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Star Trek: The Original Series - Season Two

It's hard to imagine a dyed-in-the-Rayon Star Trek fan not shelling out the quatloos for all three Original Series boxed sets. But if budgetary concerns, or a protoplasmic brain creature infesting your nervous system, compel you to purchase only one of these keen season collections, make this the one.

Firstly, while the first season was Star Trek's best year overall as it gradually established its identity, characters, and sci-fi trappings, it's in Season Two (1967-68) where we find a solid, established series confidently building on what had ("boldly") gone before. Changes begin in the opening credits, which elevate DeForest Kelley to his proper place with top-billed stars Shatner and Nimoy. Mr. Spock had become such a fan favorite that the season opener, "Amok Time," kicks off these 26 episodes with Spock's maddened mating frenzy and our first trip to his home planet. His gladiatorial battle with Kirk is high on any list of favorite Star Trek whoopass. Later on we meet Spock's parents, namely Mark Lenard's Sarek, who returned in subsequent movies and The Next Generation. Joining the core cast is Walter Koenig as Ensign Chekov, the accent-challenged Russian designed to attract kids swooning for The Monkees' Davy Jones.

Secondly, in this set we get the full face of Star Trek, good and not-so. On these seven discs are stories that run the gamut from all-time Trek classics to some laughably camp awfulness. (With "The Gamesters of Triskelion" someone confused Star Trek with a Flash Gordon serial.) Here are well-delivered attempts at humor, notable guest stars (William Windom, Jane Wyatt, Vic Tayback, Teri Garr, and more), the addition of planet Earth's warp-drive Columbus, Zephram Cochrane, to the mythos, and that Spock-with-a-beard Neocon mirror universe. Even when Star Trek dishes out the hoke — in Season Two the budget-saving Nazi Planet, Gangster Planet, and Roman Empire Planet arrive together in short order — it's still our TV comfort food.

And thirdly, the extras in this set are more worthwhile and plentiful than in the Season One or Season Three sets.

With a larger production budget, Season Two looks better than the previous year. (Close-ups of the Enterprise are especially geek-sexy.) Top-drawer writers this season include Theodore Sturgeon, Jerome Bixby, Norman Spinrad, and Robert Bloch. Writer Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, whose scripts made her a celebrity in her own right among the fans, receives welcome on-screen time within this DVD set's extras. Fan favorites include the Spock-o-philic "Amok Time," slam-bang actioners such as "The Doomsday Machine" and "The Ultimate Computer," and "Journey to Babel," a murder-mystery/spy-thriller that juggles new aliens (the Andorians and Tellarites) as well as a well-honed soapy subplot concerning Spock's relationship with his parents. "Mirror Mirror" transposes our heroes with their lusty, pirate-like counterparts in an alternate universe. "Obsession" is one of the best Kirk stories, and "Wolf in the Fold" finally puts Scotty center stage against no less than Jack the Ripper himself (possessing the voice of Piglet). "I, Mudd" and "A Piece of the Action" are fondly remembered comedic dalliances.

However, no Trek comedy is as beloved as "The Trouble with Tribbles," which is so charming (even with its feyest of Klingon captains) that thirty years later Star Trek: Deep Space Nine revisited it for one of that series' best eps. At the other end of the quality dial we find woebegotten hours such as "The Omega Glory" (a strained Cold War allegory from the series' worst writer, its creator, Gene Roddenberry), the aforementioned "Gamesters," and "The Apple," which proved that the much-vaunted Prime Directive really is just as optional guideline. Between those good and bad extremes are the majority that carry us smiling through all seven discs. "Catspaw" may be silly, but it's a fun Halloween show all the same. "Assignment: Earth," an odd but not unwelcome change of pace, was in fact a pilot for another series altogether. "The Changeling" was all but remade as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. "Metamorphosis" fills in some future history with warp drive inventor Zephram Cochrane, who returned in the form of James Cromwell in the movie Star Trek: First Contact.

As strong as Season Two is, however, during its original broadcast year the officially reported ratings didn't give Paramount confidence that the show should continue. In the face of imminent cancellation, a massive fan-based letter-writing campaign saved Star Trek by the skin of its teeth. We can only guess what those diehard fans thought when the terminal season began the next September with the show's most infamous ep of all.

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Paramount Home Video delivers all 26 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series - Season Two in their original broadcast order, looking and sounding impressive. As with the Season One set, the imagery is sharp and vivid (right down to the paintbrush strokes on the sets), and the prints are clean. Each episode defaults to a well-produced DD 5.1 audio remix. (DD 2.0 Surround remixes are also available.) This set's special features are an improvement over Season One's.

Featurettes start with "To Boldly Go... Season Two" (19:40), which brings together cast and crew for a thumbnail of the show's second year, with special emphasis on "Amok Time" and "The Trouble with Tribbles." In "Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy" (12:11), an unusually intimate, yet always thoughtful, Nimoy takes us into his home photo studio for a look at his passion for photography. "Kirk, Spock & McCoy: Star Trek's Great Trio" (7:19) spotlights the three-legged stool that helped make the show so enduring. In "Designing the Final Frontier" (22:27), art director Matt Jeffries and others reveal the dirty little secrets found with the budget-deprived sets.

The singer-actress who became Lt. Uhura proves that she's still a class act in "Star Trek's Divine Diva: Nichelle Nichols" (13:12). "Writer's Notebook: D.C. Fontana" (7:44) gives the show's fan-favorite writer/story editor a chance to reminisce about the glory days. Text commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda augment "Amok Time" and "The Trouble with Tribbles." Galleries of on-set photos and Matt Jefferies's production art cap off the Extras menus. Four more "Red Shirt Logs" are easter-egg'd within the menus, a trend we continue to dismiss with rolled eyes.

Another ongoing gripe: the episodes still don't allow us to chapter-skip cleanly past the opening credits.

Matching the Season One box, this set's packaging stores the discs in a compact page-hinged digipak, and that's housed within a hard plastic case that's tricked out in Spock's-shirt blue.

—Mark Bourne

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