Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 20, 2015)
Paramount loves to repackage Star Trek in a variety of ways, and Captain Kirk’s Boldest Missions represents a new effort in that vein. The two-DVD set includes eight episodes from “The Original Series”. For these shows, I’ll offer the usual episode synopses and thoughts.
The Corbomite Maneuver (broadcast 11/10/66) is a thoroughly terrific episode. When an encounter with an apparently much more powerful alien force threatens the Enterprise, Kirk bluffs his way out of annihilation.
“Corbomite” seems suspenseful, witty and clever, although the "surprise" ending feels a little silly. Still, the episode becomes amazingly mature for only the third Trek program ever shot; definite evidence of the chemistry we'd grow to love already was on display. Clearly the presence of DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy added a lot to the interactions of the main characters.
The Conscience of the King (broadcast 12/8/66) takes us earth colony Cygnia Minor, where Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent) claims to have invented a synthetic food that can end famine. However, Dr. Leighton lies to bring down the Enterprise because he thinks a visiting actor (Arnold Moss) is an escaped mass murderer. Kirk and crew investigate this possibility.
Balance of Terror (broadcast 12/15/66) marks a terrific episode and also is one in which we finally get to see one of the show's later-to-be-famous villainous races: the Romulans make their debut here. It's a serious cat-and-mouse piece of space warfare as the Enterprise comes head to head with their ancient foes (no points for guessing who wins).
It's also one of the more exciting episodes as each side parries and thrusts. Mark Lenard - who would later return to play Spock's father - does a wonderful job as the Romulan commander; he's authoritative, regal and sympathetic all at once. The show suffers from an unnecessary subplot involving two anonymous crewmembers who want to marry - gee, hope nothing bad happens to one of them! - but otherwise is a strong episode.
Space Seed (broadcast 2/16/67) is one of the best-known of all 79 “TOS” shows since it connects to 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Overall, "Seed" presents a good program but I must admit I found it a little disappointing, probably because of the high expectations its history engendered in me.
In "Seed", the Enterprise encounters a derelict ship from the 20th century with faint signs of life aboard. These turn out to be its crew, most notably including their leader, Khan (Ricardo Montalban). McCoy revives Khan - and eventually the other survivors - and we slowly see his story unfold and learn of his quest for power.
"Seed" works well overall, and proceeds at a nice clip. As with many Trek episodes, much of it is predictable - let's see a show of hands for anyone who thought Lt. McGivers (Madlyn Rhue) would last for more than just this show - but it's fun to see how the events unfold.
As with James Bond films, the most enjoyment from Trek revolves around how our heroes will escape apparently impossible situations. "Seed" is a minor disappointment in that regard; I don't want to reveal the climax, but I thought it lacked cleverness and ended the tale on a bland note.
The show's finale also revealed one of the worst stunt doubles I've yet seen. Oh, he's a fine stunt man, but he looks little like William Shatner, and the guy appears on screen in many shots that make it absurdly obvious we aren't seeing Shatner; they did a terrible job of cutting around his face and hiding his true identity.
(As for the event "Seed" predicted that never happened? A world war in the 1990s. I guess you can't win them all!)
The City on the Edge of Forever (broadcast 4/6/67) is viewed with very high regard, and I can understand those opinions. The story itself is nothing spectacular, as it involves the semi-usual time-traveling and various urgent problems to be solved, but the character development of the show is what makes it stand out from the crowd.
Trek was never afraid to be different than the typical sci-fi shows; most of them were all silly heroics and whiz-bang theatrics, while Trek often took a more cerebral and more ambivalent tone. As such, we often encountered shows that ended in a rather melancholy way.
"City" takes that bittersweet quality to a different level and features greater moral complexity than usual. In a way, it's a precursor of the theme seen in Star Trek II, the whole "the good of the many outweighs the good of the one or the few" deal, as Kirk has to decide if one death to save many is an acceptable bargain.
I won't spoil the ending, but it isn't something you see everyday on network TV, and I'm sure it stood out even more starkly in the mid-Sixties. Across the board, "City" is a well-made episode; even Shatner's usual hamminess seems toned down to a degree, and he makes Kirk more human than ever. All in all, it's a very good episode.
