After more than two years and 38 prior DVDs, it finally comes down to this: the last two discs worth of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes. On these DVDs, we discover the series' final three programs as well as the show's first pilot. It's a bittersweet experience. On one hand, I'm happy to finish with the reviews. Hey, it's hard to come up with new comments about 80 different programs!
On the other hand, it's been a lot of fun to re-examine the original Trek. I was a big Trek fan as an adolescent but I hadn't checked out the show in almost two decades. While I went to see all nine of the Trek movies, I don't believe I'd seen an episode of the program since 1980 or so.
As such, it was a blast to go through all 80 shows. While I think I'd seen most of them as a kid, I don't believe I'd ever gone through all of them. Even if I did, I was subject to the whims of local TV syndication, so I clearly didn't check them out in chronological order. The release of the DVDs allowed me to do so, and while the going could be a bit tedious at times - especially during the somewhat mediocre third season - I still enjoyed this walk through the series.
So here's where we reach the end of the line. 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 39: "The Savage Curtain" and "All Our Yesterdays"
"The Savage Curtain" (broadcast 77th) finds the Enterprise above the planet Excalbia. There the floating image of Abe Lincoln (Lee Bergere) beckons to them, and since the normally inhospitable planet surface suddenly sprouts a habitable spot, Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) visit the surface. There they hang out with this apparent-Lincoln and others like noted Vulcan leader Suark (Barry Atwater).
As the two try to figure out from whence these seemingly-flawless doppelgangers came, a freaky rock monster named Yarnek introduces additional historical figures like Genghis Khan (Nathan Jung) and Kahless the Unforgettable, the Klingon who inspired their bloodthirsty ways. Rocky forces Kirk and the forces of peace to duke it for its own amusement. When Kirk declines interest, the creature threatens the lives of all aboard the Enterprise, and their continued survival depends on the success of this crew.
Despite the novelty of "real-life" Lincoln and the others, "Savage" felt like a "been there, done that" episode. How frequently did the series present these seemingly omnipotent beings who toyed with Kirk and crew for their own amusement? Many times, as it happened, and the storyline got a bit old after a while. Frankly, the innovation of the historical figures seemed pretty cheesy, and the gimmick came across as nothing more than a dopey device.
While it remained watchable, "Savage" still appeared to be a fairly tedious rehash of that generic plot. Gene Roddenberry's script suffered from his usual preachy tendencies; while I respect some of the man's utopian ideals, these often translated into insufferable and heavy-handed shows. "Savage" seemed moderately entertaining but lackluster and stale.
(By the way, I guess the afterlife's been good to Lincoln: check out the killer tan on Abe!)
In "All Our Yesterdays" (broadcast 78th), the Enterprise travels to the moon of Sarpedon. It orbits a planet destined to explode in a few hours. They discover the remnants of ian advanced society, though only a librarian named Mr. Atoz (Ian Wolfe) remains along with some clones who assist him.
After a while, Kirk, Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) discover that the inhabitants of the planet escaped by going into its past. By accident, they slip through the time portals into the olden days as well. Kirk visits an era similar to Earth's 19th century, where he gets hailed as a sorcerer, while Spock and McCoy go back to the Ice Age. There they meet a babe named Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley), for whom Spock actually falls. It seems that the move back in time affects his inner equilibrium, as Spock starts to behave like his Vulcan ancestors who were ruled by their emotions.
As with "Savage", "Yesterdays" also packs in a mix of Trek clichés: the ticking-clock due to the impending explosion, time travel, and Spock behaving emotionally. As such, the episode offers little in the form of originality, but it still provides a reasonably entertaining experience. This version of "emotional Spock" has a few twists, and the show features a fairly intriguing storyline. It even manages some touching moments via the relationship between Spock and Zarabeth. Overall, "Yesterdays" isn't great Trek, but it seems to be above average.
