Volume 9 Volume 10

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Paramount, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], subtitles: English, single side-single layer, chapters, original broadcast preview trailers, rated NR, 100 min., $19.99, 3/21/2000.

Studio Line

Volume 9: Shore Leave (Episode 17 / Stardate: 3025.3 / Airdate: September 29, 1966)
The White Rabbit and Alice in Wonderland? A knight on horseback? Don Juan, a samurai warrior, a World War II fighter plane? These strange sights await Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise when they beam down for shore leave on a mysterious planet. Is it all an illusion or some sort of trick? So it would seem, until the knight charges Dr. McCoy -- and kills him!

The Squire of Gothos (Episode 18 / Stardate: 2124.5 / Airdate: January 12, 1967)
En route to Colony Beta Six, the U.S.S. Enterprise is trapped in orbit around an uncharted planet -- a planet that shouldn't be there! Kirk discovers its sole inhabitant is an illogical but extremely powerful alien named Trelane (William Campball), who challenges Kirk to a fox hunt -- with Kirk playing the fox -- in return for the U.S.S. Enterprise's freedom.

Volume 10: Arena (Episode 19 / Stardate: 3045.6 / Airdate: January 19, 1967)
Kirk fights for his life -- and the lives of his entire crew! While pursuing a ship which destroyed a Starfleet base, Kirk intrudes into the territory of the highly advanced Metrons, who decide to settle the conflict. Suddenly Kirk is on a deserted asteroid, unarmed, facing his opponent -- an overpowering reptilian giant. If Kirk loses, the U.S.S. Enterprise crew will die. Can Kirk outwit this menacing foe?

The Alternative Factor (Episode 20 / Stardate: 3087.6 / Airdate: March 30, 1967)
In orbit around an unknown planet, the U.S.S. Enterprise experiences a moment of "nonexistence" -- all natural laws are suspended. On the planet's surface Kirk encounters Lazarus (Robert Brown), who blames this disturbance on his evil enemy. Aboard the starship, Lazarus steals vital dilithium crystals, and we learn that Lazarus' look-alike foe is from an antimatter universe. If Kirk can't prevent them from meeting, both universes will be annihilated!

Picture/Sound/Extras Volume 9 (C+/B-/D-) / Volume 10 (C-/B+/D-)

Ah! Time for some new DVDs that offer episodes of Star Trek ("The Original Series", that is). Hard to believe we're already through 25 percent of the shows, but we are, and only nine new episodes remain for the first season of Star Trek. How times flies!

Anyway, since this is an ongoing series of reviews of the ST:TOS episodes, I regard this article as more of an "update" than anything else, so I'll spare you my usual blather and get into the meat of things. I'll provide the names of the episodes on each DVD, with my general comments about the shows. Please note that the DVDs present the shows in the order in which they were filmed; I'll include each episode's place in the actual broadcast continuum.

Volume 9: "Shore Leave" and "The Squire Of Gothos"

"Shore Leave" (broadcast fifteenth) offers a thoroughly decent but unexceptional episode of Star Trek. It's one of the many shows in which the audience will be way ahead of the crew of the Enterprise. They run into so many of these situations in which things aren't what they seem and "superior" lifeforms toy with them that you'd think they'd expect them by now, but they don't; Kirk and company always appear shocked and befuddled when they encounter these sorts of magical circumstances.

Despite those issues, it's still a fairly entertaining episode. There's nothing surprising or especially creative about it in comparison with other shows, but it gets the job done in a workman-like manner; although we know exactly where it's going, it's a fun ride, so I didn't mind. And it's nice to see McCoy get the girl for once!

"The Squire Of Gothos" (broadcast seventeenth) follows a similar theme in that we again have our favorite space explorers confronted by a superior power who manipulates environments and generally messes with their minds. In this case, the being - a rather foppish dude called Tremane - basically wants to play with the crew, but Kirk ain't too wild about that.

