Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Star Trek: The Original Series Volume 17 & 18 (1967)
Studio Line: Paramount Pictures

Volume 17

Who Mourns for Adonais?:(Episode 33)
The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a giant hand in space, which leads the starship to Pollux IV. Here, a humanoid identifies himself as Apollo (Michael Forest), last of the Olympic gods. He has brought the U.S.S. Enterprise and crew "home" to become shepherds and to worship him. Apollo hurtles thunderbolts and exhibits superior strength, locking the U.S.S. Enterprise in a force field that seems indestructible. Will Kirk and his crew be held captive here for the rest of their lives?

Amok Time: (Episode 34)
It's Spock's time of Pon farr - the Vulcan mating cycle. mcCoy informs Kirk that Spock will die unless they immediately divert to Vulcan, his home planet. There T'Pring (Arlene Martel), Spock's arranged bride, chooses the rite of combat, forcing Spock to fight to the death for her. But she selects Kirk as her champion.

Volume 18

The Doomsday Machine: (Episode 35)
A giant robot ship which consumes planets for fuel has destroyed the crew of the U.S.S. Constellation, leaving only a guilt-ridden Commodore Decker (William Windom) aboard the crippled ship. Kirk beams over to effect repairs while Decker beams aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, the obsessed commodore immediately seizes command from Spock. Decker is determined to destroy the planet killer, even at the cost of Kirk's ship and its entire crew.

Wolf in the Fold: (Episode 36)
Mr. Scott is recovering from an accidental head injury caused by a female crew member, so Kirk and McCoy take him to an Argelian nightclub for a short leave. Scotty takes a shine to a lady who is then brutally murdered, and he becomes the number one suspect when he's found nearby holding a bloody knife. As the investigation proceeds, another woman's murder points to Scotty as the culprit. Has his head injury turned Scotty into a cold-blooded "lady-killer"?

Director: Marc Daniels, Joseph Pevney
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Lawrence Montaigne, William Windom
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; rated NR; 100 min.; $19.99; street date 10/24/00.
Supplements: Original Broadcast Preview Trailers
Purchase: Volume 17 | Volume 18

Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 17 C+/B-/D-

With this newest batch of Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS) DVDs, we close the books on Trek activity in the year 2000. Although two months remain, no further Trek releases are scheduled, so this concludes the year as far as the franchise goes.

Overall, it was a fairly active year in Trek. We saw the release of two movies (1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) plus a whopping 12 volumes of ST:TOS discs, which add up to 24 episodes of the classic series. Some may regard 2000 as disappointing because no Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes hit DVD, but this should be rectified in 2001, when we'll also find the release of the final film, 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It appears the ST:TOS train will roll on unabated in 2001 as well, though no new DVDs are slated to appear until February. That four month wait is uncharacteristically long for these discs; previously, the longest gap between ST:TOS DVDs was only two months. Happily, the latest batch offers some solid material to entertain you through the long months until the next group appears.

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 17: "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and "Amok Time"

On the surface, "Who Mourns for Adonais?" (broadcast 31st) looks like yet another Trek show that features a seemingly-omnipotent being who toys with the crew of the Enterprise. However, this episode took that plot to another level and provided a story that was much more effective than most.

While on routine duty, the Enterprise encounters a giant space-hand that holds the ship in place. When a landing party of Kirk (William Shatner), McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chekov (Walter Koenig), Scott (James Doohan) and historical expert Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas (Leslie Parrish) - on whom Scotty has a crush - finds their oppressor, it turns out to be Greek god Apollo, or at least a reasonable facsimile (played by Michael Forest).

Parts of the show move slowly and seem excessively melodramatic. Frankly, Trek usually didn't handle romantic relationships well, and the problem becomes exacerbated when we find a character we know doesn't last for the long haul; granted, at the time viewers wouldn't be aware that Palamas would never be heard from again, but the intervening 33 years demonstrated this fact to the rest of us. I find it hard to care about these throwaway characters since I know they exist only as plot devices.

Nonetheless, "WMFA?" works despite some flaws. I don't want to reveal too many story points, but the show indeed features a neat twist that makes it more compelling than most of this "godlike being" subgenre of Trek. These complications also mean that "WMFA?" packs a greater emotional punch through its fairly melancholy ending.

"Amok Time" (broadcast 30th) provides one of the series' first looks at the personal life of Spock (Leonard Nimoy). As the Enterprise heads toward a crucial diplomatic reception, usually calm and rational Spock starts to act like a complete goofball; he becomes edgy and violent. It turns out Spock's suffering from a Vulcan version of PMS, and if he doesn't get to his home planet ASAP, the results won't be pretty.

