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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Star Trek: The Original Series - The Complete Second Season
Star Trek: The Original Series - The Complete Second Season
Paramount // Unrated // November 2, 2004
List Price: $129.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted October 25, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

In 1967, Star Trek boldly moved into its second season, taking Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the Enterprise to a whole set of new adventures and strange new worlds. With the worst uncertainties of Season 1 behind it, Star Trek could (and did) focus on exploring the corner of science fiction that it had carved out for itself. The result is that Season 2 features an interestingly varied assortment of episodes, with the show tentatively developing its characters and trying out different kinds of stories.

As Mr. Spock was now recognized as being a fan favorite, Star Trek's second season opens with Spock in the spotlight: the season premiere is "Amok Time," in which Spock, suffering from the pangs of pon farr, urgently requests that the Enterprise take him back to his homeworld of Vulcan. It's a notable episode on several fronts. First of all, it's the start of an increasing emphasis on the friendship among Kirk, Spock, and McCoy; while in the first season they all work together perfectly well, it's in this season that we start to see how their relationship goes above and beyond the call of duty.

"Amok Time" is also notable in that here we get to see Vulcan culture in more detail, and there's a distinct effort here to emphasize that the Vulcans are not human. The characterization of a true alien being is one of the most interesting (and difficult) challenges in science fiction, and while Star Trek's efforts here are far from perfect, they do represent a significant step down the right track. The alien Vulcan nature is further explored later in the season, when Spock's father Sarek comes on board in "Journey to Babel." Confronted with a situation in which his human and Vulcan natures would respond in very different ways, Spock chooses the logical Vulcan way, and sticks to it, which strikes me as a fairly impressive achievement in terms of Star Trek's development of its alien first officer.

Season 2 features a number of more experimental storytelling ventures, some more successful than others. The premise of "Enterprise crew meets a Greek god" may have seemed intriguing on paper, but in practice, "Who Mourns for Adonais?" is best passed over without comment. On a more positive note, the celebrated episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" represents Star Trek's venture into the realm of comedy; while it's rather too broad in its comedy to play as well nowadays as it did at the time, it still set the precedent that Trek could play for laughs as well as drama.

The idea of setting Star Trek stories in distinctive settings evidently came up in Season 2, and got exploited perhaps a bit too heavily: we have adventures in civilizations patterned after 1920s-style Chicago gangland in "A Piece of the Action," Nazi ideology in "Patterns of Force," and ancient Rome in "Bread and Circuses." And then there's the dreadful "The Omega Glory," in which the native Kohms and Yangs battle against each other, until the Yang leader is convinced to faithfully obey their "holy document"... the US Constitution.

Moving on to some of the more successful stories, Season 2 features several stories that develop interesting science-fiction ideas, which has generally been a productive direction for Star Trek. The murder-mystery "A Wolf in the Fold" involves a non-corporeal entity that can make its way into human bodies (a plot premise that would be mined extensively in Next Generation...). "Return to Tomorrow" features similarly disembodied aliens, as well as a guest starring role for Diana Muldaur, who would go on to play Dr. Pulaski in Next Generation's second season. One of the most entertaining episodes of Season 2 is "Mirror, Mirror," in which a transporter malfunction causes Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura to rematerialize in a weirdly different alternate universe. (Deep Space Nine would later take this idea and run with it quite successfully.) Artificial intelligence also provides a fertile source of story ideas, usually when it goes wrong, as in episodes like "The Ultimate Computer." And of course the season finale, "Assignment: Earth," gives Star Trek another taste of time travel.

To be totally honest, though, I have to admit that these episodes are most enjoyable for their place in Star Trek history, not as stories that work well on their own merits. Plots are often sketchy, and there are rather too many pointless hand-to-hand action sequences for my taste, not to mention the fact that we're starting to see a lot of gratuitous appearances of Kirk with his shirt off or his clothing ripped to shreds. (Those Starfleet uniforms can be quite fragile, it seems!)

The characterization of the various main crew members also remains fairly sketchy; to a large degree, it's left up to the fans to extrapolate the characters' personalities from occasional short scenes or snippets of dialogue. Certainly Trek fans have been more than willing to do so, and the Star Trek feature films did a lot to fill in the gaps for at least Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but when I look at the actual episodes of the Original Series, I don't see a whole lot of depth to any of the characters. Next Generation did a great deal more in that regard, creating a full ensemble cast of characters who were recognizably three-dimensional figures and personalities that shaped the events they were involved in.

In any case, though, Star Trek fans can overlook many of the flaws of the Original Series simply because it's a lot of fun to take a look back in time at the Star Trek universe in its babyhood. The episodes really become like historical fiction, seen from the perspective of the "present day" of the 24th century.

