Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek: The Animated Series (or TAS) is often overlooked by the public, getting lost among all the whites noise that accompanies the franchise. Yet it is a surprisingly good series with a distinguished writing pedigree. The series was produced by Filmation in association with Paramount Television and ran for two seasons from 1973 to 1974 on NBC. A total of twenty-two half-hour episodes were produced set in the same timeline and universe as the original series. Often characters and situations that had featured in the live action show re-appeared and where expanded upon, such as Harry Mudd, the Guardian of Forever and of course Tribbles.
Most of the original cast returned to provide their vocal talents, apart from Walter Koenig. New characters were added, such as Lt. M’Ress, a female Caitian and Lieutenant Arex, whose Edosian species had three arms and three legs. The animated format afforded the writers greater freedom with regard to the scope of the stories. As a result Star Trek TAS features a lot more monsters and planetary vistas that TOS. As with the original series, the standard of writing for the show was above average. The fact that cartoons were still perceived to be the province of children at the time did not deter the narrative from tackling weighty issues. Perhaps we can attribute this to Gene Roddenberry’s guiding hands who would not allow any dilution to the core concept. As a result story editor D C Fontana maintained a high standard, with some material being written by such writers as Larry Niven and Paul Schneider who both penned several stories for the original show.
Although animation offered some advantages, its cost required some additional compromises. Thus Star Trek TAS has a lot of stock shots and minimalist animated sequences. Life support belts providing personal force fields were introduced to dispense with the need to draw complex spacesuits. Also because of musical rights issues, the iconic theme music could not be used, requiring a contrived reworking of it by Ray Ellis and Norm Prescott. However it works well, as do the music cues that were used throughout the series from the Filmation library. Overall, considering the general low standard of animated material at the times, Star Trek TAS exceeds expectations. Each episode covers a lot of ground throughout its twenty three minutes duration.
Curiously enough, despite Gene Roddenberry’s involvement, the show is not officially considered canon, which is a shame. Several episodes really do stand out due to their strong stories and character exploration. Yesteryear features Spock having to revisit his past to prevent his own death. It’s a rather thoughtful and sad tale that provides further details on the Vulcan’s troubled youth. More Troubles, More Tribbles sees the return of everyone’s favourite squeaking fur balls. This direct sequel to the episodes from TOS is fun as well as expanding more on Tribble physiology and Klingon’s inherent aversion to them. The Slaver Weapon perhaps is the most cerebral episode of them all. The story which centres on Spock, Uhura and Sulu touches upon wider issues in the galaxy, by way of the extinct slaver race and their legacy of artefacts. This is far from shallow storytelling and it’s a shame that aspects of the plot were not explored further in later episodes.
Star Trek TAS is a worthy addition to the overall franchise. It has all the hallmarks that made the original series so enjoyable. Despite having a somewhat minimalist animated style, the strong narrative and presence of the original cast makes this an engaging show. Each episode is very story focused and follows the established themes of the live action show. Its shame that more episodes were not made and I’ve often wondered why other popular series from the time, didn’t make a similar transition to animation. Perhaps TAS is just yet another example of Star Trek doing something different and breaking new ground.