As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series, I thought I would shine a mini-spotlight on a show that rarely gets mentioned when fans talk about their favourite Star Trek series.
Like the old Batman TV series with Adam West, Star Trek was surprisingly short-lived as a show in the 60’s but, thanks to endless re-runs, it soon gained a cult following. This, as we all know, gave birth to an epic movie franchise but, before that, we got Star Trek: the Animated Series which ran from 1973 to 1974. Produced by Filmation, the show was a continuation of The Original Series with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols returning to voice their iconic characters. Walter Koenig didn’t reprise his role as Chekov, unfortunately, but he did write one of the episodes. In fact, it was thanks to Leonard Nimoy that most of the cast was present in the animated show since he refused to voice Spock unless Sulu and Uhura were voiced by the original actors.
Filmation was the company behind such Saturday-morning cartoons as He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe, Bravestarr and The Adventures Of Batman. While they usually prioritized quantity over quality, hence their trademark stiff yet colourful animation style, some effort was definitely put into this Star Trek animated series with the writing of each episode matching the live-action series pretty closely. The animation itself was still rather clunky in places with characters appearing or disappearing here and there and cells often overlapping each other when they shouldn’t be but even those few mistakes only added to the show’s charm in the same way that the cheesy sets and practical effects made the live-action series enjoyably kitsch.
Trying to take advantage of the medium as much as possible, the animated series would include more alien crewmembers and bizarre creatures thereby giving the Original Series an interesting little update. Staying true to the spirit of the live-action show, the stories were often pretty out there and ranged from standard Enterprise-set stuff like an evil cloud in space (“One Of Our Planets Is Missing”) to the exploration of genuinely strange environments (“The Magicks Of Megas-tu”) and follow-ups to classic episodes (“More Tribbles, More Trouble”).
The tongue-in-cheek sense of humour we all know and love is very much intact throughout and the series soon starts having fun with its wackier stories as we see everyone on the ship shrink (“The Terratin Incident”), endure countless practical jokes from the ship itself (“The Practical Joker”), suffer the effects of a love potion (“Mudd’s Passion”) and rapidly age on a planet peopled by immortal women (“The Lorelei Signal”). In one episode, everyone except Spock even literally turns blue, to give you an idea of the madness you’re in for. This is a very funny show thanks to some typically sharp writing but also thanks to the medium which allows the show to get more surreal than ever.
There are also some genuinely involving plots worthy of the best of the Original Series like “Yesteryear” where, after a temporal anomaly, Kirk and Spock return to the Enterprise to find that Spock’s existence has been erased from everyone’s consciousness and a weird-looking dude is second in command instead. The Vulcan must, therefore, travel back in time to save his child self from an untimely death. In “Albatross”, McCoy is accused by a race of aliens to have released a plague onto their people and the crew of the Enterprise soon fall victim to said plague. Of course, you can expect plenty of conflicts with Klingons, Romulans, and countless other alien races, many of which more animal-like than in the original show.
While most remember Star Trek: The Animated Series as “that silly thing between the series and the movies”, it’s much more than that. The Animated Series are a really enjoyable and faithful continuation to the Original Series with some terrific voice acting from William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the others, colourful new worlds, characters and adventures, all very much in keeping with the spirit of the old show. The occasionally flaky or stiff animation with the odd repeated shot, sound effect (look out for an old Godzilla roar early on) or bizarre voice performance from a minor character, only adds to the camp charm Star Trek always had.
Beam yourself over to Netflix and rediscover the wonderful insanity that is Star Trek: The Animated Series, you won’t regret it.