Since it's not so much a television show as it is a pop culture behemoth, it's easy to forget that the original Star Trek series only lasted for three seasons. Paramount/CBS has remastered them all in high definition and with this release the entire series is now available on Blu-ray. But how does it hold up against the earlier two years' worth of material? Well, the batch of twenty-four episodes included in this six disc collection is...formulaic. Don't misunderstand, the third season is still a lot of fun and wholly entertaining, but there are only so many times you can want to answer a distress call after you're perpetually set upon by aliens. Granted, it is the mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise to explore those strange new worlds, and there are really only so many ways you can get a ship there, but when the episodes aren't sticking to the formula and actually attempt to try something different, well, sadly we wind up with a few less than great stories. Perfect examples of this are the Spock's Brain and Spectre Of The Gun episodes, both of which are pretty goofy.
That said, this is still Star Trek. It's still fun to see William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForrest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and George Takei and the rest of the cast do their thing even if in this third go round they're not always doing it as well as they had in the past. The plus side is that for every lesser episode, there's at least one solid entry, resulting in a series that is mixed but generally more positive than negative.
For the one or two people out there who have never seen the series, there's no better way to sum up its premise than by quoting the series' opening narration: "Space... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before."
The twenty four episodes that make up the third season of Star Trek are presented in their original broadcast order as follows:
Spock's Brain: In this season premiere, a strange alien female is beamed aboard the Enterprise where she promptly knocks everyone out and, through some quick surgery, removes Spock's brain. With Spock's body just barely hanging on, Captain Kirk and the rest of the crew find themselves in a race against time to get Spock's brain back into his body before he dies.
The Enterprise Incident: After Kirk takes the Enterprise into Romulan territory without permission he finds himself in the middle of an incident that could very well coast his crew their lives. The crew is captured but Kirk and Spock decide to use this to their advantage and hopefully swindle the Romulan's out of their cloaking device.
The Paradise Syndrome: While out on a remote planet on a mission, Kirk runs into a strange alien device that completely wipes out his memories. Completely unsure of what's going on, Kirk decides to start life over and live with the humanoid beings who call the planet home - much to the dismay of his crew.
And The Children Shall Lead: While exploring yet another remote and distant planet, Kirk and Spock join McCoy for an expedition where they discover the dead bodies of a science team. Oddly enough, their children are all alive and seemingly well, but what no one realizes is that these kids have got strange powers and they're not afraid to use them.
Is There No Truth In Beauty? The crew of the Enterprise are tasked with escorting Kollos, an ambassador from the planet Medusa, who is going to talk to the Federation about energy options. Unfortunately, despite the fact that he's a swell guy, Kollos is so horrifying to look at that his appearance literally drives humans insane.
Spectre Of The Gun After Kirk and his crew investigate a planet called Theta Kiokis II, it's inhabitants are angered by their presence. As punishment, they make the crew of the Enterprise act out the infamous shoot out from the O.K. Corral after they imprison them in a bizarre town that looks an awful lot like Tombstone, Arizona.
Day Of The Dove: After checking out a distress call from a human colony living on an alien planet, the Enterprise finds itself dealing with a Klingon threat. When they wind up beaming some Klingon's aboard the ship, members start fighting amongst themselves, almost as if they are under the influence of some other power.
For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky: One of the Federation planets is in danger of colliding with a fast moving asteroid and so the Enterprise races to the rescue in hopes that they can help. When they get to the area, they find out that the fast moving asteroid isn't an asteroid at all, but a large and very quick space ship. Meanwhile, McCoy finds out he has a strange and incurable disease that will leave him with only one year to live.
The Tholian Web: The Enterprise heads into uncharted space to answer a distress call from the U.S.S. Defiant and upon arrival falls prey to a strange web that drains the ship of its energy. When the crew of the Enterprise find the crew of the Defiant dead, they know something is up - and then they must come face to face with the Tholians!
Plato's Stepchildren: The crew of the Enterprise answer yet another distress call that this time takes them to another strange new world. Upon arrival they encounter an unusual race of seemingly human beings called the Platonians who turn out to never age and to have strong psychic abilities. They've structured their society around Ancient Greece and they find the crew of the Enterprise very amusing - so much so that they plan to keep them around for entertainment.
Wink Of An Eye: A distress call takes the Enterprise to the planet of Scalos where Kirk and his landing party find a massive but empty city. When a crewmember vanishes into an energy wave, they find themselves the victims of the Scalosians, lead by their alien queen, Deela, who explains that her race is hyper accelerated and that they plan on using the Enterprise crew for genetic stock because they haven't yet been contaminated.
The Empath: The Enterprise heads to a planet to pick up some Federation personal before the planet's sun goes supernova. When they arrive, the camp they'd been instructed to find is empty. The Enterprise can only hang out above the planet for so long thanks to the nasty solar radiation in the area, but the search party is intent on finding the missing people they were sent to collect.
Elaan Of Troyius: Kirk and his team are sent to Troyius to pick up an ambassador then to Elan and a princess who turns out to be very demanding and rather difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, dealing with her is a necessary evil as the Federation is counting on her to help bring peace to her area of the system - the hope is that she'll be marrying a high ranking official from the planet Troyius who Elan is at war with!
