Time for some new DVDs that feature Star Trek: The Original Series, and this set marks our formal entry into the home stretch. Three of the four episodes found on these DVDs come from the show’s second season, but the fourth - “Spectre of the Gun” - emanates from its third - and final - term on TV. Please leave a moment of silence to commemorate the occasion.
All done! Actually, it saddens me a little to note this development, as it means that we don’t have too many more ST:TOS DVDs to go before they’re finished. It also causes some concern because the shows from the third season are generally regarded as the worst of the bunch, and I have 24 more to watch after this package. Hopefully they won’t be as bad as I’ve heard, but I guess I’ll have to wait to discover this.
For now, 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 27: "The Ultimate Computer" and "The Omega Glory"
"The Ultimate Computer" (broadcast 53rd) provides a fairly average example of the typical Trek “man vs. machine” theme. Actually, it starts in a very promising manner, but the episode progresses in a less-than-compelling way.
During “TUC”, we learn of the “M-5” computer and its genius inventor, Dr. Daystrom (William Marshall). Apparently this supercomputer will make all ship personnel irrelevant; it can perform all of the crew’s duties with superior timing and precision. The Enterprise is selected as the test ship on which the M-5 will get its first practical experience.
To no one’s surprise, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is less than enthusiastic about this decision, though he worries about the reasons for his qualms. If the M-5 really is as good as advertised, this would represent significant progress for Starfleet, so Kirk frets that he’s simply showing selfish fears that he’ll be out of a job.
Since we’ve experience many years of Trek since 1968, we all know that computers never supplanted humans as ship commanders, so after the M-5 initially runs its tests flawlessly, the question becomes one of timing and circumstance: when will matters deteriorate, and what will happen? Once the M-5 starts to malfunction, we learn more about the career of Dr. Daystrom and his apparently inappropriate attachment to his machine.
When she show dealt with Kirk’s issues, it worked very well. I thought those scenes were reflective and rich with psychological meaning, especially as other crewmembers became involved. Not surprisingly, rabid humanist Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) sides against the machine, but Mr. Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) stance wasn’t quite what we might have expected. The episode had the potential to deal with Kirk’s less rational - and apparently more flawed - side, as did “Obsession” on Volume 24.
Unfortunately, this plot line quickly gets tossed aside as the M-5 acts up and we learn more about Dr. Daystrom’s issues. These had some potential themselves, but they were presented in a rather bland manner, and they lacked depth. Ultimately, the same went for “The Ultimate Computer” itself; this was a reasonably interesting but generally average episode of Trek.
Of all the episodes on these new DVDs, "The Omega Glory" (broadcast 52nd) took the rockiest road to the small screen. Written by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, “Omega” was actually one of the three scripts considered for the show’s pilot episode way back in 1965. It didn’t get very far, and the screenplay languished until it was finally filmed as one of the last episodes of the show’s second season.
This was done for good reason, as “TOG” offered a pretty weak Trek experience. At the start of the show, the crew of the Enterprise located a missing ship called the Exeter. When Spock, Kirk and McCoy board it, they discover that a mysterious disease has wiped out the ship’s personnel. Apparently our heroes also now have contracted it, and the plot thickens as they beam down to the surface of the planet below. There they find Captain Tracey (Morgan Woodward), the commander of the Exeter. The planet’s atmosphere seems to be fairly miraculous, as it suppresses elements of the disease and also seems to keep its inhabitants alive for ridiculous periods of time.
Tracey ignores the Starfleet’s Prime Directive, which is not to become involved in other cultures, mainly because he thinks he’s found an amazing medical breakthrough. As the show progresses, we learn more about this possibility, and we also discover the ways in which this planet has Earth-bound roots.
As a whole, this was a mediocre episode at best. We just experienced a Prime Directive-related show recently with Volume 26’s “Patterns of Force”, and while the two weren’t all that similar otherwise, it still seemed like too soon to deal with an apparently-corrupted member of Starfleet. It didn’t help that the show seemed to be serviceable at best. The story moved along at an acceptable clip, but it never really appeared to go much of anywhere, and the episode’s plot twists that we get at the end felt silly. I didn’t really dislike “The Omega Glory”, but it was a less-than-memorable piece of Trek.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 28 B-/B/D-
Volume 28: "Assignment: Earth” and “Spectre of the Gun”
"Assignment: Earth" (broadcast 55th) marked one of the oddest Trek episodes to hit the air. As you watch it, you may feel that it ignores Kirk and the others to a surprising degree, and it looks like an attempt to create new characters for a potential spin-off program. If you get that impression, run with it, for it’s correct; “A:E” functioned as little more than a pilot for a prospective new series.
