The DVD Dissection - The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series
Posted by Chad Webb on 05.12.2009
Is it the best of the original series, or simply a sloppy combination of episodes for money?
William Shatner: Captain James T. Kirk
Leonard Nimoy: Mr. Spock
DeForest Kelly: Dr. McCoy
Nichelle Nichols: Uhura
James Doohan: Scott
Eddie Paskey: Lt. Leslie
Bill Blackburn: Lt. Hadley
Created By: Gene Roddenberry
DVD Release Date: May 12, 2009
DVD Running Time: 201 minutes
This spot is usually reserved for a history of the show I am reviewing and how it came to be, but if you are reading this, you probably already know how Star Trek: The Original Series was born. I’ll save the story of how I became a fan of Star Trek for my review of “The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation” DVD because that series was my introduction to the canon. Look for it on the site soon! I’ll make my summary of this series short and sweet.
It was in 1960 that Gene Roddenberry put together a proposal for Star Trek, a show set aboard an interstellar space vessel dedicated to exploring the galaxy. Roddenberry had experience writing westerns at the time, and pitched the idea as Wagon Train to the stars. He secured a 3-year development deal in 1964, and from there the storyline would undergo various changes until it eventually contained the crew we know and love today. CBS was interested in the series first, but turned it down in favor of Lost in Space. NBC picked it up supposedly because they needed a show that would make the best use of the then new color TV technology.
The crew, just in case some newbies are reading, consist of the following characters: Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is the commanding officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is the science officer and second-in-command, Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelly) is the chief medical officer, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan) is the chief engineer, Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) is the communication officer, Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) is the helmsman, and Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) is the navigator. Those are the main members you need to know for this particular set.
Even at the end of its first season, Star Trek was in danger of cancellation. The ratings were not very impressive and advertising revenue was lackluster. It was signed for a second season, and again the threat of cancellation loomed, but a fierce letter writing campaign from fans prompted the network to give it another season. Unfortunately, they dumped in a bad timeslot, and the third season wound up being the last, until the movies of course. 79 episodes were produced in all, and it was sufficient for syndication, where it became extremely popular.
The following episodes are all quite good, and act as an appropriate representation of the finest storylines the show had to offer. Normally I would say this is a cheap way to get money, but in light of the new Star Trek film acquiring new fans for the franchise, these would be good, inexpensive sets to buy. After perusing some top 10 episode lists of various magazines and websites, the ones here certainly qualify.
The City on the Edge of Forever
Season 1, Episode 28
Original Air Date: April 6, 1967
Directed By: Joseph Pevney
As the Enterprise passes a planet sending out shock waves that disrupt the flight, they realize that the waves concern time in some form. After an injury causes Dr. McCoy to accidentally inject himself with a powerful drug, he goes temporarily insane, and beams himself down to that strange planet. Once the crew follows to try and rescue him, they arrive at an archway, which speaks, and explains that it is the Guardian of Forever. Through the arch, the crew sees the past via images, and the arch says if they pass through, they can go to a certain period. McCoy, still crazy, leaps through. Mr. Spock and Cpt. Kirk must follow him after something McCoy did in the past, alters history in a bad way. They deduce that McCoy will arrive in 1930 New York, and so they travel there and attempt to find him, and figure out what he did that changed history.
Any storyline dealing with time travel is right up my alley, so this was tremendous fun to watch. DeForest Kelly's overacting was more humorous than it was annoying, which was good. "Assassins! Killers!" I liked how they created inventions using 1930 tools, and I also appreciated that the romance angle involving Kirk and Edith was not shcmaltzy. The ending was quite poignant and even risky for a television series. Joan Collins is fine in her part of Edith Keeler as well. This episode is regarded as one of the best, and has a lot of history concerning Harlan Ellison's original draft, which Roddenberry had altered somewhat. The original script, which was revised, won a few awards.
The Trouble with Tribbles
Season 2, Episode 15
Original Air Date: December 29, 1967
Directed By: Joseph Pevney
The story follows the Enterprise, who receive a priority 1 distress call from a space station, but when they respond, it turns out that federation Commissioner issued it because he needs Kirk and his crew to guard some special brand of wheat that will be used to help Sherman's planet. The problem is that the Klingons also have stake on this planet, and that is why the wheat needs to be guarded. One Klingon ship is nearby, and their crew takes shore leave on board the space station. Meanwhile, a salesman named Cyrano Jones is trying to get rid of some cute furry creatures called Tribbles. They are harmless, but they multiply extremely fast. Soon, the Enterprise and the space station are crawling with them, and this poses a problem with the wheat.
The Tribbles are very well known with the Star Trek culture. Books have been written solely about this episode, and sequel episodes appeared in the animated series and Deep Space Nine. This was my introduction to them, and my initial reaction was that they were the equivalent of the Ewoks from Star Wars. Nonetheless, this is a highly entertaining episode. This series did not pump out very many deliberately comical episodes, but this was, and it was effective. Having Kirk, a confident man, guarding wheat instead of exploring the galaxy is funny, and this story produces some good moments. The farcical elements are terrific, and the pacing, in addition to the comic timing make this wonderful enjoyment even for non-Trekkies. The entire bar fight sequence, and Kirk's reaction to how it started, were priceless.
