Another batch of Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs, another milestone reached. With the arrival of Volume 30, we’ve officially gotten through 75 percent of the 40 DVDs. Actually, we’ve passed a higher percentage of actual episodes, for Volume 40 will include a version of the show’s pilot that doesn’t count toward the broadcast tally.
While I’ve enjoyed my re-education in the ways of Trek, I must admit I’m somewhat dreading the next 10 discs. Except for Volume 40, all of these come from the show’s third season, and that year doesn’t maintain a very positive reputation. Seasons One and Two had a few duds, but for the most part, the worst episodes were still fairly entertaining. Will that still be the case for Season Three? Time will tell.
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 29: “Elaan of Troyius” and “The Paradise Syndrome”
Right off the bat, “Elaan of Troyius” (broadcast 68th) suffers from the bad pun that creates its title. However, once I got past that aspect of the show, I found it to offer a reasonably good episode of Trek, albeit one that was fairly predictable most of the way.
At the start of “Elaan”, the Enterprise needs to escort Ambassador Petri (Jay Robinson) and Elaan (Frances Nuyen), the dohlman of Elas, to Petri’s planet, Troyius. There she is to marry a bigwig in an attempt to calm relations between the two opposing worlds. Unfortunately, the Troyians are feisty, militaristic folks, and Elaan demonstrates a lot of rude, arrogant and combative behavior. Petri’s task is to train her in his planet’s more civilized ways, but she doesn’t cotton to this activity and eventually stabs Petri.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner) takes it upon himself to tame Elaan. Anyone who’s seen more than two prior episodes of Trek knows that it’s inevitable Kirk will hook up with the Troyian hottie, but the plot does take one unusual twist. The tears of Troyian women can “infect” men and make them passionately love the female in question. Unknowingly, Kirk touches one of Elaan’s tears, and he’s soon hopelessly devoted to her.
This clouds his judgment at a critical time. Abetted by a mole on board the Enterprise, the Klingons arrive on the scene and threaten our heroes. Will Kirk regain his senses in time? You figure it out - the series continued after this show, didn’t it?
I won’t call “Elaan” a great episode, but it seemed modestly compelling. A lot of the reason for this came from Nuyen’s fiery performance as Elaan. Her European attitude aptly fit the character, and she brought a nicely bratty and nasty tone to the role. The show occasionally struggles to rise its Taming of the Shrew roots, but I thought it was generally entertaining.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that for the next program, “The Paradise Syndrome” (broadcast 58th). I’d heard that the third season of Trek marked a significant decline in the show’s quality, and it seems possible that “Paradise” may be a harbinger of woes yet to come.
At the start of the show, Kirk, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to a planet to warn its inhabitants that an asteroid will soon collide with it. They discover a civilization that strongly resembles that of the early American Indians. They marvel at this, since they feel it seems unlikely there’d be a planet that so strongly echoes Earth. This confused me - haven’t they encountered about a billion other worlds that resembled past Earth societies?
In any case, after they find an odd obelisk, Kirk falls inside when some tones from his communicator open a trap door. Inside, a device erases his memory, and after he leaves, he becomes integrated with the native society. There he rises to prominence as a medicine man, which includes a nice fringe benefit: he marries sexy Miramanee (Sabrina Scharf) and settles into the clan.
With the captain missing, Spock takes command of the Enterprise and sets about the normal routine. In this instance, he needs to deflect the asteroid from its crash course; after that, they can return and locate Kirk. Of course, McCoy disagrees with this plan, but Spock executes it anyway, as he spends his every waking minute in attempts to locate the captain.
Both “Paradise” and “Elaan” attempt poignancy of the sort achieved by Volume 14’s “City on the Edge of Forever”, but they fail. For one, we know that Kirk won’t end up with either of the women involved, so it became tough to fall for the story. However, that was also the case with “City”, but it worked. These episodes don’t succeed simply because they’re not as effectively told as the earlier one; they’re much more predictable and pedestrian.
