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Season Three:
-56: "Spectre of the Gun"
-57: "Elaan of Troyius"
-58: "The Paradise Syndrome"
-63: "The Empath"
-65: "For the World is Hollow
& I Have Touched the Sky"

-78: "All Our Yesterdays"
-79: "Turnabout Intruder"
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Star Trek

Season 3 (1968-1969)

Elaan of Troyius

(Star Trek story #57 in production order)
written & directed by John Meredith Lucas

I couldn't go through Star Trek's unfairly dismissed third season without saying a few words about this episode. Outgoing producer John Meredith Lucas gets a rare opportunity here to both write and direct, and thus see a vision for the show all the way through. The main plotline of a spoilt young ruler and her fixed marriage is fairly well done, providing the actors, Shatner in particular, with many emotional and humorous moments throughout, as well as providing thought-stimulating dilemmas without easy answers. In this respect, it begins to resemble the longer-lasting Star Trek the Next Generation series in a good way.

But it seems the real triumph of this production is in danger of being obscured both by further promotion of the original series' bizarre broadcast order, and by the latest craze to upgrade 1960's Star Trek space scenes with CGI versions. This is in fact the first production to feature a Klingon spacecraft onscreen, and it's a real beaut' - possibly my favourite spacecraft model in all of Star Trek across its many decades so far. And it's been a long time in coming, after so many first and second season episodes describe spacecraft stand-offs between the Enterprise and a Klingon ship in the dialogue, and have (or had originally) nothing to show for it on screen. Remember, "Elaan of Troyius" produced it first in 1968, with J.M. Lucas at the helm, and I think this episode did a really professional and satisfying job of it.

And Fred Steiner is back composing new music for the show. While the score generally has a lighter and less-important sound than his typical first and second season efforts, the Klingon battle sequences near the end get some electronically enhanced, thumping faced-paced cues of better length than the "Charlie-X" cues often shoe-horned to fit similar bills in previous episodes. Very cool!

This seems to me to have been the perfect episode to use as the season opener, proudly displaying Season Three's greater capacity for model work as well as its much lamer & cheaper excuse for hand-phaser fire. But instead they went for "Spock's Brain", an episode that many fans regard as the worst ever of Trek. Go figure. So watch this one at least in production order. It works so much better!

The Paradise Syndrome

(Star Trek story #58 in production order)
written by Margaret Armen

It seems that little expense was spared in bringing this episode to the screen, with plenty of elaborate and exquisite costumes that seem more sturdy than usual, and an impressively large prop build in the middle of a unique and lengthy location shoot. Nurse Chapel even manages to get off the ship and join the landing party, something that hasn't happened since the story that initially inspired her role.

But the real triumph here is simply the fact that this is a wonderful story, much much better than Armen's previous effort on Triskelion.

Considering both the society discovered on this week's planet and Starfleet's sticky laws, one would easily expect that the Prime Directive applies. What is so refreshing is that no character actually pays it any mind or attention. Instead, the only focus of any advanced character we see is to step forward with honesty and good intentions and do their heroic best to avert the approaching disaster. Good job.

McCoy does ask Spock if they should approach the local community to try to communicate what they know, and Spock decides it would be a wasted effort since they probably wouldn't understand. Maybe they would have since they actually do know about it in their own way, and they might have been able to point the Enterprise crew to a quicker and easier solution. But Spock strikes a good balance, neither advertising his version of events to the locals, nor expending energy to try to hide it from them.

Kirk probably does get more involved than the Prime Directive would recommend, but he doesn't remember a thing about any of Starfleet's laws when doing so. In fact, with his memory loss preventing him from divulging any of his culture's worst secrets anyway, the Prime Directive becomes a moot consideration.

The episode could easily have led to further developments later on in the series, but that portion of the ending is a predictable bit of a cop-out, maintaining the sixties style of returning all the regular characters to their starting positions so that all episodes can be shuffled interchangeably. Swell.

All is not lost, as there is plenty of staple action, suspense, excellent model work, and decent visual beam effects all the way, providing the story many good beats and scenes including a dramatically satisfying climax.

