Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One (Remastered) Review
Please note Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One (Remastered) is only available as a HD DVD Combo set. This review covers the DVD side of that release and for now will be the only side covered as we were not provided with the HD DVD side for review. Full details on the set can be found here.
In early 1964 Gene Roddenberry was invited to pitch his new series idea Star Trek to the board of executives at CBS. For over two hours he enthusiastically outlined his ideas and was encouraged to find that, despite the fact the series was a little unusual, the executives seemed very keen on the idea. They questioned him endlessly about it, going into far more depth than is usual in initial meetings, probing him about such details as the types of story he would tell, the design of the ship (then called the Yorktown) and how he would manage to produce such an ambitious show on a television budget. At the end of the session Roddenberry got up, utterly convinced he had made a sale. But then the execs dropped a bombshell. “Thank you very much for coming in,” one of them said as they walked to the door, “but we have one of our own we like better.”
Roddenberry was, quite understandably, beside himself with rage. He had been used, purely and simply, and now the SOBs (as he later called them) were going to use his concepts to make their own show. Even worse, the show in question turned out to be Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space, the epitome of everything that Roddenberry hated in television and wanted Star Trek to challenge. Although unquestionably entertaining, the adventures of the Space Family Robinson was also a very, very stupid programme, almost revelling in its own idiocies, and using science-fiction as an excuse to tell silly stories involving silly aliens. One can only imagine Roddenberry’s reaction when he first saw it, and how galling it was that his superior idea had been passed over for such drivel. But then, he no doubt would have also have seen it as emblematic of all that he saw as wrong in the industry. A television writer of some experience, he had become frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of intelligence in a medium which, to his mind, offered limitless possibilities but was content to churn out brain-numbing nonsense. Now well into its teenage years as a mass-market cultural presence, TV was experiencing rapid growth spurts in technical sophistication but as yet wasn’t matching them with any sign of increasing maturity. Compare a show from the mid 1950s and one from the middle of the 1960s and, while visually there’s a world of difference, the majority of the scripts remain simplistic crowd-pleasers with nary a thought in their pretty little heads. The industry was still ruled by the mainstream demands of the advertisers and those producers who, like Allen, believed that as long as you threw in a couple of good fist fights and some knockabout slapstick you’d get an audience.
Of course, for this very reason, the problem was if you pitched a show that challenged the conventions you wouldn’t get very far. Because of this, Roddenberry decided to try and in effect pull the wool over the executives’ eyes by hiding his thought-provoking, provocative stories about US society behind the latex mask of bug-eyed monsters and faster-than-light spaceships. A bit like Lost in Space, only also the exact opposite. Of course, he wasn’t the only one with such ideas. At the same time that he had that unproductive session with CBS Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was still on the air, into its fifth year of telling metaphorical, liberating tales about the endless possibilities open to mankind. But that was coming to the end of its life, and a prospective successor, The Outer Limits (tonally different but with the same basic intentions) was dying after having been moved to a dead end timeslot. It’s telling that this latter had been moved to make way for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Allen’s first foray into science-fiction, another dumb show that was everything the network suits loved and Roddenberry hated.
But, as has always been the case, those in charge somewhat underestimated their audience. There was a thirst for more complicated fare and, determined to find them and undeterred by his early setback, Roddenberry kept plugging away at his idea. He already had one firm supporter in the industry in the form of Oscar Katz, a Vice President at Desilu, who from the beginning had spotted Star Trek’s potential and was determined to help Roddenberry make a go of it. At the time Desilu hadn’t had a hit for several years and had a bit of a reputation for unreliability, so much so that when Roddenberry and Katz finally did find a network willing to commission a pilot, NBC, said network made life as difficult as possible for them by demanding the most challenging of Roddenberry’s sample storylines be made simply to see if they could do it. What happened next is now the stuff of television legend. Desilu, and Roddenberry, did manage to do it in the form of The Cage, a wildly ambitious story which at the time was the most expensive pilot ever made. Unfortunately, at first it didn't seem a case of money well spent as NBC turned it down, calling it “too cerebral.” However, they were sufficiently intrigued to do something unprecedented at the time, namely ordering a second pilot, unheard of in those days and still very rare today. There was just one stipulation: the show had to be entirely recast.
