Monday, July 11, 2011


“But wait, there’s MORE!”

That’s about as appropriate a way as any to describe Star Trek: The Animated Series, particularly when you’ve just gotten through watching Seasons One, Two, and Three of the original TV series. It’s a piece of Star Trek history that’s often forgotten or dismissed, as if there was nothing new going on with the franchise between “Turnabout Intruder,” the last original-series episode, which first aired on June 3, 1969, and the December 7, 1979 premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

In reality, though, the animated series, which ran for 22 episodes from 1973 to 1974, brought Star Trek back to television, albeit in an altered format. (In addition to being animated, its episodes were only a half-hour long.) Overall, it did a fairly good job continuing the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Doctor McCoy, and the rest of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, essentially picking up where the original series left off. With Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry on hand as Executive Consultant and approving all of the scripts, original-series story editor/writer D.C. Fontana serving as Associate Producer/Story Editor, scripts written by many of the original show’s writers (including David Gerrold, Stephen Kandel, Samuel A. Peeples, Margaret Armen, Paul Schneider, and Fontana herself), and, perhaps most importantly, voices provided by the entire original cast (with the exception of Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekov), the animated series had a definite ring of authenticity to it. 

For fans who had watched and loved the original series during its initial broadcast run or its early airings in syndication, the animated series was no doubt the return of a dear old friend—a little different in some aspects, but basically the same, and still lovable.

Just as importantly, it introduced Star Trek to a whole new audience. Aired on Saturday mornings, children who hadn’t seen the original series, or perhaps weren’t even aware of its existence, were now exposed to the characters and the universe in animated form, thus giving the franchise the opportunity to increase its fan base. And it totally worked! The animated series was my first exposure to Star Trek. Several years later, when I started watching the original series with my older siblings, I was familiar with the main characters and had the background knowledge to understand the basics of the show. When it comes to franchise building, that kind of indoctrination is invaluable. (George Lucas clearly understands this, which is why he’s never shied away from extending the Star Wars brand to the world of animation, be it with the Droids and Ewoks shows of the 1980s or the current Clone Wars series.) 

But the animated Star Trek is not without flaws. Produced by Filmation, a production company that, to put it politely, was no Disney, the series was saddled with fairly limited animation. Owing to a modest budget, the same shots of the main characters were used over and over again, as were their motions. This led to a slew of continuity errors. Plus, the same two or three pieces of stock background music played repeatedly in each and every episode, which becomes quite tedious after a while. In some episodes, shots of the Enteprise moving slowly through space linger on and on for no discernible reason, totally killing the pacing—perhaps the episode ran short and the producers were trying to pad it out? And for some reason, the original Star Trek theme music composed by Alexander Courage is absent, replaced by a new piece that tries to capture the feel and mood of Courage’s without duplicating it too closely.

Most significantly, many of the episodes lack an emotional center. This is due, no doubt, to the half-hour format and the Saturday morning time slot. The show simply couldn’t have as much depth and complexity as the original series. The animated episodes are mostly plot-driven, with little exploration or further development of the main characters. (That said, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Nurse Chapel get to do more here than they ever did in the original show—Uhura even gets to command the Enterprise on more than one occasion—and two new alien crew members are introduced: the three-armed Lieutenant Arex, navigator... 

and the feline Lieutenant M’Ress, Relief Communications Officer.)  

Plus, there’s a lot of regurgitation of ideas that had already been explored in the original series. Let me put it this way: if you ever saw “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, the original-series episode in which the crew encounters the alien being who was known on Earth as the Greek god Apollo, you really need never watch the animated episodes “The Magicks of Megas-tu” (featuring the alien who served as the inspiration for Lucifer) and “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” (featuring Kukulkan, an alien worshipped on Earth as a god by the ancient Mayan and Aztec peoples).

But I would argue that even at its worst, Star Trek: The Animated Series is more watchable than such original-series turkeys as “The Alternative Factor” and “That Which Survives.” The stories, for the most part, are solid, surprisingly sophisticated, and occasionally very amusing, and they never, ever talk down to the audience. This is most certainly not “Star Trek for kids.” The concepts, the plots, and the dialogue are all in keeping with the original series—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if kids watched these animated episodes with a dictionary next to them. And you get to see exotic locales and alien life-forms that could never have been attempted in the live-action original.

