Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Series is arguably the television show that has had the greatest impact on our culture. The show was not only filled with futuristic gadgets that have been credited with inspiring the creation of modern day inventions like cell phones and automatic doors, but its ideas of racial diversity and different nationalities working together, unusual for television in 1966, presented a future of optimism and hope that many people still embrace.
Though they only aired for three seasons, the adventures of Kirk and Spock are known throughout the world thanks to syndication. Trek reruns allowed the show to accumulate what is most likely the largest and most fanatical base of a television show, known as Trekkies.
In 2006, ST:TOS was remastered. The original negatives were used to create a high-definition version of the series, new special effects were inserted, and the theme was re-recorded. That same year, this new version of the series began airing in syndication and now the first season is available in a HD/SD combo format.
Presented in the order they aired, the first season holds up much better than most series from their era through the strength of the writing. Roddenberry and writing staff were assisted by contemporary writers of the time, such as Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, who penned “The City on the Edge of Forever,” usually considered the best episode of the series by fans.
Some episodes present familiar story ideas in fresh ways. “The Enemy Within” is a Jekyll-and-Hyde tale as Kirk is split into two people through a transporter malfunction. “Conscience of the King” has obvious Hamlet allusions. “Balance of Terror,” the first introduction of the Romulans, is a classic battle between a ship and a submarine. “Charlie X” and “The Squire of Gothos” both present a sci-fi staple, very powerful children with immense powers. How the Enterprise crew reacted in these and also original stories informed the audience about who the characters were.
The remastered versions look great for the most part. The colors are fantastic. They are very vibrant and pop off the screen. In the bonus features, they show that a lot of work went into cleaning up the visuals. Some minor flaws can still be seen on rare occasions, but compared to the look of the credits it is a vast improvement.
The new special effects have caused some grumblings amongst the purists, although the changes aren’t anything close to the sacrilege of having Greedo shoot first in A New Hope. The main changes were to anything in space: the ships, the planets, and the stars. They look good and don’t usually distract unless too much time is spent on them. Cutting back to the original footage, even in high definition, is noticeable because of the difference in the graininess of the images. It’s too bad a filter to tone down the clarity and sharpness of the new effects couldn’t have been used, if one even exists. Fans should enjoy seeing Scotty’s phaser work properly in “Naked Time” and the Gorn blink in “Arena.”
Before remastering, the first season was previously available on DVD in 2004. They include the usual documentaries about aspects of the show and its creation. There are some odd inclusions obviously fueled by the participant’s ego. In "Life Beyond Trek," William Shatner discusses his horses, which only a fanatical Shatner fan would care about. Talk of T.J. Hooker would have been more interesting. “Trekker Connections” is an odd version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where you start with two Trek actors, either connecting them in the series or starting with one and moving them out of the Trek universe and then reconnenting back to the series. The six puzzles are rather dumb, especially LeVar Burton being identified as a director of an Enterprise episode rather than being identified as an actor playing Geordi La Forge. All of these bonus features are included on the standard DVDs of this new set.
The set has new bonus features for the HD discs as well. Seven episodes offer “Starfleet Access.” This feature includes a commentary track about the episodes and the remastered changes with members of the new and old production team as well as some actors and Trek experts. They are very interesting and it’s too bad every episode wasn’t given the same treatment. I was surprised that “City…” had no commentary track considering the esteem with which it’s held, but Ellison’s cantankerous ways are legendary, so no doubt it was an easy choice to skip for those behind the scenes. “Starfleet Access” also offers different trivia pop-ups that can be accessed. Beyond The Final Frontier aired on The History Channel. It is a 40-year retrospective of the all the Trek series and movies.
Two features available in both SD and HD are “Spacelift,” an in-depth look at the reasoning behind the changes made to the remastered episodes, and “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories,” footage shot by Blackburn, who was Dr. McCoy’s stand-in, fill-in navigator Lt. Hadley, and a number of other extra parts.
The HD ST:TOS is a fantastic set although it might currently be out of the price range for many fans. The only negatives I have with the set is I am always nervous with DVDs that have material on both sides and that the “Starfleet Access” material is so good it leaves me wanting more. With that being said, this set is a giant leap above many TV-DVD sets that throw whatever they have laying around on a disc and offer no extras whatsoever. It would be illogical not to have it in your collection.