Star Trek: The Remastered Series Seasons 1, 2 & 3 review

James wades through three box sets of Star Trek's original series...

The original Star Trek crew

Star Trek is one of television’s most iconic series – a formative name for several generations of viewers, and in the case of the original series, for the medium of Television itself. You’ll find closet Star Trek fans everywhere you look, and everyone has their favourite captain. For many, though, there’s only one captain of the Enterprise – James T. Kirk.

The original series of Star Trek ran from 1966 to 1968, and in that time pushed many cultural boundaries. Its writing largely stands the test of time, its actors became legends in their own lifetimes, but 40 years on, its effects are visibly limited by the technology of the time. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Star Trek, CBS produced “remastered” versions, shot in HD and with updated effects added. It’s these same enhanced episodes which, on the 27th April 2009, see a re-release in 3 complete-season box sets aimed at Star Trek fans, new and old.

Remastering

Clearly designed to coincide with the 2009 Star Trek film, these standard definition DVDs contain only the remastered version of Star Trek – although if you go for the Blu-Ray version, and you’ll find “alternate angle” features that allow access to the original, unaltered scenes as well. Fans of Red Dwarf and Star Wars may well be wary of any remastering job that includes ‘improvements’ to the original, but CBS’ attempt to update the series is largely subtle and understated. Although purists might mourn the loss of the original model shots in favour of a visibly CGI Enterprise, the improvements are otherwise hard to argue against – in most cases, the changes use the original effects shots as a reference point, and the results appear far closer to the original intention for the scene than the technology of the era allowed.

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Thankfully, CGI has gotten to the point where it can integrate fairly seamlessly with the past. The new effects are subtle, if noticeable, but never out of place. In some shots, what was previously an obvious matte painting has been replaced with an animated CGI cityscape offering far greater depth, and more believable perspective. Phaser effects that once varied from episode-to-episode have been made more consistent. And, finally, William Shatner’s face has been digitally replaced with Chris Pine’s, to ensure that the movie and series match up for new viewers (that last one might be a joke.)

Alongside the new special effects, other areas of the show have also been improved. The soundtrack has been remixed, including a stereo version of the theme tune, and all live-action segments have been re-shot in HD from the original negatives, giving the clearest, cleanest picture yet, even when viewed in standard definition media. Mercifully, the classic transporter effect appears to have been left untouched, as have the actual sound effects themselves, proving that – at last – a remastering team was able to show some restraint, rather than attempting to fix what isn’t broken.

Although the remastered episodes do differ slightly from the originals, it’s worth noting that these aren’t complete re-edits – the intentions of each scene and effect have been preserved at virtually every turn. The show feels – and largely looks – exactly as it always has. If anything has been lost in the translations, it’s only the idea of each episode as historical document of 60s technology and techniques – not the spirit of the story. In any case, the original versions are still available on DVD so no-one is being forced to watch the remastered episodes – but take my word as a Trek fan: you’ll be pleased if you do.

Packaging

The discs – each one light grey, bearing the Star Trek logo, the season number and a disc number – are packed in a single large, Amray-style plastic case, and mounted so as to partially overlap one another. Discs are found on both the inside covers and an internal ‘page’ that holds 2 discs on either side. The mountings are strong and sturdy, though discs must be replaced in a specific order to properly fit. Season 1 and 2’s box sets both contain 8 discs, while Season 3’s contains only 7 discs to account for slightly fewer episodes in the season’s run.

The sets contain no additional booklet or leaflet – it’s with some (though not great) inconvenience that one finds the episode listings on the inside cover, obscured by the discs mounted there. You can optionally remove the artwork insert or the discs so that you can read the listings, but neither is an ideal solution – contents listings on the discs themselves would’ve been far more welcome. It’s also a shame that there are no episode guides with the sets – viewers without an encyclopaedic knowledge of Star Trek will unfortunately struggle to find a specific episode with only the title to guide them. On the positive side, episodes are listed with their original Stardate, and the names of the additional features on each are themselves included for easy lookup.

