Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
|Title:||Star Trek: The Original Series Volume 19 & 20 (1967)|
The Changeling: (Episode 37)
The Apple (Episode 38)
Mirror, Mirror: (Episode 39)
The Deadly Years: (Episode 40)
|Director:||Marc Daniels, Joseph Pevney|
|Cast:||William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Keith Andes, Celeste Yarnall, Charles Drake, Barbara Luna, Sarah Marshall|
|DVD:||Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital DD 5.1; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; Not Rated; 100 min.; $19.99; street date 2/13/01.|
|Supplements:||Original Broadcast Preview Trailers.|
|Purchase:||Volume 19 | Volume 20|
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 19 B-/B/D-
It’s official: we’re halfway home! With this newest batch of Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs, we’ve finally reached the mid-point; there will be 40 discs, and we now have 20 that have appeared over the last 18 months or so. Will it take another year and a half to finish the series? Probably, but I hope not; the four-month gap since we got Volumes 17 and 18 seemed like an eternity, and I can’t wait that long for my next fix of Trek!
In any case, I was happy to receive these newest DVDs and continue my re-acquaintance with the world of Trek. 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 19: "The Changeling" and "The Apple"
"The Changeling" (broadcast 32nd) foreshadowed the plot to 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise encounter an entity that apparently eliminated the population of an entire system. Kirk and company soon discover that it’s “Nomad”, a spacecraft from the olden days of Earth. Along the way, its programming was altered to make it a lean, mean killing machine that attempts to slay anything not perfect - that means pretty much everything. (Whew - at least I’m safe!)
This episode took place entirely on board the Enterprise, and it’s mainly a psychological thriller in which Kirk and the crew have to find a way to halt this apparently unstoppable force. Of course, their success is inevitable, but the show provides a compelling experience nonetheless as we watch the clever methods used to attempt to reason with this purely-scientific machine. As a whole, I found it to be a pretty entertaining episode, even though I do blame “Nomad” for the misery that was ST:TMP; that film’s “V’Ger” bears an unmistakable to this episode’s rogue element.
Political incorrectness alert: right around the 22 minute mark, Nomad gets confused when he “absorbs” the thoughts of Uhura. He describes her as “defective”, with “chaotic” thinking and a “mass of conflicting impulses”. Robots say the darnedest things!
Of the four episodes on these two DVD, "The Apple" (broadcast 34th) is the only one that mainly takes place outside of the Enterprise. Here Kirk and crew beam down to the surface of Eden-like Gamma Trianguli VI. Unfortunately, this rock doesn’t take well to strangers, and the Starfleet personnel are attacked by a variety of natural causes like killer flower spores. Eventually they meet the inhabitants of the planet, all of whom work to serve Vaal, an unspeaking God-like force who keeps them happy but stagnant. When Vaal comes to shove, Kirk and company fight against the apparently-omnipotent force that threatens them.
We’ve seen this one before, but that doesn’t keep “The Apple” from being an enjoyable episode. Primary among this show’s appeal is its philosophical quandaries. The crew are confronted with the Starfleet’s “prime directive”, which orders non-interference with native cultures. Do they sit back and let Vaal keep them subservient and without progress, or do they intervene and make the subjects move on with their culture?
I thought the answer to this question was reconciled too glibly, but the show still was somewhat more thought-provoking than most. Now if only someone could tell me who created those absurd silver wigs worn by the male inhabitants of Vaal.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 20 C+/B-/D-
Volume 20: "Mirror, Mirror" and "The Deadly Years"
"Mirror, Mirror" (broadcast 33rd) offers a fun concept: the alternate universe. After they unsuccessfully attempt to convince the inhabitants of a peaceful planet to sell them some minerals, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura are sent to an alternate existence through a teleporter mishap. Although they’re on the Enterprise, it ain’t their Enterprise; here they belong to “the Empire”, a cruel and vicious union that sounds a lot like another Empire featured in some moderately popular films of the late Seventies and early Eighties.
In their reality, the main villain wears no black life-support mask; instead, he’s one James T. Kirk. The episode shows our good crew as they attempt to stay alive in this cut-throat society and eventually find a way home.
The science is dodgier than in most Trek episodes, but if you go with the conceits presented, it’s all good fun. Some of the better shows offer unusual depictions of Trek participants, and that’s the case here. Frankly, I wish they’d shown more shots of the Nasty Kirk and company aboard Good Enterprise, but “MM” is still a solidly enjoyable episode. If nothing else, it’s worth a look just to see Spock in a goatee.
Part I didn’t get: when the Good and Bad crews switched universes, they also swapped clothes. This makes no sense; nothing else about the four officers changed. I understand that this had to happen as a plot point; otherwise the different garb would have instantly given away their identities. However, I still thought it was inconsistent and nonsensical. Granted, I suppose one shouldn’t argue logic when one discusses a show about alternate universes, but even so, internal consistency is important.
"The Deadly Years" (broadcast 41st) is another mainly Enterprise-based episode. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov and token expendable newcomer Yeoman Atkins check out a planet where the inhabitants have experienced rapid aging. After they return, all of the visiting crew members except Chekov also been to quickly grow old. What’s up with that? The show progresses as a mystery in which they need to pool their resources to find a cure before they all croak.
The “mysterious virus” is another Trek stand-by, but it’s given new life through the unusual treatment found here. This disease affects the crew in ways other than just its life-threatening capabilities; it reduces their abilities to work. This becomes problematic when Kirk cannot adequately serve the ship and misguided Commodore Stocker has to take charge. When Stocker leads them into conflict with the Romulans, the situation becomes even more critical.