One part I didn't understand: why in the world would Zarabeth run around her frozen confines in such a skimpy outfit? Oh yeah - because it looks sexy! Gene Roddenberry surely loved his scantily clad guest females.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 40 B/B/D-
Volume 40: "Turnabout Intruder" and "The Cage"
Had "Yesterdays" been the final episode of Trek, it would have seemed like a somewhat appropriate closing note, what with its bittersweet ending. Unfortunately, they still had one more program in the hopper. "Turnabout Intruder" (broadcast 79th) formally concluded the series' three-year run with more of a whimper than a bang. Though not a bad episode, "Intruder" was far from the best the show had to offer.
At the start of the show, Kirk falls for a trap set by Dr. Coleman (Harry Landers) and the mentally ill Dr. Lester (Sandra Smith). Kirk had a fling with Lester back at the Starfleet Academy, but she got booted due to her instability. She still feels bitter about that experience and resents men because she can't enter the same ranks of Starfleet advanced personnel. Of course, she especially dislikes Kirk, since he represents the best of the best within the world she can't enter.
Anyway, as part of this trap, Kirk and Lester swap bodies. She takes over his form and plans to kill her old body with Kirk in it. This goes awry, so she has to take Kirk back on board the Enterprise. While there, the fake captain performs a slew of inappropriate and atypical actions, which stirs suspicion from Spock. Trapped in the female body, Kirk has to find a way to convince others of what's happened and eventually restore his mind to his manly form.
Though clearly a silly episode, "Intruder" had some potential due to the intriguing theme. However, some poor acting and surprisingly non-progressive attitudes made it less than terrific. In regard to the former, Smith actually did a pretty nice job as Kirk in Lester's body. She brought positive authority to the role and seemed convincing. Honestly, in some ways she appeared superior to Shatner, as she lacked his emotive tendencies.
On the other hand, Shatner's turn as Lester in Kirk's body could not have been more absurd. He strongly played up the stereotypically female aspects of the role and made it a tremendously camp experience. Shatner's wispy and eccentric performance made it difficult to believe that so few suspected anything was up with the captain.
As I mentioned, the show treated women in a particularly stereotypical manner that I didn't expect given the series' generally forward-looking attitudes. Granted, Trek did better in that regard when it came to different races; the program never could figure out what it thought of women. Still, the bitter and psychotic Dr. Lester seemed like a poor representation of the female attitude, and this element hurt the show.
Although "Intruder" was the last episode of Trek to hit the air, Volume 40 includes one other program. We find the series' original pilot. Actually, Trek had two pilots. The second - which eventually aired as Volume One's "Where No Man Has Gone Before" - came after NBC declined to pursue the first. In an unprecedented move, the network told Roddenberry and company to recast the show and redo some elements, and the result made TV history.
Since they spent so much money on the first pilot - entitled "The Cage" - the show's honchos didn't let it go to waste. As such, it was chopped up for inclusion as part of the series' only two-part episode, Volume Eight's "The Menagerie".
After Trek demonstrated such remarkable life following its 1969 cancellation, Roddenberry eventually went back and reconstructed "The Cage" so fans could see the entire original episode. When this occurred in 1986, however, the full color elements had disappeared. As such, the version of "The Cage" that came out back then combined color pieces from "The Menagerie" with some very rough black and white material.
Apparently the original color elements weren't as lost as previously believed. They eventually came back and were issued as the full-color version of "The Cage" found on this DVD. After many decades, it's nice that fans can see the first pilot as it originally looked.
"The Cage" (not broadcast during the show's original run) offers a look at a Trek that could have been. Only one familiar crewmember remains: Spock. Otherwise, we find a totally different roster. Instead of Kirk, we get Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), and Dr. Boyce (John Hoyt) replaces Bones. Roddenberry squeeze Majel Barrett would later play the recurring role of Nurse Chapel on Trek but here she possesses a much stronger part as Number One, the second-in-command to Pike.
Females played a greater part in this prototypical Trek; in addition to Number One, young Yeoman Colt (Laurel Goodwin) had a substantial role. That was part of the reason NBC didn't go for the first incarnation of Trek; they didn't care for the heavy female presence in leadership parts. It seems odd that the pilot is more progressive than the final episode!