Mirror, Mirror (broadcast 10/6/67) offers a fun concept: the alternate universe. After they unsuccessfully attempt to convince the inhabitants of a peaceful planet to sell them some minerals, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura are sent to an alternate existence through a teleporter mishap. Although they’re on the Enterprise, it ain’t their Enterprise. Here they belong to “the Empire”, a cruel and vicious union that sounds a lot like another Empire featured in some moderately popular films of the late Seventies and early Eighties.
In their reality, the main villain wears no black life-support mask. Instead, he’s one James T. Kirk. The episode shows our good crew as they attempt to stay alive in this cutthroat society and eventually find a way home.
The science here is dodgier than in most Trek episodes, but if you go with the conceits presented, it’s all good fun. Some of the better shows offer unusual depictions of Trek participants, and that’s the case here. Frankly, I wish they’d shown more shots of the Nasty Kirk and company aboard Good Enterprise, but “Mirror” is still a solidly enjoyable episode. If nothing else, it’s worth a look just to see Spock in a goatee.
Part I didn’t get: when the Good and Bad crews switched universes, they also swapped clothes. This makes no sense; nothing else about the four officers changed. I understand that this had to happen as a plot point; otherwise the different garb would have instantly given away their identities. However, I still thought it was inconsistent and nonsensical. Granted, I suppose one shouldn’t argue logic when one discusses a show about alternate universes, but even so, internal consistency is important.
The Doomsday Machine (broadcast 10/20/67) takes a standard Trek plot about a mysterious force that eradicated the crew of a fellow Federation vehicle called the "Constellation". The sole survivor of this disaster? Commodore Decker (William Windom), the ship's commander, who seems to be pretty darned frazzled by the experience.
As the show progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Decker is obsessed with getting revenge on the titular killing device, and the tale takes a sci-fi turn on Moby Dick. Ultimately, I thought it was one of the more compelling episodes of Trek I've seen. Windom hams it up too much, but "Machine" features an element often lacking in classic
Trek: genuine excitement and tension. The show boasts one of the most nail-biting climaxes in all Trek history, and I thought the episode as a whole was quite compelling.
Cool note: I thought the name "Decker" sounded familiar in regard to Trek history, and it turns out I was correct. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the commodore’s son Will Decker (played by Stephen Collins) played a major role. Although such tie-ins run the risk of becoming cute or excessive, I think Trek managed a fine balance; these connections give long-time viewers a little thrill but they also function appropriately within the context of the stories.
Return to Tomorrow (broadcast 2/9/68) presented another good episode. At the start of the show, the Enterprise receives a distress call from a mysterious planet. There they discover some of the usual semi-omnipotent beings, but these folks have their problems; a cataclysmic war long ago destroyed their planet, and only a few “survivors” have been left in disembodied form. The leader is Sargon, and he’s the one who contacts the Enterprise. These folks can zip into the bodies of living beings, and Kirk agrees to let Sargon give his carcass a whirl.
Though this puts an incredible stress on his system, Kirk decides that he and the others should help the disembodied aliens. Spock and Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) allow their bodies to be used as well so that Sargon, his wife Filisa, and former foe Hanoc can construct androids to permanently house their “essences”.
Mulhall and Kirk can only stand brief injections of the aliens, but Spock’s stronger constitution allows him to sustain Hanoc for much longer periods. As such, he’s put in charge of creating a formula to lengthen the time during which the humans can maintain them. Unfortunately, Hanoc has other ideas. Although he gives Filisa/Mulhall the booster shot, he tries to kill Kirk/Sargon so he can a) stay in this bitchin’ Spock body, and b) get it on with sexy Filisa, who has become rather accustomed to her new physical surroundings.
Trek episodes during which powerful aliens manipulate the crew of the Enterprise were nothing new, but this show worked fairly well due to a nice emotional aspect. I won’t spoil the ending, but a theme of sacrifice works its way into the show, and the relationship between Sargon and Filisa adds a level of warmth and sadness to the program.
I also love to see Nimoy’s opportunities to loosen up a bit, and the villainous Hanoc gives him the chance to spread his emotional wings. While that aspect of the show was fun, some especially hammy acting from Shatner almost ruined it. He wasn’t able to aptly convey the noble and emotional sides of Sargon, and one particular monologue came across especially poorly. I always thought Shatner’s charisma and charm compensated for his weaknesses as an actor, but this was one episode during which the bad almost outweighed the good.