Actually, the story to “Paradise” wasn’t bad; hey, it even predicted both Armageddon and Deep Hiding!
So what’s the main problem with “Paradise”? Shatner. Many mock his acting, but his style usually worked well for the series; his larger-than-life dramatics seemed appropriate. However, he went way over the top during this episode, and he wasn’t remotely up to the task at hand. His campy histrionics were painful to watch, and they directly harmed the episode. “The Paradise Syndrome” wouldn’t have been very good anyway, but that element made it a total clunker.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 30 C+/B-/D-
Volume 30: “The Enterprise Incident” and “And the Children Shall Lead”
By the time we got to “The Enterprise Incident” (broadcast 57th), clearly the personae of the regular characters had been set. As such, occasionally the show liked to mess with them and show them in different ways. Spock’s the usual subject of this, since his stoic ways most easily open up for unusual expressions.
When we found Kirk in altered states, usually they revolved around behaviors that didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the Enterprise’s crew. After all, this man appeared totally devoted to the craft and its personnel, so how better to mess with things than to make him behave in seemingly irrational ways that might harm the vessel and its inhabitants?
That theme comes to prominence during “Enterprise”, a show that depicts Kirk as he appears to teeter on the brink of madness. For no obvious reason, an edgy and wired Kirk steers the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone. Unsurprisingly, the Romulans don’t appreciate this course of events, and they come a-calling. They capture the vessel, and Kirk and Spock beam over to the Romulan flagship. On board, Spock acknowledges that Kirk doesn’t seem fit for command. Angered, the captain lunges at his right-hand man, who reflexively nails Kirk with the old “Vulcan Death Grip”.
The Vulcans beam Kirk’s corpse back to the Enterprise, while Spock warms up to the Romulans. The two races are quite similar, and the sexy Romulan commander (Joanna Linville) tries to convince Spock that he should be a leader, not a follower. She attempts to recruit him to the Romulan side.
Back home on the Enterprise, we find that the reports of Kirk’s death have been exaggerated. All his irrational behavior was part of a plot to trick the Romulans, and after he returns, they imprison the Romulan hostages on board; that side sent over two of its own to ensure the safe return of Kirk and Spock. Kirk gets a Romulan makeover and returns to that ship in this disguise, all with the aim of capturing cloaking technology.
“Enterprise” suffers somewhat from its inevitability. Not for one second did I believe that a) Kirk was nuts, or b) Spock would turn on his captain. It always seemed ridiculously clear that their actions were a ruse, and I also knew where it would go. It also provided some additional serious stretches of logic. Even a bonehead like Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) knows that there’s no such thing as a “Vulcan Death Grip”, so why are none of the Romulans - close cousins to the Vulcans - aware of this?
Despite these concerns, the show was generally interesting, if just because it is fun to watch Kirk and Spock play against type. Spock got one of his rare opportunities to be a ladies’ man, and though this element of the plot meant a third consecutive episode with a bittersweet romantic conclusion, it still seemed entertaining and provocative. “Enterprise” didn’t qualify as a great show, but it was generally positive.
I can’t say the same for the next episode, “And the Children Shall Lead” (broadcast 59th). As the crew of the Enterprise visit a scientific colony occupied by families - shades of Aliens! - they find that other than the kids, all inhabitants have died. Oddly, the young ‘uns don’t seem bothered by the absence of their parents or the corpses strewn about them. Instead, they just wanna party like it’s 2399, as they play, play, play despite admonitions from Kirk.
Nonetheless, these kids are taken back to the Enterprise, where the crew try to figure out what happened. All the while, the children resist attempts to behave in responsible ways, and they display spooky mind-control powers that eventually give them control of much of the ship. Apparently a “friendly angel” called the Gorgon awarded them these powers to spread his influence. The kids don’t understand that they’re being used, so it’s up to Kirk to work his magic and set things right.
