Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 10, 2007)
For the next in Paramount’s Star Trek “Fan Collective” compilation packages, we get the second one that spans all five series: Captain’s Log. Each disc in this five-platter set spotlights one of the different branches of the Trek tree. Like prior releases, fans voted to select most of the episodes, but they’re not alone. On each disc, we find one program chosen by the series’ captains themselves.
Star Trek Fan Collective: Captain’s Log includes 17 episodes, with things pretty evenly spread among the five series. For these shows, I’ll offer the usual episode synopses and thoughts. I wrote most of the plot overviews myself, but if you see quotes involved, then the material came from tv.com – thanks to them for their good work.
DVD One - Star Trek “The Original Series”:
City on the Edge of Forever (Captain’s Pick): This episode is viewed with very high regard, and I can understand those opinions. The story itself is nothing spectacular, as it involves the semi-usual time-traveling and various urgent problems to be solved, but the character development of the show is what makes it stand out from the crowd.
Trek was never afraid to be different than the typical sci-fi shows; most of them were all silly heroics and whiz-bang theatrics, while Trek often took a more cerebral and more ambivalent tone. As such, we often encountered shows that ended in a rather melancholy way.
"City" takes that bittersweet quality to a different level and features greater moral complexity than usual. In a way, it's a precursor of the theme seen in Star Trek II, the whole "the good of the many outweighs the good of the one or the few" deal, as Kirk has to decide if one death to save many is an acceptable bargain.
I won't spoil the ending, but it isn't something you see everyday on network TV, and I'm sure it stood out even more starkly in the mid-Sixties. Across the board, "City" is a well-made episode; even Shatner's usual hamminess seems toned down to a degree, and he makes Kirk more human than ever. All in all, it's a very good episode.
By the time we got to The Enterprise Incident, clearly the personae of the regular characters had been set. As such, occasionally the show liked to mess with them and show them in different ways. Spock’s the usual subject of this, since his stoic ways most easily open up for unusual expressions.
When we found Kirk in altered states, usually they revolved around behaviors that didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the Enterprise’s crew. After all, this man appeared totally devoted to the craft and its personnel, so how better to mess with things than to make him behave in seemingly irrational ways that might harm the vessel and its inhabitants?
That theme comes to prominence during “Enterprise”, a show that depicts Kirk as he appears to teeter on the brink of madness. For no obvious reason, an edgy and wired Kirk steers the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone. Unsurprisingly, the Romulans don’t appreciate this course of events, and they come a-calling. They capture the vessel, and Kirk and Spock beam over to the Romulan flagship. On board, Spock acknowledges that Kirk doesn’t seem fit for command. Angered, the captain lunges at his right-hand man, who reflexively nails Kirk with the old “Vulcan Death Grip”.
The Vulcans beam Kirk’s corpse back to the Enterprise, while Spock warms up to the Romulans. The two races are quite similar, and the sexy Romulan commander (Joanna Linville) tries to convince Spock that he should be a leader, not a follower. She attempts to recruit him to the Romulan side.
Back home on the Enterprise, we find that the reports of Kirk’s death have been exaggerated. All his irrational behavior was part of a plot to trick the Romulans, and after he returns, they imprison the Romulan hostages on board; that side sent over two of its own to ensure the safe return of Kirk and Spock. Kirk gets a Romulan makeover and returns to that ship in this disguise, all with the aim of capturing cloaking technology.
“Enterprise” suffers somewhat from its inevitability. Not for one second did I believe that a) Kirk was nuts, or b) Spock would turn on his captain. It always seemed ridiculously clear that their actions were a ruse, and I also knew where it would go. It also provided some additional serious stretches of logic. Even a bonehead like Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) knows that there’s no such thing as a “Vulcan Death Grip”, so why are none of the Romulans - close cousins to the Vulcans - aware of this?
Despite these concerns, the show was generally interesting, if just because it is fun to watch Kirk and Spock play against type. Spock got one of his rare opportunities to be a ladies’ man, and the show seemed entertaining and provocative. “Enterprise” didn’t qualify as a great episode, but it was generally positive.
Balance of Terror: This one marks a terrific episode and also is one in which we first get to see one of the show's later-to-be-famous villainous races: the Romulans make their debut here. It's a serious cat-and-mouse piece of space warfare as the Enterprise comes head to head with their ancient foes (no points for guessing who wins).
