Could I truly call myself a Star Trek fan without watching this series from the 70s? I felt I was missing out on some classic Trek, so what better time than quarantine to watch all 22 episodes!
There are a few changes in this series vs TOS, although chronologically it would only be a year later. Due to cost-cutting, Walter Koening was not invited back, with Nichelle Nichols and George Takei barely making the cut due to Leonard Nimoy advocating for them. Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett- Gene Roddenberry’s IRL wife, who would later play Troi’s mother in TNG) gets a larger role, and two unlikely crewmembers are added- a feline woman and a strange three armed long-necked alien.
At first not considered canon, the series is now considered the fourth season that TOS never got, and information found in it is considered part of the Star Trek chronology, with references to characters and situations in future Trek series. Warning- some spoilers! But really, are you reading this post truly worried about learning plot points? 😉
Beyond the Farthest Star
As the first episode of the series, thus establishing the caliber of this series, it wasn’t good. The Enterprise is being pulled into the orbit of a dead star. An evil non-corporeal alien entity tries to trap the ship there, but the crew is able to engage a slingshot maneuver and escape. The animation took some getting used to, as the characters are simply, if not crudely, drawn caricatures of the crew from the 60s show. The space shots were fun, with some psychedelic coloring.
Spock enters the Guardian of Forever to correct a time discrepancy in his childhood. He masquerades as a distant cousin and helps his young self correct the problem that will right the timeline. This was a surprisingly poignant episode that showed young Spock’s homelife and the bullying he endured by his peers for being half-human. This storyline was replicated in the 2009 Kelvin Star Trek movie that had a scene of Spock’s childhood that obviously was inspired by this episode. This proved to be one of the better stories.
One of Our Planets Is Missing
A massive space cloud is destroying planets and is on course to destroy a planet that has a Federation colony on it. Aiming the ship into the cloud, they discover that this cloud is actually a living entity so Spock mind-melds with it to show this creature that it is destroying life. The creature then decides to find lunch in another part of the uninhabited galaxy and the Enterprise has saved the planet from destruction.
The Lorelei Signal
Uhura and Chapel kick some ass! The ship is nearing a Burmuda Triangle of space where several ships have disappeared in a 27-year cycle. On a planet nearby they discover a race of beautiful women aliens who lure men to their planet to suck their life force from them. As the males are immobilized Uhura and Chapel are able to save the day, plus find a hospitable planet for the women to move to where they can lead regular lives and meet men without having to kill them. I was glad that the women crew members were able to get a significant storyline and didn’t have to depend on the men to save the day.
More Tribbles, More Troubles
Klingons HATE tribbles so when they are at risk of being overrun with them. Kirk reluctantly works with Cyrano Jones, an intergalactic trader. Jones knows how to neuter them, yet the Tribbles still grow to ungainly sizes and are still a threat. When the Klingons (who still don’t look anything like Worf from TNG and what we have come to expect them to look like) threaten the Enterprise with a weapon, Kirk is able to negotiate a treaty by giving the Klingons a Glommer, a creature that feeds on Tribbles. Here the Tribbles are pink, which is yet another animation mistake.
When the Enterprise finds a small private ship they think they have found Winston, a human philanthropist missing for five years, and reunites him with his fiance who happens to work on the ship. But he is actually a Vendorian, an alien species that can shapeshift, and the real Winston is dead. But because he absorbed the feelings of Winston, he begins to fall in love with Winston’s former fiance and he rebels against his Romulan captors. This was actually a touching episode and made you think about loving someone for who they are not what they look like.
The Infinite Vulcan
Written by Walter Koening (Chekov) who unjustly was not in this series due to budget constraints, this was a rather convoluted episode. While on an away mission, Sulu is poisoned by a plant, but the plant-like creatures residing there save him. The crew discovers the planet was damaged by a plague brought in by a human scientist escaping the Eugenics War (which was a war led by Khan in Earth’s past). A clone of this scientist kidnaps Spock and makes a giant clone of him, but the crew convinces him that the war he escaped is no longer a threat. The two clones remain on the planet to restore the plant civilization, leaving the regular crew to head back to the Enterprise. So, a giant Spock is left behind???
The Magicks of Megas-tu
The Enterprise encounters an alien species that for a time lived on Earth, and set off the Salem Witch Trials when their alien skills were perceived as dark magic. The alien Lucian puts them through a trial similar to what happened in Salem, but their evolved humanity shows him that he needs to forgive them. His form is revealed to look like a cloven devil, so the connection is made that our mythology is based on prior alien contact. This episode had a noble idea but the follow-through was messy and is an example as to why this series is often laughed at.
Once Upon a Planet
Crew members are looking forward to some shore leave at a planet known for being similar to an amusement park. But the caretaker has died, leaving things to go awry for the crew who beam down. For a time Uhura is kidnapped, as the sentient computer resents its duty and rebels. But Kirk teaches it to be a good boy and to enjoy obeying. This episode rubbed me the wrong way- as this computer and the robots are tricked into being subservient again.
Harry Mudd is back with a new con- a love potion! Mudd is an iconic character that only appeared twice in TOS, and once in this animated series. Here he preys on Nurse Chapel who has a crush on Spock and soon he falls in love with her once the portion actually works. But the potion has a kickback turning love to hate, and once again Mudd is sent to the brig. I enjoyed that Discovery had him in two episodes plus a Short Trek, and I am hoping the Pike series will use this character who is now portrayed by Rainn Wilson.
The Terratin Incident
This was an amusing episode where a mishap causes the crew to start shrinking. They desperately try to fix the situation before they become too small to use the controls. This is an example in which the animation was an effective way to have this type of story that would have been impossible to film in live-action at the time.