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Each set is given identical artwork featuring the Enterprise insignia, save for the colouration, which differs from set to set to correspond with different divisions of Starfleet as represented in the original run – Season 1 is tinted Gold, for Command, Season 2 is Blue, for Science and Medicine, and Season 3 is Red, for Engineering and Tactical. It’s a small detail, but it’s a very good indicator of the level of care that’s gone into these sets.

The Amray cases also come with a metallic slipcase containing identical artwork to the plastic version, with credits down the spine. The Star Trek logo and the Enterprise insignia on the reverse of the packaging are both embossed, standing out slightly from the rest of the tins. The cases themselves are pleasingly weighty and durable, although they are susceptible to denting and the artwork does seem to scratch fairly easily – it may be too early to say for definite, but a protective scratch-resistant layer might have been worth putting on the cases to protect them in the long term.

Menus & Authoring

The menus for the DVDs are lovingly replicated examples of Star Trek‘s famously tactile control panels, rendered in 3D and with any relevant text integrated into display screens. Although the menu transitions are animated rather than immediate, they move swiftly along when activated without ever leaving viewers with the impression that flamboyance was a more important concern than functionality to the authors. On the soundtrack behind each menu is a satisfying series of clicks, whistles, and other familiar noises that comprise the ambient soundtrack to the Enterprise bridge. It’s nicely atmospheric without being intrusive, contributing well to the overall feel.

The episodes are all presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio, and with soundtracks in five languages (including English) and subtitles in 10 languages, with an additional ‘English for the hearing impaired’ subtitle track alongside standard English. There are no chapter select options, nor any ‘play all’ option – whether or not you consider this a problem is down to your individual habits, but personally, I miss neither.

Episodes are presented in order of transmission, but in a rare example of a company giving some real respect to geeky concerns, each episode has its production number listed alongside it as a bonus. Sadly, there’s no way to know that’s what the number signifies unless you’re already aware of it, but the hardcore fans at least will appreciate this extra detail.

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The discs are fairly thin on bonus material, providing the odd short featurette, but nothing overly substantial. There are none of the usual extras TV shows provide such as commentaries or deleted scenes, but to compensate, the ‘preview’ reels are included alongside their respective episodes. Although these previews aren’t remastered, offering a blurry and dirt-flecked transfer, they are a unique and intriguing piece of history that Star Trek completists will be glad to see, though it’s unlikely a general audience will ever care enough to watch them all.

Season 1: Overview

It’s tough to imagine a time when Star Trek was new. Not so much a brand as a cultural movement, Star Trek had inauspicious beginnings as Gene Roddenberry’s pitch for a TV show described as ‘Wagon Train in space’ – essentially, a sci-fi western. What made it to the screen was far more complex and nuanced, using all the finest allegorical tropes of science fiction to send progressive socio-political messages under the radar of conservative TV networks in a time when McCarthyism was still fresh in people’s minds, and the Vietnam War was in full swing. No mean feat for a show that was actually initially rejected as “too cerebral”.

Season 1 of Star Trek is where the ground rules for an entire universe were laid out, often in a fairly piecemeal manner. It took the show a while to properly find its footing, giving the show an almost anthological feel, as episodes jerked between high-concept sci-fi and horror – even taking time out to do a submarine movie homage in Balance Of Terror. Fortunately, the chemistry of Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley was immediately evident, and it’s a testament to the strength of the writers and actors involved that the greenness of the universe never threatened the strength of the stories on offer.

Indeed, Season 1 contains many of the most memorable episodes of the entire series – the much-referenced 2-parter, The Menagerie, where a physically ravaged Christopher Pike, original captain of the Enterprise, comes under court martial, Space Seed, the episode that introduced Khan Noonien Singh, a villain who would later face off against Kirk on the big screen in Star Trek II, and The Enemy Within, Star Trek‘s original ‘transporter accident’ episode.