The one lingering controversy—if that’s the right word—about the animated series is whether it’s part of the official Star Trek canon. Supposedly, in the late 1980s, Roddenberry declared that the animated series was not canonical and should not be referenced in any future Star Trek works. I’ve never been able to find out exactly why. 

Some speculate that it was just a matter of Roddenberry having not liked the series—even though he worked on it, having approved all of the scripts, made suggestions, contributed key story ideas, met with writers, etc. 

Others say the decree really came from Roddenberry’s assistant/“research consultant,” Richard Arnold, who was alleged to have issued many such sweeping—sometimes baffling—edicts affecting Star Trek continuity, all in Roddenberry’s name. Roddenberry’s health was declining at the time and he was becoming less and less involved with the franchise. Supposedly, Arnold, whose main responsibility was to approve all of the licensed Star Trek materials (novels and comic books, for example) on behalf of Roddenberry, let that authority go to his head and was really making all of these decisions. And he was doing it under the guise of it all coming straight from Roddenberry. David Gerrold has said publicly that he believes it was Richard Arnold who deemed the animated series non-canonical, for whatever reason.

Recently, however, I read a pretty convincing theory that it was actually a legal issue that led to the “decanonization” of the animated series. 

Supposedly, when Filmation was shut down in the late 1980s, the legal status of Star Trek: The Animated Series was unclear—no one was sure who owned it. So, until this legal stuff was cleared up, the simplest solution was to declare that elements exclusive to the animated series (Arex and M’Ress, for example, who at the time were appearing regularly in the Star Trek comic-book series published by DC) could no longer be used or even referred to. The theory goes that Richard Arnold—who never liked the animated series anyway—was told to declare it off-limits, but never told exactly why. He happily obliged, assuming that it was because Roddenberry no longer liked the show. Eventually, Paramount ended up owning the series entirely. Roddenberry died in 1991 and Arnold was fired by Paramount immediately thereafter. Under those circumstances, any question about the canonicity of the series would presumably be moot. But for whatever reason, the show was never officially declared canonical again. However, characters, alien races, planets, and background information established in the animated series have long since made their way back into the “official” Star Trek continuity, which suggests that it’s an accepted part of the whole once again.

As far as I’m concerned, the animated series is absolutely part of the official canon.  It doesn’t contradict or conflict with the original series (or Star Trek in general) in any major way. The two major discrepancies—the crew wearing life-support belts instead of spacesuits when visiting inhospitable environments and the original-series Enterprise having a holodeck like the one seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation—can easily be explained away as examples of technology that was in use for a short time but deemed impractical, unreliable, or in need of further refinement.

And if that’s not enough of an argument, this is: The show was produced with the active participation of Gene Roddenberry, with hands-on guidance from D.C. Fontana, and with many of the best writers of the original series contributing scripts. And with the exception of Walter Koenig, the entire original cast was back to do the voices. That makes it Star Trek. Official, canonical Star Trek.

With my eight-year-old daughter Maddie and I having completed our journey through all three seasons of the original series, we immediately plowed through the animated version. Maddie’s knowledge of Star Trek was shaped solely by the original, so I was curious to see how she would react to watching it in animated form. As before, she and I will focus on the most notable installments—15 out of the 22. Episodes that Maddie alone considered worthy of comment are noted with an “MG,” my picks are noted with a “GG,” and ones that we both felt warranted discussion are noted with an “MG/GG.”

“Beyond the Farthest Star” (GG)

In orbit around a dead star, the Enterprise encounters an enormous alien spacecraft at least 300 million years old. The seemingly abandoned vessel turns out to be under the control of an ancient, malevolent energy creature that drove the alien crew to destroy themselves long ago. Escaping to the Enterprise and threatening Kirk’s crew, the entity intends to take over the starship and use it to finally leave the remote area of space in which it has been trapped for so many millennia.   