We find more political incorrectness here via the show’s less-than-positive view of the elderly. The episode embraces some crotchety stereotypes, most of which revolve around Kirk’s loss of memory. However, it should be noted that one of Kirk’s mistakes later saves the ship. Granted, he wouldn’t have been able to do this while “old”, but it at least showed one positive side of his experience.
As with the other three shows on these DVDs, “The Deadly Years” qualifies as good but not great. As a whole, it was an exciting and tense episode, but the lack of innovation rendered it a little less than terrific. We’ve seen enough similar plots on other Trek shows that it seemed too familiar. Nonetheless, I thought it worked fairly well and made for an enjoyable viewing experience.
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. Although these episodes don’t present a substantial improvement over most of the older releases, I think they do show growth, and we find some of the best-looking of the bunch on these DVDs.
For “The Changeling”, I found a consistently decent picture that displayed tendencies typical of episodes shot entirely on the “Enterprise” sets. Sharpness could be a little hazy at times but most of the show seemed acceptably crisp and well-defined, with no 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.
Note that my comments about print defects do not apply to the special effects shots seen on the show. For those images - usually of the “Enterprise” as it zooms past us - I detected much heavier flaws. Grain was more concentrated, and scratches, speckles, and grit were much more prevalent. I think these problems occurred because the footage was re-used so many times. There are some shots of the ship that appeared on many episodes, as did some stock bridge shots of Sulu; “The Changeling” displayed a particularly funny use of the latter, since we hear Sulu speak though it’s clear the on-screen image isn’t talking. Some non-stock effects also showed problems - superimpositions could be slightly messy - but for the most part, the major flaws stayed within the brief space scenes.
Colors have always been a strong point of the Trek episodes, especially because NBC pushed the show as a way to promote color TV sales. At times, that resulted in excessively heavy hues that could seem blotchy or runny, but the tones appear to have been largely reigned in by the time of “The Changeling”. During this episode, the colors looked nicely clear and vivid, without any serious concerns. Black levels also came across as fairly deep. Since the Trek universe is brightly-lit, shadow detail isn’t much of an issue, but when we find low-light scenes, they looked appropriately heavy but not overly thick.
For the most part, the image found on Volume 19’s sister episode, “The Apple”, compared favorably with that of “The Changeling”. The main differences concerned print flaws. Except for during the effects shots, “TC” was relatively free of defects, but that’s less the case for “TA”. I saw more examples of speckles and grit, and I also witnessed periodic instances of thin vertical lines. However, “TA” offered less grain than did “TC”, and the focus seemed tighter as well. All other aspects of the picture were comparable, so both shows earned overall grades of “B-”.
For Volume 20, the image quality dipped somewhat, mainly on the first episode, “Mirror, Mirror”. This show seemed a little grainier than most, and it also looked a bit more soft. In addition, some nicks and blotches made this Enterprise-based program messier than most. Otherwise, the show seemed typical, but these flaws lowered my overall rating for this episode to a “C”.
Much better was the second episode on V20, “The Deadly Years”. Another mainly Enterprise-based program, I saw examples of moiré effects in clothes, and it also displayed mild graininess, but as a whole, the show looked pretty clean and crisp. As a whole, it was a solid picture that compared favorably with what I saw during “The Changeling”. Its “B-” meant that V20 earned an overall grade of “C+”.
As has been the case with all of the prior ST:TOS DVDs, these volumes feature newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This audio comes from original monaural tracks. The soundfield remains pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it has been opened up a bit. For both shows on Volume 19, we find few examples of discrete channel usage, but they offered very solid atmosphere. Split effects appeared via some proton torpedo shots and ship fly-bys, but otherwise the side and rear channels mainly concentrated on general ambiance. This worked surprisingly well, as both the hum heard on the Enterprise and the workings of Vaal during “The Apple” nicely engulfed and involved me.
Both shows on V20 were consistent with the episodes on V19. Enterprise-based programs tend to provide more conservative mixes. They lack the flashiness of the planet-oriented shows, so mainly what we hear are “whooshes” as the ship flies past us plus the occasional torpedo or phaser blast. The ambient hum of the Enterprise becomes the main surround component, and while it can provide an effective atmosphere, the overall effect isn’t very compelling.
Nonetheless, the music spread broadly to the sides, and the general environment seemed good for the era. Some of the other Trek episodes have been more active than these, but I found no serious problems related to their soundfields.
Even more pleasantly surprising was the good quality of the sound on both DVDs. 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 come across quite well for the most part. Some distortion can interfere with effects at times; however, since these problems mainly manifest themselves via explosions - which were rarely heard on these episodes - the shows on the two DVDs seemed more clean than most.
In regard to any exceptional audio heard during the particular episodes, “The Apple” featured the best general atmosphere of the bunch. The background hum caused by Vaal became rich and convincing. “The Changeling” also provided some of the four episodes’ best bass, as it offered relatively deep and warm low end. On the negative side, whenever music appeared during “Mirror, Mirror”, I detected an annoying background hum. This disappeared once the score stopped. That flaw alone caused me to drop my rating of V20’s audio to a “B-“, while V19 still got a “B”. In any case, both offered solid soundtracks for such old material.
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. For the first 18 volumes of these discs, I griped about these omissions, and I don’t plan to stop now. I know that any changes in this domain are extremely unlikely at this point, but a boy can dream, can’t he?
In regard to my recommendations, both Volume 19 and Volume 20 offer pretty decent packages of Star Trek episodes. However, all four episodes fall into the “good but not great” category. None of the shows qualifies as a clunker, but none rise above the pack either. If I had to choose a favorite, it’d probably be “Mirror, Mirror” for its interesting reversals; Spock’s beard has to earn some credit as well. However, I liked all four episodes, and think that Trek fans should be pleased with both DVDs.