Review: The Tholian Web Remastered April 2, 2007by Dennis Russell Bailey , Filed under: Review,TOS Remastered , trackback
"Bring Back Kirk!"
Enterprise finds one of its sister ships, the Event Horizon – uh, Defiant – floating dead in space. Everyone important beams over and finds the crew dead with their hands wrapped around one another’s throats. After much investigation and careful consideration, "Bones" rules out natural causes and concludes that they killed each other. He also discovers that props and corpses aboard the ship are becoming immaterial. Fortunately, whatever’s going on doesn’t affect deck floors.
Enterprise’s transporter is acting up again, so the entire landing party can’t be beamed back at the same time. Kirk orders everyone else to return first. Spock demurs, but Kirk orders him to return with the others lest Scotty wind up with the biggest role this week. Of course, once Kirk’s the only one left behind, Defiant disappears faster than a decent sci-fi series on the FOX network and Spock is left to try to reach into another universe and rescue Kirk.
Rescue efforts are badly complicated by two factors:
- The arrival of the Tholians. They object to Enterprise’s presence here and spin a web to imprison the vessel, despite Spock’s insistence that Federation ship is in
Iraqi watersneutral space.
- Whatever homicidal craziness infected the crew of Defiant crosses over to Enterprise, causing extras to attack the stars’ stunt doubles.
Despite a ticking clock and the necessity of finding a treatment for Space Madness, McCoy decides that it’s more important to follow Spock around behaving like an insubordinate jerk. He insists that Spock view Kirk’s final orders with him. From beyond the hypothetical grave Kirk tells his buddies two things
- "Spock, do a good job and ask McCoy for advice."
- "Bones, stop behaving like an insubordinate jerk."
Chastened, McCoy whips up a cure for the madness. Scotty is dubious until he’s made to understand that it’s a new way to drug himself insensible. Faced with the critical need to get the ship’s engines working Real Fast, he swipes a beaker of the stuff and declares his intention to mix it with booze and get as drunk as possible. In the end, the finest crew in Starfleet somehow manages to retrieve Kirk from limbo. Defiant, on the other hand, is pulled into the Mirror Universe by Mirror-Tholians who will lose it to Mirror-Jonathan Archer. But that’s a story for another day…
Get a grip Pavel
Episode Number 64…
Popular though it may be, "The Tholian Web" is an unremarkable "Star Trek" story. Yes, the "space madness" subplot allows for some histrionic performances on the part of the usually-neglected supporting cast, which probably endears it to some viewers who are particularly fond of those characters. Yes, there’s some amusing fussing and hurt/comfort byplay between Spock and McCoy, but it’s thinly motivated and seems to exist mainly as a sop to some portion of the audience that’s understood to enjoy this adversarial back-and-forth no matter how distracting or extraneous (in that regard, it foreshadows the rather synthetic argument the two have in Kirk’s quarters in "The Wrath Of Khan").
It’s difficult to empathize with McCoy here because his bitterness is so inappropriate in its extremity and Spock’s position so evidently reasonable. Perhaps aberrant behavior such as suggesting that Spock might want Kirk dead for the sake of his own career can be explained away as symptomatic of McCoy succumbing to the space madness. To just the extent that he’s out of his mind, however, the rapprochement that he and Spock finally achieve is trivialized. "Forget it, Bones," indeed. In the end, this is just a television tale where an hour is harmlessly passed by putting the series star character in a kind of faux jeopardy that we know must be happily resolved by the final commercial break. It’s "Star Trek" as "Stargate SG-1."
Nonetheless, there are a couple of great things about "The Tholian Web." First, it represents one of the original series’ few attempts to portray intelligent aliens who are physically very different than humans, and so succeeds that the Tholians have become one of the best-remembered, most popular and speculated-upon minor creations of TOS. It’s interesting that one of the other best examples of this kind of thing, the Melkots, also appear in the third and final season of the series which was otherwise notable for slashed episodic budgets and a general falling-off of focus and ambition. Second, the effects work is superb in design and execution.
Hi, I’m dead…now play nice boys
"The Tholian Web" in many ways would seem to present a challenge to the folks at CBS Digital almost the opposite of that posed by "The Doomsday Machine." "The Doomsday Machine" was an episode that was much better than the limited effects that supported the story. This is one reason that so many CG artists over the years have selected that episode as a showcase for "upgrading" TOS. The challenge there was to create new shots that better approached what the audience might imagine the fight between Enterprise and the Planet Killer to be like.
