Monday, January 29, 2007

Star Trek: The Animated Series... more Kirk, Spock and mini-skirts!


Around about the time I was 5 years old, I saw an episode of the animated Star Trek titled The Practical Joker. The only thing I remembered was the crew being trapped in a holographic “rec-room” with a raging snowstorm. Later, I managed to catch three more episodes: one where Kirk and Spock get turned into amphibians, another where Spock gets a giant clone, and finally an episode where the Enterprise ends up in a reversed universe. If you think webbed and giant crewmembers seem weird, the reversed universe episode was the most bizarre, with black stars, a white void and people who age backwards; i.e. you’re born elderly and then grow into an infant. Weird huh. My memories are so vague, I'm still not sure if I saw the cartoon or the original series first.


So, I liked the animated Star Trek well enough as a child but basically forgot about it, particularly after the movies and Next Generation showed up. Over the years, though, I found myself getting bored with the various incarnations of Star Trek. Sure the FX improved greatly, but the space anomalies, the techobabble, and the Rick Berman style became too much to take. Naturally, I became drawn to the original Star Trek series again for its simplicity, straightforward sci-fi, and cheesy fun. A few years ago, I picked up a used VHS tape of the animated Trek to satisfy the urge for more TOS episodes and to see if the old cartoon held up. It has Shatner, Nimoy, and most of the regular cast so it must be worth a look right? Well I have to say I was intrigued, especially because the video featured Harry Mudd, but I didn’t buy anymore and waited for the DVDs. Sure enough, after driving Star Trek into the ground with Enterprise, Paramount finally decided to release the animated series on DVD for Trek’s 40th anniversary as it had nothing else sell. So, with the help of an Xmas gift card I picked it up.

To be honest, I found the series quite fun to watch despite the clunky animation. The best part is hearing the voices of the original actors. But beyond the reunion, there’s all manner of weird new aliens, strange vistas, new technology, and odd adventures that would have been impossible in the original Star Trek. I particularly enjoyed the new crewmembers, the feline M’Ress and the six limbed Arex.
There’s a nice sense of continuity with the first Star Trek as it has several episodes that are sequels to original shows: Cyrano Jones and the tribbles return in More Tribbles, More Troubles; Harry Mudd’s back with a love drug in Mudd’s Passion; and the vacation planet from Shore Leave (remember the white rabbit) returns in Once Upon a Planet. The first two are notable as the actors who played Jones and Mudd reprise their roles for the cartoon versions. A prominent aspect of the animated Star Trek is that it opens things up visually. Star Trek TOS can get a little claustrophobic with the small sets, and forced perspective backgrounds. So the strange cartoon vistas on the animated show are a welcome respite from the usual cramped design. It’s about outer space so the feeling of wide-open space is an advantage the Animated Star trek has over the original.


Star Trek the Animated Series holds the distinction of being quasi canon, meaning that it has been mined for ideas for the later live action series but is not completely part of the ‘real’ history of the Star Trek Universe. The episode Yesteryear is often cited for its importance in developing many details of Vulcan society while fleshing out Spock’s family history and childhood. Other tidbits from TAS include: the appearance of Robert April the first captain of the Enterprise, first use of a ‘holodeck,’ the fist time Tiberius is mentioned as Kirk’s middle name, and the only “Beam us up Scotty” ever uttered. The series is also interesting for having the first Native American crewmember, Uhura taking command of the Enterprise and the appearance of the aquashuttle.


The Animated Star Trek may not be for everybody. There are goofy elements like the inflatable Enterprise decoy for example. Basically, you have to like Star Trek, and not hate 1970’s slow animation to get the most fun out of it. But TAS does extend the life of the original by capturing the iconic nature of Star Trek that we’re familiar with. The simple features of the animated crew do strangely look like the original cast and the sci-fi technology is consistent with the sleek designs of the live action Trek. Plus there is some really fun sci-fi concepts on the show. This is due mostly to the use of the original series ‘bible’ and from the participation of Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana.


Star Trek the Animated Series might be an acquired taste even for a trekkie, but if you long for more adventures with the original cast and crew, it’s just what the doctor ordered. Doctor McCoy that is. Plus, who wouldn’t want a six-limbed crewman on the bridge, right?

-Swinebread

17 comments:

Dean Wormer said...

I love the series and plan on picking it up but there must've been some licensing issue with Alexander Courage's awesome tunes and all of the scoring from the original series being noticably absent from TAS.

I would love to get a version of TAS that replaced the vanilla/ repetitive music they used in the series (I think there may only be two or three songs) with music from TOS.

THAT would be cool.

Swinebread said...

Yeah, besides the new title for the TAS. I think that the music was from other Filmation shows, I know for a fact the sound F/X were.

I never noticed the music being boring before... gee thanks

Pandabonium said...

You young whipper-snappers. I was a fan of the original series, but never saw the animated version.

Swinebread said...

I love the original tv shows too but I had to watch them as reruns... but I did see Star Trek the Motion Picture in the theater...

Dean Wormer said...

I never noticed the music being boring before... gee thanks.

Sorry.

I loved TOS even as a kid in reruns and watched TAS about the same time so the music stuck out.

Doesn't matter. It's still great for the reasons you brought up. I want to see the Mudd episode I read somewhere that one of the movies in the 80's came close to bringing that actor back.