In addition to all of these classics, Season 1 also contains what is widely considered to be the finest episode of the original series. The City On The Edge Of Forever, an episode as controversial as it is revered, is currently the subject of a lawsuit by original script-writer, Harlan Ellison, who was displeased with the treatment given to him during production of the episode, and the rewriting of the script. Despite this, the episode, which sees Kirk seeking to restore an altered timeline, went on to win a Hugo award – one of science fiction’s top honours.

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Season 1 isn’t without its duff moments – The Alternative Factor tells the story of a man named Lazarus who is locked in combat with his duplicate from another universe, in an episode that feels padded even by the plodding standards of 60s television, but otherwise the show quickly displayed the canny storytelling and philosophical bent that would keep it alive in the minds of fans for decades to come.

Season 1: Disc Contents

The Season 1 DVD set includes all 29 episodes of the original series, spread over eight discs. Sadly, the unaired pilot episode The Cage is not included in its original form, and curious viewers will instead have to make do with the cut up version of the episode contained in The Menagerie Parts I & II – it still feels like a disappointing exception in what is otherwise an impressively comprehensive collection of Star Trek’s early episodes.

The bonus features of Season 1 are, as with most TV collections, fairly throwaway. It’s neither unexpected nor upsetting, however, since the episodes themselves are the real reason anyone is buying the collection. As noted, each episode contains its original preview, and every disc has a featurette or two running between 5 and 25 minutes each about the history of the show.

There are a total of ten featurettes spread across the season, of which the most interesting two are ‘Spacelift’, a short documentary about the restoration and remastering process, and ‘Birth of a Timeless Legacy’ which features original interviews with the cast documenting the creation of the show. The ‘Sci-Fi Visionaries’ short looks at the various acclaimed sci-fi authors that wrote episodes of Star Trek, while ‘Trekker Connections’ is a DVD-based trivia game that provides a mild diversion. There’s nothing here that counts as essential material, but the supplements are entertaining in their own right, if not particularly rewatchable.

Season 1 Episodes:

5 stars
Season 1 Extras:
3 stars

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Season 2: Overview

Although Star Trek was immediately loved by sci-fi aficionados, during Season 2 it struggled to find mass appeal, culminating in a well-remembered letter-writing campaign that would eventually be credited with bringing the series back from the brink of cancellation. With the characters and tone now well established, Season 2 powered onwards, with the only major change being the addition of Walter Koenig as Chekov, expanding the famously multi-cultural cast to include a character of Russian descent – in the middle of the Cold War, no less!

Although Season 1 is widely considered to have the best episodes, Season 2 isn’t without its fan-favourites either. The opening episode, Amok Time, features a famous Kirk Vs. Spock fight over the love of a woman, as the latter experiences Ponn Farr, the Vulcan drive to mate. Almost immediately after comes Mirror, Mirror, undoubtedly one of Star Trek’s most popular episodes, in which Spock is transported to a twisted version of the Trek universe inhabited by violent and evil counterparts. The episode later spawned a series of sequels in the future Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise.

As if those weren’t enough, Season 2 also features one of the few Star Trek episodes that even non-Trekkers are aware of – The Trouble with Tribbles. Despite being unusually light-hearted, Tribbles is rightly considered a classic episode for its memorable alien guest stars, its lightly absurd premise and its wealth of comedic moments – the image of Kirk buried in a pile of Tribbles sums the episode up beautifully, while the Starfleet Vs. Klingon bar-fight – and the post-brawl dressing down that Kirk gives his crew – are as instantly recallable as any Star Trek moment ever was.

Unfortunately, the quality of the series is uneven – Season 2, for better or worse, contains far fewer memorable episodes than either series either side of it, and it’s unfortunate propensity for filler episodes is perhaps best evidenced by the season finale, Assignment: Earth which was actually designed to serve as a back-door pilot for the character of Gary Seven, a futuristic Bond-esque figure played by Robert Lansing who received equal billing in the episode. No Gary Seven series was ever produced, and Trek fans were left with a disappointing episode in return.

