“The Savage Curtain” Remastered Review + Screenshots & Video


by Jeff Bond

Time to render another overly harsh verdict on a third season Star Trek stinker, “The Savage Curtain,” an episode which sometimes plays out like a junior high school history pageant. But before ya’ll start yelling out what an elitist snob I am, I’ll readily admit that for all its infamy this episode has its strong points.

“Curtain”’s biggest failings are those of the imagination—like “Whom Gods Destroy,” it seems like a pale copy of better Trek outings, most notably “Arena,” which also has aliens with superior powers pitting Kirk against opponents on a barren planet as a test of humanity; and “Who Mourns for Adonais?” which has Kirk confronting a famous character from Earth history. The other episode raided is “Devil in the Dark” as the Excalbians, the arrogant rock creatures who put humanity on trial this time, bear a passing resemblance to the earlier episode’s Horta.

Without the spectacular location setting of the Vasquez Rocks, “The Savage Curtain” looks depressingly cheap with an abundance of papier mache rocks and foliage. Where the episode entertains is in its choice of guest characters—Lee Bergere’s Abraham Lincoln, who appears practically seated on his own glowing red memorial chair in space on the Enterprise viewscreen, and Barry Atwater’s Surak, a kind of Vulcan Christ who’s crucified all over again near the episode’s end.

I’ve always found classic Trek’s tendency to embrace these kinds of over-the-top figures to be part of its essential charm. Only James Kirk seems at home sharing the stage with the god Apollo, Abraham Lincoln or Genghis Khan—when Kathryn Janeway hobnobs with a holodeck Leonardo Da Vinci later on in the franchise, both characters seem diminished by the meeting. As ridiculous as Lincoln’s entrance is (in another visual riff on “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and its giant hand in space), Kirk’s determination to treat this clearly illusory character with the respect the real man would have deserved and his thoughtful hero worship of the fabled president is interesting—as is Lincoln’s brief interaction with Uhura, a moment that shows the series expressing its always high social and racial ideals. Lincoln’s oft-expressed acknowledgement that he may not be real adds a nicely wry quality to his characterization that jibes with our historical anecdotes of a man with a sense of humor about himself.

Atwater’s Surak, although given frustratingly less screen time than Lincoln, is equally interesting. Atwater was probably best known for playing the Las Vegas vampire in the TV movie (and series pilot) The Night Stalker, but his Surak easily puts across the notion of a Vulcan Messiah, a man self-possessed enough to calmly admonish a skeptical Spock when they first meet. While it may lack some impact now due to the campy circumstances under which it occurs, I remember Surak’s betrayal and murder at the hands of Colonel Green and his minions as being pretty traumatic stuff when I was a teenager, particularly given the character’s strong Christ analogue. Atwater’s performance is another example of the original series’ consistent and inspired casting: he’s different from Nimoy’s Spock, yet clearly in the Vulcan mode of suppressed, controlled emotional expression—something that has almost utterly eluded actors and casting directors of all the later Trek series in their casting of Vulcan characters. Oddly Surak never quite gained the mystique of Nimoy’s Spock or Mark Lenard’s Sarek, perhaps because of Atwater’s death before he could ride the Trek wave of fandom and convention appearances, or perhaps just because “The Savage Curtain” isn’t held in as high regard by fans.

The villains conjured up by the Excalbians to face Kirk and his force of heroes are of a somewhat lesser order than Lincoln and Surak—like Surak, they’re robbed of screen time by the episode’s laborious, Lincon-centric set-up, leaving only Philip Pine’s Colonel Green enough time to register as a character. It’s unfortunate because the roster (apart from the nondescript alien mad scientist Zora) is impressive: Green (dressed  somewhat appropriately in Khan Noonien Singh’s sleeper ship uniform) is a cagey, double-crossing fink and Pine is nicely oily and cruel in the role; Genghis Khan is certainly an Earth history bad guy heavyweight, and Kahless the Unforgettable equals Surak as the founder of the Klingons’ brutal civilization. But they’re all shortchanged by the script—Genghis Khan and Zora don’t rate so much as a line of dialogue, while Kahless turns out to be the Rich Little of the Klingon Empire.

