DVD Review: Star Trek: Alternative Realities
by Steve Fritz
Date: 15 September 2008 Time: 03:52 PM ET
Review: Star Trek: Alternative Realities
There’s always one question at the core of any science fiction story. It’s only two very open ended words, and those words are “What if?”Whether it’s what if night falls once every 10,000 years, a sadistic computer kills off all humanity except for four people, or mankind invents FTL travel, those two little words open up universes of fabrications and possibilities. Now well on its way into its second century, Science Fiction still hasn’t run out of permutations of those two little words. This includes a number of recognized classics in literature. When things get interesting is when those two little words are turned on themselves. The most common are altering true historical events such as if JFK wasn’t murdered or the South won the Civil War. It gets even more interesting when fiction is turned on itself, such as what if rather than greet the first Vulcans to land on Earth, Zephram Cochrane murdered them and stole their tech.
This subgenre of science fiction is usually referred to as parallel universes or alternate histories. One of Star Trek: The Original Series’s more remembered episodes is #39. Entitled “Mirror Mirror,” it posited a parallel universe where The Federation never happened. Instead there’s the Empire, a galaxy-spanning dystopia respecting only the ruthless gathering of power and domination. There was still an Enterprise, and it’s still manned by James T. Kirk and his crew. On the other hand, this starship bore more a resemblance to Captain Jack Sparrow and his Black Pearl than the greatest starship in the Federation. What nobody in 1968 knew is when a transporter mishap switches these two universes’ Kirk, Uhura, Bones and Scotty, it would start a very interesting series of stories that would eventually run through all five incarnations of the series. The Star Trek: Alternate Realities Collective continues a series that has included past themes like the Borg, Q, Time Travel and the best of the Captains of the various starships and space stations that are the center of each series. As it turns out, each series--TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager and even Enterprise had a few alternate reality-type programs running through their respective runs. As explained through the various extra content features that examine ever episode on this five-disk set, the writers loved the freedom these shows gave to stray from their bibles. The actors also got a kick from many of them, whether it was Nana Visitor playing a very, very evil version of herself in the “Mirror” reality to Jonathan Frakes trying to maintain his sanity in an artificially created one. Still, what comes readily apparent is the person who enjoyed these alternate realities more than anyone was later Trek creator Brandon Braga. He used it as a way to explore whatever set of characters he was currently working with, and according to the extra content was usually the one who either had a heavy hand in their creation. But his real genius comes thorough when he was working on DS9 and picked up on the one TOS episode and gave it a life of its own. He turned the ultimate girl scout of the series, Kira Nerys, into one deliciously vicious nemesis. Al Siddig, who played Doctor Bashir, also appeared to savor his parallel version, and Braga gave him plenty to sink his acting chops into. This subset of DS9 episode also included one of its greatest guest performances in Tony Todd, who played an elderly Jake Cisco trying to save his father from a too-early death. Plus, Leonard Nimoy never should have gotten rid of that goatee, you know? Are there times when the set concept is stretched to the point of snapping? You bet. As great as the episodes were, one wonders why TNG’s “The Inner Light” and “Frame of Mind” are included. Even though they included superlative performances from Patrick Stewart and Frakes, they really weren’t true parallel/alternative universe tales. The inclusion of possibly the worst ever TOS episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” is also highly questionable. One could say this would have been a tighter set by ejecting one more episode and giving the public a 4-disc/16 episode box instead of the 5/20 one. Still, one has to give the producers this series for the generally high standards of the episodes included, as well as the sharp restoration each one gets. The commentary tracks each contain new bits of Trek trivia that is sure to teach hardcore fans something they didn’t know before and the overall packaging is still quite high. So if one has to ask if they want this set, suffice it to say it’s not a hard choice. It stands up with the best of the collective sets and your library would be a better place with it in there. Star Trek: Alternate Realities Collective is due in stores on September 16th.