Written by Samuel A. Peeples, who also wrote the excellent second pilot episode of the original series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” this is sort of a precursor to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in that it features the crew encountering a huge alien object of unknown origin. Even some of the imagery in this episode seems to anticipate the first movie. Here’s a shot from the episode, of an Enterprise landing party exploring the alien ship:

And here’s a shot from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, of a landing party heading out to confront the entity known as V’ger:

The scale of the alien vessel and the design work on display in this episode could never have been attempted in the original series, so it gets points for doing something bigger and more visually impressive than had ever really been done before on Star Trek. But the episode overall is a bit slow-moving and talky, and it has an abrupt ending that somewhat undercuts the poignancy it’s aiming for. For that matter, the notion of a deadly alien energy being taking over the ship by embedding itself in the main computer is a bit too reminiscent of the original-series episode “Wolf in the Fold.” But the alien’s final, sad, desperate plea not to be left alone in the dark cold silence of deep space is an undeniably strong moment—something you wouldn’t expect to see in a Saturday morning cartoon show.                  


 “Yesteryear” (MG/GG)

If you’re only going to watch one episode of the animated series, this is the one to watch. Spock returns from a trip to Orion’s distant past through the time portal known as the Guardian of Forever (first seen in the original-series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”), only to discover that history has somehow been changed and, as a result, he no longer exists in the present. Determining where the change occurred, Spock realizes that he must use the Guardian to travel to his home planet of Vulcan, 30 years in the past, and save the life of his 7-year-old self.    

There’s a lot of great character stuff in this episode. Even a one-shot minor character like Commander Thelin, the Andorian First Officer of the Enterprise in this new timeline, gets to shine—he’s willing to make a great sacrifice for a total stranger, for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

There’s also further exploration of Spock’s history, his family, and his homeworld. No surprise there, since this episode was written by D.C. Fontana, who made so many important contributions to Spock’s character and background during the original series. There are numerous references to classic Star Trek episodes, particularly the aforementioned “City on the Edge of Forever” and “Journey to Babel,” which introduced Spock’s parents, Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson of Earth. (We actually learn Amanda’s last name in “Yesteryear.”) As an added treat, Mark Lenard, who played Sarek in “Journey to Babel,” returns to provide the voice of the animated version of the character. 

Alas, Jane Wyatt, who was wonderful as the live-action Amanda, doesn’t join him this time around (no money for it in the budget, presumably), so Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel) steps in to portray Spock’s mother.

This episode is particularly notable for a logical—though very painful—decision that Young Spock has to make. I won’t give it away, but it definitely wasn’t typical subject matter for early-70s Saturday morning television. Kudos to Fontana, Roddenberry, and the folks at Filmation for sticking to their guns when NBC questioned them on whether to go ahead with it.

I have to wonder, however, if Fontana realized when she was writing this episode that she was establishing retroactively that the Star Trek universe, since Day One, was set in an altered timeline. After all, we learn here that in the original, unaltered history, Spock died when he was a child. It was only thanks to a paradox, one in which the adult Spock traveled back to the days of his youth, pretended to be his own “Cousin Selek,” and saved his younger self’s life, that Spock survived to adulthood. Which begs the question, how exactly was that paradox created in the first place?

MADDIE: “I really liked the idea that Spock could be in two places at the same time, and that nobody remembered him when he came back. And I liked how he went into the big stone doughnut to save himself. I liked Thelin, and how he was willing to sacrifice himself to allow Spock to make things right again. I thought Little Spock made the right decision, even though it was very difficult for him. And what I thought was really funny was that there was a monster in the desert that tried to attack Little Spock, and it had the voice of Godzilla! This episode was good, but I felt like I had already seen it because I had already seen ‘The City on the Edge of Forever.’”


 “One of Our Planets is Missing” (GG)

The Enterprise encounters an enormous energy cloud with great destructive power that is making its way through the galaxy and causing havoc and devastation wherever it goes. Determining that there may be some form of intelligence at the heart of the cloud, Kirk and crew take the ship inside, hoping to communicate with the intelligence and stop it from destroying a populated world nearby.

Sound familiar? It should. Combine this episode with “The Changeling” from the original series and you’ve basically got Star Trek: The Motion Picture
. Not a criticism, just an observation. (If anything, it’s a criticism of Star Trek: The Motion Picture for being so derivative!) One highlight here is the return of Bob Wesley, from the original-series episode “The Ultimate Computer.” Formerly a commodore and the commander of the U.S.S. Lexington, he’s now the governor of Mantilles, the planet threatened by the energy cloud. There’s some real drama and high stakes, with 80 million lives in jeopardy and a desperate attempt to save the children of Mantilles before the energy cloud can consume the planet. This episode was written by Marc Daniels, who directed many installments of the original series and was clearly paying attention.


