The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series Review

It speaks volumes to Star Trek’s popularity and enduring appeal that I had not seen a single episode of the original series before I sat down to watch this set, and still managed to be familiar with a good deal of the characters and storylines (or maybe just an indication of the company I keep). Still, that novice quality is both a strength and a liability in reviewing a "best of" set for a television show like this. While I am coming in free of prior feelings and prejudices, I am also totally unaware of how well-chosen this set is, or whether it is representative of the show as a whole.

For the uninitiated, the series takes place aboard the starship Enterprise, the mission of which is to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.’ The ship is led by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), who is aided in his search by a steady stock of supporting crew members: science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), chief medical officer Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), navigator Pavel Adreievich Chekov (Walter Koenig), yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), and head nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett). The series no doubt benefitted immensely from our then burgeoning space program (the final episode aired in 1969, the year of the moon landing), although not quite enough to save it from being canceled after only three seasons. To bring that into perspective, Two and a Half Men just completed its sixth, though I doubt that there’s any Guinness Record for largest number of spin-offs for a single series in that show’s future.

Any true trekkie probably already owns the entire series on DVD (as they do come in rather nice sets), but the episodes included in this "best of" are "The City at the Edge of Forever", "The Trouble with Tribbles", "Balance of Terror", and "Amok Time". Had I seen the entire show, I would almost certainly have an opinion as to whether these four represented the very best that the series had to offer, but as is, I’m in the dark. I know that the episode where Kirk fights that lizard guy isn’t in here, though, should that compel any of you one way or the other.

Now, with the original series of Star Trek (especially with the release of the new film), a number of things go without saying, the first being that the show is really corny. Some of this is due to the hilariously campy lead performance of Shatner, who’s made of career out of parodying himself here, but the outdated sets, cheesy dialogue, and absolutely ridiculous notions of what outer space is like more than seal the deal. And I’ve got to be honest: there’s more than a little charm to this program. Whether or not you can take it seriously (which, clearly, a great number of people were able to do for a very long time), it doesn’t take much to be overcome by this show’s sheer earnestness, or the relative elaborateness with which this universe is constructed (it seems like they have some rule or piece of mythos to explain absolutely everything that goes on here). When Spock is forced to return to his home planet of Vulcan to mate (as he is in "Amok Time") the inner conflict between his desire to serve out his mission and his instinct for self-preservation is played with striking conviction and becomes, in its own way, somewhat moving. It’s hard to imagine any other show making a premise that ridiculous work, but here it is for all to see.

After watching these four episodes, I can honestly say that I’m thinking about getting one of the full seasons on DVD. Maybe I'll rent it first, but still, that's a big commitment, and that probably says enough about this show's appeal forty years after the fact. Whether it can be taken as seriously as it seems to want to be is questionable, but at no point is it unclear why new films are still being made based on the show.

"The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series" is on sale May 12, 2009 and is rated NR. Television. Directed by Vincent McEveety. Written by D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, David Gerrold, Paul Schneider. Starring DeForrest Kelley, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, James Doohan, Majel Barrett, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, William Shatner.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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