This planet-based rebellion story plays to TOS's strengths, featuring Kirk and Spock and setting itself above and below ground for a thoughtful but exciting adventure.
The showpiece of the story is the castle in the sky, with the set designers building its interior right on the planet stage, allowing the panoramic red sky in the background to sell the idea that the setting really is miles in the air. In stark contrast, the cave set, always monochromic and claustrophobic, serves as an effective antonym and is believable in its own right.
With the two locations intricately weaving themselves into a plot reminiscent of the Metropolis, a 1927 silent science fiction film, Kirk and Spock find themselves in the middle of the planet's conflict, with the story allowing them to interact with both sides. Diana Ewing guest stars as Droxine, a high class, innocent princess, while Charlene Polite plays Vanna, the lower class, disrupting counterpart. The real treat, however, is Droxine's father, Plasus, played with the perfect combination of frustration and stubbornness by Jeff Corey, one of Nimoy's mentors. As the episode moves along and illustrates his hard-headed conflict with Vanna and the "Troglytes", it's rather obvious where everything's going, but the actors keep each scene interesting with their chemistry, letting the story flow organically from the characters. (Having Spock openly discuss his sexual habits with Droxine is out of character and a writer's mistake, but she does seem like his type, and it's great to finally see a drop dead gorgeous woman favor him over Kirk for a change).
Is "Cloud Minders" a top ten episode? Of course not. (The last two acts, in particular, are quite slow and meandering). But with the series having only a few episodes left at this point in its run, the episode, with its picturesque settings and airtight story, represents one last bit of TOS magic before the Star Trek franchise moves in a different direction.
This is a rare third season treat from CBS Digital.
The castle in the sky, originally a small model hung on a string, is replaced with a more intricate CG version allowing for closeups. (In fact, one of the establishing shots shows a small CG Droxine in a balcony before cutting to the live shot of the same). Meanwhile, a picture of a dry river basin in Saudi Arabia taken by Ed White during the first . walk in space (used in the original episode to give a perspective from the clouds) gets touched up. To achieve the highest quality for this, CBS Digital used a high def copy of the original photograph instead of the episode's original footage. One of the shots with this image includes a man falling, originally an obvious two dimensional cut-out matted into the shot. Here, the fall has been redone to look more realistic. The team also tinkers around with the background footage for an early soliloquy by Spock, using different shots and incorporating new CG images of the city.
The Enterprise and the planet themselves both look spectacular, with a new reddish globe looking much more lifelike and tying in better to the stage sets than the swirly red planet in the original (borrowed from "Where No Man Has Gone Before"). Unfortunately, a particularly slow fade to the ship near the end throws the off the remastered effort. (Slow fades from the characters to the ship create unusable footage for the remastered edition, since it's impossible to get the old Enterprise footage out of the shots). In the new version, Scotty actually "steps on" the new footage, saying "aye" after the editor has already moved on to the next scene. (This is an example of CBS Digital being too loyal to the original audio. Scotty's "aye" isn't really needed, and if CBS was to just drop this utterance, the new footage could be added with no issue. But they want to be able to put both the new and old versions on Blu-ray with the same audio track).
Overall, however, the team does a job the artists of Stratos would be proud of.