Whom Gods Destroy: The Enterprise has to deliver some medicine to a prison planet that is home to an asylum. They land and soon figure out that the inmates have essentially taken over the asylum. Lead by the insane and meglomaniacal Captain Garth, the inmates are intent on taking over but Kirk isn't going to let that happen even if Garth was at one point one of Kirks' heroes.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield: When a shuttle is stolen from a starbase the Enterprise heads in to investigate. This sets into motion a few unusual events where they ultimately wind up hosting the two sole survivors of a pair of distant planets that were bent on destroying one another. Unfortunately for the crew, these two don't intend to let bygones be bygones.
The Mark Of Gideon: The Enterprise heads to a planet called Gideon where they hope to convince the populace to join the Federation. They won't let anyone from the ship beam down to the planet except for Kirk, who is beamed down only to find himself in another, empty transport room identical to the one on the Enterprise. It turns out that this planet has a pretty serious overpopulation problem and that they see Kirk as the solution...
That Which Survives:The Enterprise investigates a strange and seemingly very young planet. They beam down to investigate and soon discover that the planet is subject to quakes. Soon the away team loses communication with the Enterprise while they also encounter a mysterious and beautiful woman who is seemingly indestructible and up to no good!
The Lights Of Zetar:The Federation sends the Enterprise to a planetoid called Memory Alpha which houses massive computer databases. On the way, the ship encounters a strange energy source that appears to be a storm. They intercept it and strange things start happening on board the ship which falls victim to some very unusual alien life forms.
Requiem For Methuselah: The crew of the Enterprise falls sick, victims of an odd disease. They head to a distant planet in search of the minerals they need to create a cure, and meet an immortal man named Flint who has an amazing collection of artifacts from Earth, including many of Shakespeare's original works.
The Way To Eden: The Enterprises chases a stolen Federation ship into Romulan territory. They beam the thieves into the transporter room and are surprised to find that they're a small cult of bald, barefoot hippy types lead by a strange doctor, all of whom are on their way to a supposed Eden where they hope to live in peace.
The Cloud Minders: The Enterprise is sent to the planet of Ardana to retrieve some minerals to be used in a medicine that The Federation hopes to use to help stop a vicious plague that is spreading quickly throughout another planet. When they arrive and beam down, the team finds themselves caught in the middle of a tense civil war.
The Savage Curtain: In this episode, Kirk and Spock head to Excalbia where they are to conduct a survey of the planet's unique volcanic activity. They detect life forms upon arrival, which shouldn't even be possible, and further investigation reveals the existence of aliens who hope to use the crew for their own experiments.
All Our Yesterdays: The crew head to the planet of Sarpeidon which needs to be evacuated as a nearby star is going to be going supernova soon. The ship's sensors don't detect any life so the team beams down to investigate where they find a man named Atoz who can open up a time portal using hsis sophisticated computer equipment. Of course, Kirk and Spock wind up trapped in the past with no certain way to make it back to their own time.
Turnabout Intruder: In the final episode of the season and the series, the Enterprise heads to Camus II to answer a distress call. They land and find three surviving humans, one of whom, Dr. Janice Lester, is one of Kirk's old flames. It turns out that Lester is rather mad, driven insane by her issues with a male dominated society, and she transfers her essence into Kirk's body and his into hers so that she can enjoy all the advantages that being Kirk has to offer - including controlling the Enterprise!
As most fans already know, CBS/Paramount 'remastered' not only the audio and video quality but also the effects seen in the episodes themselves. They've basically gone back and redone, digitally, those old phaser blasts and optical effects that made the series look as dated as it does and polished them up for a newer audience. Many purists will understandably cry foul over this, but thankfully the sets include the original unaltered episodes alongside these revamped ones, so you can watch whichever version you prefer. In defense of the new effects sequences, most of them work quite well and fit the tone of the show nicely but depending on how well you know the series and how much it means to you, it could still irk you.
Everyone knows that when the series went off the air it found new life through syndication and movie spin offs before coming back to television with Star Trek - The Next Generation and the various shows that would follow in its wake. Many of these follow ups had better stories and were considerably more sophisticated but there's something to be said for the one that started it all. There's a sense of wonder in the series that is pretty captivating at times, and the generally positive tone of the show is definitely a plus compared to so many other bleak portrayals of the future. The chemistry between Shatner's Kirk and Nimoy's Spock works exceptionally well and while nostalgia could play a big part in why so many people love this show as they do, so too does the ridiculous amount of entertainment value that even the less than classic episodes have in spades.
The episodes are all presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio and they look excellent thanks to Paramount's 1080p VC-1 encoding. The dated aspects of the production shine through and the added resolution, depth and clarity makes some of the low budget set design work more obvious than maybe some might like them to be, but it is what it is. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts to note nor is there much in the way of edge enhancement to complain about. Some fine grain is noticeable but usually there's no actual print damage outside of the odd speck here and there - there are exceptions in that some close up shots and some shots that use optical effects look a bit rougher. Colors are vastly improved over previous home video releases, and it's really much easier to appreciate just what a quirky looking and odd looking series Star Trek was in its original form. Black levels are nice and strong and always consistent while skin tones look natural and very lifelike with facial detail really showing vast improvements over previous transfers or television broadcasts. Regardless of which 'version' you watch - the original or the remastered one with newer digital effects work - Paramount has done a great job here in terms of the visual quality afforded this set.
