The Origin of the Species (and the Characters) of ‘Into Darkness’

Paramount Pictures famously “rebooted” the Star Trek series with the 2009 flick, simply entitled Star Trek and creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof unencumbered themselves with the annoying trappings of “continuity” by simply setting the entire evolving story in a parallel universe. On one hand this is a complete copout, and fans should expect more from the creators of Lost.

On the other hand, both that first film and the 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness have proven to be incredibly popular and allowed these same creators to re-introduce such famous characters and alien races as Khan Noonien Singh, the Tribbles, the Klingons, and of course members of the Original crew (some of whom predate even the famous Captain Kirk).

To tie-in with the success of Star Trek Into Darkness (also recently released on Blu-Ray), Paramount released Star Trek: The Original Series – Origins, a five-episode Blu-Ray that gives fans the original introduction to these iconic characters and races. This is a boon for fans to say the least, or would be if all of these episodes weren’t so readily available already, including on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The 1080p Blu-Ray transfer does look fantastic and the episodes are as entertaining as ever, but the bonus features amount only to introductions to each episode by Rod Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and actress Majel Barrett. While these intros do amount to “pretty cool”, they don’t truly warrant the purchase for anyone but the absolute completists out there. Luckily for Paramount, there are thousands or millions of Star Trek completists out there.

The disc kicks off with the very first episode of the series, which was pre-Kirk, pre-Bones and even pre-series. “The Cage” is Star Trek’s original long-unaired pilot that NBC Television rejected as “too cerebral” and “too good for television”. Even almost 50 years after its original airing, these descriptions are not far off from the mark.

“The Cage” features Captain Christopher Pike (played by Bruce Greenwood in the two recent big screen appearances and Jeffrey Hunter in “The Cage”) as a dejected and exhausted starship captain who is contemplating leaving his command, being tired of deciding which “red shirt” he sends to their death next. Soon the Enterprise intercepts an old distress call from Telos IV and Pike himself is faced with the brilliant illusion masters and zookeepers, the Telosians.

This pilot (which was later edited into the two-part episode “The Menagerie”) is not only the first appearance of Pike, but also of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), himself and is the first role for Majel Barrett on Star Trek (as Pike’s First Officer “Number One”). “The Cage” also is our earliest look at the Enterprise and the irresistible green-skinned Orion women (albeit in an illusion). This episode went years without an airing (its first initial air date was in 1988, over two decades after its completion), but especially with elements seeping into the new movies, “The Cage” is indispensable Trek lore as well as being a treat for the eyes and the brain.

After “The Cage” was rejected, NBC took the unprecedented move of ordering another pilot instead of allowing the program to die on the vine. Hunter declined to reprise his role (focusing instead on motion pictures), so his character (who was considering leaving Starfleet anyway) was replaced by a newly created captain named Jim Kirk and played by William Shatner (in case you’ve been living under a rock).

In “Where No Man Has Gone Before” the (pre-Bones) Enterprise crew passes through a barrier at the galaxy’s edge and all but two of the ship’s crewmen who have ESP drop dead immediately. The ship’s navigator Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) soon begins exhibiting strange godlike powers that threaten the crew, possibly especially the ship’s psychiatrist, Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman) who happens to be the only other surviving ESPer.

Science Officer Spock introduces the series’ famous “3-D Chess” just before the crew’s mission and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” also introduced James Doohan as Mr. Scott and George Takei as Sulu. For all this episode’s impact and influence, this was still prior to the recognizable Trek uniforms and the famous James T. Kirk’s middle initial is revealed to be “R” in a brief scene.

Star Trek Into Darkness used characters from both pilots, but the semi-well-kept-secret of the film was the identity of the featured villain as none other than Khan. Khan Noonien Singh was the main bad-guy from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the second film in the original series of films and was a sequel not to the first film, but to the TV episode “Space Seed”.

Much of the events of Into Darkness parallel or retell the story of the ruthless ruler from Earth’s war torn past (read: the mid-’90s) and his eventual discovery with his 71 fellow genetically engineered supermen floating around space in suspended animation. Ricardo Mantalban makes an excellent and charismatic villain that one could believe not only ruled a large portion of a planet, but could also seduce Enterprise crewmembers in the future. The episode is well shot and directed and is among the most compelling of the entire series. As a tie-in, however, the episode serves to set up The Wrath of Khan much better than it compliments Into Darkness and fans of either continuity (or both) might lament the loss of the story this sets up.

“Space Seed” is so well done that “Origins” might have been better served had it been moved to the very end instead of its chronological placement in the middle of the episodes here. The reason being that while “Space Seed” is a compelling and action-packed drama, the next featured episode “Errand of Mercy” doesn’t quite match up.

“Errand of Mercy” marks the first appearance of the barbaric Klingons as Kirk and Spock visit Organia to attempt to prevent its annexation by the Klingon Empire. While seeing John Colicos (later of the first Battlestar Galactica series) in his first appearance as Commander Kor, these Klingons are well before their big-screen makeover with their more elaborate ridged foreheads and the story of “Errand of Mercy” has a surprise, twist ending that comes off feeling more like a deus ex machina… and a preachy deus ex machine at that.

One of the most recognizable episodes from the original Trek features one of the show’s most dangerous, yet adorable species, the tribbles. “The Trouble with Tribbles” again features the Klingons facing off against the Enterprise crew in neutral territory, but this time all possible parties involved are overrun by the born-pregnant, always hungry furry beasts known as Tribbles.

“Tribbles” is a great episode, but unlike “Space Seed” this falls easily into some of the more comical and silly tropes of the original Trek, from snappy one liners from Kirk to a silly, slapstick fight sequence. These do succeed in being funny, yes, but they also underscore the common campiness of this age of television. Like “Space Seed”, however, this episode also underscores the discontinuity between the original Trek series and the reboot. In “Tribbles” the title creatures are completely uncontrollable. In “Into Darkness”, McCoy easily uses the little furballs as lab rats.

When episodes of a show are so omni-available, a Blu-Ray release should have some enticing reason to fork over your hard-earned green. Star Trek: The Original Series – Origins contains five very good episodes (some absolutely essential), but the intros from Gene and Majel’s son, while interesting, aren’t alone worth the funds.

Further, original series fans will note that this release contains only the revamped special effects with modern CGI with no option to switch to the original special effects from the late ’60s. The episodes are the real attractions here, but the target audience for this release will probably already own them.

RATING 7 / 10