Although the rejection of The Cage has received all sorts of condemnation down the years, the executives were actually incredibly wise. The episode has much to recommend it: an intriguing central concept, intelligent script and lavish production values, as well, of course, of setting out the central concept of Star Trek. However, it is also staid, humourless, occasionally lacking in dramatic punch and has a largely nondescript cast. If it had gone to series it’s easy to imagine that it would have been a show very easy to admire, but rather hard to fall in love with - like its first officer Number One it was a cold, rather remote affair, almost an intellectual exercise. To give Roddenberry his due, he realised these faults, and energetically set about correcting them for the second pilot. The result, Where No Man Has Gone Before introduced the world for the first time to Captain James T (or, as this episode famously suggests, R) Kirk. Although superficially they appear quite similar, there is one crucial difference between the two episodes, and that is in the warmth of the characters. Whereas The Cage stranded its rather serious Captain Pike on an alien world, cut off from his crew and presented with a rather esoteric problem, Captain Kirk’s first voyage found him facing a far more personal, painful dilemma. The story, which sees his best friend Gary Mitchell gradually gaining God-like powers after being exposed to some alien influence, is a classic science-fiction scenario but here comes wrapped up in human, emotional terms. Kirk sees his friend slowly become corrupted by his new powers, and is faced with an agonising choice of what to do. Very early on his emotionless first officer, Mr Spock, tells him that he is going to have to take drastic action - he might even have to kill Mitchell to avert disaster - but Kirk desperately searches for another way. The anguish he faces as he sees Mitchell changing in front of him is familiar to anyone who has suffered seeing a loved one dying, but that was only one part of it: like all the best subsequent episodes, it can be read on multiple levels, exploring ideas of the dangers of increased human power over the elements (something the show would return to time and again), Godhood and the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Suddenly Star Trek had everything - brains and heart (as well as, in the climactic smackdown, brawn, Roddenberry, learning his lesson, made very sure to end the episode with a executive-pleasing fist fight between Kirk and Mitchell). That is the key to its continued success - not only does it have the intelligence to explore and ponder social, intellectual and fundamental questions about mankind, but it does so with characters who are real, three-dimensional people. It is science fiction with a human face: unlike the likes of The Twilight Zone viewers could develop a relationship with characters who appeared week in week out, and who were a step above the normal cardboard cutouts of genre television in those days. The classic triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy is a deeply satisfying dynamic, both a literal representation of man’s constant battle between nature and intellect but at the same time three blokes who are bestest buddies, one minute cheerfully taking the piss out of each other, the next willing to lay down their lives so the others can survive. They are hugely likeable people, and, while initially appearing to be somewhat archetypal figures, soon developed very distinctive personalities.
Much of the success of these three is down, of course, to the actors playing them. Down the years it’s become de rigueur to parody William Shatner’s portrayal of Kirk, but actually in this first year he’s far less mannered, and far more nuanced, than he’s given credit for. Sure, there’s the staccato emphasis on key words, and the odd wince-inducing moment (most notably when he screams - no one does an OTT scream better than Shatner) but his is also a quick-witted and humorous captain who is, above all, just gosh-darned heroic in the classic mould. It’s easy to see why his crew would follow him into the very depths of hell, and while the actor was notoriously paranoid about other cast members getting the limelight, he needn’t have worried - it is very much his show, and Shatner is a commanding screen presence (as, indeed, he has shown time and again since - sure, he revels in his hamminess, but when he’s on screen he commands your attention utterly, no matter what show he's appearing in.) His main rival, of course, was Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Famously Spock had nearly not made it to the crew - the only holdover from The Cage, Roddenberry had to fight to keep his “demonic” crewman on board, a battle which paid dividends when he quickly became the most popular character (quickly illustrating his creator’s belief that people really did want intriguing, complex characters to engage with). A somewhat unlikely sex symbol, Spock was both noble and vulnerable, his stoicism barely masking his inner conflict which, in truth, needed very little to be exposed utterly. Crucially, Nimoy excels in those scenes when Spock’s emotions do break through - he would not have been nearly as successful a character if he hadn’t - even if the material he’s given to work with isn’t always up to much. There’s a famous scene early on in the season in The Naked Time when Spock has something of a nervous breakdown. The dialogue he’s given is terrible, but Nimoy carries it off, as he does in many subsequent instalments.