In this episode, we learn quite a lot about Vulcan culture and see Spock within his native environment. The show is full of energy and tension and creates some very dramatic viewing as Spock works through his nuttiness and Kirk and McCoy become involved. It's a thoroughly solid episode of Trek that stands among the series' best shows.

Trivia notes: "Amok Time" saw the first use of the split-fingered Vulcan salute and offered the initial use of the phrase "live long and prosper". On a sour note, the name of Vulcan high priestess T'Pau (Celia Lovsky, then married to Peter Lorre) would later be used by a lousy Eighties band who scored with a crummy tune called "Heart and Soul" in 1987. Oh, the indignity of it all!

Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 18 B-/B/D-

Volume 18: "The Doomsday Machine" and "Wolf in the Fold"

"The Doomsday Machine" (broadcast 35th) takes a standard Trek plot about a mysterious force that eradicated the crew of a fellow Federation vehicle called the "Constellation". The sole survivor of this disaster? Commodore Decker (William Windom), the ship's commander, who seems to be pretty darned frazzled by the experience.

As the show progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Decker is obsessed with getting revenge on the titular killing device, and the tale takes a sci-fi turn on Moby Dick. Ultimately, I thought it was one of the more compelling episodes of Trek I've seen. Windom hams it up too much, but "TDM" features an element often lacking in classic Trek: genuine excitement and tension. The show boasts one of the most nail-biting climaxes in all "TOS" history, and I thought the episode as a whole was quite compelling.

Cool note: I thought the name "Decker" sounded familiar in regard to Trek history, and it turns out I was correct. In ST: The Motion Picture, we discover the son of the vengeful commodore. Will Decker (played by Stephen Collins) played a major role in that film. Although such tie-ins run the risk of becoming cute or excessive, I think Trek managed a fine balance; these connections give long-time viewers a little thrill but they also function appropriately within the context of the stories.

As noted earlier, the episodes on DVD appear in the order in which they were filmed, and I also provide information about when the shows were aired. As a rule, better programs seem to have run earlier than you'd expect; for example, "Amok Time" was shot 34th but appeared 30th. On the other hand, look at Volume 15's fairly lame "Catspaw"; shot 30th, it wasn't seen until the 36th slot.

By that token, "Wolf in the Fold" should be a complete dog. It was filmed 38th but ran 43rd. However, while I can't call the episode a success, it was interesting and entertaining enough to be enjoyable.

The story focuses on apparent mental illness suffered by Scotty. He recently suffered a concussion caused by a woman, and there are fears that he may harbor anger towards all females. It doesn't look that way, but when someone starts to murder various babes on party planet Argelius II, Scotty becomes the most likely suspect.

Approximately half of this episode works. Obviously it's a given that Scotty isn't the murderer, so the show functions as a fairly effective mystery; it sure looks like our favorite engineer is responsible, so how will he get out of this mess?

Unfortunately, the solution is less than satisfying. "Wolf." gradually degenerates into a pretty silly ghost story that felt artificial and goofy. Perhaps the only true saving grace for the second half of the show stems from some sublimely over-the-top acting. To make sure that the Enterprise's crew avoids feeling afraid, Kirk orders some happy shots for everyone. As such, even in the face of grave danger, most of the folks are giddy and giggly. Sulu (George Takei) gets the best line of the show when he says "whoever he is, he sure talks gloomy!" (I swear it's a lot funnier if you see the show.)

Weird aspect of "WITF": throughout the episode, Kirk's triangular Starfleet insignia lies sideways around his belly. At first I figured this was a mistake, but since it stayed there for the entire show, I started to wonder if it was intentional for some reason. It sort of looked like Kirk had a sash around his stomach, onto which the insignia was attached. Frankly, I still think it was an error that no one caught at the time, but if anyone knows better, please tell me the scoop!

Odd fact about Volume 18: although Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) appears on the cover of the DVD, she doesn't show up in either of these episodes. I'd have to look over my collection, but I believe this is the first time such a discrepancy has existed. While some of the packages - such as Volume 17, which features T'Pring - show guest stars, most of the covers picture regular Trek cast members. In some cases - Kirk, McCoy, and Spock - it's almost inevitable that the actor will appear in the episode, but some others - such as Sulu, Scotty, and Uhura - were seen less consistently. I guess someone in Paramount's art department assumed Uhura was in at least one of these episodes, but she isn't!

These Star Trek episodes appear in their original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, single-layered DVDs; because of those dimensions, they have not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.

In my last review of ST:TOS DVDs, I noted that the episodes from Season Two - which started with Volume 15's "Catspaw" - seemed slightly more crisp and clear than their Season One counterparts. That trend continues for the most part but shows one significant exception: Volume 17's "Who Mourns For Adonais?"