Far worse than that, though, is the biblically-inspired episode The Apple, which sees Kirk and crew arriving on a thinly-veiled Garden of Eden, with all the associated imagery lazily and dutifully included. Even Trekdom’s most stringent fans would struggle to defend it, and it arguably signposts the drop in quality that would later afflict Season 3.

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Despite these faltering moments, when Season 2 is good, it’s very good, and at its worst it never manages to have the quite same level of quality failure that the series would experience the following year. Season 2 is made essential purely by the inclusion of several deservedly lauded episodes – the rest can merely be considered bonus material.

Season 2: Disc Contents

The Season 2 DVD set includes all 26 episodes of the second series – 3 fewer than the original series – again spread over 8 discs. The most impressive of these is Disc 5, which contains only one episode of the original series – The Trouble With Tribbles – but is then supplemented with addition Tribble-based material, even going so far as to include episodes of two other Star Trek series that featured the Tribbles!

The first of these is an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series (voiced by the original cast) entitled More Tribbles, More Troubles, which additionally includes an audio commentary by writer David Gerrold. The second is the Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations, which saw the DS9 cast retroactively inserted into the original Tribbles episode using advanced computer effects. Place those alongside some Tribble-based featurettes, and the disc is almost worth the price of entry itself.

The remaining extras, however, are little improvement over the Season 1 box set, with the same workmanlike featurettes available. Unlike Season 1, where featurettes are spread evenly across the discs, Season 2’s features are largely confined to discs 1, 5 and 8. Again, preview trailers for each episode are included, but aside from on the Animated episode (itself an extra) there are no episode commentaries or other supplemental material.

On the whole, Season 2’s extras are largely redeemed by the loving treatment bestowed on the Tribbles disc. Even though the other extras are single-watch affairs at best, the features there will keep you going back again and again. By the standards that DVD extras can be judged, that’s nothing short of the best you can get.

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Season 2 Episodes:

4 stars
Season 2 Extras:
5 stars

Season 3: Overview

While Star Trek survived the threat of cancellation after a fan-led campaign convinced network executives to keep the show alive, the pioneering series was given a fairly unconvincing stay of execution. Star Trek found itself moved into the 10pm Friday night slot (which was as much a death sentence then as it is today), with its budget slashed to 90% of season 1’s. Roddenberry was already moving on after seeing the writing on the wall, and by this point, the cancellation of Star Trek was all but assured.

However, before that fateful moment came, a third series was nevertheless produced. Disappointingly, budget cuts and poor on-set morale left this episode the worst series of Star Trek by some distance. The camp b-movie feel of season opener Spock’s Brain has left the episode an unlikely favourite for all the wrong reasons. In his autobiography, I Am Spock, Nimoy recalls being almost overcome with embarrassment during the shooting of the episode, while Shatner’s book Star Trek: Memories calls it one of the series’ worst. With 40 years between us and the original airing, only the most humourless Trekker could fail to find a soft spot for the sheer awfulness of this episode, but when examined in context, one can easily sympathise with those that rue its very existence.

A far better candidate for Trekdom’s lowest point, however, comes in what would be the series final episode. While Roddenberry’s vision of the future embraced a world of political and racial equality, it’s hard to ignore his hopelessly misjudged appraisals of women’s role in society. This is seen clearest the episode Turnabout: Intruder where, after rejection by Starfleet (who will not accept female commanders) Dr. Janice Lester switches bodies with Kirk to assume his role as Captain. If the vision of William Shatner speaking in a high-pitched voice and filing his nails doesn’t give you the dry heaves, then Lester’s behaviour – that of an irrational, illogical woman ruled by and eventually undone by her emotions – should be enough to make you switch off in disgust. Roddenberry’s treatment of women throughout Star Trek was often outdated and sexist, and itself serves as a sad reminder that even the most sincere attempt to form a progressive outlook can be fatally sabotaged by ingrained prejudices.

