Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 25, 2004)
Who woulda thunk it at the time? It's been almost 40 years since Star Trek first hit the airwaves, and if you'd told anyone that people would still cherish the show and collect memorabilia attached to it into next millennium, I'd guess they'd have laughed at you.
Star Trek is almost inarguably the most successful, influential and enduring TV show of the Sixties, another concept that seemed ludicrous at the time. Yet here we are after all these decades, and Paramount continues to rake in money from their most lucrative franchise!
The latest Trek project comes from a reissue of all three seasons of the Original Series. Originally Paramount released these programs in dribs and drabs. Spread across 40 DVDs with two programs apiece, it took years for them to put out those three years of Trek.
Since that time, however, they saw the light and realized that fans prefer full season sets for TV series on DVD. Trek spin-offs only appeared in that manner, though Paramount now have started to release some “best of” collections such as The Jean-Luc Picard Collection.
Finally submitting to the wishes of the fans, Paramount now packages the Original Series in season sets. Instead of 40 DVDs, these shows will cover only a few more than half that number of discs over three separate releases.
Logically, the first one includes all 29 shows for Season One. These appear in the order broadcast, which differs from the old two-episode DVDs; those ran the shows in the order shot.
The Man Trap (airdate 9/8/66) relies heavily on a person with an illusory appearance. Some sort of mysterious force is killing anonymous crewmen on a planet surface. Eventually it's deduced that they're having all the salt sucked from their bodies. But how?
That's the mystery around which the plot resolves, and it does so well. This show gives McCoy a major role and puts him in an emotionally vulnerable spot. At times this episode pushes the limits of credulity, but it's stimulating nonetheless.
Charlie X (aired 9/15/66) involves a god-like being, but an unusual one, in that Charlie's just a 17-year-old dude who's been virtually alone for much of his life. This episode cleverly documents the awkwardness of adolescence on a grand scale as Charlie struggles to cope with his emotions and not kill everybody at the same time.
It's a good episode made weak only by the higher-than-usual presence of
Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Rand. Whitney only appeared on seven shows before she was canned due to personal problems, and while I'm sorry she had that experience, I was happy to see her go. She was a decently attractive woman but an annoying actress; her emotional range veered from looking irritated to looking peeved. She was one of the focal points of this episode because Charlie (Robert Walker Jr.) falls for her in a big way. I just wanted to slap the kid and tell him to find someone less grumpy!
Where No Man Has Gone Before (broadcast 9/22/66) tells of a crew member (First Officer Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood) who slowly obtains god-like powers through some mysterious alien force. It's a good episode with a compelling story but it seems awkward because it's clear the cast members hadn't quite figured out their characters just yet. This was the first episode filmed (not counting a prior pilot), and Leonard Nimoy's Mister Spock especially needed work; Nimoy displayed far too much emotion in his speech patterns.
Trivia note: at one point Mitchell creates a tombstone for Captain James Kirk (William Shatner). However, Kirk's middle name does not say "Tiberius" as it should; it calls him "James R. Kirk".
The Naked Time (broadcast 9/29/66) resembles the subsequent "The Enemy Within" in that we see characters with altered personalities. Although nothing as drastic as the anti-Kirk occurs, we see crew members familiar (Sulu, played by George Takei) and unfamiliar (Riley, acted by Bruce Hyde, appeared only in two shows) display exaggerated aspects of their personas as a virus takes over the ship.
Again we get to see some very enthusiastic acting and again it's a great deal of fun. The havoc that the virus causes on the Enterprise makes for delightful viewing and Kirk and company attempt to eradicate it. I still have the sound of Riley crying, "One more time!" before launching into another off-key song bouncing about in my head.
By the way, in case you start to wonder why Sulu is only at the helm part of the time, it's because a number of the supporting actors were on limited contracts at this stage; they were only paid to do a certain number of shows. For me, the Sulu episodes are a minor treat for one odd reason: I always laugh whenever I see a shot of him in front of the viewscreen in which he's the only person visible. Why do I find this humorous? To save time and money, the producers shot some stock footage of Sulu in that position, and you see the same bits pop up again and again. (Of course, it helps that I'm easily entertained - I found a ball of string yesterday that had me going for hours!)