“The Lorelei Signal” (MG)

While exploring a region of space where starships have disappeared every 27 years, the Enterprise encounters a race of beautiful women living on the planet Taurus II. As a result, all of the male crewmembers aboard the ship begin to act oddly, while the women of Taurus II take Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of an Enterprise landing party prisoner. Kirk and his companions are forced to wear life-draining headbands that cause them to start aging rapidly. It’s up to Uhura to take command and save the day.

I didn’t particularly care for this one, but it was written by Margaret Armen, who wrote “The Paradise Syndrome,” one of my favorite episodes of the original series.

MADDIE: “I liked how the women on the planet were so tough that the men of the Enterprise couldn’t stop them. It was nice to see Uhura take command of the ship when all of the men started daydreaming and acting weird.” 


“More Tribbles, More Troubles” (MG/GG)

Writer David Gerrold returns to Star Trek with a direct sequel to his classic original-series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Shady interstellar businessman Cyrano Jones is at large again, he’s altered his tribbles so that they no longer reproduce when they eat—they just become very big—and he’s gotten his hands on a Klingon-produced, genetically engineered tribble predator called a “glommer.” When the Klingons pursue Jones for his unscrupulous activities on one of their planets, he finds himself rescued by the Enterprise—and under the protection of a very reluctant Captain Kirk.

Presumably, Cyrano Jones’s tinkering with the tribbles to stop them from reproducing is what caused them all to turn pink!

Apparently, this was originally conceived for the third season of the original series, but incoming producer Fred Freiberger told Gerrold that he didn’t like “The Trouble With Tribbles” and that he intended for the show to steer clear of comedy under his watch. This sequel probably would have worked better as a live-action episode—it’s very difficult to do physical humor effectively on an animated show when the animation itself is so limited. Plus, the story is basically a remake of the original tribbles episode, albeit with a couple of plot inversions and minor twists. Still, there’s some good, witty dialogue and it’s nice that Stanley Adams is back to provide the voice of Cyrano Jones. Too bad the producers didn’t get William Campbell, who played Koloth in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” to do the voice for his character, who also reappears here, albeit with James Doohan (Scotty) performing his dialogue. 

It should be noted that William Shatner delivers his very worst, most hammy line-reading of the entire animated series in this episode, when Kirk discovers who he’s just rescued and he blurts out, “Cyrano Jones?!?!?” I sincerely doubt he would have delivered the line that way had this been a live-action episode. It’s as if Shatner suddenly realized he was doing the voice for a Saturday-morning cartoon and, instead of playing Kirk as he had always done, he became self-conscious and altered his performance to make it more goofy and over-the-top because he felt that would be more appropriate for this format. It’s just that one moment, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, he never did it again.

MADDIE: “I really liked this one! The tribbles are back, but they’re worse than before because there are more and more and more of them and now they get all big and fat! There’s a tribble predator now, and you think it’s so tough, but at the end, when there’s a giant tribble in front of it, the predator runs away! I loved seeing the huge tribble in Captain Kirk’s chair. I really liked how they shot the giant tribble and it turned into lots and lots of little tribbles.”


“The Survivor” (MG/GG)

Near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Enterprise finds a spaceship piloted by widely hailed philanthropist Carter Winston, who has been missing for five years. By coincidence, Winston’s fiancé, Lieutenant Anne Nored, is serving aboard the Enterprise as a security officer and is thrilled to be reunited with him. But it turns out that the real Winston is long dead, and has been replaced by a shape-shifting alien working as a spy for the Romulans. 

This episode has a lot in common with “The Man Trap” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” from the original series. Still, the design for the alien’s true form is pretty cool—certainly something that never could have been attempted in live-action. The great Ted Knight provides the voice of Carter Winston, and he delivers his lines like a gloriously over-pompous William Shatner—in fact, for years I thought it was Shatner who had done the voice until I learned the truth not long ago. 

Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) provides the voice of Anne Nored—but succeeds only in sounding like a teenaged, semi-drugged Uhura. And the notion of the alien turning itself into a bed in Sickbay—and McCoy not noticing immediately that he now has an extra bed in the room in which he spends most of his time—is a bit hard to accept.

