Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
|Title:||Star Trek: The Original Series Volume 21 & 22 (1967 & 1968)|
I, Mudd: (Episode 41)
The Trouble With Tribbles: (Episode 42)
Bread And Circuses: (Episode 43)
Journey To Babel: (Episode 44)
|Director:||Marc Daniels, Joseph Pevney, Ralph Senesky|
|Cast:||William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Mark Lenard, Jane Wyatt, Roger C. Carmel|
|DVD:||Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; rated NR; 100 min.; $19.95 ea.; street date 4/24/01.|
|Supplements:||Original Broadcast Preview Trailers.|
|Purchase:||Volume 21 | Volume 22|
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 21 C/B/D-
With this latest batch of Star Trek: The Original Series DVD, we’ve officially gone past the show’s mid-point. It’s not the home stretch yet, but there’s more behind us than ahead. While it’s exciting to have gotten so far into the series, I must admit it’s a little depressing, too; I look forward to my periodic Trek fix and will miss their arrival once the DVDs are done.
However, that’s still pretty far off, so I suppose I should just enjoy what I have right now. Without any further ado, let's move on to my thoughts about the newest bunch. (Please note that the DVDs present the shows in the order in which they were filmed; the broadcast number provided indicates where each episode falls within that line.)
Volume 21: “I, Mudd” and “The Trouble With Tribbles”
“I, Mudd” (broadcast 37th) provides the first recurring guest character in the Trek universe: one Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), who originally appeared in Volume Two’s “Mudd’s Women”. Though he seemed to be imprisoned by the proper authorities at the end of that show, the new episode demonstrates that he’s finagled his way out and set himself up as a demigod on a planet of androids, most of whom have been constructed to Mudd’s standards to resemble rather attractive young women.
Alas, Harry’s not terribly happy, so he traps the crew of the Enterprise on his world and plans to escape. Unfortunately, the androids develop other ideas and it’s up to Kirk and company - as usual - to devise a method to avoid catastrophe.
Although Mudd occasionally got on my nerves - he’s played awfully broadly by Carmel - he remains a largely engaging character who stands out from the usual pack of excessively self-serious Trek partisans. It’s a memorable part that would have worn out its welcome had he appeared more frequently, but two guest bits seem enjoyable.
As a whole, “I, Mudd” provided a consistently fun deviation on a traditional Trek theme: a seemingly-omnipotent power that traps Kirk and the others on a planet. The solution for their problem is unusual, and there’s a lot of fairly effortless humor to spice up the package. Ultimately, this was a very solid and enjoyable program.
Possibly the most famous Trek episode of them all, “The Trouble With Tribbles” (broadcast 44th) continues the comedic tone found in “I, Mudd” but adds a little menace as well through our old friends the Klingons. In this show, the crew of the Enterprise are charged with the protection of an important load of grain. Both the Klingons and the Federation are vying for a certain planet, and the safe deliver of this space wheat will give the Feds the edge.
An unusual complication arises when a trader named Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) pawns off a fuzzy critter named a tribble on Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Soon she and the rest of the crew discover that the tribs excel at two activities: eating and breeding. Before long the entire ship is full of furry beings, and their presence creates some unusual complications.
When folks think of the comedic side of Trek, “Tribbles” is the most frequently-cited example, along with 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Indeed, it is a good episode, partially because it was different. Comedy wasn’t that strange, and ironically, the linking of “Tribbles” with “I, Mudd” makes the humor of the former seem a little less potent; those elements don’t stand out as much when coupled with another comedy. Still, the show featured some unusual plot twists, as the tribbles create a dynamic that was unique for Trek by that point in its run. “Tribbles” wasn’t quite as I thought it was when I was 13, but it still provided a fun and entertaining experience.
While “I, Mudd” offered a recurring character, “Tribbles” provides a more frequent Trek alternative: a returning actor in a different role. William Campbell first appeared as the space-Liberace Tremane in Volume Nine’s “The Squire of Gothos”. Here he takes on what should be a very different role as Klingon Koloth; after all, those rugged and vicious people seem to be the absolute opposites of foppish playboys like Tremane.
However, his casting appears less odd when one sees the state of Klingons midway through the run of Trek. Their makeup looked very different - no heavy brows or much of anything, really - and though they seemed a little tougher than most Federation foes, they lacked the cruel, warlike nature we associate with Klingons. They don’t even seem to speak a funky guttural language! A friend tells me that this discrepant presentation is detailed in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but unfortunately he could remember that explanation.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 22 B-/B/D-
Volume 22: “Bread and Circuses” and “Journey to Babel”
After two straight comedies, “Bread and Circuses” (broadcast 54th) settles things for a much more dramatic tale. Actually, the show echoes “I, Mudd” in its basic premise. Here parts of the crew - namely Kirk, Spock and McCoy - are imprisoned on an alien planet, and their simple goal is to escape. Interestingly, the Federation’s Prime Directive complicates that notion: Starfleet personnel are not permitted to interfere with the future development of a society unaware of space travel and other developments. Since the folks of Planet 892-IV strongly resemble the residents of mid-20th century Earth, this means that the rest of the Enterprise crew can’t use their technology to help their friends.
