Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Star Trek: The Original Series Volume 13 & 14
Studio Line: Paramount

Volume 13
This Side Of Paradise (Episode 25): Omicron Ceti III's colonists should have been killed by a deadly Berthold rays, yet Kirk finds a goup of mysteriously healthy colonists -- and Spock falls in love!

The Devil In the Dark (Episode 26): Kirk and Spock beam down to Janus VI to investigate after an unknown monster roaming the planet's tunnels kills more than 50 miners.

Volume 14
Errand Of Mercy (Episode 27): Kirk and his crew come face-to-face with the Kingons, and both learn the meaning of war when begins from the planet Organia interfere.

The City on the Edge of Forever (Episode 28): Kirk and Spock go back in time to rescue McCoy. Arriving in 1930, Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), only to learn that for time to return to normal she must die.

DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; rated NR; 100 min.; $19.95 ea.; street date 7/11/00.
Supplements: Original Broadcast Preview Trailers.
Purchase: Volume 13 | Volume 14 | The Star Trek Encyclopedia - Michael Okuda | The Best of Stark Trek Vol. 2 Soundtrack - Compilation

Picture/Sound/Extras: Volume 13 C+/B-/D- | Volume 14 C/B/D-

Is it really possible that we've gone all the way through the first season of Star Trek already? Actually, no, it's not possible; there's still one more episode to go ("Operation - Annihilate", which will arrive with Volume 15 in September). Nonetheless, the most recent batch of Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs - Volumes 13 and 14, to be precise - almost finish off that initial season of this now-classic show.

And they do so pretty well, for each of the four episodes found on these discs is pretty good; not a single one qualifies as a clunker, and one which is considered by some to be the best Trek broadcast ever.

I don't know if I can go that far, but there's some good material on these discs. Without any further ado, let's move on to my thoughts about the newest bunch. (Please note that the DVDs present the shows in the order in which they were filmed; the broadcast number provided indicates where each episode falls within that line.)

Volume 13: "This Side of Paradise" and "The Devil In the Dark"

"This Side of Paradise" (broadcast 24th) provides the least compelling of these four shows as the crew of the Enterprise are affected by a mysterious force that alters their judgment. This starts with Spock, who actually displays emotions (and scores, too - whoo-hoo!), and eventually spreads to all members of the crew.

Hmmm... Haven't we seen this one before? A similar plot appeared in "The Naked Time" on Volume Three and we'll almost certainly see its likes again; hey, they have to find some reason to make Spock behave unnaturally! While it was nice to see Leonard Nimoy get to display some range of emotion, I thought the show itself was unspectacular. It proceeded along a mildly interesting line but didn't do a whole lot for me.

Possibly the most distinct aspect of "TSOP" is that - despite the usual rather liberal politics of the Trek world - this show could be seen as making a stand for capitalism. In this episode, we see how stagnant society becomes when everyone seems mindlessly happy and no longer strives to succeed and move ahead with the culture. Maybe this is a reach, but I saw that as a slam on communism, and the solution to everyone's problems was to crack the whip and get to work! (Everyone except Spock that is, whose reality provides the episode with a bittersweet ending.)

I felt that "The Devil In the Dark" (broadcast 25th) also made a political statement, though it walked upon standard Trek ground. The show starts as a standard monster story but evolves into something more interesting. A creature is killing members of a mining crew on Janus IV, which ultimately endangers the lives of residents above the surface. When Kirk and company stalk the beast, they (inevitably) discover all is not what it seems.

Although this growth seems fairly predictable, I found it interesting and convincing, and the conclusion actually was tense; the threat to the Horta (the monster in question) appeared real and for once, I wasn't completely sure how an episode would end. The show offers a nice little ecological message, in that when we destroy without knowledge, we can endanger more than we know, but it's not incredibly overt. All in all, I liked this episode a fair amount.

Volume 14: "Errand of Mercy" and "The City on the Edge of Forever"

Of the four shows on these two DVDs, "Errand of Mercy" (broadcast 26th) is the most historically-significant for one reason: it marks the first-ever appearance of the Klingons. Although the appearance of these neo-Nazis would change significantly in later shows - they're recognizable as Klingons but just barely - the attitude wouldn't; even with this first bow, the brutes were as vicious and fascist as ever.

Other than that historical footnote, I found "EOM" to be somewhat bland. I liked the episode mainly because it kept me guessing until the end. The Klingons and the Federation have come to blows over strategically-located Organia, but the residents of the planet seem curiously unconcerned over their fate. Kirk and Spock lead a two-man resistance which - we ultimately discover - truly was futile.

The semi-surprise conclusion was the best part about "EOM", or at least the tension that led to the ending was good. The actual finish seemed rather patronizing and stiff, but the program kept me interested until that point, at least, so it stands as a decent episode of Trek.

"The City on the Edge of Forever" (broadcast 28th) is the one of these four shows that is viewed with very high regard, and now that I've seen it, 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. Of the four episodes on these two DVDs, only "The Devil in the Dark" ends with a largely-happy attitude; the other three offer varying degrees of sadness or regret.

"TCOTEOF" 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, "TCOTEOF" 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.

The DVD:

These Star Trek episodes appear in their original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1; because of those dimensions, they have not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.

In regard to picture quality, both volumes present images that pretty closely match those seen on prior ST:TOS DVDs. That means while they look much better than one might expect, their overall quality seems fairly average when compared to other programs from the time period.

