Star Trek: The Animated Series

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Coming four years after the live-action series ended, the Saturday morning incarnation of Star Trek reunited many of its creative staff and actors. Produced at Filmation Studios by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott (who were masters at bringing low-budget licensed properties to Saturday mornings), the 22-episode run was actually a decent show, at least as good as, if not better than, the third season of the original. The problem was that the animation was terrible. This was an era of declining animation budgets, before animation was routinely outsourced to Korea and other cheap labor markets. Today, we would charitably call this “motion comics.” Back then it was just limited animation. Honestly, I’ve seen PowerPoint presentations with more animation than the Star Trek series. They relied heavily on stock footage and didn’t seem to care about continuity. Hairstyles, in particular, seemed to regularly flip back and forth.

What made the series interesting, though, were the stories. Gene Roddenberry oversaw the production and several veterans of the original series wrote scripts, such as Samuel A. Peeples, Marc Daniels, Margaret Armen, Stephen Kandel, Paul Schneider, David P. Harmon, and D.C. Fontana (also the series story editor and associate producer). As with the original, notable science fiction writers contributed stories. David Gerrold had a couple of scripts, including a return look at his creation, the tribbles. Larry Niven produced a script that included his Known Space aliens, the cat-like warrior Kzinti. One big advantage the animated series had was to be able to show non-humanoid aliens and truly alien landscapes. They also introduced the concept of the holodeck (although it wasn’t called that), which was used extensively in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Which is not to say there weren’t some clunkers in the batch. One episode had Spock cloned by an alien, but the clone was about 30 feet tall! In another, several of the crew were surgically modified with gills by an underwater race and then easily restored to normal at the end. There was one episode where the crew was artificially aged and then returned to their original ages by going through the transporter. Another episode did the opposite: the crew regressed to children and was returned to normal by going through the transporter. Stardates seemed to be chosen haphazardly; they certainly weren’t in a discernible order.

Six out of the seven original principal actors, plus Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel, provided voice work for the series, not only their own characters but many of the other crew members and aliens; only Walter Koenig was excluded, reportedly for budgetary reasons (however, Koenig did write one episode). A three-armed and legged alien named Lt. Arex (which sounded like “Erics,” not a particularly alien sounding name) voiced by James Doohan replaced Chekov on the bridge. A feline alien, Lt. M’Ress (Majel Barrett), occasionally replaced Lt. Uhura at the Communications Station. Some of the original guest actors reprised their characters: Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones, Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, and Mark Lenard as Sarek. In addition, some of the locations from the original series turned up in the animated series, for example, the Guardian of Forever from “City on the Edge of Forever” (although I don’t think they called it that, probably for copyright reasons) and the amusement planet from “Shore Leave.” Klingons and Romulans made regular appearances as well, creating an expanded look at some of the characters and worlds from the original series.

Look past the horrible animation and you will be rewarded with wonderful examples of some of the best that Star Trek had to offer.

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4 responses to “Star Trek: The Animated Series

  1. This show was highly advanced scripting for a Saturday morning venue and though the actual inking and motion was geared to save the studio money rather than be good, they relied on lesser redraws and just let a lot of the episodes fly. The stories were creative but it’s hard to sit through the animation….too bad for this one.

  2. Interesting. I’d always written it off completely as “probably garbage” but your description of it makes it sound fairly appealing. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. 🙂

  3. Just watched a few of these — I would have LOVED them when I was a kid… Can’t get through the rest but I see the appeal. (I love all things Star Trek so I was already a fan).

  4. I just recently watched all of the episodes again, and agree that they are no worse than season 3 of TOS. It was awesome that they had the original voice talent, and hold up almost on that alone. But some of the stories were just cheap repeats of TOS episodes. Good overall though!

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