But, and here’s something overlooked sometimes, he’s not the star of the show. It’s very easy to imagine a series starring Kirk on his own, but a show entitled Spock is not a happy thing to contemplate. For that character to be truly successful, he needs the ballast of someone else to counter his seriousness. This is shown most starkly in The Galileo Seven in which Spock is effectively given the starring role, but which is actually one of the less successful episodes of the season, simply because it’s too one-dimensional. Without Kirk’s humour and McCoy’s humanity he is a lesser character. (This is why his subsequent appearance in The Next Generation all those years later was not as satisfying as it could have been.) McCoy, equally, without Spock, and to a lesser extent Kirk, is only half a character. One could argue that of the three he is easily the least defined, but in a way he doesn’t have to be. Like DeForest Kelley himself, the character is just a straightforward, down-to-earth decent man, with no airs or graces but with a cheerful willingness to state his opinion whatever they are and a happy way of pricking others’ pomposity. He and Spock are the squabbling children, Kirk the indulgent father. As for the others? Unfortunately, even at this early stage it quickly becomes apparent this is a three-character show. George Takei's Sulu gets to do his swordsman act in The Naked Time and Nichelle Nichols' Uhura sing a song at Charlie X, but they are mere window dressing (poor old Grace Lee Whitney's Janice Rand even more so) as the focus quickly narrows to the three - even James Doohan, who instantly makes Scotty a likeable and charismatic character, ultimately isn't given enough. Although it wasn't necessarily the intention from the start, very soon it became clear that this was the Kirk-Spock-McCoy show.
Indeed, when the series was greenlit, one of the first things Roddenberry knew he had to do was create McCoy (Where No Man Has Gone Before having a different, barely noticeable medic), thus rounding off the Kirk and Spock relationship. Indeed, once NBC gave him the nod, it was all systems go the Great Bird of the Galaxy, with one of his first, and most important, actions being to bring in a whole series of noted science-fiction writers to contribute episodes. Earlier on in the decade a group of said writers, including George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Jerry Sohl and Theodore Sturgeon, had attempted to get their own show off the ground with the same lofty ideals of Roddenberry, but hadn’t fixed on a concept attractive to the networks. Now Roddenberry persuaded them to come on board his ship, with the result that this first season is packed full of intelligent, high concept ideas. Admittedly, some of the scripts by these writers worked better than others - Johnson’s The Man Trap which was the very first episode aired, is a monster runaround, while Sturgeon’s Shore Leave is a series of fun set pieces rather than a coherent whole - but overall the result was that across the board the writers involved in the season raised their game, and produced a collection of episodes which has more than stood the test of time. We have stories about the human condition, love, honour, betrayal and death. There are episodes making pointed observations about genetics, Vietnam, xenophobia (literally!) and, Roddenberry’s favourite, religion and the mindless following thereof. Not all the opinions have aged well - Mudd’s Women has an oddly mixed message - while others have become clichés (Charlie X’s adolescent angst) - but there’s still a great deal of important stuff relevant to our times to be found here.
Indeed, perhaps the most striking thing, after all this time, is how much variety there is in this first year. One week you’ve got the action-packed Arena, next the tense submarine drama Balance of Terror, the next a courtroom drama Court Martial, the next a tragic love story City on the Edge of Forever, the next the slapstick comedy of The Squire of Gothos. There are, inevitably, some clunkers - as well as some already mentioned, The Alternative Factor is an absurd convolution of an episode and the “fan favourite” This Side of Paradise (in which Spock falls in love and the rest of the crew become blissed-out hippies) is embarrassing rather than moving. This was a show that was very much finding its feet, and working out what it could do, so that one week it can be exceptional, the next trivial - but for that reason it’s also the most interesting season, perhaps of Trek ever. This is the foundation of all that was to come and, in the large part, it makes its mark with huge ambition and courage, even if it isn’t always paid off on screen.