It wasn’t all as bad as that, of course. Even in its most dire times, Star Trek still attempted to push the boundaries, and nowhere is that better evidenced that in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, the episode that features what is widely considered to be the first interracial kiss on television. It seems almost tame now, but at the time it was breaking a vicious cultural taboo, and its importance 40 years on vindicates Nichelle Nichols’ decision not to quit the series – although given that Martin Luther King himself encouraged her to remain on Star Trek, it’s not surprising that she stuck with it.

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Other standout episodes include For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched The Sky, in which Doctor McCoy discovers he has a terminal disease and must come to terms with it, Day Of The Dove, a classic Klingon-focussed episode that addresses the destructive cycle of war and hatred, and The Tholian Web, perhaps the final of the ‘iconic’ Star Trek episodes.

Elsewhere, flawed genius is the order of the day. The episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is a timely and considered polemic against racial discrimination. The message of the episode is both poignant and relevant even to today’s society – but even the most ardent fan will admit it’s hard to reach that point when watching the episode and being confronted by the silly visual of actors painted literally half-black, half-white.

Season 3 is by far the worst Star Trek season, but that criticism must be lodged against the quality of the series as a whole, which was far higher than its contemporaries. The most convincing argument one can give in favour of Season 3 is that even a bad season of Star Trek is worth watching. (Well, unless it stars Kate Mulgrew or Scott Bakula.)

Strangely, it’s the cancellation of Star Trek after its 3rd series that ensured new life for the show. Placed in syndication re-runs, the fanbase for the show grew and grew until a little known film called Star Wars re-ignited interest in the space opera, giving Star Trek a reason to return in its big screen incarnation. If it helps, consider that cancellation was actually a necessary step towards creating the franchise next time you’re watching McCoy control a brainless Spock’s movements with a remote control. It won’t help, but at least it’ll give you something better to think about.

Season 3: Disc Contents

The Season 3 DVD set includes all 26 episodes of the second series – 3 fewer than the previous series – spread over only 7 discs this time. However, to compensate for the diminished number of episodes, Season 3’s DVD set includes two cuts of Star Trek’s unaired pilot episode, The Cage – both the original and an extended version. While the two aren’t substantially different, they are both interesting curios in their own right, and an introduction from Roddenberry offers some all-too-rare words from the man himself on the matter of the episode’s creation and eventual rejection.

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It’s with this inclusion that the omission of Star Trek’s very first episode from the Season 1 DVD set becomes apparent. While The Cage is largely interesting only as a historical relic, with both footage and events of the episode worked into season 1’s The Menagerie Parts I & II, it is gratifying to see it included somewhere. While a fan might have demanded it be included chronologically alongside Season 1’s, it’s not hard to see why the episode was placed in the DVD set of the far leaner Season 3 set instead of the already-packed Season 1 collection.

The extra material in the Season 3 DVD set is, however, even less balanced than in the previous one, with all 9 featurettes crammed onto the final disc alongside both versions of The Cage. The features are largely in the same vein as Season 1 and 2, with the standard ‘To Boldly Go…season overview, aLife beyond Trek’ look at Walter Koenig’s post-Trek career, and most interestingly, the ‘Chief Engineer’s Log’ – a retrospective interview with James “Scotty” Doohan, one of the few deceased Star Trek actors.

As with the previous sets, all the extras are worth at least one viewing. Season 3’s special features are no worse or better than the previous seasons, though with fewer available episodes, it would’ve been nice to see an additional extras disc, perhaps with additional spin-off episodes, to complement the original as with Season 2’s Trouble With Tribbles extravaganza (the Deep Space Nine episode featuring the return of three ‘original series’ Klingons, including Kang from Season 3’s Day Of The Dove, springs immediately to mind). The extras are, however, a loving tribute to their parent series and if this is the final word in Star Trek DVD box sets, as it clearly intends itself to be, then if nothing else, they’re good enough to stand the test of time.

Season 3 Episodes:

3 stars
Season 3 Extras:
4 stars

Star Trek on Den Of Geek

Rating:

1 out of 5