All of that might be fine were it not for the clumsy story-telling on display. Throughout virtually the entire episode, the viewer walks many steps ahead of Kirk and company. As such, the shows offered almost no tension or suspense, and the crewmembers simply seemed dense. Even when they discovered that the kids were causing problems, they made no attempt to firmly stop them. Why didn’t they round up the brats and lock them in a room?
Because then there’d be no story, so the plot kept going anyway. The kids were all genuinely annoying, as they reminded me of the obnoxious tots seen in another weak episode of Trek, “Miri” from Volume Six. These child actors appeared equally grating, and the show’s lack of logic became a serious hindrance. For example, at one point Sulu (George Takei) freezes up due to terror; he sees daggers fly at him on the viewscreen. Wouldn’t these have seemed more terrifying if the blades pointed at him, not away from him?
While the universe of Trek was never the most logical, error-free place, it does appear that these concerns started to escalate during the third - and final - season. With quite a few DVDs left in the roster, I hope that “Children” will represent the exception, not the rule. It was a silly and uncompelling piece of Trek.
Bit player alert: if young Pamelyn Ferdin looks familiar, that’s because she’d eventually play Felix’s daughter Edna on a few episodes of The Odd Couple. If she sounds familiar, that’s because she performed the voice of Lucy for a few Peanuts programs.
Kirk and the crew, visiting a scientific colony manned by several human families, are shocked to find that all but the children have died violently - and the children do not seem to care about anything but playing. Aboard the Enterprise, the children gradually begin to influence and take over the minds of the crew as part of a plan by their "friendly angel," a seemingly benevolent alien called Gorgon who uses children as a means of spreading his influence, and unless he can find some way to expose Gorgon's true intentions, Kirk will become a prisoner on his own ship.
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 one might expect a high level of consistency between the different episodes, that wasn’t always the case, and here I found significantly stronger visuals for Volume 29 than I did for Volume 30.
“Elaan of Troyius” and “The Paradise Syndrome” both looked generally solid, though for different reasons. Sharpness consistently looked solid, as the image appeared crisp and detailed with few signs of softness. Jagged edges presented no problems, but I did witness a little edge enhancement and some moiré effects. Print flaws were generally minor. I saw some examples of grain, grit, spots and nicks, but these remained relatively modest throughout the show.
Colors were usually good for Trek, and “Elaan” stood out with some of the best tones seen on the show. Primarily these came from the guest stars, especially as seen on Petri; his face and clothes displayed very rich and vibrant tones. Black levels seemed clear and deep, and shadow detail was clean and accurate. Overall, the edge enhancement and minor print flaws caused some concerns, but this episode still earned a solid “B” for picture.
“The Paradise Syndrome” provided a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Sharpness was similar, as the show looked consistently crisp and detailed. Some moiré effects appeared, but jagged edges remained absent, and this episode seemed to lack edge enhancement. Print flaws were also less prevalent. Some of the usual grain and grit cropped up, but as a whole the show looked cleaner than normal.
While colors excelled during “Elaan”, they offered the weakest aspect of “Paradise”. For some bizarre reason, the tones became a problem mainly during outdoors sequences. When the action took place inside, the hues looked fairly vibrant and vivid; for example, check out Kirk’s wedding garb for some attractive images. Normally exterior shots look best, as sunlight brings out the best in the picture. However, that wasn’t the case here, and whenever we saw outdoors scenes, the colors looked vaguely bland and flat. They weren’t terrible, but they lacked much life.
Otherwise, “Paradise” seemed like a solid image. Black levels remained deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately clear. Without the color concerns, this might have been one of the best Trek pictures, but as it stood, it earned a “B”.
Matters declined slightly for “The Enterprise Incident”, though not to a major degree. Sharpness was distinct and precise, and moiré effects, jagged edges and edge enhancement demonstrated no serious concerns. However, print flaws were more significant than during the other shows. At times the program became rather messy via a mix of grit, speckles, grain, hairs, and other small defects. It wasn’t a terribly problematic image, but the level of flaws seemed heavier than I expected.