The English language DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mixes created for this release are uniformly strong across the board. There isn't as much surround activity here as there would be in the new Star Trek feature film but channel separation is obvious from the get go and the score is spread out quite nicely across the board. You'll notice right from the opening credits where the Enterprise zips across the screen and the vocals swell up in the theme that this is a tight and well constructed mix. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the levels are well balanced. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and the actors and actresses deliver their lines with plenty of clarity. The sound effects pack a bit more punch here than they have before and they're periodically spread out across the mix to interesting effect. Everything here sounds quite good, and while it's not going to be considered demo material, for an older television series it is a pretty impressive effort.
The extras on the first four discs are limited to standard definition previews for the episodes that are included on each disc, but once you move on to the fifth disc in the collection you'll find a lot more supplemental material starting with an eleven minute documentary entitled Life Beyond Trek: Walter Koenig in which the man better known as Chekov talks about how he came on board as a crewmember of the Enterprise and how it lead to other and very different work for him once the series was over. The six minute Chief Engineer's Log is an interesting if rather brief interview with James Doohan that was recorded in 2003. Here the late actor discusses his career before, during and after his run on the show in addition to some of his favorite moments from the series. Similar in tone and structure is Memoir From Mr. Sulu, an eight minute segment from 2004 in which George Takei talks about his work on Star Trek, Japanese-American relations, and how all of this has changed his life for the better. Captain's Log: Bob Justman, the only extra in HD on this disc, is a ten minute is a collection of interview clips with various cast and crew members who reminisce about the producer and the impact that he had on the series. Input from Justman himself is also included. Rounding out the extras on this disc are previews for the episodes.
Disc six starts off with the unaired alternate version of Where No Man Has Gone Before, presented in the same quality as the other episodes in this collection and with the same technical specifications. A text introduction puts this episode into context and explains how it was found and why it exists. The differences are mainly in the score and in Shatner's narration and the core storyline more or less stays the same. It's interesting to see it included here. David Gerrold Hosts '2009 Convention Coverageis a twenty minute HD featurette where one of the series better known writers appears alongside Chase Masterson, Robert Picardo, Nichelle Nichols, and Nana Visitor to discuss their work on the series and its legacy. The Anthropology Of 'Star Trek' Comic-Con Panel 2009 is a four minute HD featurette where Professor Daryl G. Frazetti discusses the series anthropological implications both in terms of how it portrays futuristic society and how it's actually impacted the one in which we actually live. It's a nerdy bit, but a pretty interesting one that probably should have been a bit longer. World Of Rod Roddenberry' Comic-Con 2009 is a seven minute HD featurette features David Gerrold and Rod Roddenberry, Gene's son, discussing how they're doing their best to carry on what Gene started. They discuss the impact of the series from a social perspective as well as from a pop culture perspective and discuss their involvement in other projects. Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies And Special Memories is eleven minutes of behind the scenes footage that Blackburn captured will working on the series as an extra. It's presented in HD and it's fun to watch. More substantial is To Boldy Go... Season Three, which is a twenty-two minute standard definition documentary that rounds up all of the principal cast members to look back on what it was like working on the series during its third season, when they weren't really sure where it was going or how long it would be there. There's some clips here used to point out highlights from the season's run, but it's the interviews and recollections that make this as interesting as it is. Complimenting that featurette nicely is Collectible Trek, a fourteen minute SD segment where a group of hardcore Star Trek collectors show off their most prized possessions as they explain how and why props and memorabilia from this series can wind up being so valuable. Rounding out this disc is a nine minute SD featurette entitled Star Trek's Impact in which Rod Roddenberry talks about the series and how it's affected him and others.
Last but not least, this set also includes the remastered HD version of The Cage, which was the episode originally intended to be the series' pilot back in 1964 which was ultimately bumped by Where No Man Has Gone Before when the series debuted in 1965. In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise, Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) and his team, receive a distress signal from a ship that's been missing for almost two decades. They go to investigate where they find survivors, but of course, there's more to it than that... there are aliens, the Talosians to be exact, on the planet as well. It's a fun episode, much of which was later used the first season's The Menagerie. It's also interesting to see Hunter playing Pike, rather than to see Shatner playing Kirk.
The set is also Blu-ray Live enabled, meaning that those equipped with online capable players can go online and access some other extra content. Classy menus and episode selection submenus are provided across the six discs in the set.
While it isn't as strong as the first two seasons that came before it, this third and final batch of episodes is still a lot of fun and CBS/Paramount have done a fine job bringing this material to Blu-ray offering fans the choice of enjoying the content in its original form or by way of the newly remastered episodes with 'improved' digital effects. The audio and video quality is excellent and the supplements are interesting and plentiful. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.