Gerald Fried does an enjoyable and tasteful job creating new music for the episode, while also reworking into it some of his prior themes like the lighter tribal woodwinds from "Friday's Child" (production #32), and Spock's moody cues from "Amok Time" (production #34). In fact, Spock's cues seem more polished and less raw than they did back in season two, another nice notch on season three's belt.

All in all, season three has yet another winner, and makes a very unique and enjoyable contribution to the Star Trek canon. Nice.

The Empath

(Star Trek story #63 in production order)
written by Joyce Muskat

Yet another off-hand remark drags a review for this episode into an article that didn't expect it. In this case, it's Kirk's line. He throws out a mention of the Prime Directive and doesn't even get to finish his sentence.... ever. We're not sure why he thinks it applies here. We really get no clue at any point what level of technology Gem's culture has reached. She can't speak, has been abducted from her own society, and is practically isolated all adventure long. The only clue she provides us is her costume - which is little help to those of us who haven't traveled the galaxy yet.

While this episode does have its moments, including the rarity for television of many finely acted and executed dialogue-less emotional scenes, and our Star Trek trio remain expertly engaging in their explorations, "The Empath" must take a huge hit for relying on the most boring external "A" plot ever to be overused by science fiction: the capture and escape routine that is stretched out to last the entire hour (or more). Ideas and characters that might have been engaging in their natural habitats when surrounded by the usual complexities take a turn for the clinical when isolated on an empty black stage with no walls and a dearth of character and situation to interact with. In this non-environment, any messages or morals attempted to be conveyed to the audience end up having all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and aren't any fun at all.

Perhaps the biggest hole of plot-logic is in the absence of Gem's "competitors". The supposed real reason that the Vyans test Gem is not so much to determine her people's worthiness on its own merits, but more to see if it is greater than that of some other planet in the system, because they can only transport one civilization to safety. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It all boils down to nastiness generated by competition over limited resources.... I think I've heard that one before. And that analysis suggests to me that the inspired solution is to expand one's awareness and view of resources - perhaps initiating good relations with the Federation can bear the fruit of having them save one civilization while the Vyans save the other? Or if the Federation can't handle it, perhaps another civilization that they have met on their explorations would be willing and able? Networking might be a good idea.....

Ah, well. It seems this episode's writer is more interested in limited sacrificial ideas. Ho hum. That established, just where is the representative of those other one or two civilizations that the Vyans might save instead of Gem's?? Their absence makes the episode feel that much more contrived and unreal.

"The Empath" remains an interesting episode to view once, but shows that original Star Trek was beginning to become tired in its approach.

For the World Is Hollow And I Have Touched the Sky

(Star Trek story #65 in production order)
written by Rik Vollaerts

Yet another story invokes mention of the Prime Directive when at heart it really didn't need to. Then again, perhaps it is better for the episode to clear itself from any violations before the fans accuse the crew of completely ignoring their own rules.

In this bizarre situation of a group of people living on a flying asteroid-ship without fully knowing what it is, Spock worries that the Prime Directive might prevent them from telling the people the whole truth about themselves. Two things make the answer obvious.

First of all, "warp drive" is considered the de-facto standard technology that shows when a race of beings is ready to come out and mingle with the rest of the galaxy. It doesn't really matter how wise they have become, for once they can mingle, the rest of the galaxy no longer has the option to avoid them, and the Prime Directive no longer applies. Well, this asteroid is out cruising the galaxy, and firing missiles at passing starships, so I'd think they were past the "technologically able to mingle" criterion.

Secondly, and this perhaps indicates the decline of quality in Star Trek's third season, the entire drive to keep the populace ignorant is fueled by the "Oracle" character. Despite a host of social customs and technological devices used as mechanisms for this control, there is never any reason given as to why the Oracle would want its people to be kept ignorant. Gene Roddenberry's criticism of other science fiction series: "not enough characterization, not enough motivation" certainly applies here.

