With this newest batch of Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs, we head deep into the recesses of the show’s third - and final - season. Previously I’d heard that year was the weakest of the three. While that seems to be true, I must admit that though the shows didn’t live up to the standards of the first two years, they still seemed fairly entertaining and enjoyable.
Would the four episodes found on Volumes 35 and 36 fall into line with that idea? Maybe - let’s find out together! (Please note that the DVDs present the shows in the order in which they were filmed; the broadcast number provided indicates where each episode came in that spectrum.)
Volume 35: "That Which Survives" and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
"That Which Survives" (broadcast 72nd) goes with a fairly standard Trek concept: the mysterious, deadly, and potentially unstoppable force. While Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and crew attempt to beam down to do a geological survey of a planet, a woman pops up in the transporter room and quickly kills a crewman solely via touch. Bizarrely, her appearance knocks the Enterprise way out of place, as it ends up many lightyears away from its original orbit. This strands Kirk, Sulu (George Takei), McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and D’Amato (Arthur Batanides), who need to search for the means to survive on this planet that looks like Earth but seems to lack the normal rudiments such as water. In the meantime, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) works with Mr. Scott (played by James Doohan and his sideburns) to find away to quickly get back to their old location so they can rescue the stranded crew.
While Spock and the others try to figure out what happened, Kirk and company still need to contend with the mystery women, who they eventually find is named Losira (Lee Meriweather). She continues to threaten the Starfleet personnel, though her attacks are oddly personal; she focuses on one crewmember at a time and won’t attempt to do anything to the others. Eventually, Kirk and the rest figure out how to deal with this problem as they learn the secret of Losira and her planet.
For the most part, “Survives” offers a reasonably entertaining program, as the plot is a little worn but it seems compelling and interesting. Meriweather provides a reasonably good performance as Losira; she seems haunted and detached without being hammy. I wasn’t able to see where the story was going two steps ahead of the characters, which meant that it kept me involved and interested.
However, “Survives” suffers from one terrible flaw: the characterization of Spock. The script forces Nimoy to engage in ridiculous self-parody. Spock comes across as condescending and smarmy, as he consistently chastises others for the lack of logic. He reprimands Scotty, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and pretty much everybody else for talking of “feelings” and not working strictly from factual means. This gets old very quickly, and Spock seems absolutely insufferable.
The overemphasis on Spock’s lack of emotion has a point; it connects to the attitudes of Losira. However, it’s badly out of character, and Spock is so incredibly unlikable during “Survives” that it really hurts the show. Overall, the show has some moments, but the annoyances offered by Spock make it tough to take much of the time.
The most well known of the four episodes in this current batch, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (broadcast 70th) provides a lesson in racial attitudes. Obviously influenced by the civil rights movement of the time, “Battlefield” brings two residents of the planet Cheron onto the Enterprise. Neither of them has been on their homeworld for tens of thousands of years; the first arrival, Lokai (Lou Antonia), has been on the run from Bele (Frank Gorshin), for all that time. To aid his escape, Lokai “borrowed” a Starfleet shuttlecraft; he enters the Enterprise when they recover it.
On board the ship, Bele insists that they head straight to Cheron so he can finally bring Lokai to justice. Kirk refuses, as they’re on an important medical mission. As a result, Bele demonstrates some amazing powers that allow him to wrest control of the Enterprise; Kirk has to threaten to blow up the vessel to get back on course.
Essentially, the show examines the roots of the animosity between the two parties as Kirk and crew attempt to discover what could motivate such an extended and hateful crusade. Basically the concerns break down to the fact that Bele and his people - the leaders of Cheron - are white on their left sides and black on the right, whereas Lokai and his kind - the subjugated masses - are black on the left and white on the right. Kirk tries to convince the two dudes that these are nothing more than cosmetic differences and they should unite, but this argument goes nowhere.
My synopsis of “Battlefield” probably makes it sound preachier than it is. To be certain, this show is an attempt to educate us about the silliness of racial prejudices, and from that point of view, it could be fairly obvious and forced; the program worked overtime to make its points. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel it shoved the themes down my throat, as it delivered its message in a reasonably easy to swallow manner.
However, the program suffers somewhat from a dearth of story. The episode really revolves around its racial elements, and the rest of the action seems somewhat superfluous. As such, the fights between Kirk and Bele serve little purpose in regard to the story, and they appear tacked on simply to extend a short tale into full-length programming. The crew seems to understand this; the inactivity displayed by the extras when the ship goes to red alert is amusing. There’s simply not enough plot to flesh out “Battlefield” into a totally compelling 60-minute piece.
Nonetheless, “Battlefield” is a reasonably compelling Trek experience. It’s interesting to see the show tackle then-hot issues, and this program does so in a fairly positive manner.