That status led to something unique among Trek episodes to date: the program’s main guest actor - Robert Lansing as Gary Seven - received his credit right after the show’s opening. Previously guests only received citation during the end credits, so this clearly indicated that something unusual was afoot with “A:E”.
Too bad the episode itself was a bit of a dud. Basically the show establishes Gary as a time-traveler who attempts to influence the Earth’s history. By happy coincidence, he sets himself up in then-modern day 1968. After they warp back in time to observe the Earth, the Enterprise accidentally intercepts Gary’s beaming, which causes the paths to cross. From there, Kirk and company need to decide whether to allow Gary’s work to proceed or to stop him.
For the most part, this episode simply set up the character of Gary plus a couple of cohorts; Earth-woman Roberta (Teri Garr) and Gary’s cat, who’s more than she seems. The story revolves around a rocket launch that may cause terrible havoc with the planet. Ultimately, the show tries to serve two masters. As such, it offers neither a strong pilot for the prospective program nor a solid episode of Trek. It was fun to see a very young Garr, but otherwise this was a pretty bland show.
Cliché alert: I believe that every episode of Trek in which the Enterprise goes back in time to visit Earth has to show one particular element: a scene in which Spock removes his hat and his ears are exposed. Sure enough, that happens here. If anyone knows of an episode that fits this mold but doesn’t have the hat-removal sequence, please tell me!
"Spectre of the Gun" (broadcast 61st) sticks with a standard Trek plotline. The Enterprise intercepts an alien buoy, which they unintentionally destroy. Its owners, the Melkotians, are one of Trek’s many seemingly-omnipotent groups, and since they figure that the Starfleet folks are just another batch of trigger-happy jerks, they decide to punish some of them. As such, a few officers - Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Scott (James Doohan) - are trapped in an odd predicament: they’re put into a past Earth situation and placed into the personalities of ill-fated western figures the Clanton gang. Since they can’t change the past, they’re left to figure out a way to escape their fate.
Yes, we’ve seen this kind of show before, but thought that “Spectre” provided enough twists to make this episode worthwhile. It took a more surreal viewpoint than usual, especially since all of the participants believed our heroes were different people; this meant that things were more of a struggle than usual. The final plot twist seemed to be a bit silly and simple, but overall, “Spectre” was probably the most enjoyable episode of the four on these DVDs.
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. Of all the recent Trek DVDs, these shows demonstrated some of the widest variations in quality, but that was a good thing; the worst of the four still looked fine, and the best provided some of the finest Trek imagery to date.
On the “average” side fell “The Perfect Computer”, which presented a good but unexceptional Trek picture. It strongly resembled what I’ve come to recognize as the typical ST:TOS image. Sharpness seemed to be adequate for the most part, but a moderate amount of softness crept into the show. Some mild examples of moiré effects and jagged edges appeared, and “Computer” showed a mix of minor print flaws. Light grain could be seen throughout the program, and general examples of speckles, grit, and a little debris cropped up with modest frequency.
Colors seemed to be representative of most Trek episodes. They were always a strong point of the Trek episodes, especially because NBC pushed the show as a way to promote color TV sales. Throughout “Computer”, I thought the hues looked reasonably vivid and accurate, though they were a little less bright than usual. Black levels also came across as fairly deep. Since the Trek universe is brightly-lit, shadow detail usually wasn’t much of an issue, but when we find low-light scenes, they looked appropriately heavy but not overly thick.
Interestingly, “The Omega Glory” refuted that last statement about the absence of shadows. Some dramatic uses of them showed up during this program, and the DVD replicated them well. The blacks looked quite tight and dense, and the delineation between shadow and light seemed to be surprisingly strong. For a program that usually avoided low-light situations, “Glory” demonstrated that Trek could occasionally offer some solid representations of them.
That improved quality extended to other aspects of “Glory”. Sharpness marked a definite improvement over the mild fuzziness periodically seen in “Computer”; this was a nicely crisp and distinct program. Moiré effects and jagged edges were more subdued than usual, as were print flaws. While some of the normal specks and grit cropped up during “Glory”, they seemed to be less problematic than usual, and the show offered a rather clean image. I did notice a thin vertical line early in the program, but that was the only unusual defect I witnessed.
To finish the package, “Glory” included a nice array of colors. These looked tighter and more vivid than typical, and they generally provided a solidly rich and vibrant display. “The Omega Glory” definitely looked better than most Trek episodes. On its own, I’d award the program a “B+”, while “The Perfect Computer” merited a “B-“; as a result, Volume 27 as a whole received a “B”.