It's also one of the more exciting episodes as each side parries and thrusts. Mark Lenard - who would later return to play Spock's father - does a wonderful job as the Romulan commander; he's authoritative, regal and sympathetic all at once. The show suffers from an unnecessary subplot involving two anonymous crewmembers who want to marry - gee, hope nothing bad happens to one of them! - but otherwise is one of the best episodes of the Original Series.
DVD Two - Star Trek: The Next Generation:
In Theory (Captain’s Pick) tosses an ill-fated love story into the mix. We meet pretty but unlucky in love Lt. D’Sora (Michelle Scarabelli). After she splits with another crewmember, she starts to see even-tempered and considerate Data (Brent Spiner) as the ideal mate. After consultation with key compatriots, Data decides to go ahead with this potential relationship, and most of the episode follows this unlikely pairing. In the meantime, the Enterprise encounters a strange phenomenon that briefly phases parts of the ship out of the normal continuum. This needs to be halted before it destroys the vessel.
That last part of the plot feels like something tacked on to satisfy folks disinterested in the romantic elements. It doesn’t come to much or go anywhere, really, as the emphasis remains strongly on Data’s doings. Those sections seem a little more successful, but I can’t help but feel we’ve been down this path in the past. We’ve seen many episodes that emphasize Data’s inability to comprehend standard human social interaction and emotions, and this one doesn’t appear to add much to the mix. However, it remains consistently entertaining, if not anything special.
Next we get a self-contained two-part episode, Chain of Command. At the very start, Vice-Admiral Nechayev (Natalia Nogulich) abruptly relieves Picard of his command of the Enterprise. It looks like the Cardassians may make an incursion into Starfleet territory, and the Vice-Admiral wants someone with more Cardassian experience at the helm of the flagship as they enter negotiations. She replaces Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) with Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox), a brusque and hard-driving leader who actively irritates much of the ship’s crew. In the meantime, Picard, Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) all go on a dangerous espionage mission to obtain more information about the potential development of metagenic weapons by the Cardassians.
”Chain” follows the developments that surround these events. Along the way, the program takes a few unexpected turns, mainly in the way it treats some of the characters. However, “Chain” suffers from a moderate sense of déjà vu, especially in the manner it reminds me of “The Best of Both Worlds”. “Chain” provides a stimulating episode for the most part, and it definitely feels interesting to see someone else in the captain’s chair, but it falls short of becoming exceptional.
In Darmok, the Federation receives a signal from the planet El-Adrel IV, home of the “Children of Tama”. When Captain Picard extends an olive branch, Tamarian leader Dathon (Paul Winfield) has both of them beamed to the planet surface. Dathon speaks in nonsense phrases of partial English as he appears to challenge Picard to a fight. Our captain refuses, and Dathon walks away as he mutters more gibberish. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the crew of the Enterprise try to rescue Picard as the captain attempts to get by on the planet.
Though a little sappy at times, “Darmok” seems generally intriguing and enjoyable. The Tamarians provide a genuinely unusual species due to their language, and these moments appear clever and interesting. In addition, we see some nice bonding moments between Picard and Dathon. Overall, “Darmok” offers an above-average episode of Trek.
Early glimpse of a star alert! Watch closely and you’ll see a young Ashley Judd as an Enterprise crewmember.
DVD Three - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
The pressures of war start to get to Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) in Far Beyond the Stars (Captain’s Pick). He skips in and out of present time and ultimately finds himself back in 1950s America, where he learns he’s a staff member on a science-fiction magazine. His colleagues look an awful lot like the staff of DS9. Sisko writes a story that involves the crew and setting of DS9, but he encounters the realities of the era’s racism, which means he finds it tough to get them to run the tale unless he makes the captain white.
While I watched “Stars”, I tried hard to figure out what the point of it was, but I never really succeeded. Sure, Sisko’s dream recommits him to his fight, but was even that necessary? What else did we learn here – that a lot of racism existed in the Fifties? “Stars” felt more like an excuse for the actors to perform their characters in a period setting than a real story.
Played in flashback, In the Pale Moonlight shows a disturbed Sisko and then leaps back two weeks to follow the events that got him to that point. Because they continually allow the Dominion to traverse their space, Sisko decides he needs to draw the Romulans into the battle on Starfleet’s side. For this, he needs evidence that the Dominion will eventually turn on the Romulans, and we see the enterprise that attempts to gain this information.
