Star Trek, in its many and varied guises has, over the years, managed to cram in some excellent, and thought-provoking tales. While Trek-haters may simply dismiss the series as nonsensical tales of sci-fi fluff, with nothing but a collection of actors in silly costumes and all manner of make-up-heavy guest stars, the franchise has always been more than the sum of its parts.
While clearly science fiction, Trek is not simply about strange aliens, space battles and tight-fitting uniforms, and each series has been packed to the Jeffries tubes with deep, often hard-hitting stories. Many of these reflect real-life issues, while others explore moral choices and the human psyche.
Occasionally, however, Trek writers have decided to take the series and play with it in other ways, and have sometimes become bored of the utopian future, goody-goody characters and general sugar-coated brilliance of future mankind. Instead, several episodes have branched out into alternate realities where Starfleet isn’t the force of good we know and love, humanity is prone to flaws, and our beloved characters are far from the pillars of the community they’ve come to represent.
These, usually darker episodes have become firm favourites of many Trekkers, and some have been gathered together is this new Trek boxset, the next in the ‘Collective’ series.
The box set covers a range of categories, beginning, fittingly, with the ‘Mirror Universe’ episodes, headed up by the original series classic, Mirror, Mirror – you know, the one where everyone’s evil, Sulu has a scar and Spock has a goatee (the classic sign of an evil doer). This introduced the crew to the mirror universe, a place where everyone is the opposite of his or her normal, paragon of virtue selves. This, almost swashbuckler society depicted an evil Starfleet, and crew members who’d think nothing of stabbing their ‘colleagues’ in the back for promotion. These themed episodes continue with the entire Mirror set, including the three DS9 outings, which pushed the Mirror Universe to an even darker place, and finally the Enterprise double episode, In A Mirror Darkly.
As well as the Mirror Universe saga, the box set includes a range of episodes that fit (mostly) into the alternate reality tagline. Under the label ‘Parallel Dimensions’ the set includes The Alternative Factor (TOS) and Parallels (TNG), both good episodes, especially Parallels, which remains a classic TNG mind-bender.
The next division – ‘Twisted Realities’ focuses on changes to the normal reality, rather than complete alternate dimensions. This grouping contains the excellent, Riker-based episode, Frame Of Mind (TNG), as well as The Enemy Within and Turnabout Intruder (TOS).
The ‘Alternate Lives’ episodes are arguably the highlight of the box set, though, and contain what are, in this humble writer’s opinion, some of the best examples of Trek around. These include TNG offerings Yesterday’s Enterprise (which kicked off an interesting, Tasha Yar future plotline), Picard-themed ep, The Inner Light, and DS9’s excellent, The Visitor.
Finally, we have the ‘Before and After’ collection. This group is far less impressive than the previous sections, with most episodes featuring Voyager, and a couple of Enterprise outings, none of which really got my Trek-meter going full-throttle, to tell you the truth.
On the extras side of things, the set isn’t bad, but not great either. There’s a selection of interviews with cast and crew discussing each episode. These are all interesting, and offer unique insights, including last minute cast changes, continuity errors and other behind the scenes fare (as well as plenty of back-slapping, as to be expected). Sadly, there’s no audio commentary, which has become a staple DVD addition these days, so it’s odd that this set omits such an extra. The DVD menus are a little ropey too, looking more like they’ve been made using a budget home DVD authoring tool rather than a professional production setup.
As box sets go, Star Trek has seen plenty of excellent themed outings, such as the great Borg collection and the unmissable Q box. However, this particular gathering doesn’t really stack up against these previous releases, and sometimes seems to include very tenuously linked choices. While there are some classic episodes here, there’s also a few less than stellar inclusions. While I can’t really say I dislike any of the episodes on offer (I do like all forms of Trek), there are some glaring omissions here, such as The Next Generation’s Remember Me and Future Imperfect. Another omission is DS9’s The Emperor’s New Cloak, which is strange as this episode even featured a Mirror Universe storyline. Oh well.
These missed opportunities are far better episodes than some of the ones featured in the set (not to mention more relevant), and it’s a shame this grouping lets the side down. This may be due (I suspect) to the fact that this set, unlike the previous boxes, was not actually picked by the fans (hence the missing “Fan Collective” title), and instead seems as if a studio exec simply played pick and mix with some stories. The end results is an affordable set (it’s only £34.99) that contains some great Trek moments, but one that’s also missing some solid choices, and so, will undoubtedly come under fire from hardened Trekkers. One for completionists.
Here’s a full list of the episodes featured:
Mirror, Mirror – TOS Crossover – DS9 Through the Looking Glass – DS9 Shattered Mirror – DS9 In a Mirror, Darkly – ENT (two-parter)
The Alternative Factor – TOS Parallels – TNG
The Enemy Within – TOS Turnabout Intruder – TOS Frame Of Mind – TNG Shattered – VOY
Yesterday’s Enterprise – TNG The Inner Light – TNG The Visitor – DS9 Before And After – VOY Timeless – VOY Course: Oblivion –VOY E2 – ENT Twilight – ENT
Star Trek – Alternate Realities Collection is available now.