In fact the whole thing is over just as the dramatic stakes seem to reach their height, with Surak and Lincoln dispatched too quickly and the rest of the action settled in a clumsy skirmish. Kahless would receive far better treatment on Star Trek: The Next Generation while Surak and even Colonel Green rated a mention in the fourth season of Enterprise. There’s also an issue that hangs over the episode but is never explored: the idea that Lincoln, Surak and the other historical characters are in fact “played” by modified Excalbians—as Spock scans Lincoln before he beams onboard the Enterprise and describes him exactly as the Excalbian leader we later see on the planet. If these characters are Excalbians are they merely playing their parts, are they being forced into the roles (and into their own deaths) against their will, and what exactly do these role players get out of the experience?

“The Savage Curtain” was conceived by Gene Roddenberry and it’s probably appropriate that this episode showcases the best and worst of the series he masterminded: the outlandish moral ambitions marching right alongside its sometimes kitschy execution. For better or worse, only classic Trek did stories like this.


CBS-D provides some of their most striking orbital shots for “The Savage Curtain,” rendering the planet Excalbia as a vivid globe of hot magma and swirling poisonous clouds. The life-sustaining environment created for the humans is shown being wiped into existence on the Enterprise viewing screen, and CBS-D even retouches the stars around Lincoln’s glowing space chair to tie him into the environment better. In addition to the standard orbital shots there are a few additions: the overhead shot of the Enterprise in orbit, relatively small in the frame that’s been used in only a few episodes, and a very nice composite of the starship from the angle first seen in “Space Seed” with the Enterprise towing the Botany Bay—here Excaliba fills the frame behind the starship and with George Duning’s recycled music cue from “Is There In Truth No Beauty” it’s a striking shot. It’s a shame a new matte painting for the surface of Excalbia couldn’t have been done as the claustrophobic planet set environment really needed it and the set’s orange skies actually become quite dazzling in the new transfer.




Remastered vs. Original


Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). The Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is available now for $112.49 (retail is $194.99).

Seasons One and Two of TOS-R ($112.495 and $63.99 respectively)


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The new planet looks amazing. I’ve always thought this episode to be one of my favourites. I know its not that popular, but I’ve always had a very soft spot for it.

“This place is the greatest! Electro-shock therapy whenever you want it, two Lincolns for every Napoleon…”

—-Bender B. Rodriguez

– The return of the space oranges…

It’s a shame that these shots have the CW Logo in the lower right hand corner. They would make great desktop wallpaper without it.

Missin’ Scene:

Excalbian: Initially we brought in Arthur, King of the Britains, to represent good. However, he kept ramming steak-knives into and us and then made a big deal about pulling them out.

arrr… I stopped takin’ me shower cuz I am a’feared o’ me savage curtain… bloody thing gone all primordial… eatin’ me soap…


“Ahhhhhh”….”Help me Spock”, “Help me Spock”……now do the Captain….”Help me Kirrrrk”

I’ve always loved this episode. Klingon’s being such extraordinary mimics is something I would have loved to see them continue to explore. I mean, that guy was good. The Rich Little of space. I bet he had his own room in Vegas.

The cool little ‘trip you back on your own knife” move that Kirk uses at the end…always one of my favorites. Another cool Star Fleet move. That one’s right up there with William Windom’s Matt Decker shuffle he does with the red shirt.

Another shot/chance to see Star Fleet dress uniforms. Some ret-conned future Earth history.

Love it.

Like it or not, this episode is a huge part of the foundation of Treklore.

and to a much lesser degree—Colonel Green.

I always liked it. Classic Trek.

“Kirk, my old friend… My armchair is bigger than yours. Prepare to die!”
Oh wait, that was the evil Lincoln episode.

I do like this episode on the emotional (sorry image of Surak) level. It’s ‘tupid but it still works, unlike some of the other stinkeroos Jeff mentions. Love Excalbian.

Jeff, do you know if Kevlar… KayWye… uh Katmandoo, oh hell, RockBoy is a redress from an Outer Limits episode? I want to say it’s either the one with the space probe that captures the flyers or “Don’t Open Until Doomsday.”

