The original Star Trek was ahead of its time. That was a great
thing for television science fiction in general, as it opened up new
possibilities beyond kiddie cowboys-in-space fluff. Unfortunately, it
was bad for Star Trek itself, as basically nobody at NBC
actually understood what Gene Roddenberry's show was about. After
being rescued by fan petitions from cancellation after the second
season, Star Trek didn't get much of a reprieve. Already
hampered by a shoestring budget, Star Trek was condemned to
the deadly time slot of Friday 10PM, and would end up being
unredeemably canceled at the end of this, its third season. Of
course, speaking from nearly forty years afterwards, it's hard to
hold a grudge about Star Trek getting cut off so early. After
all, if Roddenberry had been able to say all he wanted to say in his
first sci-fi series, would we have be cheated out of the great series
of feature films and subsequent television series that lay in the
But leaving aside alternate realities, let's take a look at the
Original Series, Season 3. There aren't any truly stand-out episodes
in this season as there were in the first two, but we do get a
reasonable sampling of solidly entertaining episodes mixed in, to be
honest, with some pretty terrible stuff.
3's biggest problem, frankly, is its season opener. "Spock's
Brain." Come on. This is the worst Star Trek episode ever.
Of any Star Trek show – even counting the Next
Generation one with Tasha Yar and the tar monster. It's just
awful. What-the-hell-were-they-thinking awful. And it was the first
episode of Season 3? That's not a bad decision, that's sabotage! Who
knows how many potential new viewers tuned in only to say "What?
No thanks!", thereby missing out on the excellent second
episode, "The Enterprise Incident."
There are other weak episodes in this season besides "Spock's
Brain." "And the Children Shall Lead" offers up a
rather cheesy story of the Enterprise being threatened by
children, who seem to be under an alien influence. "Plato's
Stepchildren," apart from its significance in television
history, is pretty silly. "The Way to Eden" gives us
hippies in space! Way cool, man! (I admit that I actually thought
this episode was OK back when I was a teenager, since Chekov -- the
cutest member of the Enterprise crew – has a
decent-sized part in this episode. Sadly, though, I now have to
report that the episode, taken on its own merits, is very weak.) And,
of course, we get a liberal helping of cheesy moments in other
episodes, like the now-hackneyed ploy of blowing up the Enterprise,
the confrontation with the all-powerful computer, or the
even-more-overused "Kirk falls in love with attractive
On the whole, though, Season 3 holds up to review better than I
expected that it would. There's a sense that Star Trek is
trying to reach out and do more and different things than in the
previous two seasons; to stretch its own limitations. If that means
that sometimes the show overreaches itself and falls flat, it's still
better than having the series stay safely within its limitations,
content to tell the same story over and over.
In Season 3, we get some interesting story ideas and aliens, from the
sped-up beings in "Wink of an Eye" to the interdimensional
trap in "The Tholian Web" or the intriguing use of time
travel in "All Our Yesterdays." Another solid feature of
Season 3 is the inclusion of two episodes featuring what had become
the archetypal Star Trek antagonists: the Romulans and the
Klingons. These "bad guys" (often portrayed, at least in
the case of the Romulans, as reasonable people who just happen to be
on a different side from the Federation) make for a nice sense of
continuity over the course of the series. While there's no actual
connection between the stories, the recurring use of these aliens
helps to build up a sense of the Star Trek universe as a real,
consistent place. "The Enterprise Incident" (with
the Romulans) and "Day of the Dove" (with the Klingons)
certainly stand out as two of the more solid early-season episodes.
It's also worth noting some of the other significant features of Star
Trek's final season. Most famous is the scene in "Plato's
Stepchildren" in which Kirk, under the telekinetic control of
one of the aliens, kisses Uhura: not a big deal now, but in 1969 it
stood out very dramatically as the first interracial kiss ever to be
shown on U.S. network television. On a smaller scale, a few of the
incidents in Season 3 will be of interest to Star Trek fans.
"Is There in Truth No Beauty?" (a reasonably strong
episode, incidentally) features Diana Muldaur's second appearance on
the Original Series, as Dr. Miranda Jones. (Muldaur would go on, many
years later, to play Dr. Pulaski in the second season of Next
Generation.) It's also entertaining to see Star Trek's
early attempts at pushing the envelope of "reality" before
coming up with the plot device of the holodeck: in "Spectre of
the Gun" the away team is mysteriously transported into a
recreation of the gunfight at the OK Corral (on the losing side!),
and in "The Savage Curtain" the Enterprise crew comes upon
a planet that seems to be inhabited by famous people out of the past:
Abraham Lincoln from human history, Surak from Vulcan, and Kahless
from Klingon, among others. The latter isn't necessarily a
particularly good episode (although it's not bad, either), but it
does demonstrate Star Trek's willingness to try out new ideas.
Taken by itself, I would rate Season 3 as being a bit lower in
quality than Season
1 or Season
2. What bolsters its rating here is that the Season 3 set
contains the original pilot: "The Cage," in two versions.
