And then there were two! With the release of Volumes 37 and 38 of Star Trek: The Original Series, only two more DVDs remain. They’ll be with us shortly, and our 28-month journey will reach its conclusion. That’ll be a sad day, but after 38 discs to date, I’m looking forward to it; I’ve enjoyed my traipse through all of the Trek episodes, but it’s time I moved on with my life!
And it’s time to get on with this, my penultimate ST:TOS review. 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 37: "The Lights of Zetar" and "The Cloud Minders"
"The Lights of Zetar" (broadcast 73rd) demonstrated a mini-staple of the Season Three episodes. In this show, one of the supporting characters received some extra dimension and exploration absent from prior shows. However, this came too little, too late, and it felt more like a result of an absence of ideas than something that stemmed from any genuine desire to better flesh out the participants.
In this case, we start the program with Mr. Scott (James Doohan) in love. The Enterprise is chaperoning sexy Lt. Mira Romaine (Jan Shutan) to an assignment on Memory Alpha, the home to the Federation’s database with facts about pretty much everything. Scotty’s become quite smitten with the lass, and she seems to feel similarly about him.
However, there’s trouble in paradise as the crew encounters a mysterious cloud that runs into the ship and briefly messes with the staff members. Mira appears to be especially connected to this strange entity, and she can actually see things that will soon occur due to its influence on her. The cloud eventually wipes out everyone and everything on Memory Alpha and comes back after the Enterprise. It seems that the ship’s phasers will harm it, but they also cause injury to Mira, so Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the others need to figure out how to rid themselves of this nasty force without also killing Lt. Romaine.
Admittedly, it was fun to see Scotty get a girlfriend, but as I already alluded, the show didn’t do much with this concept. Instead, it felt like little more than a plot device, a thought reinforced by the fact that we never heard from Mira again; she and Scotty departed on warm terms, but that was the last appearance she’d make on the show.
“Zetar” appeared to be little more than another episode with another apparently omnipotent force. It was somewhat dull and plodding for the most part, and it never really became very compelling. Overall, it was a watchable program, but it seemed pretty lackluster and forgettable.
Bizarre trivia note: the credits for “Zetar” mention one Shari Lewis as a writer. From what I’ve been able to discover, this indeed is the same Shari Lewis who made a sock puppet named Lambchop famous. Freaky!
If nothing else, "The Cloud Minders" (broadcast 76th) deserves a place in history since it may have influenced The Empire Strikes Back. In this program, the Enterprise ventures to the planet Ardana, which houses Stratos, a cloud city that floats above its surface. Sound familiar? The land-based inhabitants of Ardana - not-so-bright folks known as Troglytes - mine for a substance called zenite, and that’s what the Starfleet personnel are there to get.
However, all is not well, for the Troglytes aim some terrorist activity at the residents of Stratos. Early in the show, Kirk and the others are attacked by some Troglytes until snooty Stratosian bigwig Plasus (Jeff Corey) disrupts the incident. The Troglytes won’t fork over the needed zenite, and who can blame them? They’re kept hard at work in the mines while the allegedly-smarter Stratosians live the life of ease; some social unrest seems inevitable, and gorgeous Vanna (Charlene Polite) - who used to serve on Stratos - has taken the lead.
Plasus seems absolutely convinced that there are crucial differences between the Stratosians and the Troglytes, despite indications from Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) that the two races are virtually identical. It turns out the intellectual variations result from prolonged exposure to the zenite; once removed from its effects, subjects regain their cognitive skills, and that’s why Vanna seems so much brighter than her mine-bound coworkers.
Plasus refuses to acknowledge this possibility, and Kirk has an uphill battle to placate both sides of the battle and get the needed mineral. Meanwhile, Plasus’ sexy daughter Droxine (Diana Ewing) appears smitten by Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and he returns the thoughts in his own asexual way.
That latter element was the main gimmicky aspect of “Minders”, and it remained ill explored. Droxine showed interest in Spock, and he also related curiosity about her, but this area went nowhere.
Instead, the show largely focused on the eternal battle between the haves and the have-nots, and it featured some basic social commentary. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately, Trek had just dealt with a similar issue during Volume 35’s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. Granted, that episode worked more from a racial point of view, but the message was the same, and “Minders” suffered from this sense of the overly familiar.
Overall, this seemed like another decent but unspectacular episode. “Minders” generally was a bit bland and flat. If it weren’t for the two - count ‘em, two! - babes introduced during the show, I’d probably have forgotten it already.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 38 B-/B/D-
Volume 38: “The Way to Eden” and “Requiem For Methuselah”
While I don’t know if "The Way to Eden" (broadcast 75th) is the worst episode during Trek’s three seasons, it may qualify as the most dated and embarrassing. In this show, the Enterprise chases the USS Aurora, which has been stolen by an unknown group. Despite the Enterprise’s overwhelming forces, these folks won’t give up the fight; the pursuit overtaxes the Aurora’s engines and blows up the vessel. However, the thieves are transported aboard the Enterprise just before they would have gone down with the ship.
Kirk and the others discover a ragtag group of space hippies. Led by brilliant scientist Dr. Sevrin (Skip Homeier), a baldy with freaky ears, this gang seeks the mythical planet of Eden, where they plan to engage in their whacked-out desires until the cows come home. Unfortunately, one of the hippies is the son of a Federation notable, so Kirk needs to treat the group with kid gloves.
