Space: The final frontier.
Two more episodes from the Star Trek original series, which aired from 1966-69, are now available from Paramount on DVD with digital remasters of both picture and sound. The episodes in this volume are "Metamorphosis," which aired November 10, 1967, and "Friday's Child," which aired December 1, 1967. Both episodes are not in the order in which they were aired, but rather in order of Production Codes. In fact, right after the last episode in Volume 15, the episode "I, Mudd" aired (coming in Volume 21); and between these two episodes on Volume 16 aired "Journey to Babel" (coming in Volume 22). Both of these episodes were from the second season, airing Friday nights on NBC.
While some aspects of the video are not quite up to par with some of the others, they still stand up well for fans of the series.
Facts of the Case
In "Metamorphosis," the shuttlecraft Galileo is on an emergency trip back to the Enterprise. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are bringing the nastily complaining Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford (played by Elinor Donahue) from Epsilon Caneris 3 because she has caught the rare Sicuro's Disease and needs treatment. Unfortunately a cloud of charged hydrogen gas somehow overwhelms the shuttle and carries it off to a planetoid, which fortunately with a breathable atmosphere. (Seems like everywhere has breathable air, doesn't it?) On the planetoid they find a man who calls himself Cochrane, who in fact turns out to be Zefram Cochrane of Alpha Centauri, the discoverer of the Warp Drive. Thought to have been dead for 150 years, Cochrane has been kept alive and young for centuries by a doting gaseous alien he calls the "Companion." Apparently Cochrane, at the age of 87, had gone out on a ship to die in space, had been intercepted by the Companion, and brought here and made young again. Here he has lived without aging ever since, and the others have been brought here to keep him company. As such, the Companion prevents their leaving, despite the fact that Ms. Hedford will die without treatment.
Ultimately Kirk first tries force, then diplomacy, to enable their escape, and finds that the Companion is female (though gaseous) and truly loves Cochrane. Or can she truly love without being human?
In "Friday's Child," the Enterprise is sent to Capella IV to secure a mining agreement for the rare mineral topaline, which is required for life support systems. The inhabitants have a warrior based society where only the strong deserve to survive, and have intricate and obscure customs that must be adhered to or face mortal combat. McCoy spent several months there in the past and acts as the cultural advisor to keep Kirk out of trouble. Unfortunately the Klingons have arrived first, and are offering weapons and other items for trade that the Federation can't match due to their Prime Directive. Still, things look well for the Federation in the negotiations until Kirk breaks a taboo to save the life of a pregnant woman who would have been killed. Now they must escape to the mountains and hope for rescue from the Enterprise.
The Enterprise is not there to assist however, as they are away from the planet trying to answer a distress call from freighters being attacked by Klingon vessels. The freighters are nowhere to be found, and it seems the Klingons may have led them into a trap.
Call me Trekker. Well, a reformed one anyway. I still watch the shows and films, but I don't try to gain any encyclopedic knowledge about them. I've always been a sponge for useless information though (you should see me in Trivial Pursuit) and know quite a bit about the original series. So lets start again with fun facts about these episodes.
In "Metamorphosis" it is established that Zefram Cochrane is lost and presumed dead after the age of 87. In First Contact the crew of the new Enterprise know nothing of this (not to mention an entirely different take on the character is used).
In "Friday's Child," it is established that two communicators can be used to set up a signal that causes avalanches. Handy, since the crew never seems to have their phasers long. The Klingon ship is shown as a glowing yellow and green shape on the viewscreen, nothing at all like their ships are depicted later in the series and in every subsequent film and series. For that matter, in all episodes of the original series, Klingons are portrayed as swarthy looking humans wearing black clothing. Since then Klingons have always been portrayed as larger, with protruding ridges on their foreheads, and wearing battle armor. One episode of "The Next Generation" makes a note of this when Worf says that they are indeed Klingons but he can't talk about it. The novels give some explanation of this, claiming that the Klingons that everyone saw in the original series were Klingon/human hybrids bred for being the face of the species for outside contact.
Perhaps most interesting, this episode is one of several where Dr. McCoy uses his famous line "I'm a doctor, not a…" Here it is "I'm a doctor, not an escalator."
One other interesting factoid from the series itself: At the end of the first season, Nichelle Nichols, who played Communication Officer Uhura, was going to quit the show but relented when asked to stay by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Since she's made a career out of the role ever since, I think she must be happy with the decision, especially since she represented a black woman on a major television series.
Again, these episodes were not among the ten best voted on in a poll by the Sci-Fi Channel. Each is interesting in its own way, though I think "Friday's Child" was more fun. "Metamorphosis" suffered from the annoying female character, though I admit that Elinor Donahue managed to provide some depth to her in the end.
When the Sci-Fi Channel bought the rights to air the original series, each episode was digitally remastered, and these are the transfers that we get on DVD. Certainly they look brighter and more detailed than they did on local stations in syndication. Colors are nice and bright here, but I found both these episodes to be grainier throughout, and some scenes in "Friday's Child" had numerous nicks and scratches visible as well. So I can't rate them as high as I did the video quality of Volume 15.
The soundtracks have been remastered as well into Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. They remain true to their mono nature, and even more so with this volume. Even in a scene where the "Red Alert" sirens were wailing, there was nothing coming from the surrounds. Only the musical score left the center channel at all, and was confined to the left and right front channels. Still, the sound quality was fine; clear with a low noise floor.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There have been complaints about these discs and the way they've been presented and marketed by Paramount. The only extras are preview trailers for each episode on the disc, which is a shame. There are websites full of information on the series; more than you could read in a week. The other complaint has been the decision to only release these with two episodes per disc, and only two volumes at a time. This means it will take a long time to finish buying the series, and it will take 40 discs to take up space on your shelf if you want to own them all. Those are my main complaints as well.
I don't want to keep knocking the original series. Yes, they are quaint in their stories sometimes, and there are often fight scenes that don't look realistic, not to mention some special effects done on a nearly non-existent budget. But the show pioneered something that transcends the show itself, and made some real strides such as having a multi-racial cast and even having a Russian working with and being part of the democratically inclined Federation. Among the strides made was presenting the first inter-racial kiss on television. I still have a fond affection for the series, as do legions of fans.
Completists will probably buy this disc, and I wouldn't disagree with them. The quality of this one, between the episodes and the picture quality, aren't quite up with the best of them, and if you are only looking for the best of the discs this wouldn't be one of them. Still worth a purchase or a rental in my book.
Both the series and Paramount are acquitted, though I urge better treatment for the "Next Generation" series, with four episodes per disc and season box sets. You bet I'll buy those.
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