformers Masterpiece Review | MP-10: Convoy [Optimus Prime] from The Transformers “Generation One” Animated Series


My greatest treat this last Christmas was unboxing Takara Tomy’s acclaimed MP-10 Convoy - a literal masterpiece of a toy that my parents had imported from Japan, using the Internet to achieve what they could not in 1988. That year, my poor old mam scoured just about every major toy shop in South Yorkshire in search of the original Convoy (Optimus Prime to us in the Western World), oblivious to the fact that it had been discontinued by Hasbro, who were pushing a brand new Transformers toy line following the much-loved Autobot leader’s death on screen. That Christmas, Santa brought me Ultra Magnus.


Takara Tomy’s Masterpiece series is aimed squarely at the now fully-grown men who grew up playing with Transformers. Meticulously engineered to be as poseable and TV-accurate as possible, the range’s transforming action figures plug the gap once filled by childhood imagination. This Optimus looks almost exactly as he did on screen in The Transformers; his appearance is close to flawless. To see him stood beside his G1 and G1 Powermaster predecessors is to wonder at a child’s ability to suspend disbelief - the 1980s toys bore only the crudest of resemblances to the Cybertron commander, while the Masterpiece is exactly that.

 
And the Masterpiece’s functionality is breathtaking. Legs that bend would have been an improvement on the Powermaster iteration, but the Masterpiece is so damned flexible that everything from head antennae to individual fingers can be manipulated. This guy can nod, shake hands, point. He comes with a vibro-axe that, once attached, seems to grow straight out of his arm, just like on TV. He not only has a solid back, but a solid back in which his fold-up blaster can be stowed. Best of all though, in a beautiful nod to The Transformers: The Movie, his chest opens up to reveal a die-cast chamber housing a bejewelled Autobot Matrix of Leadership. The trade-off for this little wonder is the loss of a truly glass-like appearance for the truck windows that make up the robot’s chest. I’d have been tempted to tint them to hide the chamber beneath.


In alt-form, that famous red truck cab is more detailed than ever before - there’s even room to insert the set’s small Spike Witwicky action figure into the driver’s seat. One slight blemish is the robot head, which can be seen hanging upside-down and back-to-front from the roof of the cab like a high-tech alternative to fluffy dice. I certainly don’t remember that on the telly. Again, tinting the windows would have effectively solved this, though admittedly it would have taken something away not to actually be able to see Spike at the wheel.


The alt-form trailer gleams, and can be opened to reveal not only Roller but also various weapons stations; banks of Spike-scaled computer terminals; and even what can be transformed into a vertical regeneration chamber for the proto-form Prime. It boasts more features than the Powermaster’s battle station alt-form, and that’s really saying something.


If this toy has a weakness, it’s that it’s not really fit to be used as such. The transformation process is involved and laborious; a stark contrast to the original’s delightfully straightforward change, which could be effected in less than the time it took to make the commensurate noise. I don’t see this as a major issue though as, doubtless, these Transformers are clearly intended as display pieces rather than snot-and-toybox fodder.


What bothers me more is the figure’s apparent frailty. Poseable fingers are great, but one of them nearly gave me a heart attack when it fell off; the same applies to a small part of the cab’s silver livery, which came away during the transformation. Both were re-attached with ease, fortunately, as modern Transformers have almost as much in common with LEGO as they do their often stiff and breakable ’80s ancestors, but it’s still something of a cause for concern as an inadvertently removed finger could easily be lost – it’s only a few mm thick, after all.


Takara Tomy’s beautiful and sturdy black box proclaims this Masterpiece as the “PERFECT NEW MODEL” Convoy, and it’s hard to disagree. What I have here is a truly optimal Optimus; a phenomenal toy that I don’t need to put on rose-tinted specs to enjoy, as the wonder that I remember so well is all here now, in the flesh – or, rather, the metal.