As a follow-up to my Challenge of the Superfriends series, I finally got to tackle a project that’s been long in the making: A full review, episode by episode, of the 1970s Star Trek: The Animated Series. It’s kind of the “forgotten” Star Trek series in a lot of ways and was kept out of the franchise’s canon until recent years. But it was also the official continuation of the 1960s live action series, starring most of the cast (as voice actors) and even some returning guest stars — and it was the only Star Trek TV series we got between The Original Series’ finale in 1969 and The Next Generation’s debut in 1987.
Even though I was a massive original series Trekkie when I was a kid, I never actually saw more than one or two of these episodes in my youth. This is because it never came on TV, at least that I ever noticed, and it wasn’t like you could just order a full VHS set of the show from Amazon back in 1985. I did read the stories, as they republished them in a book series called “Star Trek Log.”
The Animated Series came out in 1973 and 1974 and did moderately well, even netting an Emmy. But it was also produced by Filmation, which bumped up the cheese factor considerably. I’m not really going to go into the history here (Memory Alpha is great for that), but rather wanted to approach this from a more-or-less fresh perspective.
So let’s explore all 22 episodes — the good, the bad, and the really, really weird — as we boldly go where no mutant has gone before!
We’re going to start with Season 1 Episode 1, “Beyond the Farthest Star.” There are two things that instantly leap out at me during the opening credits: I actually do like the animated design of the Enterprise, but they absolutely butchered the theme song with a totally schmaltzy, ’70s rendition that is a travesty to humankind. Seriously, listen to it. It’s like they’re about to kick off a variety show for the Bradys or something.
Kirk’s captain’s log tells us that they’re on the outer fringe of the galaxy (okay…) heading toward “Questar M-17” to investigate some mysterious radio transmissions. Then we get this interesting vantage point of the bridge:
Kids, buy your Playmation Enterprise toy set today! That three-armed alien there is Lt. Arex, who took over for Chekov during the series thanks to the studio being too tight-fisted with the budget to afford the full cast. Walter Koenig was the ONLY regular cast member excluded, however, and he was reportedly super-steamed about it. I mean, wouldn’t you be? Koenig did get to write one episode as a consolation prize.
The Enterprise gets caught up in some force that sweeps it faster and off-course, and Spock gives his expert analysis on the situation.
What, was “super-duper gravity” taken? The ship starts careening toward impact with some a dead star, and Spock decides that he’d rather spend his last two minutes alive providing a running countdown clock.
“Forty-two seconds… forty-one….” “FOR THE LOVE OF KHAN SHUT UP SPOCK.”
In all seriousness, I thought this scene was rather well-done. It’s suitably tense as the Enterprise can’t pull out of the “hypergravity” and instead attempts to go faster in order to attain orbital velocity. There’s a fantastic shot of the ship against the enormity of the planet that I posted up there.
There they discover another spaceship, only this one is absolutely huge, damaged, looks like jellyfish holding hands, and has been orbiting this place for 300 million years. Give or take. Spock says that despite radio messages coming from it, it’s impossible because there are no life signs and its temperature is “absolute zero.”
Absolute zero? Absolute zero. Spock, give me your science badge for the day. You’re in a time-out.
The crew spends a few minutes both appreciating the “grace and beauty” of the ship design while also trying to figure out what it is. It actually comes across as a team of explorers doing their job. Well-done, episode.
Spock, Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy beam onto the surface of the ship with life support belts — pretty handy, those — and there they discover that the pods look very much like what insects might make. Even the metal was “spun” rather than erected the normal way. Spock is really grooving on it, too:
Ooh yeah. That’s some quality metal. Why don’t you come with me to my lab and I’ll spectra-analyze you, baby?
Anyway, all of the pods on this alien craft were ruptured from the inside-out, leading the away team to speculate that the crew deliberately destroyed the ship themselves.
One thing that’s quickly apparent in this episode is how little any of the characters move, save for eyes shifting back and forth and maybe their mouths flapping. This extreme economy of movement was for budgetary reasons, but I can’t help think that everyone’s been petrified somehow. It brings to mind those “animated comic books” that are sometimes done.
Inside the alien ship, the crew find a still-operational computer — no need for a 300-million-year warranty on this bad boy, no ma’am — and they gradually figure out that the ship was designed to receive and store energy. For some reason.
