Having grown up in the UK during the 70s, Star Trek was a weekly ritual for me and my family, virtually the only program that everyone could agree they liked. Accordingly, watching the original series on DVD is rather like indulging in the kind of comfort food one had as a child. Like tomato soup and chocolate digestives, the original Star Trek is a familiar and reassuring experience that can be 'taken' at any time, to restore good humour and a general sense of well being.
We only had two discs available to review from Paramount's 8-disc 'Star Trek The Original Series – Season 1' and they contain some of the best episodes the program ever produced, including the classic 'Space Seed', which was the source material for the second Star Trek film The Wrath of Khan.
Episode 22: The Return of the Archons.
A humdinger of an episode. The Enterprise is orbiting the planet Beta III, attempting to discover the fate of the U.S.S Archon, which disappeared in the region 100 years ago. The action opens on Sulu and Enterprise crewmember O'Neill, dressed as if they were the inhabitants of a 19th Century American town, fleeing wildly from menacing brown-cloaked figures. Sulu calls the Enterprise for help, but is zapped by one of the figures just before being beamed aboard. In a blissed out state, he burbles to Kirk about "...paradise," and "...Landru". Beaming down to investigate, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a security detail discover a society comprised of oddly pacified citizens who go completely berserk during the 'Red Hour'. This, they learn is "...the will of Landru," a mysterious entity who seems to have a god-like power over the inhabitants of the planet, whose collective mental state constitutes 'the Body'. Kirk and his team are clearly not '...of the Body' and soon attract the attentions of the Lawgivers, the cloaked figures that zapped Sulu. "You will be absorbed!" they inform Kirk and quickly imprison the team, taking them one by one to an absorption chamber to be brought 'into the Body'. Thankfully, Kirk discovers that a small handful of Betans resist the will of Landru and one of these rebels saves him and Spock from being absorbed (McCoy, however, is not so lucky, and is soon smiling beatifically and saying "Greetings, friend!" in a very unnerving way). Kirk learns that Landru is a computer, programmed 6000 years previously by a great scientist of the same name who wanted to help the Betans to live peacefully and productively. Over time the computer, lacking its creator's wisdom, has interpreted his commands so rigidly that the population has been reduced to mindless automatons. Kirk confronts the machine, arguing that its repressive control of the Betans is actually causing them harm, which means that it's actually contradicting its programmed function. This - in the time-honoured manner of sci-fi - causes the computer to explode, thus freeing the Betans to create a more diverse, liberal society and releasing Sulu and McCoy from its hypnotic spell.
This is a terrific episode with some great writing and a strong supporting performance from Harry Townes as Reger, one of the resistance members who aid Kirk. It also has some quite disturbing scenes, such as the whole population of the town suddenly turning on the crew of the Enterprise and attacking them. After our family watched this episode, the phrase "You will be absorbed!" (delivered in the correct, booming tone) became common in our home as a threat against my brother and I, whenever we were lax in our household chores.
Episode 23: Space Seed.
A superb episode, one of the greats. Near Starbase 12 the Enterprise encounters what seems to be a derelict spacecraft of 20th Century Earth origin. Investigation proves it to be a 'sleeper ship', containing a number of beings in suspended animation. One of these is revived, and proves to be an imposing man who gives his name only as Khan. Brought onboard the Enterprise to be nursed back to health, he soon makes a strong impression on the ship's Historian, the lovely and impressionable Lieutenant Marla McGivers. Meanwhile, Spock has been researching the period of Earth's history comparable to the date of the mysterious ship's manufacture and discovered that in 1993 a group of genetically engineered supermen seized control of Earth and ruled as absolute dictators. Scientifically designed to be mentally and physically superior to ordinary humans, the Superpeople were eventually defeated after years of war, but 80 of them escaped and were never heard of again. Khan, it transpires, is actually Khan Noonian Singh, ex-ruler of a quarter of Earth, and his fellow sleepers are the remainder of the rebel Superpeople! No sooner have they learned this than Khan - with the help of Lieutenant McGivers - resuscitates his band and seizes control of the ship. He orders the crew of the Enterprise to obey him and, when they refuse, threatens to kill Kirk. Unwilling to see her Captain murdered, McGivers frees Kirk, who faces off against the vastly superior Khan. "I have five times your strength!" Khan crows, before being predictably pounded into the floor by Kirk. Once again in command of his ship, Kirk orders Khan and his band to be dumped on the hostile planet Ceti Alpha V (given the choice of following Khan or facing a court martial, McGivers chooses to stand by her man). In an admirably ambiguous ending, Spock muses what the planet will look like after 100 years of Khan's rule.