The thing that has always struck me about this episode is that the Excalbians seemed totally unable to distinguish between behavior of “good” and “evil”. There’s some odd comment about the two sides using the same tactics, when clearly they did not. The “good” side was willing to confront “evil” where as “evil” ran away when they suffered a defeat. It seems that the show missed an opportunity to drive this point home in the conclusion of the episode by having Kirk explain that “good” people don’t go around hurting others just for personal gain (or scientific curiosity).

Ah Jeff….just read your Rick Little comment. Thought that was originality on my part. Funny. They should have explored that more.

“Atwater’s performance is another example of the original series’ consistent and inspired casting: he’s different from Nimoy’s Spock, yet clearly in the Vulcan mode of suppressed, controlled emotional expression—something that has almost utterly eluded actors and casting directors of all the later Trek series in their casting of Vulcan characters.”

Couldn’t agree more. I’ve always felt that.

#4 resolution is still pretty low though…

Hey I love the Savage Curtain. This is a far more entertaining episode than The Savage Curtain-eque inspired Skin of Evil that’s supposed to be highbrow dealing with mortality and a menacing demigod but is actually more boring than anything with chubby guy in a black plastic garbage bag dipped in chocolate sauce (LAME) this episode is a lot of fun and Kirk gets to whup Gengis Khan’s ass!!! Scotty in command is also a plus. Bond you best not F with Abraham Lincoln. “Stinker” .,, I think not!!! This episode also spawed a sequel to one of the best Trek comics series in the origianl DC Trek storyline (art sucked but the stories were really engrossing during that initial DC Trek run)
Print looked extra sharp and clean almost to much so in that Kahless and Abe appear to be sharing the same Cordovan shoe polish for makeup. The new planet was about the best planet rendering I have yet seen (Looked like Mustiphar or what ever it’s called from the last Star Wars film) Ship looked gret and they even did a real cool low orbit flyby that reminded me of the Reliant flyby over Ceti Alpha 6(5) As the ship left orbit there was a nice orgish hoe thrown against it from the planet surface as well. Great episode!!!! Very impressive new print and subtle effects. Now how cool would a CG Yarnek have been???? Still cooler than the skin ov evil fatso though!!

I think Jeff overuses the term, “stinker”. There are some “stinkers” among the list of 79 TOS episodes, but this isn’t one of them.

As noted there are a few things to like about this episode and even more to dislike. The Excalbian is a memorable alien — much more menacing than TNG’s Armus (whom he always reminded me of) — even if he looks to be pieced together from leftover Horta. Love the lights that synchronize with it’s dialogue and the strange clicking claw gestures.

I’ve always been baffled by the fact that for a good portion of the episode the fantasy characters are the ones in combat (Lincoln and Surak go off to confront the four villians alone) while Kirk and Spock labor over fashioning bows and arrows in relative safety and seclusion. Barry Atwater as Surak is simply perfect and it’s a shame his role is so brief here. He is far more impressive in the part than the old guy they got to play Surak during his appearance in ENT’s season four. That guy had no gravitas and looked and acted like someone’s beloved grandfather, not the savior of Vulcan. Atwater totally nailed the Vulcan thing just as he nailed the vampire thing on “Night Stalker”. I wonder if there’s a connection? There is something slightly predatory about the way Vulcan’s carry themselves — and that air of aristocracy — that’s similar to the best screen portrayals of vampires. Maybe future Trek casting directors should look at actors who’ve played vampires successfully when considering who to cast as Vulcans.

Ghengis Khan and Zhora get seriously short-changed and for two of history’s most notoriously evil individuals are given virtually nothing to do but scuffle with the heroes Gamesters-of-Triskelion-style. Zhora certainly doesn’t look native to Tiburon (like the elephant-eared Dr. Severin whom we met only a couple episodes prior); in fact she looks more like a run-of-the-mill Halloween witch draped in caveman furs (and she’s a scientist?!). Ghengis Khan comes across like the mute Kryptonian idiot Non from Superman II. And why choose the greatest heroes and villians of history if only to have them fight each other with bare hands, sticks and rocks?

