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Reviewed by Will Harris
ime to cue up The Smiths’ “Paint a Vulgar Picture” again and recite the appropriate lyric – “Reissue, repackage, repackage” – as we start on a review of Paramount’s latest entry in their “Star Trek: Collective” series. This time around, the collection is centered around the theme of alternate realities, bouncing from one member of the “Trek” franchise to the next, examining episodes focusing on parallel dimensions, twisted realities, alternate lives, and – yes! – the Mirror Universe.
Even if you’re not a huge “Star Trek” fan, you’ve probably encountered at least one iconic image from the original series’ episode entitled “Mirror, Mirror,” namely Spock with a badass goatee. The premise of the episode involved a transporter mishap accidentally sending Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Mr. Scott (James Doohan), and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) into an alternate universe that is decidedly darker and more violent than their own. It was a cool concept, to be certain, so much so that it was explored in two of the other “Trek” series over the years. It should be no surprise that one of those series was “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” since it remains the darkest in tone of all its “Trek” brethren. But you may raise an eyebrow when you find out that, despite DS9 taking three excursions through the looking glass, the best visitation to the Mirror Universe actually occurred on “Enterprise.”
Taking a different approach than its predecessors, “Star Trek: Enterprise” offered no formal crossover between the residents of the two universes, instead focusing solely on the Mirror Universe, even providing a new, militaristic-sounding theme song for the two-part episode (“In a Mirror, Darkly”). The only thing tying it into “our” universe is the appearance of the U.S.S. Defiant, a starship that vanished in an original series episode (“The Tholian Web”) and apparently traveled back in space and time to the Mirror Universe. It’s a geeky touch, to be sure, but it’s a brilliant one, as it gives the cast of “Enterprise” the opportunity to put on uniforms from the original “Trek” series and sit on the bridge of the Defiant, which – being of the same class of ship – looks identical to Kirk’s Enterprise. This episode is further proof that the last season of “Enterprise” was its best.
There are only two inclusions for the category of “Parallel Dimensions,” but while the original-series episode “The Alternative Factor” is interesting (and, it has been suggested, offers the first occasion of Kirk saving the entire universe), the better of the two is “Parallels,” from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Although it’s guilty of introducing the idea of Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn) as a couple, “Parallels” provides a constantly entertaining journey through dozens of parallel universes (one of which still featured Wesley Crusher on the bridge), leaving Worf dizzy with uncertainty and questioning his sanity. This is appropriate, since the set then moves into the “Twisted Realities” portion of the proceedings and, unfortunately, begins with the two most definitive examples of William Shatner’s overacting: “The Enemy Within,” where Kirk is split in two by a transporter accident, and “Turnabout Intruder,” where he switches bodies with a woman from his past who despises him. Neither episode fits the concept of this set, so it’s clear that there was some fudging going on with their inclusion. But at least “The Enemy Within” is a really fun episode. Fortunately, the other two inclusions are better. “Frame of Mind,” from “ST:TNG,” has Cmdr. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) playing the role of a mental patient in a play, only to question whether or not he may really be in an asylum. “Shattered,” from “Star Trek: Voyager,” is really more of a time-travel episode than a visit to an alternate reality, but it’s a nice spotlight for Robert Beltran as Cmdr. Chakotay; it does have one problem, however, and that’s that it’s suspiciously reminiscent of “Parallels.”
That’s a problem with quite a bit of this set: some of the included episodes remind you of other episodes that are included -- and some that aren’t. Take, for instance, within the “Alternate Lives” selections, where the “Enterprise” episode “E2” comes off as strikingly similar in concept to the series finale of “ST: TNG.” Similarly, we get “Before and After” from “Voyager,” which only serves to remind us of the absence of that show’s famous two-parter, “Year of Hell.” But, then, you’ve got brilliantly creative concepts like “The Inner Light,” where Picard lives an entire alternate lifetime within the span of moments, or “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” which found a way to bring back Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) through a concept that, one suspects, only came about because someone on the writing staff commented that it was a shame that Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) never had a chance to interact with Tasha.
All in all, “Alternate Realities” isn’t something you really need to own, but if you like the “Trek” series enough to want to own some of them but can’t see yourself buying full-season sets, then…well, actually, I’d still recommend you purchase one of the other ones first, then this one somewhere down the line. But, y’know, after watching this, I have to figure that there’s a universe somewhere where this would be my first pick.
Special Features: Give the “Trek” folks credit: even when they’re recycling, they do try to include new bonus material. There are featurettes to accompany each of the divisions of the set, with cast and crew chiming in on the importance of the various episodes, along with a handful of audio commentaries. The diehards probably know most of the stuff that’s covered within, of course, but given that the “Collective” sets are the perfect starting points for newbies, they’re still a nice addition. Also very much worth mentioning is that the episodes of the original “Star Trek” series that are included are the newly re-mastered versions, with all the special effects that today’s computers can muster. (I still miss the matte paintings, though.)