BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Aug 31st, 2004 •

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Eight discs containing 29 episodes.

There’s not much to be said about STAR TREK that’s not been said before – it is after all almost forty years since it first beamed into our homes. Now at last it finds it’s way onto DVD, and they’ve not made a bad job of it, though I’d have to argue with their claim of ‘beautifully remastered in pristine condition’. The picture quality’s good, but it’s not that good.

This first set contains the first 29 episodes of the series that started a franchise that so far shows no sign of dropping out of warp speed. Although the episodes are presented in the original broadcast order, they are handily numbered in production order. Watching them in broadcast order results in some serious continuity gaffs. For instance, the second pilot, WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE, which sold the series and which was made a year before the series went into production, is presented as episode three, which means you get to view two episodes with the crew in their familiar roles and uniforms, McCoy as ship’s doctor, Sulu as helmsman etc., and then suddenly the uniforms change, Sulu is now head of ‘Life Sciences’, DeForest Kelley (McCoy) has morphed into veteran character actor Paul Fix (Dr. Piper), Kirk’s middle initial has changed to ‘R’ and he has something that looks like an anglepoise lamp attached to his chair. Luckily by the next episode everything is back to normal. With the first episode filmed for the series proper (THE CORBOMITE MANEUVER) turning up as episode ten (!) this jumbled up presentation results in Spock flitting back and forth from the cool logical character we have come to know to a raving emotional loon (without any help from alien spores I might add). Being able to watch them in production order however allows you to see how the actors grew into the characters, how the chemistry between them developed as the series progressed, and how the writers developed the characters themselves, most notably of course Mr. Spock. When the series starts he seems almost as emotional as everyone else, smiling, shouting and so on, and it’s way on into the season before he starts to settle down into the straight-jacket of his logical Vulcan heritage. In THE MAN TRAP (sixth episode filmed but first to be broadcast) when a ‘salt vampire’, the last of it’s kind, is attacking the captain, Spock screams, yes, screams, at McCoy “Kill it Doctor – Kill it quick!”. Not only highly emotional but bad grammar to boot. But by the time THE DEVIL IN THE DARK makes an appearance in episode twenty-six where Spock is confronted with another murderous creature, which again is the last of it’s kind, now, in the interests of science, he is highly eloquent in his reluctance to allow it to be killed. We also see how the Kirk/Yeoman Rand relationship was perceived to be getting too ‘complicated’ and, after appearing in every episode thus far (in production order that is) she unceremoniously makes an exit in episode 13 and is not seen again for 13 years when she has a brief appearance in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Also undergoing development was the TREK universe itself with the Enterprise representing initially the ‘United Earth Space Probe Agency’ (a tad clunky) and reporting back to ‘Space Central’ before establishing, after many episodes, it’s governing body as the now familiar ‘United Federation of Planets’ and reporting to ‘Starfleet Command’. Spock (who is referred to as Vulcanian several times in the early episodes), throughout the first season, also speaks of his parents in the past tense (this would of course change in later episodes) and initially states that one of his ancestors married a human female (WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE), but a few episodes later (THE NAKED TIME) it is established that it was in fact his mother who was human.

Season one features some of the best episodes of original TREK produced, penned by some of the best SF writers of the time: Richard Matheson’s THE ENEMY WITHIN; George Clayton Johnson’s THE MAN TRAP (Matheson and Johnson were also regular TWILIGHT ZONE contributors); D.C. Fontana’s CHARLIE X and TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY; Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch’s WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF; Theodore Sturgoeon’s SHORE LEAVE and what many fans consider the best TREK episode of all time, Harlan Ellison’s THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER. Also in the set is TREK creator Gene Roddenberry’s reworking of his original rejected pilot THE CAGE with Jeffrey (KING OF KINGS, THE SEARCHERS) Hunter as Enterprise captain Christopher Pike. Retitled THE MENAGERIE, it is the only two-part original TREK episode, and, although it has become a favourite among fans, it stemmed from the fact that the series was behind schedule. By utilising footage from the original pilot they were able to get two episodes for only one episode’s worth of filming and thereby put the show back on schedule and back under budget. Another essential for the TREK collector is the episode SPACE SEED which introduced us to the protagonist, portrayed memorably by Ricardo Montalban, who would return in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, in my view the best of the TREK movies.