MADDIE: “This was a very interesting story about a man who reappears after being missing for many years. You don’t know where he had been or what happened to him. He breaks up with his fiancée who had been missing him all that time, and that got me very interested, because why didn’t he want to marry her anymore? You’d think he would want to marry her the minute he saw her again! I liked it because it was a mystery-action story.”


“Mudd’s Passion” (MG/GG)

The Enterprise is assigned to arrest notorious con man Harry Mudd, who resurfaces selling a supposed love potion. Incarcerated aboard the ship, Mudd exploits Nurse Chapel’s longstanding—and unrequited—love for Mr. Spock to convince her to use the potion on the Vulcan first officer. It turns out that the potion actually works, and as it starts to affect the entire crew, Mudd takes advantage of the ensuing chaos to escape from the ship—with Chapel as a hostage. Kirk and a lovesick Spock set out to rescue Chapel and recapture Mudd.     

Appropriately enough, this was written by Stephen Kandel, who wrote “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd” for the original series. And Roger C. Carmel, who portrayed Mudd so effectively in those episodes, returns to provide the character’s voice here. As with “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” this episode shows just how difficult it is to do comedy successfully on a show with limited animation. What made the live-action Mudd episodes work were how the actors played off each other, their reactions, their facial expressions (especially Carmel’s!), the body language, the timing, and the subtleties that you can only get with living, breathing performers. The plot is solid here, and there are some clever lines, but there’s no denying that a lot of Mudd’s manic energy is missing and, as a result, he starts to become a bit tiresome after a while.

Also, I can only imagine that had this been a live-action prime-time episode, it wouldn’t have gotten so cheesy and silly once Spock succumbed to the love potion and fell for Nurse Chapel. Some of his dialogue is truly cringe-worthy, and just not believable, even under the circumstances. (“Dear, lovely Christine… I can’t stand the thought of any danger to her, to the woman I love! … If he’s harmed one hair on her pretty head…! Don’t worry, you’ll be safe, darling!” Yiiiiicch.)

There is, however, a very brief moment that serves as a gift to all of the really
“out there” Star Trek fans—the ones who’ve written hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of fan-fiction since the early 1970s depicting Kirk and Spock as homosexual lovers (no, I’m not making this up—it’s called “K/S” fiction). The moment happens once theyre both under the influence of Mudd’s love potion, and Kirk helps Spock regain his footing after he stumbles on the surface of a rocky planet:

SPOCK (smiling): Thanks Jim. It's good to have a friend like you. 

Strange, that’s the way I feel about you, too. My dear friend, Spock.

Perfectly innocent, I’m sure. But for fans of the “K/S” mindset, this moment was undoubtedly just more evidence of the TRUE relationship between these two fellas.

MADDIE: “It was kind of gross when Spock was so in love with Christine Chapel—I had to cover my eyes! I liked seeing Harry Mudd again and I couldn’t wait to see what trouble he was in now. I thought this was as good as the two Harry Mudd episodes from the original series.”


“The Terratin Incident” (GG)

The Enterprise is lured to a strange planet and hit by an energy beam that damages the ship’s dilithium crystals and causes the crew to start shrinking. Unless a cure is found, everyone on the Enterprise will soon be microscopic size, lost forever on another plane of existence. The solution lies on the planet below, in a mysterious miniature city called Terratin.

Written by Paul Schneider, who also wrote the original-series episodes “Balance of Terror” (which introduced the Romulans—one of my favorites) and “The Squire of Gothos,” this is sort of a cross between The Incredible Shrinking Man and Gulliver’s Travels, with the bottle city of Kandor from classic Superman comic-book lore thrown in for good measure. It’s definitely a gimmicky episode, but I found it to be very entertaining. The animators did an effective job of depicting the crewmembers getting smaller and smaller until they’re totally dwarfed by the ship’s controls. The use of the transporter as a solution to the problem is intriguing and innovative, though it’s also a bit too easy and it basically establishes the device as a potential cure-all. Nevertheless, I would rank this is as one of the smoothest, most memorable episodes of the animated series.


“The Time Trap” (MG/GG)

While investigating the outer-space version of the Bermuda Triangle, a region where many starships from across the galaxy have disappeared over the centuries, the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser commanded by Kor (from the original-series episode “Errand of Mercy”) become trapped within a pocket dimension where time moves at a much slower pace. There, they discover all of the missing ships and their crews, still alive and having learned, out of necessity, to live together in peace and cooperation. Determined to get home, Kirk and Kor acknowledge that they must work together and pool their resources—but Kor fully intends to betray Kirk at the first opportunity.