“B&C” works from a very interesting premise: what if Rome never fell? On this planet, they have 20th century technology but still work within a Roman system. As such, gladiatorial games are televised, and Kirk, et al, soon are stuck within that arena. They also connect with some “sun worshippers” who rebel against the imperials.
Although “B&C” isn’t a great episode, and it somewhat squanders its cool premise, I still thought it was compelling. I thought the true nature of the rebel’s religious beliefs was painfully predictable and have trouble accepting that bright folk like Kirk, McCoy and Spock couldn’t figure it out for themselves, but the rest of the episode was quite interesting. I most enjoyed some good bonding moments between Spock and McCoy; their cantankerous relationship has always provided a nice dynamic, and this show added depth to their experiences. Ultimately, “Bread and Circuses” was flawed but effective Trek.
Even better was “Journey to Babel” (broadcast 39th), which also fell into the more dramatic side of the Trek universe. It also provided one of the best episodes of the show I’ve yet seen.
The crew of the Enterprise act as escorts for a slew of diplomats en route to a conference on the planet Babel. Among these folks are Sarek (Mark Lenard), the ambassador from Vulcan. To the surprise of Kirk and the others, it turns out that Sarek and his wife Amanda are the parents of Spock.
Multiple plot lines converge during this episode. We witness the estranged relationship between Spock and Sarek and its dimensions, all of which are intensified when Dad takes ill; he needs a transfusion that can only be given by Spock. However, a Tellerite diplomat is murdered, and a mystery ensues. All of that is ratcheted up a notch when it becomes apparent that the Enterprise is being tracked by a mysterious ship, and it’ll be tough to escape them.
The show cranks forward toward a terrific climax; the entire episode seemed to heavily influence 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That movie was arguably the best of the films, and I thought “Babel” was one of the top ST:TOS episodes. It combined a terrific variety of elements and did so well. The familial elements occasionally seemed a little melodramatic, but they largely remained intriguing and moving without too much excessive emotion. The action scenes are well-executed and exciting, and we see some excellent character development, especially as it related to Spock.
Really, the only fault I found with “Babel” - other than its dull title - was the atrocious pig-faced mask used for the Tellerites. Much of the Trek effects work looks poor by modern standards, and I don’t hold the primitive state of the art against it. However, those masks had to be laughable even in the Sixties. The director of the show seemed to realize this, as the camera almost never lingers on the face of a Tellerite; those shots cut away pretty quickly. Happily, the damage wasn’t severe enough to harm this excellent episode.
As with “Tribbles”, “Babel” features another returning actor in a new role. Lenard also played a Romulan commander in Volume 4’s “Balance of Terror”. Sarek was where he really made his name, however, as he went on to play the role many times in the future. He’s quite effective in the part and makes the dynamic between father and son all the more compelling.
These four Star Trek episodes appear in their original broadcast aspect ratios of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, single-layered DVDs; because of those dimensions, they have not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the quality of the shows from Trek’s second season had jumped a notch, the programs found on these two discs seemed a bit erratic. For the most part, Volume 21 appeared surprisingly flawed, while Volume 22 presented a much stronger picture.
“I, Mudd” featured some modest softness throughout much of the episode, and occasional examples of jagged edges and moiré effects also appeared. The usual array of Trek print flaws cropped up during the show, as I saw light grain, speckles and grit. Some more prominent defects also appeared; a few examples of nicks and vertical lines made their way into the presentation.
For Trek, the colors were always cranked up pretty high; NBC used the program as a showcase to sell color TVs, and it appeared that the hues were often oversaturated to create a more prominent impression. Usually the tones come through effectively on DVD, but “I, Mudd” seemed, well, muddy at times. The dominant purples on the planet appeared rather heavy and weren’t as vibrant as I’d like. Black levels seemed a little drab as well. Shadow detail wasn’t much of a concern - Trek usually presented a brightly-lit universe - but the few low-light shots appeared a bit hazy but generally clean.
“The Trouble With Tribbles” offered a picture that largely compared to the one found during “I, Mudd”. Softness continued to be a modest problem, and shimmering occurred mainly due to the Klingon uniforms. Happily, it suffered from fewer print defects; grain, speckles and grit were still apparent, but not to the same degree I witnessed during “I, Mudd”. Colors remained fairly heavy, and black levels were acceptable though somewhat thin. After shows that consistently earned “B-“ or “C+” grades, Volume 21 took a minor dip and only merited a “C”; the programs were eminently watchable, but they showed more concerns than usual.
On Volume 22, the image returned to the standards set by prior Trek episodes, especially during “Bread and Circuses”. Through the early parts of that program, I thought another relatively low rating would be in order; some of the shots on the Enterprise and on the planet surface seemed fuzzy and showed grit and speckles. This seemed surprisingly since the planet scenes took place in sunlight; natural light usually results in the best-looking material, so I didn’t understand why these bits appeared a bit drab.