And, although of course ultimate kudos for all this has to go to Roddenberry, there was another man who was unarguably just as important to the success of that first year - Gene L Coon. Nowadays Coon is sadly the forgotten man of Trek: he died soon after the series was cancelled, and these days you’ll struggle to find much mention of him in most general reference books (there’s certainly no mention of him on these DVDs). Nevertheless, he was hugely influential in both consolidating the series and helping to create some of its most successful episodes. Coming on board as line producer soon after production started, he became responsible for overseeing the scripts as they came in, and in the process helped define what the show was. Under his watch the show became increasingly allegorical, with stories such as A Taste of Armageddon and the superb Devil in the Dark, but he was also more subtle about it than Roddenberry: under his watch, Captain Kirk doesn’t nearly as often directly address the audience and spell out this week’s sermon, instead allowing the audience sufficient intelligence to work it out themselves. Indeed, even though a lot of work had already been done in that area, Coon cemented the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic, that mixture of love, amusement and understanding that is so beloved today. Coon’s influence on the show is incalculable.
Between him, Roddenberry, producer Bob Justman, the cast and crew, they managed to create something special. It seems highly likely that more has been written about Star Trek than any other TV show in existence and for good reason. Sure, it looks dated now, and occasionally camp. Some of its tics are highly annoying, such as the way every time a moderately attractive female appears all the male crewmembers start drooling and walking into the walls. But it is also exciting, funny, thought-provoking and iconic, in the way hardly any other series at the time was and few since have been. It has stood the test of time, and while in fifty years it’s easy to imagine the likes of Voyager and Enterprise (and maybe, dare I say it, The Next Generation which is really beginning to show its age) will have become dusty footnotes it’s highly probable TOS will still be finding new fans. As for this season in particular, while it has nowhere near the consistency of the second, it’s also a far more thrilling and adventurous one - never again would Trek be willing to take such risks, and by the time year two came around it had settled into a groove out of which it, arguably, has never escaped since. As such, it’s by far my favourite Trek season… ever. If Roddenberry had never done anything else since, he could still look back at these twenty-nine episode and think with satisfaction that he had achieved what he set out to do: challenge TV conventions and produce something far more worthwhile than the show starring a hysterical robot and a camp old man which had so nearly scuppered his dreams.
And, for a time, it looked like he would indeed have to be content with just the one season. As the television year wore on, NBC grew increasingly dissatisfied with the ratings, and rumour began to spread that the show would be cancelled. Even as the season came to an end its future was uncertain. Harlan Ellison and others began to protest about this and encouraged the viewers to do something about it. But that, as they say, is another story…
The Remastered Episodes
But what of the major selling points for this set, the remastered picture (see below) and the replacement of the original SFX with all-new shiny CGI? There had been rumours of a project such as this circulating for some years, but it wasn't until the fortieth anniversary last year that these "Special Editions" actually began to air. Suddenly TOS was the show to be watching again: CBS Digital (aided by Trek's unofficial guru Michael Okuda) had not only cleaned up and remastered the episodes in High-Definition but waved a CG wand over them, conjuring up a new Enterprise, improved matte paintings for the worlds on which the crew had their adventures and even the odd extra crewman thrown into the background (although, I have to admit, I haven't spotted any of these latter yet).
The question is: was it worth it? Before viewing the redone episodes, I was deeply ambivalent about the whole project. To my mind replacing the effects was a little like JJ Abram’s upcoming film: an amusing indulgence, but hardly necessary. These episodes don’t need new effects, just as the world, let’s be honest, doesn’t need a new Trek film starring Kirk and co (what’s wrong with the six we’ve got?) However, just as I will be come the end of next year I was very curious, and childishly excited, to see what had been done.
The first thing that strikes one is how unobtrusive the CGI is. When George Lucas released the SEs of Star Wars a few years back there was much made about how the new digital effects didn’t marry with the Seventies-era sets and props, but oddly it isn’t nearly as much of an issue here. Perhaps it’s because the rest of the episodes are now looking so good that new material doesn’t stick out so much, but one doesn’t see sequences of a computerised Enterprise orbiting a planet followed by Kirk on the bridge and think “That just doesn’t fit.” Surprisingly, the CGI slots into the rest of the episodes seamlessly. Sure, for those who are maybe over-familiar with the original versions it takes a bit of getting used to, but once one does one ends up in the odd position of almost forgetting that they are new at all.
This is equally so because the team responsible have been so faithful to the source materials. Although many of the shots aren’t composed in the same way as their Sixties forebears, they are certainly in the spirit of them. It’s an obvious thing to say, but one can sees these as the shots the original SFX team would have made if they had had the ability and money to realise them. They also lend more variety whereas the original versions had only maybe half a dozen stock shots of the Enterprise in space, now there are more than fifteen - it doesn't sound a lot, but it does make a difference.