Trivia alert: when Kirk threatens to blow up the Enterprise, he and some crewmembers go through an extended destruct sequence. This procedure would be duplicated 16 years later in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and done so with nice attention to detail, as the two seem identical. On the less positive side, one funny technical goof appears in the show. Whenever we see the viewscreen framed by crewmembers, they almost always use stock footage; they filmed a few generic shots of Sulu and slap them up when necessary. Unfortunately, the vintage of those went back too far, so when we cut to these common pieces, Chekov disappears and is replaced by a different dude!
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 36 B-/B/D-
For "Whom Gods Destroy" (broadcast 69th), the writers of Trek go back to the well for an oft-recycled basic plot: madman traps Kirk, who then has to outwit his captor. In this case, however, the identity of the villain makes things a little more interesting. The Enterprise visits the planet Elba II, where they need to deliver a drug that will cure the violently insane inhabitants of its mental hospital.
However, Kirk and Spock - the only crew who beam to the surface - quickly learn that the inmates control the asylum. In charge of this group stands Garth (Steve Ihnat), a legendary Starfleet commander widely regarded as the only tactician greater than Kirk. However, he’s off his nut; instead of allowing folks to call him Captain Garth, he demands they refer to him as Lord Garth, and with a small band of fellow nutbags - including sexy green Marta (Yvonne Craig) - he plans to take control of the Enterprise and conquer the galaxy.
Unfortunately for him, Kirk makes this more difficult, largely due to a security procedure put in place: before Scotty will beam up the party, he must receive the correct answer to a chess problem. Of course, Kirk refuses to offer this information, so Garth must resort to various methods to extract the material. Miraculously, Garth has developed the power to change forms at will, which makes it even harder for Kirk to know who to trust.
As I alluded in my opening statement, “Gods” doesn’t exactly reinvent the Trek wheel, and it offers a decent diversion at best. One of the main problems stems from Garth himself. Not only is he poorly acted - as are most of the roles in this episode, including a hammy than normal performance from Shatner - but also he lacks much development. Considering Garth’s fame, the character possessed the potential to be a rich and interesting personality, but the show plays up his goofball side and fails to delve much into his history and legacy. This qualifies as a major missed opportunity that harms the program.
In addition, “Gods” suffers from lazy pacing and directing and illogical attitudes. The former appears in ways such as the fact that major elements of the story took place off-screen. For example, prior to the opening credits, the threat to Spock and Kirk is revealed, but when we return, Spock’s already been stunned with a phaser and taken captive! Perhaps they couldn’t afford the phaser blast effect that week.
As for the aspects of the show that didn’t make sense, I thought it seemed weird that during this mission - and apparently this mission alone - Kirk required the password to come back on the ship. Out of all the dangerous excursions, he just happens to decide this the one time he really needs it? That’s terribly convenient, and such a coincidence makes the program less effective.
Probably the show’s greatest flaw stemmed from the fact that I always felt much smarter than the characters. It seemed very obvious where things would go, and that made the participants look dumb when they couldn’t anticipate the turns. In addition, I disliked the inactivity on board the Enterprise. Faced with a dilemma, Scotty and McCoy spend much of the show simply standing around looking puzzled; I refuse to believe they’d take this threat with so little action.
Despite all my complaints, “Gods” really isn’t a bad episode of Trek. Trust me - I’ve seen some genuinely crummy programs in the series, and this one may be closer to the bottom than to the top, but it’s not an unpleasant experience. Nonetheless, some notable flaws mean that it never rises above the level of being moderately interesting at best.
As with “Gods”, "The Mark of Gideon" (broadcast 71st) also has some intriguing moments but suffers from a plot that seems rather obvious at times. At the start, Kirk beams down to meet with Hodin (David Hurst) and the other leaders of the planet Gideon. All reports indicate this place is a virtual paradise, and its rulers strongly refuse to allow visitors to come there; it took much negotiation for them to let Kirk pop among them for a brief period.
Unfortunately, an apparent mishap means that Kirk doesn’t make it to the conference room specified in the coordinates sent to the Enterprise. While the ship’s crew has no idea where he’s gone, we find that Kirk seems to be in an alternate universe, as he wanders a totally empty Enterprise. Eventually, he meets another lone traveler, a sexy babe named Odona (Sharon Acker). In true Trek tradition, they strike up a romance while Kirk tries to find a way back to reality. In the meanwhile, Spock tries to negotiate with the insufferably stubborn Hodin and also deals with some stubborn parties at Starfleet who seem less than interested in Spock’s quest to locate his missing captain.