Swinebread said...

Yup, that's true... but he died and that was that...

Don Snabulus said...

I never spent much time on TAS. I guess I viewed it as a lame attempt to make money at the time (my family was somewhat cynical I guess and I certainly picked up on that).

Perhaps it is worth another look.

Hypatia said...

Fun - strange I don't remember it. But the cartoon Andorian looks strangly familiar. Maybe I only watched one episode.

Seymour said...

Just rented some of those on VHS from 'Movie Madness'. It was strange being able to understand the actual plots this time as opposed to when I first saw them in the early seventies.

TAS is also notable for introduing the K'zinti into the Star Trek Universe. Larry Niven authored an episode where the K'zin are trying to find and decode a super weapon from a long-lost civilization.

When Armarillo Design Bureau came out with 'Star Fleet Battles' (a board game) in the very early Eighties, the K'zin where one of the races included.

I think there were finally legal issues between Niven and the game's publishers, which is a darn shame.

Overdroid said...

Star Fleet Battles, one of the geekiest of geeky wargames. I played it - so did Dean Wermer.

Star Trek the Animated series, one of the geekiest of geeky cartoons. I really wish I could watch these now, but I have to go watch heroes, battlestar galactica (the new and better version), and the new doctor who.

Swinebread said...

Snabulus It was really a desire to finish the original 5 year mission, as for making money well it was cancelled rather quickly… I guess TAS failed in that department.

hypatia things we watch as a child and forget have a kinda subconscious presence… it’s weird because it is like there are more episodes of the original series but not at the same time.

Seymour the Kzinti were going to appear on Enterprise if it had been renewed for a 5th season.

From http://www.memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Star_Trek:_Enterprise (scroll down)

It has been recently disclosed that if Star Trek: Enterprise had been renewed for a fifth season, Manny Coto wanted to do a Kzinti episode. Much of the concept for the episode "Kilkenny Cats" (which was based on a story by Neal and Jana Hallford) were to draw from the earlier concept Star Trek: Lions of the Night by Jimmy Diggs. D.C. Fontana and André Bormanis were also involved in the editing of the script.
To get the producers convinced a "rough rendering" of a Kzinti starship based on the movies era Dark Stalker was produced for possible use. The artist Josh Finney said that he was "... commissioned by writer Jimmy Diggs to design an 'Enterprise' era Kzinti cruiser as part of an overall pitch to Paramount Pictures." He further said "As for my ship design, truth be told, Paramounts people would've probably re-designed it a billion times before it hit the screen. But, still, I would've at least provided the starting point for the concept."
It is notable that the concept design of the Kzinti vessel draws considerably from the Kzinti fleet as presented in the Star Fleet Universe, which have a similar layout to the design shown, including the same triple warp nacelle layout and pod-mounted drone (missile) launchers - as can be seen at Wikipedia.


overdroid Yeah there are a lot of shows to watch and little time, the next time you swing by I’ll throw in a couple of the better episodes. I never played SFB though…

Dean Wormer said...

Dude, I have SOOOO much of that SFB stuff. I have the deluxe game, the original pocket games and a ton of the expansions which added carriers, fighters, etc.

Let me know if you want to see it some time.

Swinebread said...

It would be fun to see. GURPS published some SFB for rolepaying adventures. It's called Prime Directive

http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/primedirective/

Seymour said...

Revealing that the Kzin would have been introduced in season five of 'Enterprise' is surprising and alittle sad. They managed to bring in the Gorn in the last Eps. but although the story was way cool, the CGI, raptor-like Gorn left me cold (and not in a nice, reptillian way).

Its good to see so many SFB players in this forum. I played the hell out of that game, starting with the pocket versions and finally stopping when it was physically impossible to transport the rules without the aid of a fork-lift. Some of the first comp-programming my friends did was on the hit-allocation tables and the impulse charts. Wayyyy Geeky!

I always thought the game designers somehow reversed the Hydrans and Kzinnti fleets. I mean giving a race of giant, hunting cats stand-off drones as a primary weapon, while the peaceful, methane breathing Hydrans had close-in Fusion beams and the always popular Hell-Bore!? WTF? Never quite understood that.

My gaming group seems to love GURPS. We're kind of doing Transhuman Space now, but I think we'll switch to Delta Green. GURPS has tonnes of sourcebooks, which are now out of date since they upgraded to Version 4. Bastards. My favorite was GURPS 'Uplift' based on the David Brin novels. I love those books!

Swinebread said...

Wow, I didn't know the GURPS rules changed so much when the went to 4. I really only used them as source books for other rpgs. But I did play GURPS with overdroid a few times.

John said...

I was the exact target age when TAS orignally ran on Saturday mornings and I didn't watch it. Among my friends, we always thought Star Trek was a space show for grown-ups and so the cartoon wasn't of much interest, even though it was supposed to be for kids.

Now, though, I've seen a couple because my kids have watched them and I think they are pretty excellent kids TV from the 70s. There's a clunkiness to it that you are going to find in any show from that time, but much like Land of the Lost - another show built by Star Trek alumni - it's the concepts and stories that are important and TAS rises to the occasion from what I have seen.

It's too bad I didn't watch it back in the day, I think I would have totally loved it.

Swinebread said...

John When I was a kid I couldn't get enough Star Trek even when I was really young, funny that huh...