In The Enemy Within (broadcast 10/6/66), all of the spice we need comes from Shatner. He hams up a storm as yet another odd alien force splits him into two separate beings; one good and one evil. This episode is surprisingly philosophical and actually presages some parts of Star Trek V as Kirk and company consider what parts of a personality are truly essential.
And it's a lot of fun, too! Unfortunately, special effects technology wasn't sufficiently advanced to let us view the sight of Kirk kicking truly his own ass - that'd have to wait until Star Trek VI - but I still enjoyed watching him literally grapple with his bad side. The episode can be cheesy, but it's nonetheless very enjoyable.
Mudd's Women (broadcast 10/13/66) was strongly considered when the powers-that-be attempted to choose the first episode to broadcast but was rejected mainly due to some semi-racy themes; it eventually aired sixth. Essentially the crew of the Enterprise encounter some space 'hos and their scoundrel of a pimp, Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel). Of course, things aren't what they seem, and much chicanery ensues.
"Women" is a good episode overall, and most of its charm is due to the character of Mudd. He's nothing more than a typical flim-flam man, but he adds some spice to the Trek universe, one which generally is full of ominous aliens; it needs a little wit and charisma from the guests every once in a while.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? (broadcast 10/20/66) works well but loses some points for lack of creativity; we see another duplicate Kirk in this one. Yeah, there's a twist, of course, but two doppelgangers in the course of ten shows? That's pushing it.
The story is interesting though fairly obvious through much of it; the plot twists weren't exactly a surprise and the eventual climax okay but a bit of a disappointment. The stiff presence of Majel Barrett - the then-mistress and future wife of series chief Gene Roddenberry - in a key role as Nurse Christine Chapel doesn't help. Barrett actually was cast as Number One, the second in command to Captain Christopher Pike in "The Cage" but was destined not to return to that part for the second pilot; Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) left the show of his own accord, but Barrett got the boot from the suits.
She obviously only ever appeared on Star Trek because of her intimate, not-so-secret relationship with Roddenberry, but there should never have been an episode that so strongly involved her. The woman couldn't act, at least not at that time; she did much better in later decades as Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation. Here, however, her presence in a key emotional role detracts from the quality of this one. "What Are..." isn't bad Trek, but it's pretty mediocre. At least Sherry Jackson's Andrea gives us some of the best Trek eye candy to date as one sexy little robot!
Miri (broadcast 10/27/66) didn't work for me. It's a self-conscious rip-off of Lord of the Flies that does nothing to add to the original, although it includes some plot twists (and girls, for that matter). The scenes of the society made up solely of children were obnoxious and wore on me; I found no charm in the characters at all and the plot was not terribly compelling.
Dagger of the Mind (broadcast 11/3/66) is a decent but unexceptional show, though it's a fair amount better than the one that precedes it. An escapee from a mental hospital makes it on board the Enterprise and challenges everyone's assumptions that the staff of that "enlightened" place are working for the betterment of their patients.
This episode is memorable more for an extremely wild-eyed performance from Morgan Woodward as Dr. Simon Van Gelder, the escapee, than anything else; he's way over the top! From early on, however, it's pretty obvious where this one's going; it's an inevitable but fairly pleasant ride.
The Corbomite Maneuver (broadcast 11/10/66) is a thoroughly terrific episode. When an encounter with an apparently much more powerful alien force threatens the Enterprise, Kirk bluffs his way out of annihilation. The show's suspenseful, witty and clever, although the "surprise" ending seems a little silly. Still, it seems amazingly mature for only the third show; definite evidence of the chemistry we'd grow to love already was on display. Clearly the presence of DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy added a lot to the interactions of the main characters.