Colors looked reasonably vivid and lively, though they occasionally came across as somewhat heavy. Many Trek episodes betrayed that issue, as the producers often amped up color levels a bit too high. Recent programs had seemed to tone down the oversaturation, but “Enterprise” returned to the slightly excessive hues of the past. Nonetheless, the colors largely seemed positive, and both black levels and shadow detail remained fine. Due to the print flaws and minor color problems, I dropped my grade for “Enterprise” to a “B-“.
“And the Children Shall Lead” represented the least satisfying episode of the four, and not just because the show itself seemed lame. The picture looked more problematic than usual. Sharpness usually appeared adequate, but the image became somewhat soft at times. No moiré effects or jagged edges showed concerns, but some edge enhancement was apparent at times.
Colors looked fairly solid, as they demonstrated the usual reasonably vivid and bright tones. Black levels and shadow detail also lived up to prior levels. So why did I so strongly criticize this image? Due to its heavy print flaws. While “Enterprise” had quite a few concerns in that realm, “Children” really showed a surplus of defects. Marks, nicks, speckles, grit and grain cropped up frequently throughout the show. It was definitely the messiest episode I’d seen in quite some time. On its own, I gave it a “C” for picture, which led me to average that to a “C+” for Volume 30.
As with all of the prior ST:TOS DVDs, these volumes featured newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This audio came from original monaural tracks. The soundfield remains pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it has been opened up a bit. Both of these discs offered fairly similar soundtracks, which was a relief after the modest inconsistencies of their images.
During “Elaan”, the soundfield largely stayed within the forward spectrum. Actually, for most of the show, it sounded like glorified monaural. The music demonstrated modest stereo spread, but most of the score remained fairly centered. Ambient effects seemed essentially absent until late in the program. At that time, the Enterprise showed a convincing hum, and the action sequences came to life moderately.
Despite the restricted scope of the mix, it offered pretty solid audio quality. Speech was acceptably natural and warm, and although effects were a bit thin, they seemed reasonably crisp and without distortion. Music was the best aspect of the track, however, as the score demonstrated nicely robust qualities; dynamic range seemed positive, as the music came across with bold tones.
“Paradise” essentially mirrored the audio of “Elaan”. The outdoors shots on the planet afforded some decent ambience, such as chirping birds, but they also necessitated more dubbing than usual. As such, quite a few lines seemed artificial, and they didn’t integrate especially well with the action. Otherwise, the mix seemed very similar to that of “Elaan”, so the same comments applied.
“Enterprise” did little to differ from that mold, though it actually appeared more restricted than the prior two episodes. The soundfield remained even more firmly anchored to the center channel, with only modest spread to the sides and rears at times. While the music seemed nicely robust and vibrant during the last two shows, “Enterprise” came across as more tame and less rich. For the era, the audio was still good, but it didn’t quite match up with its predecessors on Volume 29.
Despite its visual problems, “Children” rebounded in the sonic realm. It showed qualities that brought it back to the level found on V29. Music again sounded bold and robust, and the soundfield opened up to better effect. The latter remained somewhat minor, but a few parts of the show demonstrated some nice spread, such as the speech from the “Angel” and the transporter hum. It wasn’t the strongest audio I’ve heard for Trek, but it worked fairly well.
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 28 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?
Recommendation time, and this one won’t be easy. On both Volume 29 and 30, we find one good but unexceptional episode and one fairly lousy episode. Do the positives of the superior programs outweigh the negatives of the bad ones? Not in these instances they don’t. I liked “Elaan of Troyius” and “The Enterprise Incident”, but they remained fairly average, while “The Paradise Syndrome” and “And the Children Shall Lead” were genuine stinkers.
DVD quality remained fairly consistent with prior Trek packages. Volume 29 was the stronger of the two. Both provided generally similar sound, but 29 included much more positive visuals. In any case, I think these two discs are best left for serious Star Trek aficionados, as they lack the program quality to make them compelling for others.