CBS-D does it again this time and gives us another surprisingly good effort. The orbital shots and Excalbia itself (just as impressive as the y-class planet from the VOY episode “Demon”) are simply beautiful.

Season three turned around the ratio of good to bad episodes established by the first and second season. There, they were mostly good, some great, and a few bad ones. In Season Three, mostly bad, some good and a few fair ones.

This ranks among the better 3rd Season eps, but it did have its limitations. The cheezy surface set for one.

CBS-D did a nice job getting rid of the orange ball. The new rendering of the original filmstock was dazzling. I had the opportunity to watch this episode on a 54 inch plasma screen. Lee Bergere’s Lincoln makeup was quite heavy handed. You could see the grey appliances below his eyes and the obviously fake mole. Something was also going on below his lower lip above the beard, too. I guess they never dreamed of digital enhancement and remastering.

This episode is NOT a stinker. Yes, like much of the 3rd season, it has extremely clunky, inelegant moments. But the portrayals of Lincoln and Surak are fantastic. As a kid, this was one of first (and best) exposures to Lincoln. And Surak’s choice is inspiring and tragic. Shatner and Nimoy both do a wonderful job playing off their characters’ boyhood heroes. It’s silly and cheesy and fairly moving, as so much of the best of Trek is.

An anecdote amusing to me — I was such a science geek as a kid that early on I recognized Excalbia as being an image of the Sun, and the habitable area a sunspot. I was so taken by this I that I can remember, as youngster, thinking of this episode as the one where Kirk and Spock land on a star.

The Savage Curtain is a little uneven but it is by no means a stinker. There is some good acting to be found here and some pretty solid and even moving performances by the guest cast. It also introduced us to two characters – Surak and Kahless – which the franchise made extensive use of in subsequent shows. In particular, Barry Atwter’s Surak has a lot of presence and stay with you long after the episode is over.

The new effects, especially the shots of the Enterprise against the planet, look very good too.

Not the greatest episode ever, but definitely very watchable and one of the stronger entries from Trek’s third season for my money.

The memorable alien RockBoy is standing off in the distance, his micturition be scarring tha’ wee human-habitable island…

Excalabian: Now then, Captain, I will be with you in a little while. First I am going to find the “orgish hoe” of the planet, per Lord Garth. It is clear though he meant a “y” istead of an “i”.

Kirk: He made a few simple type-os, Rockboy. He’s only human and there’s no need to make it a Freudian slip. Look- I’m making typohs rite now. And arent these… people… really your comrades in disguise? We’re killing them!

Excalabian: Since I have no concept of right or wrong, I do not care if you whack my brother-in-law and I can go after any “orgysh hoe” to my magma heart’s content. I can even unnecessarily embarrass a poster on this site. Now, stand aside before my lava stream micturition lands on your head.

Arrrrr… I kids cuz I loves…

and I agrees this be one o’ the best lookin’ aliens… (hmmm… wonder if thye have a RockGal I could ask fur a dine and dance? Need me burn ointment…) I mean, ain’t they all supposed ta’ be alien, as in farrr different than us bumpy ol’ foreheads?


16. “I guess they never dreamed of digital enhancement and remastering.”

Along those lines but a little off-topic: I’ve recently dusted off my TNG DVDs and was watching the similarly-themed rats-in-a-maze episode “Where Silence is Lease” and thinking about any future attempt at remastering the series as a whole. I seem to remember that TNG was shot on videotape which made adding phaser and transporter effects a lot easier at the time. Does anyone know: was principal photography initially done on actual film and then converted or was it *totally* filmed on videotape? The existing DVD transfers look horrible. If they were originally shot on film like TOS then hopefully all that film still exists somewhere and Remastering can be done from that and not from the inferior videotape elements. Otherwise I can’t imagine what would have to be done to clean them up and make them HD-ready.

Hey, its not everyday that you see a floating Abraham Lincoln in space.

Jeff wrote “Atwater’s performance is another example of the original series’ consistent and inspired casting: he’s different from Nimoy’s Spock, yet clearly in the Vulcan mode of suppressed, controlled emotional expression—something that has almost utterly eluded actors and casting directors of all the later Trek series in their casting of Vulcan characters.”