However, most of the program took place inside caves, a prison and in various chambers, and those scenes looked quite good. Some of the usual print flaws still cropped up from time to time, and a little softness could also occur. However, those problems were largely isolated to the exterior and Enterprise shots; once we went indoors, the image cleaned up nicely. During the early exteriors, an inordinate amount of grain appeared, but that dissipated quickly as the show progressed. The colors were clear and very solid, and focus seemed crisp and accurate. Black levels improved and seemed deep and rich. When it stayed indoors, “B&C” presented some of the sharpest Trek shots to date.
“Journey to Babel” wasn’t quite as strong, but it still marked a solid improvement over the shows seen on the prior DVD. A little murkiness inhabited a few shots, and some nicks and hairs accompanied the usual grit, speckles and grain. Color clarity remained strong, with some clean and vibrant tones, and blacks were also quite dark. Sharpness largely seemed distinct and detailed, with only a few instances of softness on display. This episode even provided more low-light scenes than usual, and these looked clear and appropriately opaque. In the end, the two shows on Volume 22 weren’t radical improvements over the standard Trek images, but they seemed pretty good nonetheless.
As has been the case with all of the prior ST:TOS DVDs, these volumes feature newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This audio comes from original monaural tracks. The soundfield remains pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it has been opened up a bit. Actually, the four shows on these two DVDs were some of the tamest of the bunch, at least until the end of “Journey to Babel”. For both shows on Volume 21, we find almost no examples of discrete channel usage, but they offered very solid atmosphere. There’s a good ambient hum in the environment, and the music offered nice stereo separation at times, though “Tribbles” seemed to present a livelier score than did “I, Mudd”, and the music moved to the sides more effectively. Ultimately, both episodes presented gentle soundfields, but they were appropriate and acceptable.
“Bread and Circuses” opened up the atmosphere a bit because of its violent elements. Good echo effects operated throughout the show, as gunfire and swordfights reverberated nicely through the area. While “Journey to Babel” started very slowly and presented an unusually tame soundfield during most of the show, it kicked into life toward the end. During a climactic battle, phasers and proton torpedoes fly past us effectively, and the atmosphere contributed a nice element of life.
Even more pleasantly surprising was the good quality of the sound on both DVDs. Dialogue appeared very clear and reasonably warm and natural, with absolutely no intelligibility problems. Music seemed a bit flat but was generally nice, and effects come across quite well for the most part. Some distortion can interfere with effects at times; however, since these problems mainly manifest themselves via explosions - which were rarely heard on these episodes - the shows on the two DVDs seemed more clean than most.
The oddest aspect of any of these soundtracks occurred during “Journey to Babel”. Cue ahead to the 28 minute, 24 second mark and witness one of the world’s worst foley effects; as Kirk hits the ground during a brutal fight, the audio offers a “klonk” that sounds more like something that would accompany a cocoanut to the noggin on Gilligan’s Island. It’s an unfortunately funny choice that doesn’t ruin the otherwise-exciting scene, but it seems like a very bad choice.
The only genuinely unsatisfying part of these DVDs continues to stem from their lack of supplements. Each disc offers four "original broadcast preview trailers." These are one-minute ads that offered viewers a glimpse at what would happen on next week's show.
On each DVD, two of these trailers are readily found; when you highlight a particular episode from the main menu, the preview appears as an option on the next screen. However, in addition to ads for the two shows found on that DVD, trailers for the episodes on the next disc also appear. To see those, highlight and click on the Starfleet insignia at the top of the main menu. When you do that, you will gain access to all four trailers.
Other than these trailers, the DVDs are virtually devoid of extras. Each disc's booklet contains a few pictures, some trivia and production credits in addition to a DVD checklist. For the first 20 volumes of these discs, I griped about these omissions, and I don’t plan to stop now. I know that any changes in this domain are extremely unlikely at this point, but a boy can dream, can’t he?
I’ve enjoyed most of the Star Trek: The Original Series episodes I’ve watched over the last year or so, and I continue to look forward to these periodic batches of two DVDs at a time. Of all the arrivals, these two discs probably present the most consistent packages I’ve yet seen. Both episodes on Volume 21 are quite good. Since they’re both comedies, they can seem a little redundant, but each of them works very well on their own, and one - “The Trouble With Tribbles” - maintains a legendary status among the Trek universe.
The shows on Volume 22 are less famous but no less entertaining. “Bread and Circuses” is flawed but compelling, and “Journey to Babel” has quickly become one of my all-time favorite Trek episodes. Both also emphasize character development and the relationships between Enterprise crew members, and those elements make them even more moving and rich.
If I had to choose between these two DVDs, I’d go with Volume 22. It provides the clearer picture and I simply liked the two episodes better; actually, “Bread and Circuses” was probably inferior to “I, Mudd” and “Tribbles”, but the excellent “Babel” easily compensated. However, if you don’t have to choose between the two discs, you’ll want to go with both of them. By the middle of its second season, Star Trek had hit a nice stride, and that high quality is evident from these four entertaining and well-executed episodes. Both DVDs are definitely recommended for fans, and folks new to the series could do worse than to start with these fine shows; they may quickly turn neophytes in stalwarts.
|Equipment:||Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.|
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