This is a goodie, one of my favorite animated episodes. I like the concept of a “Bermuda Triangle in outer space” and the depiction of a peaceful, interdependent society made up of so many different alien races, including humans, Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Orions, Gorn, Andorians, Tellarites, and even some of the non-humanoid beings introduced in earlier episodes of the animated series. 

It’s great to see Kor again, and he’s just as much of a bastard as before, but it’s unfortunate that his voice is not provided by John Colicos, the actor who portrayed him in “Errand of Mercy.” James Doohan voices the animated Kor, and it’s a completely different interpretation that lacks the wonderful, syrupy, gleeful menace that Colicos brought to the role. Other than that, this is a pretty strong episode with a very nice final moment that put a smile on my face.

MADDIE: “I liked this one because the Klingons are secretly plotting to destroy the Enterprise while they’re working with Kirk and his crew. And Kirk doesn’t know what the Klingons are up to, so how will he and his crew survive? This episode shows just how bad the Klingons can be.”


“The Slaver Weapon” (MG)

This was written by noted science-fiction author Larry Niven and adapted from his short story, “The Soft Weapon.” Spock, Uhura, and Sulu are aboard a long-range shuttlecraft transporting an ancient artifact called a “stasis box” to Starbase 25 when they are lured into a trap by the hostile, feline Kzinti. 

These large catlike beings are intent on finding a stasis box that contains a super-weapon left behind by the Slavers, a now-extinct alien civilization that ruled most of the galaxy a billion years ago. Seizing the stasis box, the Kzinti indeed find the deadly, immensely powerful Slaver weapon they’ve been seeking. Spock, Uhura, and Sulu must outwit their captors and retake the weapon before the Kzinti figure out how to use it. (NOTE: This is the only animated episode in which the Enterprise and Captain Kirk never appear and characters are actually killed onscreen.)

MADDIE: “I liked how the weapon could change itself into different things. That made me wonder what each thing could do. Each thing it turned itself into was very powerful and I thought that was interesting. But it was weird that the Kzinti, these giant cats, were so tough and mean, but their spaceship was pink!”


“The Eye of the Beholder” (GG)

The Enterprise arrives at Lactra VII to search for the crew of a missing Federation science vessel. But a landing party that includes Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is captured by the large, slug-like Lactrans and put on display in an interstellar zoo.

This episode was written by David P. Harmon, who also wrote “The Deadly Years” and co-wrote “A Piece of the Action” for the original series. Plotwise, it owes a lot to the live-action two-parter, “The Menagerie,” in which Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Christopher Pike, is captured and placed in a zoo by the telepathic, illusion-casting Talosians. This is a bit more lighthearted, with some good banter between Spock and McCoy. The Lactrans are another alien race that could never have been attempted on the live-action show. I like their design and how they’re portrayed. A particular highlight of the episode is the budding friendship between Scotty and a baby Lactran that accidentally gets beamed up to the Enterprise.


“The Pirates of Orion” (GG)

Spock contracts a deadly disease and has only days to live. The Enterprise arranges to rendezvous with another ship, the Huron, which is carrying the cure. But Orion pirates hijack the Huron and take the drug. With Spock’s life hanging in the balance, Kirk launches a desperate pursuit of the pirates and engages in a one-on-one confrontation with the Orion captain on an asteroid.

This was the premiere episode for the animated series’s very short second season. Written by Howard Weinstein, who would later write one of my all-time favorite Star Trek novels, The Covenant of the Crown, as well as a whole bunch of Star Trek comics for DC, this episode is sort of a redo of “Amok Time” from the original series. Both feature Spock with a deadly illness, a race against time to get him what he needs to survive, and Kirk abandoning a prestigious mission in which the Enterprise is supposed to represent the Federation at a big-deal ceremony. Weinstein, who was a 19-year-old college student when he wrote this, has a good handle on the characters and does a nice job showing that beneath the surface, McCoy has a lot of affection for Spock. It’s nice to see more being done with the Orions, but for some reason, they have very light blue skin in this episode, even though they had previously been shown as having green skin. Maybe they’re as racially diverse as we Earthlings.