For reasons unknown, this episode displayed the weakest image of the four, mainly due to excessive print flaws. "WMFA?" appeared surprisingly dirty and provided a higher than usual number of defects. In addition to the usual light grain and white speckles, there's a moderate amount of black grit, and I also saw some blotches and even a few thin vertical lines. The picture wasn't terribly grungy, but it seemed more problematic than usual.

"WMFA?" also had some other concerns. For the most part, sharpness appeared adequate, but quite a few wide shots displayed mild softness; these seemed a little too hazy at times. Colors also appeared a bit bland and pale; Trek often featured nice hues, and these could look attractive, but they often were somewhat flat. Black levels seemed acceptable, and shadow detail was fine. Frankly, in the brightly-lit world of Trek, those two areas don't play much of a role. Ultimately, "WMFA?" only merited a "C" for picture quality.

Things get back on track with the other episode from Volume 17, "Amok Time". Actually, it looked fairly similar to "WMFA?" but it improved on that show's picture in many small ways. Sharpness appeared more consistently crisp and detailed, and I detected fewer flaws; I still saw some speckles and light grain, but these weren't as prevalent as during the prior show. Colors appeared more accurate and true as well, and my grade for "AT" is a solid "B-", which gave Volume 17 an overall mark of "C+".

For the two shows on Volume 18, picture quality seemed more consistent. Overall, both episodes appeared fairly sharp and well-defined, with only a few examples of some moiré effects and jagged edges. Print flaws remained mild; I saw the usual array of light speckles and modest grain, plus some occasional grit, but nothing significant marred the presentation.

Colors also seemed fairly clear and clean as well. They appeared nicely rendered and accurate, though some modest paleness could be observed at times. Black levels stayed deep and dark, and the few instances in which we witnessed low-light sequences were easily discernible. This is a pretty typical ST:TOS presentation that merits a solid "B-".

A surprising amount of variation occurred among the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks heard on each of the four episodes. As was the case with the picture, "WMFA?" again displayed the weakest audio. The show featured a pretty modest soundfield. Music showed moderate stereo tendencies, and the front channels also displayed minor ambiance such as birds chirping and wind blowing. The latter elements also spread to the rear at times for some very gentle reinforcement of the image; the only significant activity heard from the surrounds came during a thunderstorm late in the show.

The audio quality of "WMFA?" seemed lacking. I detected more distortion than usual. Dialogue sounded edgy and slightly rough, while the music could become mildly shrill at times. Effects fared better, as they seemed fairly clear and realistic and boasted some decent bass. While the audio seemed acceptable compared to other shows of the era, it's weak for these Trek DVDs and only earned a "C+".

"Amok Time" marked a return to form. The soundfield came across as somewhat better realized. It lacked any showy moments, but the ambiance seemed more full and involving, and the whole package blended together more neatly. Audio quality was improved as well, with less distortion heard from the dialogue and effects. The sound still reflects its age, but it worked well enough to merit a "B-".

Easily the best of the bunch was the audio heard during "The Doomsday Machine". Most of the track seemed similar to those on the other episodes. The soundfield remained fairly limited; mostly it offered gentle ambiance, with little active use of the side or rear channels. However, the music appeared much better delineated than usual; the stereo separation was cleaner than on the others, which came across as glorified mono at times.

This improved spread also came through in the audio quality. Dialogue and effects remained good but not great, though this episode featured some solid bass through explosions. However, the score sounded simply terrific for its age. The music appeared much more clear and crisp than usual, and it displayed relatively impressive dynamic range. For the era, this track is quite solid and it earned a "B+" for sound.

"Wolf in the Fold" also presented quality audio, though it seemed more in line with the other episodes. Frankly, all of the comments I made about "Amok Time" apply to it. The show offers good but unspectacular sound that remains positive but felt slightly disappointing after the much-improved dynamics of "TDM". As a result, Volume 18 garnered an overall grade of "B".

The only genuinely unsatisfying part of these DVDs stems 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; that beats a kick in the head but doesn't offer much extra value. The continuing nature of the series makes it harder to add in supplements - there'll be forty DVDs in all, and that would require a lot of content. Still, I can't help but feel something could have been added, whether interviews or publicity stills or even just talent files for guest stars; the world of Trek seems too wide to include so few extras.

Even without more substantial supplements, however, these are two excellent Trek DVDs. If you can only buy one, Volume 17 is the way to go. Although the picture and sound quality is somewhat inferior on that disc, it provides two very solid episodes; one of them - "Amok Time" - stands as a classic of the series. Volume 18 also is terrific, though the second half of "Wolf in the Fold" let me down to a degree. At least the disc features some better-than-usual picture and sound, especially during "The Doomsday Machine". Although Volume 17 gets the nod between the two, both DVDs come recommended.

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