The original effects shots in "The Tholian Web,” however, are some of the best ever produced for the original “Star Trek” series (even garnering an Emmy nomination*). It would seem that the challenge here would be for the CG recreations to do justice to the original shots while enhancing them for HD. For the most part that’s the approach they take. And for the most part, they succeed – with a glaring exception.
The exteriors of Defiant are nicely enhanced. As with "Space Seed,” the CBS Digital folks take advantage of the fact that they’re neither working with models on fixed mounts or with stock footage of such models to portray derelict ships at angles other than the Trek-standard up-and-down orientation. It’s a nice way of suggesting that the ships are not moving or keeping station under any kind of helm or attitude control.
In the Enterprise/Tholian battle sequence, the new phaser and Tholian weapon effects look effectively energetic and dangerous. The new shots of Enterprise and the web stay very close to the composition and style of the vividly memorable original images. CBS nearly duplicates the look of the original web effect (itself a cell animation effect to which Michael Minor was a contributor). Enterprise appears in close-up, motionless relative to the camera, for several long shots in this episode. Duplicating these set-ups gives CBS Digital the opportunity to show off the hull detail and textures on their mesh, and the model holds up under the scrutiny (okay, I miss the "rust ring" on the upper surface of the saucer).
Some of these shots are subtly enhanced by camera movement where there was none before – watch the aft-forward shot of Enterprise caught in the web – and by correcting perspective errors that existed in the original. For the first time, the web on the far side of the ship is smaller and therefore appears farther away than the web in the foreground of the shot. There was likely some rotoscoping work required for one shot in which the half-solid Kirk "floats" against the background of the web. Such work is painstaking and successful mainly to the extent that it goes unnoticed.
I can see the inside of my cabin from here
Now I’m going to register my first real complaint with the "Star Trek Remastered” project. What CBS Digital has done by redesigning the Tholian spacecraft is a bad idea and actually diminishes the visual interest of the episode while doing a little damage to the integrity of the whole effort. The Tholian ships were not originally represented as undefined spinning lights like the Orion vessel in "Journey To Babel" or omitted altogether like the Gorn ship in "Arena." The Tholian model was as specific a design and as clearly visible in the episode as were the Klingon vessels or the Romulan Bird-of-Prey or the Botany Bay – or Enterprise itself, for that matter. The geometry of the ships was both aesthetically pleasing and surprising…even, one might say, "alien." Jefferies’ design didn’t need to be changed, and in my opinion shouldn’t have been. The new version of the ship is not an improvement and includes no significant new detail that is apparent in such a way as to enhance the "reality" of the shots in which it appears.
In the case of the Botany Bay, CBS Digital followed the original design very closely while adding some mesh and textural detail. Something similar was done with the Bird-of-Prey. This is what should have been done with the Tholian vessels. The absence of the red and green and blue colored lights used to illuminate the models on the stage is missed as well. The intense colors were a characteristic TOS technique (though, granted, rarely used for ship exteriors) and tied the vessel exteriors nicely to the posterized images of the Tholians themselves.
Why were these changes made? The new Tholian ships bear a passing resemblance to the Tholians seen on "Star Trek Enterprise," mainly as the result of the "spurs" now extending off the back of the hulls’ triangular ridges. That’s not enough reason to conclude that the change was made to bring these designs into line with the Tholians of “A Mirror, Darkly” as some have suggested, and that would certainly be a poor justification. The original (again, in my arrogant opinion) shouldn’t be revised for the sake of consistency with later artists’ work any more than later artists should be arbitrarily constrained by every design decision made on "Star Trek" in decades past.
What’s Left Alone?
The image of the Tholian commander has not been replaced or, as far as I can discern, enhanced in the new version. This is good; there don’t appear to have been any issues with the quality of the mattes or images in the original (since the commander appears only as a viewer insert, concerns about HD resolution are probably diminished). So unlike his spaceship, Loskene is as alien as ever.
Looking good Loskene
* there seems a bit of debate on the Emmy for the show. Memory Alpha and Amazon list it as winning, but StarTrek.com, Emmy.org, and TheEnvelope list it as only being nominated. Suffice it to say it got their attention. But if someone has definitive proof send it in via the tipline…no need to derail the talkback on this.