This episode is packed with delights, including Ricardo Montablan's imposing performance as Khan and a number of brilliantly scripted exchanges. The scene where Kirk, Bones and Scotty explain to an increasingly horrified Spock how they can admire Khan while still being against him is a classic. This episode also had a powerful effect on my family. My dad identified strongly with the genetically engineered superman Khan, and adopted several of his phrases for regular use. He would brusquely address my mum with the line: "My name is Khan! Please sit and entertain me!" Also, whenever she cooked a meal that he found particularly enjoyable, he would give her a sidelong glance and announce to the table: "A superior woman... I will take her!" These comments annoyed my mother greatly, and led to a number of arguments.
Episode 24: A Taste of Armageddon.
Approaching Star Cluster NGC 321 on a diplomatic mission, the Enterprise encounters a signal from planet Eminiar VII warning them to stay away at all costs. Onboard, the belligerent Ambassador Fox, whose mission is to open relations with civilisations in the area, overrules Kirk and orders him to make contact. On the planet's surface, Kirk and his landing party find themselves involved in a bizarre 500-year-old virtual war. In an effort to preserve their respective cultures, Eminiar VII and its neighbouring planet Vendikar have arrived at a solution whereby all the usual apparatus of war - weapons used, missile trajectories, points of impact - are determined by computer, and then the resulting losses that would theoretically result from a specific exchange exacted through people marching dutifully into disintegration chambers. State-sanctioned mass suicide! What's worse, in the conflict that takes place just as the landing party arrives, they and the crew of the Enterprise are all declared war casualties. Leader of the Eminiar VII High Council Anan 7 orders Kirk and party to be held hostage and the rest of the Enterprise crew to beam down for disintegration. Understandably reluctant to agree to this, Kirk escapes and eventually manages to destroy the computer which carries out the virtual conflicts with Vendikar, thus breaching the contract between the two planets and necessitating the use of real weapons. In an impassioned speech he convinces Anan 7 that, when faced by the prospect of real war, the High Council of Vendikar will be amicable to negotiation. Ambassador Fox offers his services.
This episode is another absolute corker, with some great scenes and a thought-provoking plot. Barbara Babcock gives a fine, dignified performance as Mea 3, despite having little to wear except a pair of tights and a pashmina. The scene where Kirk single handedly overcomes six armed guards and the entire High Council of Eminiar VII is brilliant: Spock bursts in immediately afterwards, remarking: "I was under the impression you needed help. It appears I was in error." Spock also gets to distract an Eminiarian guard by saying: "Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder."
Episode 25: This Side of Paradise
An excellent episode which offers the unique delight of seeing Mr Spock letting it all hang out. Under orders from Starfleet Command, the Enterprise approaches Omicron Ceti III to evacuate any surviving members of a colonist expedition that arrived there some years ago. Only recently has it become known that the planet is being subjected to lethal berthold rays. To their surprise, Kirk and his landing party discover the leader Elias Sandoval and his entire colony are in perfect health and living peaceful, if rather unproductive lives. Not only that, but for some reason they are actually healthier than they were when they left earth: old wounds healed, broken bones regrown, missing organs replaced! Spock is the first to discover the reason for their apparently miraculous condition when the colony's scientist, Leila, introduces him to a plant that spews potent spores, bringing peace, contentment and perfect health. Soon the whole crew of the Enterprise is infected and eagerly beaming down to the planet's surface for some much-delayed R 'n R. At first Kirk is unaffected by the spores and returns to the ship to try and determine a course of action. Ondeck he's blasted again by one of the weird plants and finally becomes infected. Struggling against the effect he learns that "...emotions... violent emotions!" can destroy them and their influence. Luring Spock onto the Enterprise, he insults him until he flies into a rage and in doing so liberates his First Officer from the spores. The two of them hatch a plan to do the same for the rest of the crew and colonists, and order is soon restored. Spock ends the episode on a sober note, saying only that the period on the planet was the first time in his life when he was happy.