And now the answer to the question, "What do we do with that expensive pilot we made? Seems a waste to just let it rot!" The Menagerie Parts I and II (broadcast 11/17/66 and 11/24/66) depicts the logical Spock as he apparently acts illogically to aid his former captain Pike. Pike has been horribly crippled since his earlier days as Spock's boss, and Spock wants to help him as best he can, even if that means direct violation of the most severe Starfleet regulations.
Much of "The Cage" has been edited into "The Menagerie" as footage that current Enterprise crew view during Spock's court martial. I'm sorry, but this method didn't work for me. The whole episode seems so contrived as a way to use the old footage that I felt unstimulated. Spock presents the earlier material to illustrate why he had to take his insubordinate actions, but the whole thing feels fake and forced. Plus, the ending is far too neat and cute. "The Menagerie" reminds me too much of those cheesy compilation clip shows do when they want to crank out a "new" show on the cheap. It's interesting to see the shots from "The Cage" but overall "The Menagerie" feels like a "fantasy" episode that doesn't count, like when they discarded that whole season of Dallas by saying it was a dream.
Not much better is The Conscience of the King (broadcast 12/8/66), an "is he or isn't he?" mystery that lacks suspense. I was happy to see Riley again - in what ended up as his farewell tour - and I will admit that the plot twist at the end actually caught me by surprise, but not much else did. It's watchable but not special.
Balance of Terror (broadcast 12/15/66) marks a terrific episode and also is one in which we finally get to see one of the show's later-to-be-famous villainous races: the Romulans make their debut here. It's a serious cat-and-mouse piece of space warfare as the Enterprise comes head to head with their ancient foes (no points for guessing who wins).
It's also one of the more exciting episodes as each side parries and thrusts. Mark Lenard - who would later return to play Spock's father - does a wonderful job as the Romulan commander; he's authoritative, regal and sympathetic all at once. The show suffers from an unnecessary subplot involving two anonymous crewmembers who want to marry - gee, hope nothing bad happens to one of them! - but otherwise is one of the best episodes so far.
Shore Leave (broadcast 12/29/66) offers a thoroughly decent but unexceptional episode of Star Trek. It's one of the many shows in which the audience will be way ahead of the crew of the Enterprise. They run into so many of these situations in which things aren't what they seem and "superior" lifeforms toy with them that you'd think they'd expect them by now, but they don't; Kirk and company always appear shocked and befuddled when they encounter these sorts of magical circumstances.
Despite those issues, it's still a fairly entertaining episode. There's nothing surprising or especially creative about it in comparison with other shows, but it gets the job done in a workman-like manner; although we know exactly where it's going, it's a fun ride, so I didn't mind. And it's nice to see McCoy get the girl for once!
Unusually, Galileo Seven (broadcast 1/5/67) takes much of the emphasis off of Kirk and gives Spock his first chance at a command; he's in charge of a shuttle team that becomes stranded among hostile critters on a planet. It's up to Spock to work with the others to get off the planet and back to the happy environs of the Enterprise.
One part of Trek that gets old comes from the frequent challenges to Spock due to his lack of emotion; the show likes to get a cheap charge from some over-emoter screaming at him because he doesn't do the same. This theme pervades "Galileo" but is more crucial to the plot as Spock starts to question whether the logical path is always the best. It's an exciting and thoughtful show.
The Squire Of Gothos (broadcast 1/12/67) follows a frequently-used theme in that we again have our favorite space explorers confronted by a superior power who manipulates environments and generally messes with their minds. In this case, the being - a rather foppish dude called Tremane - basically wants to play with the crew, but Kirk ain't too wild about that.
It's an interesting show, and though we always know that at some point the shoe will drop and we'll discover something startling about Tremane, it's a more compelling journey to that point than many Treks manage. Actor William Campbell makes for an awkward but energetic Tremane, and though his bluntness in the role initially seems problematic, it makes more sense by the end of the show. Good acting or lucky casting? Probably the latter - Campbell doesn't seem too talented, so he likely doesn't deserve any accolades for his work. Still, the end result is good. "Squire" isn't one of the all-time best episodes, but it's pretty good.