I couldn’t agree more. One thing that just pissed me off about all of the Trek sequel series was that they never ever could get the Vulcan’s right. I seem to remember an episode of Voyager (I think) where Tuvok was flashbacking to his youth and I thought that the actor who portrayed his instructor nailed it. But other than that, Vulcans – even into Enterprise – had diminished into Mo Howard monotone drones.

So even if ‘Savage Curtain’ wasn’t in the top tier of Trek episodes, it still, as noted above by others, made important contributions to Trek lore.

One memorable “wardrobe malfunction” in this episode: when Kirk is on his back kicking Green away, the structural integrity field on his trousers fails. :-) In other words, he splits his pants.

22. ” I seem to remember an episode of Voyager (I think) where Tuvok was flashbacking to his youth and I thought that the actor who portrayed his instructor nailed it. But other than that, Vulcans – even into Enterprise – had diminished into Mo Howard monotone drones.”

That’s cuz the actor was a TOS alumni, John Ruskin! He played the drill-thrall in Gamesters of Triskelion. And I agree 100% — he was perfect and much better than just about any actor who attempted being Vulcan since — Tuvok included.


But other than that, Vulcans – even into Enterprise – had diminished into Mo Howard monotone drones.


Along with certain other Trek episodes this gets slated but I actually quite like this one.
A good portion of Trek history begins with characters of Surak and Kahless.
Remastering looks good too.

#20: TNG was shot on 35 mm film, then it was transferred to videotape, where the SFX were composited. At least in the early years. In later seasons, they may have gone a more traditional route with FX compositing. But I know the series *was* shot on film.

I know it’s OT, but I’d love to see a remaster of TNG. I always thought the opening blue titles looked desperately cheap, and it would be nice to re-do the lettering on all the title sequences, both main and episodic. In addition to a complete remaster of the FX, of course.

24 That’s cuz the actor was a TOS alumni, John Ruskin! He played the drill-thrall in Gamesters of Triskelion.

Thats the missing equation! Yes, the old ones, the ones who made us……. sorry, excuse me as I digress into Trek quote mode.

I thought he looked familiar. I only saw that episode once back when it first aired, but he made such a huge impression. I couldn’t tell you a thing about what that episode was about, but I can tell you that John Ruskin rocked as a Vulcan. Thanks for that memory upload!

Another great review, Jeff… especially this gem:

“…the Rich Little of the Klingon Empire.”

ROFL!!! Thank you, Jeff… today’s the last day of the quarter and its a madhouse here where I work… I needed a good laugh!

Recently, I have been trying to rank the Third Season in terms of good episodes. I noticed that in some of Jeff Bond’s reviews, he praises bad episodes and destroys decent ones. Since these episode just came out, I think this is the best time to pose this question. How would you personally rank from best to worst these four episodes: Whom Gods Destroy, The Lights of Zetar, The Cloud Minders, and The Savage Curtain. Thanks.

30. cpelc

Thanks, that was very helpful!

28. Marvin the Martian

And thank you, too!

This ep was played so straight that all the crummy sets and absurd concepts fall by the wayside. I’ve always loved this one.
And talk about lines! “Now can you cry like Lincoln?” “Heeellllp meee Kiiirk…” Now that’s entertainment!

The new effects really shine. Love that high-angle shot of the E, and the planet looks like it could be NASA footage.
The stuff looks so much better than the older TNG fx it’s scary.
Funny how back in ’87, they rendered the planets as out-of-focus blobs because that’s how they looked in TOS. Same with the robin’s-egg blue of the E-D.
Now, of course, we have all been suitably enlightened.

This is one of the best new shots of the Enterprise I have seen for TOS-R…


In my mind the savage curtain is a good episode. I didnt know that so many disliked it. oh well. Funny that i remember lincolns speech about war so well (which he had never spoken in real life) and i only know the first lines of the gettysburg address.

“help me spock…”

Help me……spock!

now cry like lincoln…

Help me kirk…


I laugh everytime i think about those lines. burned forever in my mind.