They come upon a closed door, at which point — and I am not making this up — Spock whips out his phaser without saying a word and blasts the lock, as one does:
“IMMA EXPLORER CAPTAIN!” “What the Tribble? You maniac!”
I mean, he could’ve reached out and touched it, but why bring phasers if not for alien ship pokin’?
As they continue to explore this eerily quiet ship, McCoy is certain they’re being watched. And may I point out that Scotty is drawn totally stacked? He’s like a wrestler right before he goes to fat.
So they find the control room and get sealed in (transporters and comms are, naturally, inaccessible). At this point two things happen more or less simultaneously: someone starts blasting at the door from the other side, and an alien communication pops up on the screen. Spock translates that the ship had some sort of hostile life form that was too dangerous to bring to civilized worlds, so they decided to head to this dying sun instead and barricade themselves into this room. It’s giving me total Alien vibes, which is a good thing.
And the alien means that literally, because in the next moment, the door is breached and all kinds of 1970s explosions happen for a good ten seconds. Fortunately, they’re beamed out of there the second the door is gone.
And the hero of the moment is Mister Kyle, a character from the original series who was played by John Winston but is voiced here by Jimmy Doohan. I never, ever knew this before today, but Kyle came back to play the Reliant’s comm officer in Star Trek II. I guess I’m not quite the Trekkie I thought I was!
Anyway, nobody’s buying the mustache, dude. Everyone’s laughing at you behind your back, and that includes the alien with that weird extra arm dangling out of his chest.
But he’s not so much a hero after all, because he’s somehow beamed up the hostile alien force as well, which appears as a blob of green gas. I mean, that could’ve been Scotty’s fault after chili night, but I agree with Kirk that it’s probably paramount to beam it back. But Kyle just stands there like a dweeb, so Kirk, in a hilarious moment, body-checks him aside:
“How was your day, dear?” “Not so great. Captain slammed me into the wall when I didn’t act fast enough.” “Oh dear!” “Lost two teeth, I did.” “Wish you would’ve lost the mustache…” “What’s that dear?” “Nothing!”
It’s too late, and now the green gas is in the vents of a starship that apparently doesn’t know what quarantine protocols are all about. It then laughs evilly from the communication box, because it’s having the best day it’s had in over 300 million years.
Back on the bridge, the crew activates the automatic bridge defense system (which looks like a sea urchin on the ceiling) and prepares to blow up the ship if things go south in a hurry. Everyone’s seriously cavalier about activating the self-destruct. But I’m not knocking the move; Kirk is being proactive as much as he can be in a largely unknown situation.
Life support in the ship starts shutting down and something goes awry in engineering. Kirk and McCoy head down there to find Scotty trapped by the giant core hatch. Not really sure how he got himself half-in and half-out of the core like that, but it does look a little painful.
Even after they get him out, the Enterprise continues to go haywire. Phasers destroy the alien ship (with one measly little blast, I might add), more life support goes offline, and the computers are taken over at rapid speed. Spock rigs up a shield around the navigation console just in time to prevent the gas alien from taking the Enterprise away from here. It gets a little miffy at this point and starts blasting everyone on the bridge.
Oh hey, not so nice when someone else is using the pokin’ phaser on you, is it, Spock?
The crew figures out that this energy being can easily control any electrical system and reproduce via mitosis, meaning that if it gets near other starships or planets, everyone is doomed. So while the hijacked ship demands they plot a course for the center of the galaxy, Spock and Scotty computer a slingshot maneuver using only their minds.
The Enterprise speeds right for the dead star and the alien freaks out, thinking that they’re going to destroy the ship. It — somehow — leaves the Enterprise and envelops the dead sun instead before realizing that it had been tricked. As the ship heads off, it begs them not to leave him: “Don’t leave me… so lonely!” But they ignore it and head off “beyond the farthest star of the galaxy” to engage in some “starcharting.” Um, that’s going to be a quick mission if you’re beyond all the stars, but nevermind me.
And that’s the first episode! To my incredibly great surprise, this was a really good episode of Star Trek, period. It’s well-paced, has some very striking visuals, and kept me engrossed in the plot as it developed. I mean, it’s nothing mind-blowingly new, but I think they pulled this off rather well.