Wayback Machine: Star Trek Animated Series


picWhat great news that the Star Trek franchise might soon return to an animated form (as reported on CBN by publisher Matt McGloin), for there was no more intelligent cartoon on during the early 1970s (with a nod to The Bugs Bunny Show) than Star Trek: The Animated Series, which was sandwiched well between the cancellation of the original and the beginning of the movies.

People think the James Bond movies had novelties for its franchise? Let me tell you about some cartoon-firsts:

  • • A personal force field technology known as the life support belt was seen only in Star Trek: The Animated Series. In addition to supplying the wearer with the appropriate atmosphere and environmental protection, it permitted the animators to simply draw the belt and yellow glow around the existing characters instead of having to redraw them with an environmental suit. A version of the life support belt later appeared in an early Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, The Peacekeepers, where they were referred to as “field-effect suits.”
  • • The episode, “The Lorelei Signal,” provides a rare instance in early Trek in which a female took (temporary) command of a starship. Due to the incapacitation of the male members of the crew, Uhura assumes command of the Enterprise from Scotty.
  • • “The Lorelei Signal” and “The Infinite Vulcan,” the latter written by Walter Koenig (Chekov), are rare occurrences where Captain Kirk comes close to actually saying, “Bean me up, Scotty” (long erroneously believed to be a Star Trek catch phrase), when he commands, “Beam us up, Scotty.” The film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (y’know, the whale movie!) arguably comes closer to it by having Kirk say, “Scotty, beam me up.”
  • • I think of this as a “cartoon-first”: An anti-pollution Public Service Announcement was created for non-profit “Keep America Beautiful” campaign featuring the Star Trek: The Animated Series characters and original cast voices. In the ad, the Enterprise encounters the “Rhombian Pollution Belt.” The ad ran during Saturday morning network programming during the series’ run. If memory serves, at least one other PSAwas produced for the American Dental Association, featuring Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel.

The best part of this animated series, besides its intelligent writing, was the voice casting. The series featured most of the original cast performing the voices for their characters, except for Koenig as Chekov, who was omitted because the show’s budget could not afford the complete cast. He was replaced by two animated characters who made semi-regular appearances: Lieutenant Arex, whose Edosian species had three arms and three legs; and Lt. M’Ress, a female Caitian, James Doohan and Majel Barrett, besides performing their characters Scotty and Nurse Chapel, performed the voices of Arex and M’Ress, respectively.

Lore has it that Filmation was originally only going to use the voices of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Doohan and Barrett. Doohan and Barrett would perform the voices of Sulu and Uhura. Nimoy refused to sign up to lend his voice to the series unless Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were added to the cast, claiming (and rightly so, IMHO) that Sulu and Uhura were of importance as they were proof of the ethnic diversity of the 23rd century and should not be recast.

Koenig was not forgotten, and as mentioned before wrote an episode of the series, becoming the first Star Trek actor to write a Star Trek story. Koenig’s “The Infinite Vulcan” had plot elements of the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed” blended into it.

I was in high school when this series aired, so I was able to appreciate it from at least a young adult perspective. Many fans, including me, believe that some of these animated episodes were better than the original. And certainly the writing of the series benefited from a Writers Guild of America East strike in 1973, which did not apply to animation.

A few episodes are especially notable due to contributions from well-known sci-fi authors:

  • • “More Tribbles, More Troubles” was written by David Gerrold as a sequel to his famous “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Here, Cyrano Jones is rescued from the Klingons,  bringing with him a genetically-altered breed of tribbles which do not reproduce but do grow extremely large. (It is later discovered that these are really clusters of tribbles who function as a single tribble, and it is decided that the large numbers of smaller tribbles are preferable to the larger ones.) The Klingons, due to their hatred of tribbles, are eager to get Jones back because he stole a creature they created: a predator called a “glommer” that feeds on tribbles. This episode was originally written with the intention of being an episode of the live-action original series during the third season, but this was vetoed by Fred Freiberger, who wanted serious sci-fi episodes instead, stressing that Star Trek is not a comedy.
  • • “Yesteryear” is a time-travel episode in which Spock uses The Guardian of Forever, a time gateway from the original series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” (one of my favorite Trek titles), to travel to his own childhood past. This is the only animated Trek episode written by original series and later Next Generation writer D.C. Fontana. This was the first actual appearance of Spock’s pet sehlat, first mentioned in “Journey to Babel” and finally named I-Chaya in this episode. One element from Yesteryear that has become canon by depiction within Star Trek: The Original Series is the Vulcan city of ShiKahr, depicted in a background scene wherein Kirk, Spock and McCoy walk across a natural stone bridge (first depicted in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) in the remastered “Amok Time.”
  • • Larry Niven’s “The Slaver Weapon,” adapted from his own short story “The Soft Weapon.” It includes some elements from his Known Space mythos such as the Kzinti and the Slavers. This is the only Kirk-era TV or movie story in which Kirk didn’t appear. This episode also has the distinction of being the only animated episode where anyone dies or is killed onscreen.
  • • “The Magicks of Megas-tu” by Larry Brody sends the Enterprise to the center of the galaxy. Its crew find themselves befriended by a devil-like alien named Lucien, whom they must defend against accusations that he has brought evil to the world of Megas-tu.

Star Trek: The Animated Series was a wonderful show for its brief 22 episodes (I believe) and affected not only the franchise but the company that made it, Filmation, in very positive ways.

A new Trek animated series, if one should come, certainly has big shoes to fill. Hopefully, that will be no tribble … er uh, trouble! (No comedy!)