As with most sixties TV series, they were not meant to be subject to too much close scrutiny, which of course is possible in a DVD format, and TREK is no exception – in fact it is one of the major culprits of bad continuity, changing premises, scientific impossibilities, equipment oddities and plot oversights. Phil Farrand’s excellent book THE NITPICKER’S GUIDE FOR CLASSIC TREKKERS lists many of the above but this DVD presentation brings a whole lot more to the fore. Cost cutting by use of stock footage frequently shows close ups of Scotty’s or Sulu’s hands at the transporter or helm controls, irrespective of who is actually handling them in the previous shot; the design of the ship varies from shot to shot; shirt insignias appear and disappear at will; stunt doubles are noticeably just that; Kirk’s hair parting changes sides (reversed reaction shots); communicators don’t open; phasers don’t fire or drop off their Velcro tabs and famously Kirk even steps out of the turbolift in a different style and colour shirt than the one he was wearing when he entered it (CHARLIE X). In BALANCE OF TERROR, basically a space version of THE ENEMY BELOW, the Enterprise is stalking an invisible Romulan ship. At one point both ships shut down their engines and power and pull the silent running routine. The crews even resort to whispering. Why? We’re in space for Pete’s sake! Sound waves don’t carry in a vacuum! In the episode MIRI the Enterprise encounters a planet exactly like Earth (it may be as cloudless as a school globe, but the land masses are the same shape! Well, North America is at least. I particularly like this moment – To establish that the planet is ‘exactly like Earth’ they deliberately show a land mass the same shape as North America, as if any other area of the planet might not be so immediately identifiable to the American audience. This demonstrates a little of the thinking that led to the rejection of the original pilot, that is to say ‘The viewers are idiots – don’t make it too complicated.’). What is Kirk’s reaction to this unbelievable find? “… a planet which apparently is an exact duplicate of the Earth. It seems impossible, but there it is.”. It seems impossible, but there it is? Is that it? Isn’t he the least bit curious as to how this could come about? Obviously not for no further explanation is either given or sought. It is just accepted. Does this seem likely? The entire series is full of nonsense like this but still we watch.

In the UK we were lucky enough, thanks to the good old BBC, to see the episodes in their entirety and without commercial breaks and a plus for American viewers is that this collection provides an opportunity to view the episodes without the extensive cuts made in syndication.

The animated menus are thoughtfully designed: After Kirk’s ‘Space – the Final Frontier’ prologue we are whisked onto and around a virtual Enterprise Bridge and seated in the captain’s chair. The episode titles appear on the main viewing screen and other options appear appropriately at the helm and navigation stations. The original TV teaser trailers (of particular interest to me as we never saw them in the UK) are interesting in that some of them contain shots that are not in the final episodes and different takes on scenes that are, notably the trailer for SHORE LEAVE. The text commentaries are informative as, in the main, are the documentaries and interviews but Life After Trek in which Bill Shatner (Captain Kirk) goes on (and on) about his passion for horses is a sheer waste of disc space. The Trek Connections game is also a bore.

Contrary to the illustration, each disc features a photo of a different cast member and one of the Enterprise, and the booklet cover illustration is of Kirk and Spock in a scene from A TASTE OF ARMAGEDDON.

Despite all it’s goofs, flaws, antiquated SFX and histrionics it is still an enthralling and fun-filled watch and undeniably a great piece of TV history.

It seems impossible, but there it is.

Seasons two and three are due to follow shortly.

(Details refer to the Region 2 DVD release)

See also my soundtrack reviews for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and INSIDE STAR TREK.

Special Features:
Original TV teaser trailers for each episode.
Text Commentaries on WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE (disc 1), THE MENAGERIE, Part 1 and Part 2 (disc 3), THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING (disc 4) by Michael and Denise Okuda – co-authors of The Star Trek Encyclopaedia.
The Birth of a Timeless Legacy – interviews with cast and network executives and producers. Features new interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, and Bob Justman.
Life After Trek: William Shatner.
To Boldly Go… Season One – Cast and production crewmembers’ memories and stories of working on the series.
Reflections on Spock – Leonard Nimoy discusses his character.
Kiss & Tell: Romance in the Final Frontier – a look at the many romantic relationships seen on the series.
Trek Connections Game
Photo Log
Sci-Fi Visionaries – A look at Star Trek’s famous writers.

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