It's an interesting show, and though we always know that at some point the shoe will drop and we'll discover something startling about Tremane, it's a more compelling journey to that point than many Treks manage. Actor William Campbell makes for an awkward but energetic Tremane, and though his bluntness in the role initially seems problematic, it makes more sense by the end of the show. Good acting or lucky casting? Probably the latter - Campbell doesn't seem too talented, so he likely doesn't deserve any accolades for his work. Still, the end result is good. "Squire..." isn't one of the all-time best episodes, but it's pretty good.

(One note: "Squire..." does appear to present one of the most blatant continuity errors in the Trek universe. Tremane garbs himself in 18th century wear and creates an environment in keeping with that era, which he thinks is the present. However, it's made clear that he's seeing an Earth from nine centuries prior. Hmm... Trek is supposed to take place in the 23rd century, and last time I looked, 23 minus 18 didn't equal 9...)

Volume 10: "The Arena" and "The Alternative Factor"

While DVD 9 offered two decent but unspectacular episodes, the 10th volume is more of a study in contrasts. First up is "The Arena" (broadcast eighteenth), a very exciting and compelling tale that is marred only by some of the usual Trek moralizing. The show starts off with a bang - literally - as Kirk and the rest almost immediately come under attack by an alien race. Hot pursuit ensues until eventually Kirk and the captain of the other ship are placed in one-to-one combat - to the death!

The alien - called the Gorn - is one of the more memorable Trek creatures, mainly because he looks so ferocious; it's not a great costume in that it doesn't seem life-like, but the muscular reptile still cuts an intimidating figure. Trek villains don't tend to offer such strongly visual representations of bad-ass aliens, so it was exciting to see something like the Gorn.

While the episode proceeds on fairly predictable lines, the high emphasis on action makes it a winner. Trek has always been noted as a fairly cerebral show, and indeed it is that intellectual quality that makes it stand out from other science fiction programs, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy some down and dirty action every once in a while. Actually, I suppose it's the lack of frequency with which we see this kind of Trek episode that makes it more exciting; while many of the shows feature action, few put it so strongly in the forefront. "The Arena" was a very good show.

Judging by the fact that it was shot twentieth but not shown until twenty-seventh, I'd take that as a sign that the show's producers knew that "The Alternative Factor" wasn't much of an episode. It's a completely uninspired mess, really, from the bland title all the way through the muddled story and forced philosophizing of its conclusion, this one's quite forgettable.

The plot really is what kills this episode, as it's far too complicated. That doesn't mean it's deep or intellectual and my tiny brain couldn't handle it; it simply means that the story doesn't get told effectively and the result is a botched mess. There's some potential to the tale of alternative universes, but the execution kills it by making the entire affair thoroughly confusing. I suppose this one might work better upon subsequent viewings, but probably not.

(Continuity strangeness part 2: the main guest on this episode - Robert Brown as the mysterious Lazarus [not too creative in the naming department!] - bears an odd fu manchu-style mustache and a stringy little beard. Enjoy yourself as you note how the density of his facial hair varies radically throughout the show! I kept waiting for some alternative-universe oriented explanation as to why he sometimes looked like a 23rd century relative of the guys in ZZ Top but on other occasions displayed almost no growth, but that assistance never came.)

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, Volume 9 wins a slight edge of Volume 10. Actually, DVD 9 is probably the best-looking of the bunch so far, thanks largely to the much better than usual quality seen during "Shore Leave".

"SL" features some of the usual flaws I've seen on these DVDs but also offers some of the sharpest scenes. Many shots on the planet surface seem crisp and detailed, which is logical since they're daylight scenes, the kinds of images that are easiest to make look good. However, bridge scenes also often appear terrific and look much better than usual. I don't know why this was, but "SL" presents the single best-looking episode to date,

It still has its flaws, though, foremost being a fairly high number of print concerns. Grain appears much of the time, and scratches and speckles also pop up regularly; one shot of Spock when he meets Kirk on the planet looks absolutely horrific. Colors appeared quite bold but seemed more subdued than those in the first eight volumes; that's a good thing, because I found the hues in the other DVDs to appear oversaturated and too intense. Black levels are very good as well. Judged on its own, "SL" would probably garner a "B-" (the print flaws are too intense to let it go above that level).