The DVD

As with Season 1, Star Trek: The Original Series Season 2 is packaged in a tricorder-imitation case that probably looks really cool to someone, somewhere, but leaves me merely scratching my head wondering "What were they thinking?" The blue plastic case splits down the middle to reveal a CD-sized packet of hard plastic pages holding the seven DVDs. There's a paper slipcover to this packet, and the insert booklet with the list of episodes is stuck in here as well. In other words, you have to dismantle the whole thing to get to your discs, and there's nowhere to conveniently store the booklet, which I conservatively estimate will end up being lost in 82.5% of Star Trek-owning households. Menu animations continue to be tediously non-skippable (and the menus are slow to navigate as well).

On the bright side, the case has a kind of retro charm, if you like that sort of thing, and it's not as bulky as it looks in the picture. All 26 episodes from the show's 1967-1968 season are included, arranged in the order of their original air date. They're also numbered in production order on the menu screens.

Video

For an almost 40-year-old television series, Star Trek: The Original Series Season 2 is in very good shape indeed, though the episodes of this season don't look quite as outstanding as those in the first season set. The level of detail is about the same, with close-up shots having an amazing level of texture and detail, middle-ground shots offering a moderately soft but quite satisfactory appearance, and long-distance shots tending toward the blurry. Fortunately, edge enhancement is virtually absent. Contrast is handled very well, with the balance of light and shadow looking just right under a variety of circumstances.

In these episodes, though, I found the colors to be a tad bit muted, with a slightly dull look at times. A few print flaws make it through, mostly in the form of scratches or lines in the print, and some noise is evident at times. Viewers will note that the exterior shots of the Enterprise or other ships or space stations look significantly worse than the interiors, but this is a consequence of the optical effects technology used in the original prints, not of the DVD transfer.

All the episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Audio

The remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack offers a clean and pleasing audio experience, with all the actors' voices always sounding completely crisp and natural. Special effects are likewise handled well, and the music is also balanced correctly with the other elements of the track. Admittedly, I sometimes found the theme music to be a little intrusive, but this is pretty clearly the way it was originally handled, as it's only noticeable in music-only scenes, and never interferes at all with any of the dialogue or special effects.

While there's not a whole lot of use of the surround channels in the 5.1 track (which shouldn't come as any surprise), it's still the better choice over the original Dolby 2.0 track, which is flatter-sounding and not as attractive to the ear.

Extras

Text commentaries by Star Trek experts Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda appear on two episodes in this set: "Amok Time" (Disc 1) and "The Trouble with Tribbles" (Disc 4). The commentary takes the form of pop-up bubbles that appear on the screen, with text inside; they're partly transparent, and are placed intelligently so as not to overlap with important parts of the on-screen action, so it's easy to watch the episode while paying attention to both the actual episode and the text commentary. The commentaries are full of interesting comments on the background for the stories, the making of the episode, and what was going on with the production of the series, and will be of interest to both die-hard fans and more casual viewers.

The seventh disc of the set contains the rest of the special features; all the featurettes are notable for being composed of interview footage done specifically for the DVD release. The first featurette is "To Boldly Go: Season 2," which is an interesting 19-minute look at the season as a whole, featuring interviews with many of the cast as well as others involved with the show. Two of the show's cast members are profiled in detail in this set. "Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy" (12 minutes) gives Nimoy a chance to talk about his current projects and interests, which center around photography these days, and "Star Trek's Divine Diva: Nichelle Nichols" (13 minutes) is a nice interview segment in which Nichols shares her recollections of the process by which she was cast as Uhura, as well as other experiences with the show. A short featurette pays tribute to the famous trio of the Original Series, in "Kirk, Spock & McCoy: Star Trek's Great Trio" (7 minutes).

Two more featurettes take a look behind the scenes at the making of the show. The 22-minute "Designing the Final Frontier" gives art director Matt Jeffries a chance to speak in detail about his experiences with designing Star Trek's sets, and the short "Writer's Notebook: D.C. Fontana" (7 minutes) has Fontana explaining her role both as a writer and a story editor for the show.

Lastly, we get an image gallery of production art, and a photo gallery. There are also four "hidden files," each of which is a clip about a minute and a half long, taking a brief look behind the scenes. On the first special features menu screen, these are found if you click on the left-hand speaker and the rectangular panel in the center; on the second screen, on the square panel on the right; and on the third screen, once again on the left-hand speaker. Who actually enjoys hunting for these things? Not me.

Final thoughts

The second season of Star Trek: The Original Series has an assortment of reasonably entertaining episodes, though I think that they're likely to appeal mainly to Star Trek fans who are fond of the show for what it later developed into, rather than to viewers who are looking for great science fiction television. Many of the episodes are exceptional for their time, and would inspire later shows... but it's true that the Original Series shows its age. I found Season 2 to be a bit more uneven than Season 1 in terms of the quality of its storytelling, with fewer stand-out episodes to make up for the not-so-great ones. It still earns a solid rating of "recommended" for Star Trek fans, as there's still a healthy dose of retro fun to be had here, along with a nice slate of special features.

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