As mentioned at the start, the chief pleasure of this episode is the extraordinary sight of Spock dangling carefree from a branch, this after he's indulged in a bout of cloud-spotting with his beautiful companion. "I have never understood the female capacity to avoid giving an answer to a direct question," he opines. The companion, Leila Kalomi, is played by the lovely Jill Ireland, who was soon to become wife of Charles Bronson. As in 'The Return of the Archons' the philosophical point the story is making is that conflict and struggle are necessary parts of human evolution. Again, an artificially-induced peace is thrown off in favour of dangerous reality. "Maybe we weren't meant for paradise," muses Kirk, "We were meant to fight... claw! Struggle!" He looks heartened at the prospect.
Episode 29: Operation: Annihilate!
Mysterious episodes of mass insanity have been working their way through a section of the galaxy for many hundreds of years, leaving wrecked civilisations in their wake. The next planet in its path is peaceful, beautiful Deneva, which happens to be the home of Kirk's brother Sam. Beaming down onto the planet, Kirk et al are approached by a gang of club-wielding psychotics, who run towards them while simultaneously yelling at them to leave. Phasering them down, the party move onto Sam's apartment where Kirk discovers his brother's corpse. Back onboard the Enterprise, Kirk listens to his brother's hysterical wife rave about 'things' forcing them to 'build ships', before she expires, leaving her unconscious son as the only surviving family member. Kirk returns to the planet where his party is attacked by what appear to be flying fried eggs. One of the creatures stings Spock rendering him unconscious. Back in sick bay, McCoy reveals that Spock and Kirk's nephew have both been injected with the same horrible alien substance: a fine gossamer strand that wraps itself around the victim's nervous system and subjects them to intense pain unless its directions are followed. After briefly attempting to gain control of the ship, Spock uses his Vulcan side to control the pain and returns to the planet's surface to capture one of the creatures. Under examination onboard the Enterprise, it proves to be part of a much larger organism, like a single brain cell, and drawing its strength from the whole. Repeated tests and experiments fail to destroy the creature, until Kirk suggests subjecting it to intense light in a sealed chamber, which does succeed in killing it. Spock volunteers to be the guinea pig for discovering whether the light treatment also works on people who have been stung by the creatures, and enters the chamber to be zapped. It transpires that the light does indeed kill the creatures even within the human body, but Spock has been blinded in the process. Too late, McCoy discovers that only one particular spectrum of light, invisible to human eyes, is deadly to the fried egg creatures. Spock has been blinded for nothing! Surrounding Deneva with a ring of satellites, Kirk subjects the planet to a blast of the light rays, which succeeds in destroying the creatures. What's more, Spock regains his sight, explaining: "The brightness of the Vulcan sun has caused the development of an inner eyelid, which acts as a shield against high-intensity light. We tend to ignore it, as you ignore your own appendix."
This is a very good episode, with some tense moments and a terrific climax. It must be said that of the many creatures to appear throughout Star Trek, the flying fried egg creatures are some of the least convincing. However, that aside, the script and story stand up very well and Nimoy is in particularly fine form.
Text commentary for the episodes “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “The Menagerie Part 1 and Part II” and “The Conscience of the King”
As we never received the discs with these episodes I cannot offer any thoughts on the quality of these text commentaries.