“Gideon” offers some moderately compelling twists and turns along the way as we find the true nature of Gideon and the reason why the rulers are so territorial. Overall, the story has some clever and interesting moments, and it’s a decent tale as a whole. However, as in “Gods”, “Gideon” falls short of its goals because too much of the show appeared evident to me far in advance of the characters’ realizations. It felt obvious where things would go, and this made the whole experience less compelling.
Nonetheless, I thought “Gideon” was a fairly good Season Three episode and I liked certain aspects of it. Probably the most interesting elements came from Spock’s interplay with Hodin. The latter’s double-talk and attempts to addle Spock’s natural logic were quite entertaining to see, and they added much needed spark to a show that dragged at times. In addition, “Gideon” provided a twist on the usual “perfect society” theme that allowed for some provocative notions.
As a whole, “Gideon” felt like good but not special Trek. The show had some solid aspects that made it worthwhile, but it never threatened to become something truly memorable. I liked the program but won’t count it among my favorites.
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. As with this batch, prior DVD releases of ST:TOS episodes came two at a time, and though that meant I examined only four shows per sitting, I often found a substantial amount of variation in regard to picture quality. However, that wasn’t the case with Volumes 35 and 36, as all four programs demonstrated uniformly consistent images.
Since the shows looked pretty good for their age, I won’t complain about the lack of variation. Sharpness usually appeared nicely crisp and well defined, though not always. At times, the picture came across as somewhat soft and fuzzy. This tendency usually affected wider shots, but a few close-ups also looked modestly blurry. However, most of the time the picture was distinct and clear. Light moiré effects and jagged edges occurred occasionally, but not with much frequency or severity.
Print flaws caused modest concerns. The shows looked somewhat grainy at times, and a mix of other defects cropped up on occasion. At various times, I saw grit, speckles, a few nicks, some blotches, and a bit of general dirt. These issues never became heavy, though the stock footage used to frame the viewscreen images during “Gideon” showed the biggest concerns. Nonetheless, the programs demonstrated reasonable cleanness for the most part.
As usual, colors offered some nicely bright and broad hues, and the tones seen in these four shows looked very nice. Trek always played up the varied and vivid hues - got to move these color TVs! - and these episodes demonstrated those tendencies well. A few muddy spots occurred, but as a whole, the colors looked clear and vibrant, with few signs of muddy or tentative tones. Black levels seemed fairly deep and rich, particularly when viewed in the costumes of “Battlefield”, and shadow detail was acceptably distinct but not overly thick. Overall, these weren’t the best looking Trek episodes but they seemed very acceptable.
As has been the case with all of the prior ST:TOS DVDs, these volumes featured newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This audio came from the original monaural tracks. The soundfield remained pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it opened up a bit. Actually, earlier DVDs more aggressively pushed the auditory envelope, while these seemed more content to gently broaden the horizons. The score dominated the track, as the music presented very good presence and stereo separation throughout the shows. Again, the score stayed pretty heavily in the front channels, where it added life to the shows.
In regard to the effects, they mainly provided general ambience. Some distinct side and rear usage occurred, particularly when the Enterprise flew past us, but for the most part, the shows avoided this sort of element. Instead, we usually heard nice environmental sounds, such as the hum of the room force fields during “Gods”. The mix never became terribly active and involving, but it presented a nice sense of aura nonetheless.
Audio quality appeared consistently good. As always, speech sounded nicely natural and distinct, and I detected no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects came across as a little thin, but they usually seemed clean and accurate, and they lacked any significant distortion, even during louder noises like explosions. At those times, the effects also boasted reasonable bass response; the booms won’t rock your house, but they appeared good for the age of the material. Music enjoyed the strongest quality, as the score consistently appeared very clear and vibrant. The music showed nice dynamic range, with bright highs and fairly rich lows. Overall, these tracks seemed quite similar, and they compared favorably with the audio heard on prior ST:TOS DVDs.
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. After 36 DVDs, I recognize there’s no chance the last four discs will toss in anything extra, but a reviewer’s gotta do what a reviewer’s gotta do!
In regard to my recommendations, I found three of the four episodes on Volumes 35 and 36 to be flawed but generally interesting. Only V35’s “That Which Survives” fell flat, largely due to weak characterization of Spock. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” lacked sufficient material to flesh out an hour-long show, but it seemed reasonably entertaining nonetheless. Both “Whom Gods Destroy” and “The Mark of Gideon” from V36 had distinct weaknesses, but they appeared to be fairly compelling to a degree, and I thought they were moderately enjoyable programs.
Both DVDs offer similar picture and audio quality, as the four episodes look and sound pretty good. As always, they fail to deliver any substantial extras. Volume 36 is definitely the stronger of the two DVDs, but neither really will have much appeal for those who don’t really love Star Trek; casual fans would want to start elsewhere. The die-hards will be happy with these discs, however.