Spot-on Review by Mr. Bond.
Pretty much says it all

1. The Savage Curtain
4. Whom Gods Destroy, The Lights of Zetar, The Cloud Minders

The last three are all dreadful; I can’t order them.

DId they fix the famous pants rip?

Great review and a great shot of the Enterprise during Scotty’s log entry.

Is there a definitive guide somewhere as to the cinematography and opticals of all of the Trek series? Specifically, what changes were made from TNG S1 in 1987 to VOY S7 in 2001 (and DS9 in between)? I understand that live action and effects elements (mainly miniatures) were shot on 35mm and composited in video, but did the compositing ever transition to HD at some point before 2001 (i.e. before ENT) — or as one poster mentioned the editing equipment changed (if so when)? There was a noticable improvement in the quality of the opticals from 1987 to 2001, but I can’t pinpoint when it happened.

I spoke about TOS-R with a rather knowledgable colleague and was amazed how long the myth about the “original camera negatives” being used (that’s what he still thought) has hung on. Whether it was an intentional deception or innocent technical misunderstanding on the part of the CBS marketing department (although the OCN statement was — I think — made by some production people who should know better in EPK video interviews), it is obvious that the OCNs (which have no opticals of course) were NOT used, in the unlikely event they even still exist. What were probably used were internegatives or interpositives (anyone know which?) struck from the cut OCN with all of the old opticals complete. A generation newer than previous releases (from release prints most likely), hence the noticable improvement, but certainly not from the OCN.

So I’ve never seen the prospective TNG-R situation spelled out this way, but if CBS was unwilling or unable to start with the OCNs for TOS-R (which they would HAVE to do for TNG, DS9, and VOY) and recomposite ALL of the opticals (including every single fade, transporter shot, etc.) for HD, how likely are they to do this for hundreds of TNG, DS9, and VOY episodes (or even 179 episodes of TNG)? And as it was the TOS-R effort was reportedly subsidized by Toshiba to boost HD-DVD. By my thinking it is just way too labor intensive to happen, but I hope I’m wrong.

I’m always interested in learning more about this subject so I can better understand the likelihood of future HD releases of not just Trek, but all other film content.

The planet shots were nice. – well done CBS-D

I’m still trying to figure out why the rockman’s multiple “eyes” still blinked when he talked. Kinda reminded me of the KITT’s voice modulator from Knight Rider.

It’d been cool if the remastered team could’ve done something to make the rockman seem more alive, & real…………..I don’t know what, but something.

Yarnak was one of the best trek aliens ever!

I think you mean Joseph Ruskin.


Yes, I must agree that while this is by no means TOS’s best, it is not a true, blue stinker. It has some good characters, good performances, and a relatively “cool” looking alien (for the special effects capabilities of the time).

I especially like Lincoln’s speeches to Kirk towards the end where he explains that they must fight “brutality with brutality” and match their nemeses evil on every level when contrasted with Surak’s “I will not fight” mentality, and the philosophical arguments that ensue.

Interesting isn’t it that Surak’s approach fails while Lincoln’s brings about victory (even though he himself is killed)? Even though Trek is of course ultimately about peace, in this case when evil is a very defined and unchangeable aspect of the equation (as presented by the Excalbians), it is the “brutal” approach that saves the day.

And then there is Lincoln’s great other speech about war…the one ending with “…There is nothing good in war except its ending.”

Ahh..TV that made you think! Unlike today when it’s filled with crappy reality shows :( :( …


always one of my fav episodes.


45. Norm – June 30, 2008
“I think you mean Joseph Ruskin.”

Thanks, of course you’re right.

#14 “Maybe future Trek casting directors should look at actors who’ve played vampires successfully when considering who to cast as Vulcans.”

Then be sure to take a close look at Ben Cross (Sarek) in the new movie. He played Barnabas Collins in the 1990 “Dark Shadows” revival, as well as several other vampires in some rather forgettable movies.

Peace. Live long and prosper.
The Vulcanista }:-|

Yarnek to Kirk:

“Your ship will blow itself to bits within four hours unless you defeat the others by then. Is that cause enough to fight for?”

That is classic Trek.