There are a lot of good ideas in this piece, which are not developed fully. Jon Lormer's old man character gives the definitive poetic rendition of the premise's riddle, yet the effort he expended to discover his secret in the first place is undermined by the ease with which the Enterprise trio and the local guards meet on the surface near the beginning. What we don't have is the kind of inverted view of living on the hollow inside of a sphere, where the supposed sky is in the center of the ball, and "descending" actually leads you outside into space. This makes the exterior set look like just another hum-drum stock Star Trek planet with the art director choosing a red gel for lighting the sky this week.

Dr. McCoy also has some interesting character challenges this episode, but they do feel contrived, and he predictably comes back to his starting position before the episode is over, nullifying any possibility of a continuing character arc. Not that this was a great direction for his character to go through in the first place.

And so another episode of great ideas turns out to be somewhat mediocre. Not to fear, for season three has better stuff still in store....

Read the next Star Trek review: "All Our Yesterdays"

These Season Three prime directive stories are available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek Season Three "Purist" Standard DVD Box Set:

Watch the legend mature to the end of its original run. Set contains all 24 episodes from the third season in their original wacky broadcast order, plus new bonus features including a specially restored version of the original pilot "The Cage".

As someone interested in researching how the episodes actually looked and sounded originally, and when and exactly how certain musical cues first debuted, this was the DVD set for me, and it remains the most untampered-with full-season collection of Star Trek out there. Unique extras include pure text commentaries on select episodes. Sadly, these sets are starting to become rare, and prices are now rising as these become collectors' items....


DVD Canada


Standard DVD Extras include:

  • To Boldly Go... Season Three featurette (22 min.)
  • Life Beyond Trek: Walter Koenig (11 min.)
  • Chief Engineer's Log (6 min.)
  • Memoir from Mr. Sulu (9 min.)
  • Star Trek's Impact (9 min.)
  • Original Prop recreation featurette (7 min.)
  • Text Commentaries on "The Savage Curtain" and "Turnabout Intruder"
  • "Red Shirt Logs" Easter Eggs (19 min. total)
  • Production Art (still menus)
  • Original Trailers for every season 3 episode (1 min. each)
  • "The Cage" (all colour, 63 min.)
  • "The Cage" (BW/colour mix + Gene's intro, 71 min.)

Standard DVD remastered with CGI:
Region 1, NTSC, U.S.
Region 1, NTSC, Canada
Region 2, PAL, U.K.

The Original Series Remastered Sets

The re-mastered Star Trek set for season three, like that of season two, seems destined to be obsolete in very short order. Its content is easily surpassed by the more respectful presentation on Blu-ray, and unlike the "purist" DVD release listed above, appears to have none of its own exclusive content. Add to that the very gimmicky, awkward packaging that is prone to damage both during shipping and with light usage, and I'd have to recommend that all devoted Trekkers should consider other options for their ideal TOS season three product.

Season Three - Blu Ray

  24 episodes @ 51 minutes, plus pilot episodes...
Star Trek sets are now available on Blu Ray. Picture and sound quality restoration has gone up yet another notch since the remastered version, as have the liberties taken with "upgrading" the episodes. Once again, even newer CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects.... but this time the upgrades have the same respect and user-functionality applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, as the CGI effects can now be turned off to see the original effects. Good show. It seems that the music has still been tampered with too much for my liking though.

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray features include:

  • option to watch original or new CGI effects.
  • "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (unaired version, HD)
  • Captain's Log: Bob Justman (HD, 10 min.)
  • Behind-the-scenes 8mm home movies part 3 (HD, 11 min.) from Billy Blackburn (Lt. Hadley / DeForest Kelley stand-in)
  • David Gerrold hosts "2009 Convention Coverage" (HD, 20 min.)
  • "The Anthropology of Star Trek" ComiCon Panel 2009 (HD, 4 min.)
  • "The World of Rod Roddenberry" ComiCon 2009 (HD, 7 min.)
  • BD Live Portal
  • main featurettes from previous releases
  • "The Cage" pilot versions from previous releases

Reviews written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review: "All Our Yesterdays"

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