Friday 31 August 2018

Boldly Modding the Enterprise D (Diamond Select) - Part 1 - Stripping down the saucer

Captain Picard is coming back! At a time when we all need a little spark of hope for the future, news that Patrick Stewart will be returning in a new Star Trek series had me welling up - Riker might finally get a shot at that chair! After years of keeping an eye on ebay, I took the plunge on a model of my favourite Enterprise, the D. It's a beautiful, curvaceous ship that I’ve dreamed of being on since I was a little kid.

I already had an old AMT model (modified with a moody black paintjob), but the saucer would never stay attached without glue and the stand has long since been lost. No, I needed a fresh start, but I don’t have the model-making tools or expertise of the incredible builders I found while doing research. I’d seen the Diamond Select version released a few years back – which comes with rudimentary lighting for the engines, plus some superfluous sound effects and a saucer held in place with strong magnets – and I’d always had the idea of modding it with some extra interior lighting and a fresh paintjob. There’s no time like the present.

After acquiring the model, I searched for mods but found only one video and no instructions. So, I thought I’d document my effort for posterity, and in case anyone wants some guidance before cracking open their own. For whatever reason, this model is hard to come by and prices are ridiculous. Mine was unboxed with a broken stand, but the ship itself is in perfect condition (for the time being).

So! After dismantling, my idea is to:
  • Drill out all or some of the windows for lighting, depending on feasibility.
  • block out light bleed with an interior coat of black paint.
  • remove the ugly copyright text from the underside of the saucer.
  • paint the hull with green and blue (plus the base grey of this model) to approximate the look of the original studio model, and improve the neck.
  • perhaps add some more details or decals such as thrusters or lifeboats.
  • modify to make it easy to open and replace batteries, etc.
  • buy a custom acrylic stand.

I’d toyed with the idea of sanding down and painting the aztec panelling anew, but 1) that would take ages and require masks and airbrushes I don’t have, and 2) there are some nice touches on the ship (sensor bars and phasers, for example) I don’t want to lose. The AMT model is 1:1400 scale, and this one is a touch smaller (to the eye the saucer is about an inch shorter from port to starboard – I’ll measure with a tape later), so decal sets for the AMT kit would be too big. The lifeboats might still work, but I’ve decided to paint onto the existing raised aztec detailing. I also have no idea what I’m doing with electronics, so my additions will come straight from Ikea’s lighting department – I’ve seen some rolls of LEDs on a tape which should stick nicely to the inside of the hull. I’ll just have to find somewhere discrete to add the switch.

Before any of this can happen, I need to open the damn thing up – easier said than done. I’m going to concentrate on the saucer section first. I have a special hard plastic spatula tool, plus a small phillips screwdriver. I’m also using a special bit of plastic a bit like a guitar plectrum to help prise the model apart without destroying it, but without a guide, I’m expecting some damage.

On the underside there are five obvious panels which must cover screws. The first one I remove is labelled ‘C’ and it snaps off relatively painlessly. Two small tabs keep it in position, plus a dollop of glue – I’ll need to find a solution to keep these from falling off. Blu-tac should do the job if I can’t think of something sexier. During the removal only one panel (’A’) fractured a little, but working around the edges with the spatula, none of them broke.

I then set to work prising the oval tabs on the topside near the bridge, which I assume are hiding screws. Shaka, when the walls fell! These tabs exist so that the ‘All Good Things’ variant can use the same model mould – this is where the extra phaser cannons slot in. It’s no biggy as the damaged plug can be repaired or filled in with modelling putty. Going in blind like this, accidents are inevitable.

With the five screws removed, the saucer is still very solid, so I turn my attention to the Captain’s yacht on the very bottom of the saucer. The rear side lifts quite easily but the front is more stubborn. I can see the small speaker beneath. Fifteen minutes of prising leads to a crack, but I decide to persevere and take the whole thing out.

Shaka! It’s screwed in place from the inside with two screws. Well, I needed a place to add a switch for my new lights, so I guess I just made it! I have an idea to use the old AMT model to cut and fashion a replacement part for this damaged section – we’ll see how that pans out another time. The damaged part, unlike the rest of the hull, appears to be transparent red plastic painted grey.

After removing the battery pack cover between the bridge and shuttlebay to check for screws (the little tab in the pictures can be left put but removing it gives you a little more purchase to slide the cover out), I decide to begin prying apart the saucer.

There is already a gap on the underside (which I may try to seal with another screw when I reassemble).

Working the spatula around to the impulse engines, a small piece of hull snaps near one of them – again, not a massive problem as it’s easily repaired with putty later on. Some unnerving cracking follows but with the help of a sharp knife (careful, kids!), I eventually manage to cut through hidden support tabs beside either impulse engine. It seems that, in addition to the screws, these tabs also connect the two halves and they were glued during assembly.

Carefully moving around the saucer, I pry open just enough to get a knife in and cut through the supports. Eventually I make it all the way around. The space between decks 10 and 11 is painted black and forms part of the lower section, with the four thrusters (dabs of yellowy-orange paint on this model) attached to the upper portion. Everything’s mostly intact, but I plan to shave the black plastic down and replace it with a thin piece of rubber. The four thrusters will also need some work with putty and, perhaps, decals.

With the two halves separated, I take a look at the magnet (marked with pen which indicates the right way up so it attracts its counterpart in the battle bridge), the electronics and speaker assembly, plus the button which forms the bridge module. An LED appears to be embedded and glued into the bridge module – no wonder there’s so much light bleed. I’ll decide what to do with that later. The sound effects on this model are a bit naff and I may well discard the speaker entirely. I’ll also need to tidy up all these wires, especially as I plan to add a separate lighting circuit of my own.

That’s enough for today! I’ve ordered two paints – pale grey-blue (FS 36473) and grey-green (FS 34432), plus some silver-grey epoxy putty for repairs, but the next phase will be evaluating the feasibility of drilling out all those windows. They’re painted on this model and the positioning of some is a bit suspect. Do I have a fine enough drill bit, and could the plastic stand it? And lets not even think about taking the Stardrive section apart just yet!

Until next time!

Things NOT to do if you’re planning on dismantling the saucer of your Diamond Select Enterprise D:

  • Don’t touch the Captain’s yacht from the outside – it’s screwed in place from the inside.
  • Leave the two oval tabs on the upper side of the panel alone. Also, the small extra panel in the ‘17’ of the ‘NCC-1701-D’ on the underside contains no screw, so removing it serves no purpose.

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