“Pale” offers a show fixed mostly on one character, as now it’s Sisko’s time to shine. “Pale” follows some of the “do the means justify the ends” territory seen in the prior episode, though it goes at it from a different angle. It creates a darker journey that allows it to become a successful exploration of the shades of gray between good and evil.
A double-length episode, What You Leave Behind concludes the series. The show presents a climactic battle between the Federation and allies against the Dominion, et al, via an invasion of Cardassia. It also wraps up any loose ends waiting in the wings.
While it lacks the elegance and cleverness of “All Good Things”, the conclusion to Next Generation, “Behind” finishes DS9 on a reasonably satisfying note. It does tie up most loose ends, though it leaves a few slightly unraveled. It also gets a little too sentimental at times, though I suppose we should expect that. In any case, it concludes the series well.
DVD Four - Star Trek: Voyager:
Counterpoint (Captain’s Pick): “While traveling through Devore space, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) must hide all telepaths on board in transporter stasis as telepathy is illegal under Devore law. After Voyager is repeatedly searched, the leader of the investigations requests asylum and wishes to defect.”
Janeway meets the perfect man - maybe. Much of “Counterpoint” proceeds in a standard manner, but the issues with Janeway’s new stud create some tension simply because we don’t know whether to trust him. Although most of the show seems somewhat bland, it culminates in an interesting manner.
The Omega Directive: " Voyager is forced out of warp by the detection of a dangerous and powerful particle called 'Omega' which only Janeway and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) know about on board the ship. Due to the nature of the particle, only Starfleet Captains are informed and are ordered to destroy it at all costs, as it has the power to destroy subspace. Janeway must enlist the help of the senior crew on a need-to-know basis in order to destroy it safely.”
”Omega” takes a more abstract approach to a subject than usual. It starts with a tense tale of a mystery substance and almost turns into a discussion of the search for God. Not all of it succeeds, but it manages to become something interesting.
Flashback: " After falling ill to what appears to be a repressed memory Tuvok (Tim Russ) must perform a mind-meld with Captain Janeway in order to survive. The meld takes them back to when Tuvok was a junior science officer aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei).”
With “Flashback”, we find our first Voyager guest appearance from a main member of the Original Series. (Season Two included a quick cameo from The Next Generation’s Riker, while Season One presented Deep Space Nine’s Quark.) I don’t think a Trek show’s featured an Original Series main cast member since Scotty popped up in Season Six of Next Generation. As far as I recall, none of the Big Seven made it into any of DS9’s seven seasons.
Did “Flashback” give us a satisfying exploration of one of those characters? Not really, but it’s fun. The show only represents Sulu as a memory of Tuvok’s, so it doesn’t give him anywhere to grow.
This makes the program gimmicky, but it remains entertaining. They recreate the elements of Star Trek VI nicely and make those elements interesting to see. It’s not great Trek but it’s enjoyable.
Trivia note: Takei’s appearance here means that only one of the Original Series’ Big Seven cast members never did a guest appearance in any of the subsequent series or the Next Generation movies. Nichelle Nichols failed to pop up anywhere that didn’t totally focus on the Original Series characters.
DVD Five - Star Trek: Enterprise:
Judgment (Captain’s Pick): “In a Klingon tribunal, Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) stands accused of aiding fugitives of the Empire and faces death if found guilty.”
More shades of Star Trek VI! Any similarities between that film and “Judgment” are clearly intentional. Unfortunately, they forgot to give this episode a plot. I like the looks at Klingon “justice”, even though they become moralizing. The show simply lacks much to make it special.
First Flight: “Archer tells T'Pol (Jolene Blaylock) the story of when he and a rival named A.G. Robinson were in competition for breaking the Warp 2 barrier.”
Time for an old stand-by: the flashback episode. This one works pretty well, at least, as it gives us a look at a slightly younger Archer. We find a nice look at his earlier self in this entertaining piece.
These Are the Voyages: “Six years in the future, an emotional Captain Archer and the crew return to Earth to face the decommission of Enterprise and signing of the Federation charter.”
“Demons”/”Prime” probably should have stood as the series’ final episode. “Voyages” ends things awkwardly and without a satisfying resolution. It offers too much definition for what happens to the characters, and it uses a silly format as it integrates some Next Generation characters. Fans should probably view “Demons”/”Prime” as the end of the series and skip this disappointment.