“Bem” (GG)

The Enterprise hosts Commander Ari bn Bem, a representative of the planet Pandro, on a series of exploratory missions. Unbeknownst to the crew, Bem is a colony creature—he can separate his body into smaller parts that function independently. This serves him well when he starts interfering with Kirk and his team, testing them, as a means to determine whether the Federation is ready to open diplomatic relations with his people. But it leads to their capture when, on a newly discovered planet, they encounter primitive human-sized reptilians under the protection of a godlike energy creature.

This was the last episode of a Star Trek television series to bear a writing credit by David Gerrold. There are a number of interesting ideas on display—particularly the notion of a colony creature—but the narrative is a bit muddled and not always easy to follow. Bem himself isn’t quite as interesting as he should be. But despite that, there’s some very good, witty lines of dialogue. Uhura gets to take command of the Enterprise again. And most significantly, this episode is where it was first established that the “T” in James T. Kirk stands for “Tiberius.”  


“Albatross” (MG/GG)

A rare instance in which Dr. McCoy is at the center of the plot. When the Enterprise visits the planet Dramia to deliver medical supplies, planetary authorities arrest McCoy for mass murder. The Dramians blame McCoy for setting off a plague that wiped out much of their population after he supervised an inoculation program on their world 19 years earlier. Kirk launches an investigation to clear the doctor, but along the way, he and the Enterprise crew contract the same deadly disease. Spock must break McCoy out of jail so that the doctor can work on a cure for the crew and prove his innocence.

I honestly have no recollection of ever seeing this episode before 2006, when I bought the animated series on DVD. I mention this because in 1998, in the third issue of Star Trek: Untold Voyages (a comic-book limited series I conceived and wrote for Marvel), I did a story focusing on McCoy in which he’s held responsible for a deadly plague on a planet he visited years before, the population of which he thought he’d saved. My story goes in a very different direction, but still, my jaw dropped a little bit when I first watched this episode on DVD. I immediately wondered if I’d somehow ripped it off, however unintentionally. I ultimately decided, “nah.” It’s just a natural story idea for a character like McCoy. Anyway, this episode presents an intriguing mystery, and the Dramians are a very interesting and cool-looking alien species. The solution is clever (though some will argue that it’s a wee bit too convenient) and Spock’s needling of McCoy is particularly enjoyable. (“You have been derelict in your duties of late… Hippocrates would not have approved of lame excuses, Doctor.”)

By the way, Star Trek Communicator—the magazine of the Official Star Trek Fan Club—ranked my McCoy story as one of the “10 Best Dr. McCoy Stories Ever Written,” so it’s got that going for it.

MADDIE: “I didn’t know how Dr. McCoy would ever get out of jail. It didn’t look like Kirk and Spock would be able to prove him innocent. I was surprised and worried when the Enterprise crew started to come down with the disease. My favorite part is when McCoy says to Kirk at the end, ‘Jim, if I’m ever in jail again, don’t send that Vulcan to release me. Just let me rot!’”


“The Counter-Clock Incident” (MG/GG)

The first captain of the Enterprise, Commodore Robert April, and his wife, Dr. Sarah April, the ship’s first chief medical officer, are guests aboard the vessel when it is pulled into a “negative universe” where time runs in reverse. Everyone aboard the Enterprise starts to age backwards—to such an extent that Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew become too young to operate the ship. The 75-year-old April, now restored to youth and vitality, must assume command to get the Enterprise home. This was the final episode of the animated series.

There are some elements of this episode that require you to suspend more disbelief than usual. For one thing, the Enterprise crew encounters a race of beings in the negative universe for whom aging backwards is a natural way of life. Meaning they’re born elderly and die as infants. Not sure I can fully wrap my head around how that would work. And then there’s the fact that as the crewmembers de-age and become smaller, their uniforms never get too big for them! Plus, once again, as in “The Terratin Incident,” the transporter is used to restore the crew to normal. Way too easy a solution!

But all of that is overshadowed by the good stuff. It’s great to meet Robert and Sarah April, who help to expand some of the backstory of the Enterprise beyond Captain Pike and the one pre-Kirk adventure we saw in “The Menagerie.” 