As viewers who have seen the other Star Trek seasons will
recall, "The Cage" was the first pilot episode, but it was
rejected as being "too cerebral." (Insert demonstrations of
extreme annoyance with 1960s-era network TV.) The always
cash-strapped Star Trek later cannibalized this unaired
footage for "The Menagerie," itself a quite good episode
that makes clever use of the earlier material. But it wasn't until
twenty years later that the original version of "The Cage"
was shown to viewers. The first version of it was a Frankensteinian
re-construction that mixed color footage from the material re-used in
"The Menagerie" with black-and-white footage, which was all
that could be dug up for those parts of the original pilot that
hadn't been re-used.
Fortunately for Star Trek fans, a more complete print of the
original episode was later discovered, and so we get a full "restored
version" as well. This version is entirely in full color, and is
in better condition than the first reconstruction of "The Cage";
in fact, apart from a few more flaws here and there, it looks as good
as any other Star Trek episode. That's a definite plus, since
"The Cage" is easily the best episode on the Season 3 set.
While it's certainly different in many ways from the show as it was
eventually produced, those differences are generally positive. It's
hard to watch "The Cage" without wishing that it had been
accepted as the pilot... the story is intelligent and thoughtful,
Jeffrey Hunter makes an excellent Captain Pike, and it would have
been great to see Majel Barrett continue as the serious and
intelligent first officer rather than getting relegated to the role
of short-skirted Nurse Chapel. Well, chalk it up to the fact that if
Star Trek as a whole was ahead of its time, "The Cage"
was even farther ahead. In fact, "The Cage" plays rather a
lot like an episode of Next Generation, making for an
interesting link between the two series.
The restored version of "The Cage" is definitely the one to
watch, but it's worth checking out the original version of the
episode to catch Gene Roddenberry's eight-minute introduction, in
which he talks about the making of that episode and how it was
received. There are some very interesting snippets of information
here, so it's not to be missed.
Star Trek: The Original Series Season 3 is a seven-DVD set,
containing all 24 episodes from the show's 1968-1969 season, plus two
versions of the original unaired pilot. The set is packaged in the
same retro-style, clunky case as the earlier seasons, except this
time it's red. At this point I'm sure everyone knows I think these
cases are annoying, so let's move on.
These Star Trek episodes appear in their original television
aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The overall appearance of these 35-year-old
episodes is excellent, with good colors and contrast, and a generally
very good handling of detail, especially in close-ups, which
consistently look excellent. There's a moderate amount of noise,
mostly apparent in middle- or longer-distance shots where the image
becomes a bit softer-looking, and a few print flaws make it through.
All in all, it's a solid transfer for a vintage show.
The remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack continues to provide an excellent
listening experience. The dialogue is consistently clean, crisp, and
natural-sounding, and the overall audio track is clean, with no trace
of background noise or distortion. Sound effects and music are
handled nicely, as well. The original Dolby 2.0 track sounds about
the same (there's not really any use of surround in the 5.1 track)
except for being a bit flatter-sounding.
Star Trek: The Original Series finishes up with a nice slate
of special features. Text commentaries by Michael Okuda and Denise
Okuda appear on two episodes, "The Savage Curtain" and
"Turnabout Intruder." The original previews for the
episodes also appear on each disc of the set.
Disc 7 is where the majority of the special features are located,
beginning with "To Boldly Go: Season 3," which wraps up the
original Star Trek run with a 22-minute discussion of the
third season, with a lot of attention paid to its cancellation,
revival, and final cancellation. Other general-interest featurettes
include "Star Trek's Impact," a nine-minute piece
narrated by Eugene Roddenberry (Gene Roddenberry's son), and "A
Star Trek Collector's Dream Come True" (7 minutes) in
which a model and miniature designer discusses the original props
used in the show. There's also a production art gallery.
Several featurettes focus on specific members of the cast. "Life
Beyond Trek: Walter Koenig" (11 minutes) provides an
interesting interview with the actor, in which he discusses his
relation to Star Trek, his acting work outside the Trek
franchise, and his hobby of collecting Star Trek and
comic-book-character memorabilia. Viewers who have gotten used to
seeing the robust Chief Engineer Scott in these episodes will get a
bit of a jolt from seeing "Scotty" in his mid-80s in the
"Chief Engineer's Log," which is an interview with James
Doohan. While only six minutes long, there are some interesting
tidbits of Star Trek trivia here. "Memoir from Mr. Sulu"
features an energetic and as-always articulate George Takei
discussing his thoughts on Star Trek as well as his
involvement with the Japanese-American Museum.
Six "hidden files" are also included: two each on the first
three menu screens of the special features section.
3 may not show Star Trek: The Original Series at its finest,
but there are plenty of decent episodes here for Star Trek
fans to enjoy. Essentially, if you've enjoyed the first two seasons,
you'll want to add Season 3 to your collection as well, especially
since it contains the unaired pilot, "The Cage." The
overall look of the show on DVD is quite good, and the set does have
a reasonable selection of special features. Recommended.