As such, the gang roam the ship freely and try to sway the crewmembers to their side. Mainly they do this with some music. Oddly, their folk songs sound an awful lot like the same crap that was popular in the Sixties; I guess hippies won’t change much over the centuries.
In addition, Chekov (Walter Koenig) meets a past love named Irina (Mary-Linda Rapelye). The two knew each other in their cadet days, but she gave up on The Man’s ways to take part in this quest for paradise. Chekov becomes awfully tempted to join her, and who can blame him? Irina’s yet another in the show’s long roster of serious babes!
Using their hypnotic folk tunes, the hippies distract some crewmembers and eventually take charge of the ship. From there they aim the Enterprise toward their destination, and we eventually get to Eden. Along the way, Kirk tries to convince the hippies that Sevrin’s gone nuts, which is true, and will eventually have dire consequences.
Oh boy - what a terrible episode! Actually, the plot itself was interesting; indeed, it would get recycled more than two decades later for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Unfortunately, the potential inherent in “Eden” became totally squandered through the inane Sixties attitudes. The whole hippie theme was badly overplayed and seemed hilariously ridiculous. Where else can one see noted character actor Charles Napier - best known for tough roles in films like The Silence of the Lambs and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me - portray a crooning hippie?
Happily, nowhere else, and I’m sure Napier would love to remove this blotch from his record. I liked the fact that Chekov got a little more screen time than usual, but just as with Scotty’s girlfriend during “Zetar”, the subplot went absolutely nowhere. Again, it felt like little more than a gimmick, and it did nothing to alleviate the stupidity of the rest of the show.
“Eden” really could have been a good show, and it seems amazing that the Trek personnel would botch the story a second time with Frontier; while I’ll defend that movie to a degree, I can’t deny it has some definite weaknesses. Still, it strongly improved upon its space hippie origins; any show that makes Uhura’s fan dance in Frontier look good just has to be a terrible show.
Speaking of whom, what the heck happened to Uhura during “Eden”? Some white chick named Lt. Palmer ran her usual station in this show. I don’t know why this was, but her absence seemed jarring; while we’ve seen many others in the traditional spots manned by Sulu and Chekov, I don’t recall observing an Uhura substitute at any point.
Though not a classic, "Requiem For Methuselah" (broadcast 74th) offers the best experience of this batch. “Methuselah” finds the Enterprise on an urgent mission to obtain a material that can be used to manufacture a drug. That medicine will then cure a nasty illness that threatens many lives on the ship. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to an obscure planet that has this substance, but they’re soon stopped by a floating robot.
In short order, they meet its maker, Flint (James Daly), apparently the sole inhabitant of the world. He causes some problems with the crew, for he doesn’t want to allow them access to his planet. Eventually he agrees to give them quantities of the material, but under his own terms, which causes concerns.
Along the way, Kirk and the rest discover that another being lives with Flint: sexy Rayna (Louise Sorel). She and Kirk start to go for each other, and more problems with Flint ensue. It turns out that both Flint and Rayna have secrets, and a variety of issues need to be resolved before the Enterprise can be made healthy again.
I don’t feel that “Methuselah” provides great Trek, but it was a reasonably solid episode. Actually, it starts illogically; though time is very important, Kirk, Spock and McCoy plan to walk four kilometers to get the needed materials. After that odd misstep, however, the show picks up and becomes more compelling.
Where it falters, however, relates partly to the title. Even before the program starts, we know that somebody old will be involved, and when we find that Flint possesses recently created works that look absolutely identical to those of some old Earth masters, this makes the events seem even more inevitable. I thought the title gave away too many of the potential surprises. I won’t reveal Rayna’s secret, but I also felt the program telegraphed those points too strongly.
In addition to a somewhat silly final act, the main problems with “Methuselah” related to the fact it seemed so predictable. I also didn’t believe the fact that Kirk fell in love with Rayna so quickly. Admittedly, he mooned over a lot of babes throughout the series, but few were shown as legitimate love, and in those rare instances, at least it usually took him a little longer. Kirk’s deep emotions came across as little more than another plot device used to serve the illogical story.
Still, “Methuselah” seemed more thoughtful and introspective than the other shows on these DVDs, and it offered a somewhat poignant ending. Interestingly, the finale featured a cheap device that actually presaged events in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. During that film, Spock transfers over his personality to McCoy with a touch and the command “Remember”. Here, he apparently obliterates all of Kirk’s memories of his love for Rayna with additional contact and the word “Forget”.
By the way, I thought facets of “Methuselah” foreshadowed Highlander. As with Flint, that film’s characters constantly experienced loss because of their immortal status; love always equaled pain because they’d watch so many partners die over the years. I have no idea if the creators of Highlander actually got any ideas from “Methuselah”, but the similarities appeared nonetheless.
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 37 and 38, 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 showed the biggest concerns; those elements hadn’t worn well over the series’ three years on the air. 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, 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 ship during “Zetar”. That episode also offered some localized phaser fire that worked acceptably well. 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 38 DVDs, I recognize there’s no chance the last two discs will toss in anything extra, but a reviewer’s gotta do what a reviewer’s gotta do!
On Volumes 37 and 38 of Star Trek: The Original Series, we generally find some mediocre programming. Of the two DVDs, Volume 37 is the more consistent. It offers two decent but bland episodes. While Volume 38 features the best of the four shows, it also includes by far the crummiest of the bunch as well.
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. Frankly, these DVDs probably won’t appeal to casual fans of Star Trek, as they provide relatively weak episodes of the show. The die-hards will be happy with these discs, however.