Anyway, "The Cage" introduces all of these characters as the Enterprise encounters an old distress signal. They head to Talos IV to find the survivors of a lost Earth vessel. When Pike and the others meet these folks, they seem too healthy, and they quickly learn the whole thing is a ruse led by the Talosians. These superintelligent beings run their own little zoo and want a strapping human to go with their sexy female named Vina (Susan Oliver). However, they didn't count on the captain's refusal to go quietly, and he plots with the others to escape from their clutches, all while the Talosians use their mighty brain powers to create powerful illusions that trap the prisoners.
While most interesting as a piece of history, "The Cage" actually offers a pretty compelling episode of Trek. It's somewhat hard to place it among the others since so much about it is different; though the overall plot and theme match that of later shows and Pike doesn't vary much from the Kirk archetype, the inclusion of the two prominent female roles makes it stand out from the crowd.
Otherwise, "The Cage" is a pretty typical program that works well. Of course, it lacks the character development and general confidence seen when the series had been on the air for a while, but it still seems provocative and entertaining. Would Trek have become so memorable if this crew remained in charge? I don't know, but it's interesting to get a glimpse of this alternate universe.
Actually, some of the ideas found in "The Cage" would reappear in 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the air. That program still failed to provide a female leader; we wouldn't get a non-male captain until Voyager's Janeway, though ST:TNG at least escalated the roles for women with two important female crewmembers. I thought it was interesting to note, however, that Picard often refers to his first mate as "Number One", and we also heard Pike use the phrase "engage" during "The Cage". In addition, parts of that episode foreshadowed 1994's Generations, the first ST:TNG film.
These Star Trek episodes appear in their original broadcast aspect ratios of 1.33:1 on these DVDs; because of those dimensions, they have not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Volume 39 is a single-sided, single-layered DVD, while Volume 40 offers a single-sided, dual-layered effort. Note that I didn't include the 1986 black and white/color version of "The Cage" in my rating; I only factored the full-color edition into the grade. Overall, these episodes ended the series on a positive note as they presented the same solid images seen on most of the prior discs.
For "The Savage Curtain", I found a consistently decent picture that displayed tendencies typical of season three episodes. Sharpness could be a little hazy at times but most of the show seemed acceptably crisp and well-defined, with no significant concerns related to moiré effects or jagged edges. Print flaws manifested themselves mainly via light grain; that element never seemed excessively heavy, but it did present a consistent concern. Otherwise, I saw some occasional speckles and grit but nothing particularly problematic. One shot at about the 36 minute mark displayed particularly bad distortion, but this quickly subsided.
During this episode, the colors looked nicely clear and vivid for the most part. A few shots on the bridge of the Enterprise seemed slightly heavy and thick, but these were rare, as most of the program presented unusually bright and vivid tones. Black levels also came across as fairly deep. Since the Trek universe was brightly-lit, shadow detail wasn't often much of an issue, but when we found low-light scenes, they looked appropriately heavy but not overly thick.
In regard to "All Our Yesterdays", the show seemed fairly typical as well, though it also had its own variations. Early scenes that took place in the library displayed higher levels of grain than normal, but these cleaned up nicely once the characters left that setting. After that, the episode looked quite good. The usual mix of grain and other flaws still appeared, but not to a great degree, and the image appeared pretty crisp and distinct.
Colors came across as brighter and clearer than expected, and black levels also offered nicely deep and rich tones. Shadow detail played a more important role than normal during this episode, and the image replicated the low-light scenes with good clarity and accuracy. The library shots kept "Yesterdays" from providing a consistently excellent image, but it still seemed pretty strong.
As for "Turnabout Intruder", most of my comments about the prior two episodes still applied. However, this was the least attractive of the final three programs from season three due to print flaws. "Intruder" featured a higher-than-normal level of defects, as I saw more grain, grit, streaks and general debris than usual. The problems never became overwhelming, and the rest of the show looked pretty good, but the flaws knocked the image down a peg.