("Squire" does appear to present one of the most blatant continuity errors in the Trek universe. Tremane garbs himself in 18th century wear and creates an environment in keeping with that era, which he thinks is the present. However, it's made clear that he's seeing an Earth from nine centuries prior. Hmm... Trek is supposed to take place in the 23rd century, and last time I looked, 23 minus 18 didn't equal nine.)
The Arena (broadcast 1/19/67) offers a very exciting and compelling tale that is marred only by some of the usual Trek moralizing. The show starts off with a bang - literally - as Kirk and the rest almost immediately come under attack by an alien race. Hot pursuit ensues until eventually Kirk and the captain of the other ship are placed in one-to-one combat - to the death!
The alien - called the Gorn - is one of the more memorable Trek creatures, mainly because he looks so ferocious; it's not a great costume in that it doesn't seem life-like, but the muscular reptile still cuts an intimidating figure. Trek villains don't tend to offer such strongly visual representations of bad-ass aliens, so it was exciting to see something like the Gorn.
While the episode proceeds on fairly predictable lines, the high emphasis on action makes it a winner. Trek has always been noted as a fairly cerebral show, and indeed it is that intellectual quality that makes it stand out from other science fiction programs, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy some down and dirty action every once in a while. Actually, I suppose it's the lack of frequency with which we see this kind of Trek episode that makes it more exciting; while many of the shows feature action, few put it so strongly in the forefront. "The Arena" was a very good program.
Tomorrow Is Yesterday (broadcast 1/26/67) presents what I believe was the first-ever time travel episode of Trek. In this one, the Enterprise is sucked into a "black star" and gets zipped back to the late 1960s. They're spotted by military planes and ultimately need to transport an Air Force captain (Roger Perry) aboard the ship. The dilemma becomes one of deciding what to do with him, since it seems problematic to send him back to Earth when he knows so much about the future.
The fun of this story is watching the crew work through this problem. The plot becomes rather convoluted at times - as is almost a given for time travel stories - but it provides a lively and creative background for the show. You know that eventually a workable and satisfactory solution will be found, but the pleasure comes from piecing our way through the options along with the crew. Some aspects of the time travel plot trip things up from time to time, but for the most part, "Tomorrow" offers a delightful episode.
I found it interesting to note just how much of this show presaged Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. This occurs in the obvious ways - both involve time travel to then-contemporary parts of the 20th century - but also enters the equation in some less evident aspects of the show. The technique used to travel back to the crew's present is essentially the same in both "Tomorrow" and Voyage, and both also concern the possibility of altering the future through corruption of the past. (Voyage treats this much more cavalierly, especially during the "transparent aluminum" scene.)
Normally I don't come down too hard on the effects of Trek; they look weak by our standards, but seem serviceable for the most part. Those of "Tomorrow", however, appeared especially bad, even by mid-Sixties standards. This occurs mainly because the effects folks had the challenge of depicting the Enterprise against a blue sky; previously, it had appeared in front of the blackness of space. The experiment doesn't work, as the "Earth's atmosphere" Enterprise looks tremendously fake and never seems to move, even when we're told it's cruising at an incredible rate.
Frankly, these poor effects were the worst part of the episode and did the most to harm it. Happily, they couldn't kill it; warts and all, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" offers a very strong Trek show.
Court Martial (broadcast 2/2/67) offers our first look at a
Trek-style courtroom drama. Computer logs shows that Kirk jettisoned an occupied pod during Yellow Alert, while regulations require Red Alert before he should do so for the safety of the ship; Kirk insists that Red Alert conditions did exist when he set it free. Who'll win: man or machine?
Dumb question - we know who'll emerge victorious. Still, it's a suspenseful piece as we see what happens; the evidence is so damning that it really is fun to find out how Kirk escapes this mess. All in all, it’s a compelling piece.
Continue to Disc 6-8 and the technical ratings...