"Squire..." also looks good, but it doesn't shine quite as brightly. It possesses the usual Trek problems: occasional softness, frequent bouts of grain, speckles and scratches, and slightly over-saturated colors. It's still a little better than most other episodes, so it earns a "C", which is why the DVD as a whole got a "C+".

Volume 10, on the other hand, matches very well the images I saw on the first eight discs. Sharpness usually looks pretty good, but quite a few scenes appear fairly soft, especially during "The Alternative Factor", which looks a good bit worse than "The Arena". Part of that is due to the high number of complicated effects shots in "TAF" - the special effects scenes in Star Trek always look much worse than the rest of the show - but that doesn't explain the problem completely since plenty of "easy" shots on board the Enterprise appear fuzzy as well. Maybe the dull nature of the show affected all aspects of quality and the cameramen didn't even bother to focus.

Anyway, sharpness is not as much of a concern with "The Arena", which may be a result of the predominance of daylight photography during that show. Both episodes suffer from issues related to print quality. Grain often intrudes upon the image, and other flaws appear; I saw scratches, speckles, streaks and black spots on not-infrequent occasions. These aren't a constant nuisance, but they're there in some form pretty often.

Colors reflect the high-intensity hues seen on the first eight DVDs. While these often seem quite brilliant, they come across as blotchy and vague much of the time. Black levels aren't much of an issue on Trek; such an emphasis was placed on color that we don't see too many dark hues. What we witness seems okay, and shadow detail - which also doesn't appear too frequently in the brightly-lit sets - looks similarly acceptable but unspectacular.

Despite my criticisms, I remain pleased with the visual quality of the Trek DVDs. After all, I doubt anyone really thought these suckers needed babying over the years, so it's amazing that they look as good as they do. Objectively, they present a lot of problems, but subjectively, they seem terrific.

My praise for the newly-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks of all these episodes is much less equivocal. Put simply, they sound absolutely great. For material the age of Trek, these mixes really do sound fantastic.

This audio comes from original monaural tracks. The soundfield remains pretty heavily oriented toward the center, but it has been opened up quite a bit. Many sounds come from the front right and left channels, and we also hear occasional activity from the rears. The surrounds often give off some good ambient information - like the hum of the Enterprise - and split surround usage occurs on occasion, such as when the ship flies by or when a phaser blast heads to one side. No one will mistake these tracks for recent efforts, but the effects work quite well.

Even more pleasantly surprising is the good quality of the sound. 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. Although some distortion can interfere with effects, they're usually very clean and they even boast some good bass at times. Whoever remixed these suckers deserves a serious pat on the back; the results are fantastic.

While Volume 10 again closely replicates the qualities heard on the first eight DVDs, Volume 9 differs somewhat. That DVD offered a less-involving and less-active environment than I'd previously witnessed. Oh, it was still good for something remixed from decades-old mono tracks, but I found it to be a relative disappointment. The quality also seemed a little flatter and lacked as much life.

Volume 10 rebounded from that malaise and provided sound on a par with the first eight DVDs. "The Arena" seemed especially vivid, as almost from the start we hear some very effective use of explosions; these come from all around, and while it doesn't match Saving Private Ryan, I thought it really added to the environment. "TAF" also boasts some exciting audio, especially when we witness the effects that herald the intermingling of dimensions.

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. While the Gene Roddenberry audio commentary one DVD newsgroup participant demanded seems rather unlikely to appear (unless Ouija technology has improved), interviews with other participants would have been nice.

Recommendations are a little tough. Volume 9 is more consistent, since both episodes are good, but Volume 10 offers the only great show of the four. Unfortunately, it's balanced by the only bad episode of the four. As with the first eight DVDs, picture and sound quality remain relatively strong, though I saw some differences in that department that favored the image of Volume 9 but preferred the sound of Volume 10. I can't heartily recommend either DVD, but I think Trek fans will likely be happy with both.

Related Sites

Current as of 3/24/2000

DVD MovieGuide: Star Trek - The Original Series--Visit our special coverage of the series on DVD. The section includes full sypnosis of each episode, reviews, recommendation to the best sites, and more.

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