This planet-based episode featuring Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on a darkened set with a nonspeaking alien is often cited as proof that Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley can carry an episode with no more than a bit of dialogue.
While there's an element of truth to the legend, it does gloss over a fine script featuring some of the richest character interplay among the big three and gives no credit to a uniquely brilliant performance by Kathryn Hays who uses her entire body to say more than most other guest stars do with words. Yet for all the episode's strengths, it can be a difficult episode to watch, with our heroes randomly tortured by a pair of aliens who seem like distant cousins of the original pilot's Talosians. It's an episode that's endured more than enjoyed, though some of the touching moments in between the sadism make it worthwhile. (And George Dunning's sensitive score helps sell every one of them).
Unfortunately, Star Trek fan and amateur writer Joyce Muskat doesn't give it much of a plot, nor does she know how to pay it all off in the last act, unable to take the episode's threads and themes and tie them all together for a bold statement at the end. (It would be interesting if the episode were to turn out to be an allegory for the psychological testing of animals, although that would probably be a bit too daring for a 1960s television The climax she does come up with is based on a silly explanation for the events that doesn't make too much sense when you think about it (a perpetual problem for the third season) and ultimately hurts the episode on the whole.
Nonetheless, "The Empath" is a unique stage play-like offering that fans of the series will want to see at least once.
With most of the episode set underground, there's little for CBS Digital to do other than the usual establishing shots of the Enterprise and a planet (originally a reuse of "The Deadly Years" orbital footage). However, we do get a more realistic shot of a star with solar flares (with the original simply reusing the star in "Operation: Annhiliate") and the team smoothes out the make-up transitions that the episode uses to illustrate the titular character's healing powers.