Most pleasingly, and a sure sign of how much love has been spent on this, where those shots are CGI replicas of the originals the subtle enhancements are wonderfully judged. The episode in which this is most apparent for me was The Corbomite Maneuver, a personal favourite. The scene in which the Enterprise is blocked by Balok’s multi-coloured buoy is now a thing of beauty, as the camera pans around the ship and the colours bounce off the Enterprise’s metallic hull. Later on in that same show the Fesarius is almost identical to the original, and yet the level of detail we now see changes the ship from a mildly unlikely giant honeycomb to a far more believable, engineered ship. There are plenty of other examples dotted around the season, where the guys have looked at the originals and thought “What would this really have looked like if it had happened?” Numerous times one can’t help but be impressed with the thought and care that has gone into even the smallest of shots.
Equally, every so often there’s a sequence that proudly showboats the new sequences. We get a completely re-envisioned shuttle bay in The Galileo Seven and the Enterprise gets new bomb-bay doors in Operation Annihilate!. The most striking sequence in this regard is the one in which the Enterprise suddenly appears in the skies over Sixies America in the time-travel jaunt Tomorrow is Yesterday. It’s very difficult making a spaceship look remotely credible when it has to interact with the real world - Voyager, for example, looked totally improbable hovering over LA in their own version of Tomorrow, Future’s End - but the effects here manage the impossible. The Enterprise, a somewhat unwieldy vessel, gains a magnificence as it traverses the skies, making one of the weaker moments of that otherwise fine episode suddenly one of the strongest. An improvement that extreme is fairly rare - indeed, I can only think of that episode in this first set - but even if lesser improvements aren't as awe-inspiring, the overall effect is unquestionably to the episodes' advantage. Likewise, the alien landscape in Arena is subtly enhanced (so subtly that when I first saw it I thought “That’s not how it was… but I can’t remember what it should look like,” which sent me scurrying for the original to compare).
Equally, the team show their knowledge and fannishness of the show in a myriad of small details. The Gorn in Arena now blinks (although I can’t say that helps make that particular monster costume look any more real). Lots of little bloopers are corrected - Trek had a habit of occasionally forgetting to put in an effects shot, so phasers would fire with no beam or the bridge crew would gawp at a view screen which wasn’t on. These are now corrected. That said, not all sins can be erased. Lots of the planet sets still look like soundstages (for some reason I always think of The Man Trap but there are plenty of others) and Mr Spock is still attacked by those Joke-Shop Vomit Creatures in Operation: Annihilate!
And yet… that's a good thing. Should we be looking for perfection in these shows? There is no question in my mind that these effects make the episodes look immeasurably better, and are as mentioned often strikingly good, but do they actually improve them? I’m not entirely convinced. Not once in all my long years of fandom have I come across a fellow devotee who has said “You know, that episode would have been excellent, but the shoddy effects really spoilt it.” Not one. The effects, advanced in their day, undeniably primitive now, were only ever the icing on the cake as far as Trek was concerned. As I’ve gone on about in my review above, the core of the show was never about awe-inspiring spectacles but simple human drama. Equally, the argument that the original SFX are now not really suited for a modern television audience is a non-starter. As SFX have increased in sophistication down the years, so have viewers, and I doubt there’ll be anyone who in the future watches Trek for the first time and doesn’t appreciate that the model shots and the rest are a part of the time, just as much as some of the quainter ideologies and cheerfully unapologetic sexism. Those shots are part of the whole, and transplanting the new versions in seems artificial. And they do appear artificial - despite the quality work, the shots of the Enterprise scream CGI, so that in the end they are no more “believable” than the original model shots.