The shows on Volume 13 actually look a little better than average for these DVDs, especially in regard to "The Devil In the Dark". For both episodes, sharpness usually looks pretty good, but quite a few scenes appear fairly soft. As always, the show's directors loved to use soft-focus on the lead actresses, which is part of the reason why these look sharper than average; "This Side Of Paradise" has a minor romantic interest in Leila, but "TDITD" offers no women at all - not even Uhura makes an appearance! (Yeah, the Horta was female, but she received no "glamour lighting".) In general, focus is not an issue and most of the scenes look pretty clear, but many don't seem as crisp as they should.

For the shows on Volume 13, moiré effects and jagged edges seemed largely absent. Print flaws were fairly minimal as well; both episodes betrayed mild grain, and I saw a few speckles and a blotch or two, but nothing terrible in that regard. These programs looked a little cleaner than usual.

Colors seemed somewhat subdued for these shows. "TDITD" again offered the stronger hues; some of the reds in the underground environment and on the Horta looked nicely bold. The colors took on more of a pastel appearance in "TSOP"; they appeared acceptably accurate but a little bland

As always, black levels were nicely deep and rich - the uniform pants consistently seem effectively dark - and shadow detail was fine. Actually, the latter rarely is an issue during Trek shows, since most of them are brightly-lit. However, it comes into play during "TDITD" and seems solid; some of the shots in the cave display very good shadow detail.

The episodes found on Volume 14 seem largely similar to those on the prior DVD, but with a few small differences. Sharpness remains roughly equivalent, though I thought it seemed slightly softer during these two shows, especially for "The City on the Edge of Forever". Moiré effects were a little more problematic, mainly due to the complexity of the Klingon uniforms in "Errand of Mercy"; some parts showed a resemblance to chainmail, and even their tunics had a metallic look that could betray slight shimmering. Considering the potential for problems, however, I thought these issues were minor.

Print flaws seemed a little less pervasive in these shows, though they remained a factor. Both included less grain than usual, and other faults weren't as severe, though a little speckling remained. "TCOTEOF" featured a vaguely gritty look to it overall; there weren't many obvious flaws, but the whole thing seemed strangely rough.

Colors seemed similarly subdued for the most part, to an even greater degree during "TCOTEOF", which featured some surprisingly pallid tones. Black levels remained acceptably deep and dark, and shadow detail was also fine. Volume 14 appeared a little less positive than did Volume 13, but it still was adequate.

As has been the case with all of the prior ST:TOS DVDs, these volumes feature newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This audio comes from original monaural tracks. The soundfield remains pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it has been opened up a bit. The audio for both shows on Volume 13 seemed more subdued than usual. In the past, we'd heard nice fly-bys from the Enterprise, and other sharp effects like that, but since these shows lack any real pyrotechnics, they don't feature much in the way of expansive audio. The Horta booms a little when she chomps somebody, but other than that, the sound remains largely atmospheric in all channels other than the center.

A bit more expansiveness occurs during Volume 14, mainly because we get a few space battles. At the start of "EOM", the blasts fly effectively and create a brief but interesting impression. "TCOTEOF" uses mild ambient sounds better than usual; for instance, we hear the buzz of Spock's homemade computer hum nicely from the right speaker at one point. Some prior episodes presented a greater "wow" factor from their soundfields, but Volume 14 works effectively nonetheless.

Even more pleasantly surprising is the good quality of the sound on both DVDs. Dialogue appears very clear and reasonably warm and natural, with absolutely no intelligibility problems. Music seems a bit flat but generally nice, and effects come across quite well for the most part. Some distortion can interfere with effects at times; for example, during the battle at the beginning of "EOM", the blasts appear rather rough. However, most audio seems clean and it even boasts some good bass at times; the early parts of "TCOTEOF" use some nice, light low end through the subwoofer channel that adds to the effect. Probably due to the mildness of the mix, Volume 13 appears to include no subwoofer usage, but it offers a little bass nonetheless. The lack of ambition seen in Volume 13's soundfield knocks it down to a "B-" alongside Volume 14's "B", but both offer solid soundtracks for such old material.

The only genuinely unsatisfying part of these DVDs stems from their lack of supplements. Each disc offers four "original broadcast preview trailers." These are one-minute ads that offered viewers a glimpse at what would happen on next week's show.

On each DVD, two of these trailers are readily found; when you highlight a particular episode from the main menu, the preview appears as an option on the next screen. However, in addition to ads for the two shows found on that DVD, trailers for the episodes on the next disc also appear. To see those, highlight and click on the Starfleet insignia at the top of the main menu. When you do that, you will gain access to all four trailers.

Other than these trailers, the DVDs are virtually devoid of extras. Each disc's booklet contains a few pictures, some trivia and production credits in addition to a DVD checklist; that beats a kick in the head but doesn't offer much extra value. The continuing nature of the series makes it harder to add in supplements - there'll be forty DVDs in all, and that would require a lot of content. Still, I can't help but feel something could have been added, whether interviews or publicity stills or even just talent files for guest stars; the world of Trek seems too wide to include so few extras.

Recommendation time: serious Trek fans undoubtedly will be happy with both of these DVDs, so the question remains which ones would be good for less fanatical folks. Both DVDs offer roughly equivalent picture, sound and extras, so those factors don't decide for us. If you only want to get one of these two DVDs, Volume 14 is the clear winner. One of the episodes - "The City on the Edge of Forever" - is a classic, and the other seems entertaining, too; the latter also marks the first appearance of the Klingons, which makes it fun from that point of view. In comparison, the shows on Volume 13 seem less compelling. Both episodes provide solid Trek entertainment but neither really stands out from the crowd.

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