To boldly go where no man has gone before…
Star Trek was a risky proposition for Paramount and Desilu Studio in the first place. A sci-fi show of this sort had not been attempted, and it was met with a certain level of audience appreciation. In an effort, perhaps, to broaden the show’s appeal beyond the audience that would watch The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, the second season featured numerous episodes where elements common to other action dramas were transposed to other planets. So, we get the Roman Gladiator Planet (“Bread and Circuses”), the Nazi Germany Planet (“Patterns of Force”), the Communist China Planet (“The Omega Glory”), and the Chicago Gangster Planet, featured here in “A Piece of the Action.” Of course, I think the real reason for these episodes is that it was cheaper to borrow sets and costumes from other productions, thus saving money on new skin colors, ridges for the foreheads, et cetera. The other episode on this volume is “By Any Other Name,” about powerful beings from another galaxy who starshipjack the Enterprise. Warp factor 11…engage!
In “A Piece of the Action,” our spacefaring heroes investigate a planet visited by a starship 100 years ago (in their time, not ours). It seems the daffy crew left behind a book on the gangsters of 1930s Chicago, and the imitative natives built their entire culture around the clichés of that milieu. Kirk, being the idealistic captain that he is, wants to undo the damage created by the earlier space explorers. He thinks the best way to do this is to unite the gang bosses into one unit. To do this, he and his crew have to play along with their gangster mannerisms, elude capture, and demonstrate their technological might without giving this society their advanced technology.
“By Any Other Name” is much more straightforward sci-fi. The crew is coerced into handing the Enterprise over to powerful entities trapped in human form. Most of the crew is turned into powdery blocks, while Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty are all that are left alive as “essential” to the operation of the ship. The beings make alterations to Enterprise that allow it to travel at Warp 11 toward their distant galaxy. The remaining crew must find weaknesses that will allow them to regain control of the ship, and perhaps teach these beings a Very Important Lesson in love, togetherness, and living in harmony.
Unlike some of the other volumes I’ve reviewed recently, Volume 25 has two very watchable episodes. Neither ranks as great moments of the show, but they are examples of what it could accomplish.
I might be tempted to write off “A Piece of the Action” as another one of the alternate Earth episodes if it weren’t so fun to watch. The guest stars who play the mob bosses do so with great relish, and it’s obvious that the stars of the show had fun with the concept. William Shatner, in particular, gets into the slang and the accent of the roleplaying; it’s probably one of the highlights of his acting on the series. Even Leonard Nimoy as the taciturn Spock seems to relish playing against type. There’s absolutely no point to anything that transpires, but hey, that’s entertainment.
“By Any Other Name” isn’t nearly as fun as “A Piece of the Action,” other than the scenes of Scotty trying to get one of the alien entities drunk…and the Scotsman does indeed drink him under the table. Some of the scenes are excessively hokey, like the oversized LED-enhanced belt buckles that allow the aliens to create neural fields, or something like that, that temporarily paralyze the humans. The writers were not particularly concerned at that point in the Trek franchise’s history in maintaining some semblance of continuity. Later shows would establish the “physics” rules that no Federation ship can travel faster than Warp 10. It was a key plot point of several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager that the Borg (the hive mind race that assimilates the biological and technological distinctiveness of others in a quest for perfection) have the technology to travel faster than Warp 10 using transwarp drives (or somesuch technobabble). But I digress. The technobabble is only one thing that makes the episode clichéd. Other Trekisms are on full display, like the ill-fated “red shirt” (poor Yeoman Rand, who is turned into a cube and then crushed), Kirk’s wooing of any female in sight, Spock performing a mind probe, Scotty’s Scottish pride, Bones’s irrational barking, and so on.
Since every Star Trek disc is the same, I simply cut and paste the paragraph describing the technical details. If you’ve read one of my reviews of these discs before, feel free to skip it.
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.
“By Any Other Name” isn’t nearly as bad as my laundry list of clichés made it sound. Out of all the Star Trek discs I’ve reviewed, other than the one containing “The Menagerie,” this is probably one of the best discs.
Trekkies will undoubtedly want to add this one to their collections. It’s a great example of the fun that could be had with science fiction, a genre that takes itself too seriously too often.