Greater discrepancies appeared on Volume 28. Again, the first episode on the DVD offered the weaker visuals, as “Assignment: Earth” was the least attractive of the four shows on these two discs. Sharpness seemed to be erratic, as the picture would veer from solid focus to mild fuzziness. Most of the show looked appropriately accurate, but softness was a little more noticeable than usual. In addition to minor moiré effects and jagged edges - typical of most Trek episodes - I saw some mild examples of edge enhancement; light ringing occurred around some characters.
Print flaws were a little heavier than usual. These featured the standard speckles, grit, grain and light debris, and I saw nothing out of the ordinary for Trek. However, the intensity of the concerns seemed stronger, and it probably didn’t help that I watched this show right after “The Omega Glory”; that show’s high quality made this one’s problems appear even more evident.
While colors remained reasonably solid for the most part, I thought they occasionally came across as a little pale. This wasn’t a radical concern, but given the usual bright Trek hues, this program appeared less lively. Perhaps they altered the normal production design for this prospective spin-off episode. In keeping with the Trek norm, black levels were fine, and shadow detail was a minor consideration.
“Spectre of the Gun” finished out these discs on another positive note, as it provided a solid picture on a par with the one seen during “The Omega Glory”. This makes sense, since Vince McEveety directed both “Omega” and “Spectre”. Now I’m going to need to look through all of my Trek DVDs and see if the other McEveety episodes also provided particularly strong images, for these two were among the very best.
Really, I have nothing additional to say about “Spectre”’s image, as it strongly matched that of “Omega”; all of the same comments applied to both. I also gave it the same grade of “B+”. That contrasted with a “C+” for “Assignment: Earth”, to give Volume 28 an overall mark of “B-“.
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 came from original monaural tracks. Oddly, for these four episodes, the two with the better visuals get the weaker audio; the differences weren’t as extreme, but “Assignment: Earth” and “The Perfect Computer” definitely offered superior sound.
For the most part, the soundfield remained pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it opened nicely at times. Music often became fairly broad and enveloping. The score usually featured solid stereo separation, and musical elements occasionally spread effectively to the rear channels. Drums boomed impressively during “The Omega Glory”, and the score was often a reasonably active participant in the proceedings.
During “The Perfect Computer”, the ship’s ambient hum provided a good atmosphere, and proton torpedo fire used the surround and side channels for a positive effect. “Assignment: Earth” also featured some of the same kinds of elements, plus it also provided surprisingly enveloping audio when a rocket launched.
In regard to the other two episodes, they featured fairly similar soundfields, though the audio stayed a little closer to home. Other than the score, “The Omega Glory” offered a rather subdued track; a little ambience appeared at times, but most of the mix stuck to the center area. “Spectre” became reasonably broad toward the end of the show, but as a whole, it was also a fairly limited experience. Both seemed to be appropriate for the material, but they lacked the extra dimensionality found during “A:E” and “Computer”.
Audio quality remained pleasantly positive during all four episodes, but “A:E” and “Computer” retained their edge. Dialogue appeared very clear and reasonably warm and natural, with absolutely no intelligibility problems. Music varied at times, but the score usually sounded reasonably bright and dynamic. That was one area in which “A:E” and “Computer” thrived; for some reason, the music appeared to be especially dynamic and bold during those shows. The score still provided fairly good fidelity in the other episodes, but I was very impressed by the tone heard during “A:E” and “Computer”.
As for the effects, they remained consistent through the four episodes, but “Computer” and “A:E” still seemed to be more dynamic if just because they offered a greater variety of sounds. Explosions and phaser fire seemed to be nicely deep and expansive, and that rocket launch during “A:E” really did work quite well; no, it doesn’t compare with the blast in Apollo 13, but for an element from a 30-plus-year-old TV show, it appeared quite full-bodied. Ultimately, all four of these episodes were sonically solid for their age, but “Assignment: Earth” and “The Perfect Computer” maintained a definite edge.
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 26 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?
In regard to my recommendations, both Volumes 27 and 28 offer somewhat mixed bags. While I didn’t feel that any of these four episodes were bad, they were inconsistent, and none of them really seemed to be above-average. My favorite of the bunch was “Spectre of the Gun”, while “The Perfect Computer” took second place. Both “Assignment: Earth” and “The Omega Glory” were occasionally interesting but generally bland programs.
As for the quality of the shows, both “The Omega Glory” and “Spectre of the Gun” demonstrated some of the best visuals yet seen on ST:TOS DVDs. They also offered reasonably solid sound quality. “The Perfect Computer” and “Assignment: Earth” showed more flawed pictures, but they slightly compensated with improved dynamics. All told, the quality of both volumes seemed to be pretty good, except for the continued lack of extras. Ultimately, I think that both Volume 27 and Volume 28 are good DVDs, but the shows themselves lack broad appeal and will be most enjoyed by more die-hard Star Trek fans.