Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I touched on why I loved the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. I last wrote on why I loved the Kelvin timeline (my skin has recovered somewhat from the burns that I endured at those who vehemently disagreed with me). Next up, we look at what some consider to be the conclusion of the five year mission of James T Kirk on the USS Enterprise, Star Trek: the Animated Series.
On September 8, 1973 (exactly seven years after Star Trek premiered), the Animated Series warped onto television screens. At the time, animation was still largely seen as a format exclusive to children’s entertainment, so the vibe was a bit different. Death was not as common on these new adventures, episodes were a half hour long, and the theme song was different. The familiar includes most of the main cast. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Majel Barrett all reprised their roles, with several supporting characters being voiced by Doohan and Barrett. Only Walter Koenig was not brought back, due to budgetary restraints, although he made his own contribution by writing the episode “The Infinite Vulcan”. 22 episodes were made, and the show won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding Children’s Series in 1975. Many fans felt that they were allowed one last set of adventures with their beloved crew. While this series is not necessarily considered to be canon, there were many elements of it that became incorporated into the other series and films. I will confess that this series is the one that I am the least familiar with, but that has more to do with the fact that I was only able to watch the series in the recent years once they were available on DVD. That does not mean that I am not fond of the series. Here are the top 5 reasons why I love the animated series.
1. The fans were validated – in the reference book “Star Trek – Where No One Has Gone Before”, it was reported that in the early 70s NBC had reworked their Nelson ratings system. They reran the numbers and found that Star Trek, the show they had cancelled in 1969 due to low ratings, had actually been reaching their target audience and had really good numbers. For years NBC was baffled at the amount of fan mail that they had been receiving for Star Trek and were puzzled by the success of the show in syndication. The new ratings system solved that mystery; the show that they thought was a dead duck had actually been the golden goose, and they killed it. The Animated Series was, in part, NBC’s way of saying they had made a mistake and they were sorry. It turned out all along that the fans were right, and the Animated Series was their validation.
2. Sequels to Popular Stories – Ever wondered what happened to Cyrano Jones and the Tribbles? Did you want to return to the shore leave planet? How about wanting another encounter with Harry Mudd? Those were all answered in three separate episodes: “More Tribbles, More Troubles”, “Once Upon a Planet”, and “Mudd’s Passion”. Each fit within the new format wonderfully. We also saw return appearances of other favourite characters such as Sarek (voiced by Mark Leonard), Amanda Grayson, Kor, Koloth, Korax, and Commodore Wesley, and Lieutenant Kyle. The Guardian of Forever was also revisited. It was nice to see the familiar faces that had become so popular with the fans, although they were not all exactly as how they were last seen. The tribbles received an unintentional upgrade. Due to the colorblindness of director Hal Sutherland, who did not realize that the tribbles were not the intended grey, the tribbles appeared pink.
3. Yesteryear – In all of these essays I have written I haven’t used a specific episode as a reason. Well, that will change now. I think “Yesteryear” is one of the strongest episodes of all the series. I would rank it with great classics like “City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Inner Light”, and “The Visitor”. It involves time travel with the Guardian of Forever and has Spock going back in time to help his younger self. It was a great story that really develops the character of Spock, and we get to see Vulcan in a way that we haven’t yet.
4. Increasing the realm of the possible – animated series have a distinct advantage over a live action series, or at least back then they did. Things that directors and producers could only dream of doing but were unable due to budget and technology were now possible with animation. New technology and more alien-looking planetary designs were now achievable. We saw the first holodeck, which would later be adopted by TNG. Most notable in this department was a difference in the aliens. In the Original Series, the ship was almost exclusively manned by humans (Spock being the major exception). Now, we were able to have the Edosian navigator Lt. Arex, and the feline-esque Caitian operations officer M’Ress. Animation allowed more diversity in aliens on the ship in a way that had previously been impossible, and is still limited today in a live action show’s budget.
5. Nimoy’s stand – When the show was first pitched, the idea was to not bring back Nichols and Takei to reprise their roles. This was done to save money by having Doohan do all the male voices and Barrett to do all the female voices. When Leonard Nimoy heard of this, he made a stand that almost stopped the show from happening. Nimoy argued that what made Star Trek special was that it showed great diversity in the crew, most notably the presence of Uhura and Sulu. Nimoy said that Nichelle and George were essential to maintaining that spirit, and if they were not going to be a part of the show, then neither was he. Since nobody could imagine Star Trek without Spock, nor Spock without Nimoy, the producers gave in and Uhura and Sulu were voiced by the original actors. Say what you will, but Leonard Nimoy had power and knew how and when to use it. For that alone, I love what the Animated Series represented.
And there you go. There is one last entry in this series, and that is why I love the Motion Pictures (Prime Timeline, of course). Enjoy!