Balance of Terror
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date: December 15, 1966
Directed By: Vincent McEveety
When the Enterprise receives a distress call from Federation Outpost #4, a monitoring station of the Federation side of neutral territory separating them from the Romulans, they witness the station's destruction at the hands of a mysterious ship. It appears, fires a powerful beam, and then disappears. The outposts were established over a century ago, and no one on Kirk's crew has actually ever seen a Romulan. After a brief visual of the enemy, they bear a strong resemblance to Vulcans, Spock's race. This prompts a rebellious crew member to treat Spock unfairly. While dealing with that, Kirk proceeds on a dangerous cat and mouse game with an intelligent Romulan commander. He must also watch how close he gets to the neutral territory.
I found absolutely nothing wrong with this episode. It was flawless. In under an hour, we learn more about the universe all these races inhabit, and watch a glorious back and forth battle involving thought-provoking material on strategy and leadership qualities. This episode really gives you a glimpse at why James T. Kirk is such an iconic character, and why Shatner was so spectacular in the role. They laid out the history between the Romulans and the Federation adeptly as well. Mark Lenard, who portrays the Romulan commander, would go on to play a total of 3 races in the Star Trek universe , making him the first to do so. This episode was inspired by the films The Enemy Below and even The African Queen in regards to the marriage ceremony. This one has a lot to offer: action, romance, drama, and a cast with great chemistry.
Season 2, Episode 1
Original Air Date: April 6, 1967
Directed By: Joseph Pevney
In this adventure, Spock has been behaving rather oddly. He refuses to eat, and his temper is unprecedented. After receiving word from Dr. McCoy that Spock’s problems might kill him, Kirk drags the truth out of his friend. Spock has the blood fever, which causes him to resort to a hormonal state of mind, at a time when he must set out to mate for life. He is granted his first shore leave, and so the Enterprise makes way for Vulcan. Unfortunately, they are going there against Starfleet orders. Upon arrival, Spock’s arranged fiancée, T’Pring, interrupts the marriage ceremony by calling for an ancient challenge. She chooses a champion that will fight Spock for her. Surprisingly, she selects Kirk, and so two friends must fight to the death.
This episode reminds me of The Cable Guy. I’ve always enjoyed that movie, even though everyone else hates it, and for years I wondered what the hell Jim Carrey was talking about when he and Matthew Broderick have that battle scene in Medieval Times. Now I know. Even the theme made me laugh because of Carrey singing it in the film! This is a juicy premise for an episode, and it worked wonderfully. The concept of Kirk and Spock fighting each other is terrific, and it produces unparalleled suspense. Kirk being caught in a tough position by disobeying Starfleet was interesting as well. I mean, we all know Kirk will not die in the end, but they treated it about as well as anyone could for a TV series.
Star Trek: The Original Series has had many releases, on DVD, VHS, HD-DVD, and now Blu-Ray. By now, they have cleaned up the print for standard releases about as competently as possible. It looks washed out and soft on VHS and in syndication, but here, the result is surprisingly clear, detailed, and colorful. The treatment is so good that Spock's make-up is evident during every close-up of Nimoy's face. Oh well. The special effects look great, and mesh well with the proceedings. One might notice some wear and tear related to the age of the series (This is from 1966 after all), but other than that, this was an update given special care and consideration. The enhancements are fantastic, and they have presented in a full frame format.
The original mono soundtrack has been improved to a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which spices up the audio marvelously. Star Trek has plenty of explosions that are rendered loud and distinct, but the whizzing by of the ship, the background noise, and other sound effects likes the phasers and whatnot, are all solid in the sound department. The dialogue is incredibly lucid and understandable, the subtitles are adequate, and the audio is free of unnecessary distortion. The rich sound gives the speakers a nice workout. Overall, not much has been altered since the first upgrades to these DVDs, and it really makes no difference because it looks gorgeous for standard players. This contains subtitles in English.
The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series is distributed in a standard black keep case. Inside are advertisements for future Star Trek releases. The cover art is fairly general, but sleek and cool-looking at the same time. The menu screens are very easy to navigate.
No bonus features unfortunately.
The Show: 9.0/10.0
The Episodes: 10.0/10.0
The Video: 8.0/10.0
The Audio: 7.5/10.0
The Extras: 0.0/10.0
The 411: At around $10 -$15, this is a superb DVD to buy if you are a new Star Trek fan, or even if you are an avid fan that simply does not want to spend the money for the full season sets. The episodes they have included are excellent entertainment, and well worth owning. I wish they would have included some sort of extras, but I guess we should expect that for such a modest price. The technical specifications are quite satisfactory for a 1966 series. If I had to pick of favorite of these it would probably be “Balance of Terror”, but they are all terrific.