The Birth of a Timeless Legacy
At just under 24 minutes, this featurette covers the origins of Star Trek and includes footage of many of the surviving actors discussing the origins of their characters, as well as comments from some of the producers and behind-the-scenes crew. These snippets vary both in quality and the time when they were recorded. Of those recorded late last year, Shatner is barely comprehensible, Nimoy lucid and intelligent, Michelle Nichols still stunning. The archive footage of Gene Roddenberry is from 1988 and in it he outlines his plans for the first Star Trek pilot, which featured Jeffrey Hunter as Kirk and was a failure. James Doohan is featured in a brief discussion from 1994 concerning the origins of Scotty. It's pleasant enough, but the incidental snippets of info (the character of Kirk was based on Hamlet and Hornblower, etc) are unlikely to surprise any dedicated Trekkie. Altogether, this is pretty light for a special feature.
Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner
This curious ten minute featurette recorded at the end of last year shows Mr Shatner at play on his horse farm in Central California. There's a lot of footage of him riding his quarter-horses around with impressive control. We also get to meet Mrs Shatner, a determined woman in sunglasses.
Red Shirt Logs
There's a few of these featurettes semi-hidden among the blinking control console that serves as the Special Features menu for the DVD. Subject matter is varied and somewhat inconsequential: one briefly allows producer Robert Justman to describe a forced perspective special effect he conceived for pilot episode 'The Cage', that wasn't used. Another shows George Takei recalling filming of 'The Naked Time', the episode where Sulu goes loopy with a rapier. Still another examines the weird casting behind 'The Corbomite Maneuver'.
To Boldly Go... Season One
This is a fairly directionless series of reminiscences and stories about the first series, including an in-depth look at episodes including 'Devil in the Dark' and 'City on the Edge of Forever'. Ricardo Montablan recalls going eye-to-eye with Shatner in 'Space Seed'. William Campbell tells the story of how he was hired to play the central character in 'The Squire of Gothos'. It lasts a little over 18 minutes.
Reflections on Spock
One of the best extras, as it benefits from Nimoy's perceptive and entertaining interview, this is a 12 minute look at arguably Star Trek's most popular character, through the eyes of the actor who played him. Nimoy recounts the huge amounts of fan mail Spock attracted and the misunderstanding that surrounded the first installment of his autobiography, 'I am not Spock', which, despite its title, was not disparaging towards the series or towards the character, but merely at attempt at clarifying both Nimoy's own pre-Star Trek life and the genesis of the character. "I'm a Jewish guy who grew up in Boston, I don't have pointy ears. " he notes, "Both my parents are human." He discusses how the fall-out from the book's title was so severe it almost nixed his chance at directing Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Kiss & Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century
A look at Kirk's many women throughout the galaxy and the presence of women generally in the series.
A 'six degrees of separation' style photo game. For true fanatics only.
The special features end with fine trailers for Star Trek: Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Lacking a 5-speaker set-up and unable to confirm the details, I can't say with absolute assurance whether this is a 5.1 mix. However, I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that it is because Paramount's previous Original Series set featured a 5.1 mix and it would make little sense to feature anything less. The episodes sound pretty good considering their age. Most importantly, Alexander Courage's excellent music sounds better than I've ever heard it before, which really adds to the atmosphere of each episode.
Visually the episodes look terrific considering this series was first broadcast between 1966 and 1967. Colours are clear and bright and there's a minimum of dirt and debris. The only times when the age of the source elements becomes more obvious are the special effects sequences. Other than that, this is a splendid transfer.
As I said in the introduction, Star Trek possesses supreme nostalgia value. True Trekkies may be somewhat disappointed in the 'extras disc' such as it is, but if you don't already own Paramount's previous Original Series set (and possibly even if you do, considering the far more sensible four-episodes-per-disc ratio in this release versus the miserly two-episodes-per-disc of that release) then this release promises much delight. Greetings, friend!
Universal has released the entire first season of the original Star Trek as an 8-disk boxed set. Natski reviews disks 6 and 8.