The Time Trap
The narrative of entering yet another space Burmuda Triangle was utilized again, with the Enterprise and a Klingon ship both being drawn into a pocket of the universe in which other ships have become trapped in over the eons. Descendents of these crews have formed an alliance and have formed the Elysian Council. Although these aliens say there is no escape, we all know Kirk will figure a way out!
The Ambergris Element
While on a water planet, Kirk and Spock are in an accident that makes them become water breathers and they discover a lost city under the sea, very similar to our fabled Atlantis. There is an amusing scene where Kirk and Spock are in a water tank on board the Enterprise where Kirk expresses he can’t captain while in a fish tank. The duo work with this planet’s swimming aliens and are able to fix themselves and save the civilization from ruin. Barrett voiced all the extra females in the episode and it was distracting to have them all sound so similar.
The Slaver Weapon
This episode concentrated completely on an away mission with Spock, Uhura and Sulu- so it became my favorite, as those three happen to be my favorites from the TOS crew. While transporting a relic from an ancient alien race, they encounter the war-like Kzinti, who look like felines wearing some groovy pink uniforms. These aliens became canon in the new Picard series when Riker mentioned that the Federation is “having some trouble with the Kzinti.” When I watched Picard the quote meant nothing to me, so I find it amusing that a few short weeks later I discovered the meaning of this Easter egg comment.
The Eye of the Beholder
Telepathic aliens put Kirk, Spock and Bones in a zoo when they go to a new planet to rescue crew members from another Federation ship. But the crew members work together to send messages to the aliens and convince them to release them. Scotty plays an important role when a baby alien is beamed onto the Enterprise and he communicated with it before reuniting the baby with the parents.
Spock and Kirk are called upon to join a motley group of other aliens to retrieve a stolen religious artifact. Oh man- this series creates the most ridiculous aliens! They obviously felt they could design animated aliens that could not be shown on a live-action series due to the cost of special effects. Even nowadays with better special effects, these aliens have not been replicated into series, because they were so damn absurd. Plus there was an additional laugh of an alien woman who blatantly puts the moves on Kirk.
The Pirates of Orion
Spock contracts a deadly disease and the Enterprise arranges to rendezvous with another ship to get him a cure. Some space pirates intercept the ship and Kirk has to negotiate with the deceptive Orians to get the medicine that Spock needs. Guess what- he wins.
This was a surprisingly streamlined episode, that despite its laughable colony-creature (its body parts can separate and move on their own) actually had a good message. Always a Uhura fan, I liked how she had a moment taking the helm of the ship and demanding crew members follow her orders as procedure dictated they do.
This episode also included Kirk saying “There are times, Mr. Spock when I think I should have been a librarian.” Spock observes “The job of librarian would be no less challenging, captain, but it would undoubtedly be a lot less dangerous.” As a librarian myself, I enjoyed the idea that my job is as challenging as a spaceship’s Captain!
The Practical Joker
The computer gets a virus and becomes a practical joker. Not a fan of slapstick humor- this episode was really lackluster for me. That Barrett voiced the computer is a precursor that she would voice most onboard computer interfaces throughout several of the future Star Trek shows. The highlight of the episode was seeing Kirk wear a shirt that says Kirk is a Jerk that I have seen on memes but not understood the context until now. And yes, sometimes he is.
Dr. McCoy is accused of causing a plague on an alien planet 19 years ago and is put in jail. Determined to prove his innocence, Kirk finds an alien whom he helped during that era, but then the entire ship falls ill. When I think the aliens on this series can’t get any stranger, TAS proves me wrong!
How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
This episode was problematic and included the trope of gods-were-really-aliens again. Within the first minute, I clued in that a crew member at the helm that we never met before, Ensign Walking Bear, was going to be important, yet a one and done character. He recognizes an attacking ship as looking like Kukulkan, a Mayan deity since he is Comanche and studied other Native American cultures. This alien beams Kirk, Walking Bear and others to his ship where it is revealed that this alien visited Earth in the past and influenced the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations, but feels rejected as they did not meet his expectations of gratitude. Kirk convinces this alien that humans have grown since he last visited and to let them go and continue evolving. I think this line of thinking reinforces some misguided people who believe that some non-white civilizations couldn’t have developed as advanced as cultures as they had at one time and thus must have had outside influence. The title of this episode refers to Shakespeare’s quote from King Lear “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / To have a thankless child” which is a good quote but quite derogatory here.
The Counter-Clock Incident
This last episode was also cringe-worthy and reinforced that the show needed to end. Traveling on the Enterprise is Commodore Robert April who was the first Enterprise captain and his wife Dr. April as they prepare for mandatory retirement at age 75. They encounter a supernova that pulls them into an opposite universe and they began to de-age. Spock and the April’s maintain the ship since they are older and aren’t turned into babies like the rest of the crew, although they too grow younger. The problems I had with this episode were the ageism and sexism- Dr. April is referred to as Mrs. April repeatedly and they are not utilized to help until the end when the need for their assistance was quite obvious from the beginning.
My youngest son asked what was worse- this series or the Star War’s Holiday Special. I had to pause and think because they are both unique and horrible in their own ways. But these last two episodes pushed me to pick this series. I must keep in mind that this series was a product of its time- the early 70s was still mired in old-fashioned stereotypes. But the crude animation torpedoed this series, as their numerous continuity mistakes were obvious, and their stock footage (there should be a drinking game for how many times the same footage was used of Spock looking into a viewfinder on the bridge) was distracting. Some of the storylines were more nuanced than others but that begs the question- was this series geared for children or adults? But overall, I am so glad I watched The Animated Series. It was an interesting look into Star Trek’s uneven history and there were nuggets of good storytelling found in it. I now await Discovery’s third season and was thrilled with the recent announcement that Captain Pike, Number One and a young Spock would be getting their own series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. In the meantime- Live Long and Prosper!