To boldly go where no man has gone before…
DVD Verdict last reviewed a Star Trek episode disc back in November 2000, when I looked at Volume 17. Now we jump to Volume 22, which is still set in the original series’ second season. In that review, I remarked that the second season contained several episodes that transplanted genres common to television or movies of the 1960s to the outer space milieu of Star Trek. One of the episodes I mentioned was “Bread and Circuses,” one of the episodes on this disc. The other episode is a straightforward “whodunit,” complicated by Spock’s relationship with his estranged father.
In “Bread and Circuses,” the Enterprise crew finds the remains of the S.S. Beagle, a merchant ship reported missing six years previously. They trace the debris to a nearby planet, which is roughly as advanced as 20th century Earth. When they monitor the television broadcasts, they discover that it is very similar to Earth, except that it is as if the Roman Empire extended to the present day, complete with slavery and gladiatorial games. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the surface and are met by a group of runaway slaves. They learn from the slaves that the First Citizen is a man named Merikus, very similar to the name of the captain of the Beagle, Merik. Clumsy boobs that they are, our intrepid heroes are captured by Roman legionnaires (carrying submachine guns, no less) who escort them to Merik. Kirk confronts Merik over his abandonment of the Prime Directive (was this the first time it was mentioned? I can’t recall ever hearing about it before), but the man is unwilling to listen. Will Kirk be forced to watch his friends die in the arena, or will he be able to save the day?
In “Journey to Babel,” the Enterprise is host to dignitaries traveling to a planet to discuss the fate of a world that wants to join the United Federation of Planets. Among the diplomats are the Vulcan Sarek and his human wife, Amanda — Spock’s parents. It seems Sarek was displeased that Spock chose to join the Federation rather than study science on Vulcan. En route, a rival diplomat is murdered, and the circumstantial evidence points at Sarek. However, he suffers from a heart condition and needs immediate surgery to fix the problem. Compounding the Enterprise’s problems is an unusual ship following them that is receiving transmissions from inside the Enterprise…and Kirk is attacked by another alien, putting him in sick bay. This turn of events puts Spock in command, but he is face with an ethical dilemma: leave his post to help save his father’s life, or follow his sense of duty.
I’ll say right up front: this volume of the Star Trek series is for completist fans only. Neither episode offers anything to the casual viewer or to the diehard fan who is not determined to collect the entire series.
I know that I saw both these episodes in my younger days, but I had no lasting memories of either. “Bread and Circuses” is much more interesting than the contrived idea seems to be. However, it’s a harbinger of the worst elements of the newer Trek series like The Next Generation or Voyager: it relies on technobabble to solve the situation. Scotty reconfigures some sort of beam from the ship to disrupt something on the surface that allows him to transport away Kirk and company. But, why was this necessary? They were trying to avoid breaking the Prime Directive, but the trio still “beamed up” in full sight of several people. Why waste the time in between? It’s not like the equivalent of a 20th century culture had multiphasic anti-tachyon shielding that would have hindered the transporters. “Journey to Babel” is much easier to take seriously, because it presents its characters with emotional situations and ethical dilemmas that they must work through. It’s also interesting for the introduction of Mark Lenard as Sarek, a role he would recreate in three of the theatrical films, two episodes of The Next Generation, and even once on the fabled animated series. Trekkies will also remember that he played a Romulan in the Original Series first season episode “Balance of Terror.”
Each of the Star Trek episodes have been digitally remastered, and they look as good as a television show from the 1960s can hope to look. The image is sharp and detailed with excellent color fidelity and no bleeding. The only problems with the image are inherent to the source material. The picture overall is a little grainy, particularly noticeable in special effect model shots, and can have a few blips caused by dust on the negative. The audio has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Keeping with its mono roots, sound is mostly restricted to the center channel. Directional effects are used for starship fly-bys during the opening credits, and infrequently throughout the episodes. The purist in me would rather have seen the mono tracks cleaned up and utilized, rather than an unnecessary remix. The only extra is the “preview trailer” for each episode.
When I was a teenager (maybe about ten years ago, just so you don’t think I’m older than I am), I used to watch Star Trek religiously in syndication. I watched The Next Generation for its first four or five seasons, up until about the point where Deep Space Nine was launched. I hated it, and by that point TNG started to lose its originality…I mean, the first season or so it was merely remaking episodes of the old series. Then for a while it did stuff that was fresh and original. Then it began remaking its own episodes. It got boring. I lost interest until about a year ago when I caught an episode of Voyager in syndication. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but it was like I was magically interested in Trek again. I’ve now seen just about every episode of Voyager in syndication, and I built my schedule around Wednesday nights so I could see the new episodes. I was sad to see the series end, especially since the finale didn’t give any closure to the series. I can’t wait to see what they do with the new series, Enterprise. I eat up all the scoops I can find about the tenth movie…and what’s that I’m hearing about Leonard Nimoy’s involvement? Oh my god, I’m a Trekkie again!
So what exactly did that have to do with this disc? Not much. I think I was trying to make a point. Gene Roddenberry started something special with Star Trek. It might seem cheesy and laughable now, but if it weren’t for Kirk and Spock and the rest of the crew, we wouldn’t have Picard or Data or Sisko or Janeway or Seven of Nine or any of the other characters who have come hence. We wouldn’t have The Wrath of Khan or First Contact or Voyager. The sci-fi world would be a lot smaller. It would be illogical to like Trek as a whole and not appreciate the first series on some level. At least the Enterprise didn’t have a deflector dish that could be reconfigured to emit whatever sort of pulse would save the day.