Plus, the “kiddie” versions of the Enterprise crew are actually pretty darned adorable! (Oddly enough, the young Spock in this episode doesn’t look much like the one we saw in “Yesteryear,” even though they’re about the same age.) And I challenge anyone not to be touched when, given the opportunity to remain young, the Aprils decide to return to their proper ages. As Commodore April says, “What a blessing, to be able to live one’s life over again—if the life you’ve led has left you unfulfilled. No, Sarah, I don’t want to live it all over again. I couldn’t improve one bit on what we’ve had together.” Not your typical Saturday-morning cartoon fare, to be sure!

And it’s totally appropriate that Sarah April, in speaking the very last line of dialogue in the episode—and thus the very last line of the entire series—says that they were all given a second life. Because that’s exactly what the animated series did for Star Trek.          

MADDIE: “I thought it was cool to find out who was the first captain of the Enterprise, and how the first chief medical officer was his wife. I would like to see some adventures of Captain April on the Enterprise. I agreed with April’s decision to go back to being old. He and his wife had already lived that part of their lives—why would they want to go back and just relive it all over again? That would be boring, because they’d already done it. When everyone turned into babies, they were all so cute! Especially Kirk! And it was so weird that on the planet inside the negative universe, you’d be born old and die as a baby. It was also weird that when Sarah April became a young woman, she still had the voice of a 70-year-old!”

And so, Maddie and I have now reached the end of another Star Trek voyage. Thanks for joining us!

And coming soon: Star Trek Movies!

© All content copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2011.


  1. "The big stone doughnut." Exactly!

    I was already a Trek goon when the animated version began airing, and when I saw "Mudd's Passion" when it was fresh out of the gate, my eight-year-old mind reeled during the K/S love-fest and I actually exclaimed "Oh, my god! Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are really homos?!!?" That made my mother laugh out loud before she admonished me for saying "homos."

    Ted Knight had a history with Filmation, having provided a number of voices for the earlier Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fatnastic Voyage series.

    Lastly, one of these days I have to lend you "The Sensuous Vulcan," the unintentionally hilarious fan-issued K/S mag that a Trek-loving bisexual ex gave me as a gift ages ago (she's totally cool in every way, and I think you briefly met her when you and I were roommates). There are many horrendously-written classic therein, but my favorites for sheer jaw-dropping awfulness have to be the following:

    1. The one where Kirk, Spock and McCoy get into a shuttlecraft crash that breaks the doctor's leg, rendering him immobile, and damages Spock's brain in such a way that it allows his emotions free reign. As the trio await rescue while sheltered against the planet's hostile environment in a convenient cave, Spock gushingly confesses his long-hidden and ultra-submissive love to a very skeeved-out Kirk while the immobile McCoy serves as a horrified captive audience. Spock's loving entreaties prove to much for the Captain to resist so, in full view of the ready-to-commit-suicide McCoy, Kirk and Spock get it on and Spock's member is described as having the aspect of something verging on the Lovecraftian.

    2. "Just Desserts," an appalling story — written by a woman, no less — in which Spock goes into Pon-Farr and Chapel offers herself to him to quench his primal, raging lust. What ensues is a graphic and very disturbing depiction of what can only be described as a brutal, violent sexual assault committed by Spock upon Chapel, the author's sordid rape fantasies realized on paper. Particularly horrifying is the moment when, after Spock passes out after violating Chapel, the battered nurse realizes that he will eventually awaken and want her again, and she resigns herself to being there to assuage his need, "Because, Christine Chapel," as she puts it, "if anybody ever asked for did." Yecch...

    And have you ever thought of doing a piece on the best of the Trek novels?

  2. Fortunately, I've managed for the most part to steer clear of the K/S stuff. Overtones of it crept in to some of the mainstream novels during the 1970s and 1980s--Roddenberry himself actually addressed it directly in his novelization of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE--so I was certainly aware of it but I never sought it out!

    The stuff you cite above seems... fascinating. I can't imagine having a pleasant time reading it!

    A piece on the best of the Star Trek novels is a great idea, but there are so many of them now, spanning all the series! And I haven't really kept up with them in years. It's been so long since I've actually read a new Star Trek novel.

    Plus, my collection is limited almost solely to the original series, with just a handful of The Next Generation and pretty much nothing else.

    So I'm not sure how useful such a piece would be because it would be so outdated and narrow in scope. What do you think?

  3. I have such a soft spot for the animated series, so I can overlook all the stupid crap in it. :)

    --Rich Handley