To my surprise, the best-looking episode was the oldest one. "The Cage" looked almost shockingly attractive given its age. Yes, it still showed a mix of defects like grit, grain, speckles, streaks, lines and debris, but these seemed to be fairly minor. Colors were bright and vivid, and the image remained nicely crisp and detailed most of the time. Frankly, it provided a stronger picture than many of the later episodes; since much of this footage was thought to be lost for so long, that felt like an amazing fact.
As has been the case with all of the prior Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs, these volumes feature newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This audio came from original monaural tracks. The soundfield remained pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but the mix opened it up a bit.
Overall, the four episodes provided somewhat restrained audio. From the front, I heard good general ambience at times, especially during shots on board the Enterprise; the mix displayed the ship's hum to good effect. A few elements panned from side to side as well, and the score showed reasonable stereo separation. Surround usage seemed limited to more vague atmospherics as well as the occasional Enterprise fly-by shot, as the ship moved neatly from front to rear. Some episodes offered more active soundfields, but these seemed acceptable.
Audio quality appeared comparable to prior shows. 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 came across quite well for the most part. Some distortion could interfere with effects at times, such as the "gateway" noise heard during "Yesterdays". Overall, however, the mix remained reasonably clean and clear, and it offered some moderate depth on occasion. Overall, these remixes represented the original material well as they also added some breadth to the experience.
For the first 39 DVDs, we found virtually identical supplements. As seen on Volume 39, we discover three original broadcast preview trailers. These are one-minute ads that offered viewers a glimpse at what would happen on different shows.
On the DVD, two of these trailers - those for the programs on this disc - 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, we get a trailer for the episode on the next disc as well. To see that, highlight and click on the Starfleet insignia at the top of the main menu. When you do that, you will gain access to all three trailers. In addition, each disc's booklet contains a few pictures, some trivia and production credits in addition to a DVD checklist.
Volume 40 offered a trailer for "Turnabout Intruder" but it lacked others. Prior DVDs included ads for the two shows on that disc and the two found on the next DVD as well. Volume 39 had only three trailers because only one episode from the show's original run was still upcoming after its two programs. Volume 40 included the final show, so it was the only trailer available; the two versions of "The Cage" didn't air as part of the series' original run. The DVD also provided the standard booklet with trivia and credits.
While Volume 40 lacked the standard roster of ST:TOS trailers, it added an ad that may excite some fans. We find a trailer for the upcoming DVD release of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount took some heat for their decision to release ST:TOS two episodes per DVD, and they're changed the situation for ST:TNG, which apparently will come out solely as full-season packages.
Although it's really part of the normal package, I regarded the 1986 version of The Cage as a supplement too. In truth, it just presents the same program seen in the full color version but in a much poorer way. The show mixes color material - which encompasses all of the footage used for "The Menagerie" - with very low quality black and white scenes. It also provides monaural audio, much of which sounds pretty bad. I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to watch the 1986 edition of "The Cage" instead of the full color one; the quality of the latter is vastly superior, and the programs seem identical.
The only significant difference stems from some videotaped comments from Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. He speaks for six minutes and 15 seconds prior to the start of the 1986 "Cage", and he also adds a 60-second summary after the show's completion. Roddenberry explains the nature of the episode and gives us a little background. He doesn't add a lot of information, but it's nice to have the material.
Frankly, the inclusion of the 1986 "Cage" seems quite superfluous. The existence of the full-color version makes it useless except for the Roddenberry material; it might have made more sense to simply offer those snippets on their own or as an optional presentation along with the color edition. However, Trek fans tend to be an obsessive bunch, so I commend Paramount for covering all their bases; like I stated, I can't imagine why anyone would want to watch the 1986 "Cage", but it doesn't hurt us to have it.
At long last, I've finished with Star Trek: The Original Series. I wish I could state that the show went out on a high note, but the final three episodes seemed pretty average. None could be seen as the worst of the series, but none were special, either. However, the inclusion of the series pilot, called "The Cage", made Volume 40 more noteworthy. Both DVDs feature the usual positive sound and picture. Volume 39 skimps on extras while V40 includes an alternate version of "The Cage". V40 is a must-have for any Trek fans due to its historical value, while the less exciting V39 restricts its appeal mainly to the show's diehard aficionados.