As such, I remain somewhat ambivalent about the project. There’s no question that these new effects have been constructed with a huge amount of care, skill and love for the originals. There’s equally no question that they add new depths to some stories, and are seamlessly slotted in. And yet, ultimately is it not a shame if those original SFX are suddenly consigned to the scrapheap? James Rugg, Howard Anderson and the rest slaved on those shots all those years ago, and it would be a grave insult to them if that work was erased from history. Perhaps I’m being too much of a purist - as I’ll keep saying, those new shots are marvellous, and a homage to the original versions - but I think in the end I will still return to the originals, bloopers and all, even if the differences are as vast as the one below:
This is, of course, not the first time that TOS has been released onto DVD - indeed, it’s the third if my reckoning is right. Way back in the early days of DVD the episodes were issued, two per disc, in exactly the same way as the Trek videos of the time, with no extras. Then, in 2004, proper season box sets were released, and pretty good they were too. Now, three years later, out they come again, this time on a DVD/HD-DVD combination, with each disc a flipper: one side being HD-DVD, the other standard DVD.
Anyone upgrading from the earlier box sets will notice a difference immediately on putting a disc in. The Main Menus are completely new: whereas the earlier set opened with Captain Kirk intoning “Space the final frontier” before zooming into the Enterprise and using the Bridge as its motif, here we go straight into a transporter room layout, with characters from the three episodes on the disc appearing on the pad. Design-wise, it’s not as charming as the old set, with the close-ups of the control panel, from which you select your options, far more bland and uninteresting to look at than the bridge controls The discs also hold only three episodes, as opposed to the 2004’s four, which explains the extra couple of discs (there are 10 here instead of 8), and the extras are spread across all the discs, instead of being grouped together on a single DVD. Here's what the set looks like:
The main advantage of this set, beyond all the thrills of new SFX and additional Special Features, are the new transfers of the episodes themselves. The Video is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunning. There’s simply no comparison to the 2004 set, which suddenly looks dull and blurry by comparison. The prints have been newly cleaned up, giving the picture a fresh appearance, while the primary colours, always one of TOS’ most recognisable traits, are now gorgeous to look at. The picture is far clearer too, and encoding problems are kept to a minimum. It’s an old cliché, but these episodes really have never looked better, and are a joy to watch. (It’s also worth noting that, although the new SFX were rendered for 16x9, all are presented here 4:3).
The Audio too has had a remix. The opening theme has been re-recorded using Alexander Courage's original orchestrations and a recently-discovered audio recording of Shatner's monologue, which sounds superb, richer and more detailed than it ever has before. The rest of the episode’s audio is equally clear, if inevitably not as striking as the Video. However, there is one slight complaint: the 2004 release included both a 5.1 track and original 2.0 track, whereas here the 2.0 is nowhere to be heard. The HD-DVD also includes Dolby Digital Plus audio.
As mentioned above, there are a couple of HD-DVD exclusive extras. Not having seen them, the best thing to do is to cut'n'paste their description from the press release:
On-screen graphical interface allows viewers to access Picture in Picture video commentaries, comparisons of re-mastered vs. original effects, encyclopaedic information (science, life forms, technology), episode trivia and more on the following episodes: Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Menagerie, Part 1, The Menagerie, Part 2, Balance of Terror, The Galileo Seven, Space Seed and Errand of Mercy.
Interactive Enterprise Tour
Viewers will explore the Enterprise interior and exterior in detail as they pilot their own shuttlecraft in this spectacular 3D simulated feature.
Standard DVD Extras
The vast majority of the standard DVD extras included on this release are transported (haha) directly over from the 2004 release - I’ve marked those with an asterisk below. In addition to those detailed here, there’s also a featurette advertising Star Trek Online (3:28) and the original Preview Trailers dating from about the time the show first aired (so you get some glimpses in those of the original SFX). Oddly, though, trailers for the remastered episodes have not been included - they can be seen online, but it’s a strange choice. There are also a couple of minor extras from the 2004 set which have gone AWOL, namely the Red Shirts montage and the Photo Gallery. Neither’s a big loss but again one wonders why.
Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century (20:08)
The highlight of this excellent look at the making of these revamped episodes comes right near the end when Bob Justman (the original associate producer) says how wonderful the episodes look now, and seems really quite moved. Before that, this looks not only at the new SFX but also the clean-up operation of the original masters and the re-recording of the theme. The team involved speak with energy and passion throughout for what they did, making this a good companion for these new-look shows.
Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier (90:03)
There have been nearly as many Trek documentaries down the years as there have episodes, and all the ones you’ll see on TV are the same. “This is a documentary that goes where no documentary has gone before!” Roddenberry was a visionary. Wagon Train to the Stars. Mr Spock’s ears. Hailing Frequencies Open. Mr Sulu wanted more lines. “I didn’t expect to be here forty years later still talking about Star Trek - none of us did!” It inspired nearly every astronaut and doctor working today to become those things. Its legacy will live on forever. And they all have to end with the presenter doing the Vulcan hand gesture and saying “Live long and prosper.” At least this time the presenter is Leonard Nimoy so that’s quite apt, but otherwise this isn’t a particular sterling example of the genre. Made for the History Channel and using as a backbone the story of Christie’s Trek auction late last year, it’s an overstretched, slightly rambly piece, with the first two-thirds puffed up with interviewees saying how wonderful Star Trek is. Things get a little better in the final third with footage from the auction itself in which props from the various series and movies go for quite ridiculous amounts - a model of The Next Generation’s Enterprise, for example, sells for over half a million dollars. With an almost spirit-crushing inevitably at one point Nimoy solemnly intones “This auction went where no auction has gone before.” All-in-all, a bit of a captain’s slog.
Trekker Connections (3:57)
“The object of this game is to connect the Original Series cast and crew to various films and television shows, ultimately leading back to a s Star Trek movie or series in the correct number of steps listed. NOTE: There may be more than one solution or path.” Yeah, alright. As you can see from that precis which appears at the start of this featurette, this is a Six Degrees of Mr Spock, and is total filler. Seems to have a thing about Kim Darby.
Birth of a Timeless Legacy (24:13) *
An enjoyable talking-heads documentary which looks at the early days of the series. Making good use of an archive interview with Roddenberry himself, this also features contributions from Shatner, Nimoy and Doohan amongst others, with Shatner concluding, without a trace of irony, that he knew a lot wonderful people in those days (it’s no good, Bill, I think it’s a bit of a lost cause!)
Reflections on Spock (11:45) *
Leonard Nimoy on his own here talks about his life with Spock down the years, in one of the more thoughtful, and interesting, featurettes on these discs.
Life Beyond Star Trek: William Shatner (10:27) *
Mildly boring featurette, filmed on Shatner’s range, in which he eulogises at length on how much he loves horses. Filmed before Boston Legal came along, this is obviously a little out of date but if you’re a fan of the gee-gees and Captain Kirk you’ll be in horsey heaven.
To Boldly Go… Season One (19:00) *
The stars and those crew still around reminisce about some of their favourite episodes of this first season. A shame that DC Fontana isn’t among those interviewed, but other than that fannishly enjoyable.
Sci-Fi Visionaries (16:40) *
Script Editor John D F Black, among others, talk about the contributions of some of the writers to the show. Disappointingly doesn’t talk too much about the writers’ personalities, this is a bit of a vague featurette, but worth checking out as Black is an engaging person to listen to.
Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies & Special Memories(13:22) *
Billy Blackburn was an extra who pops up all over the place in Trek - one minute he’s at the helm, next minute he’s a villager. He had on set with him his own video camera which he used to point at any and everyone he could, and here we see some of the edited highlights. Over such scenes as the location shoot for Errand of Mercy and The Alternative Factor he reminiscences, recalling not the tension-laden set of legend but a relaxed, friendly place to work. This is one of the best extras on the disc.
Kiss ‘n’ Tell: Romance in the 23rd Century(8:34) *
A bit of filler in which the cast wryly talk about their characters’ onscreen conquests. A brief fling of a documentary rather than something to fall in love with.
How good this set is all boils down to one basic question: is it worth upgrading if you already have these episodes? Sadly, after much consideration I've come to the conclusion that, as much as I want it to be, the answer is a very definite no. On the plus side, the episodes are gorgeous to watch now and the new effects, as long as you're not a purist, equally good. However, on their own these are no justification to double dipping, especially at the price this set is being offered. One can't help feeling there's a bit of a missed opportunity with the extras, as there are no commentaries or new features of substance (with the exception of that detailing the new SFX). That said, even a branching option, in which a viewer could to choose to watch either the original or the new SFX, might have pushed this set over into the essential purchase category but the absence of all these things, plus some minor niggles (no 2.0, less interesting menus) mean that the remastered episodes, on their own, cannot justify the purchase. If you haven't already got the set, don't hesitate to go for this one. If you have then (apologies in advance) buying this does seem a bit illogical.