In the weeks following the cancellation of the original series, American astronauts landed on the moon. The general public largely lost interest in the space program after that. Films such as The Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey set an incredibly high standard for science fiction, and television turned its eyes elsewhere. But thanks to syndication, Star Trek found a new and incredibly loyal audience, revitalizing its popularity as never before. The first Star Trek convention took place in 1972, an event separate from Comic Con and wholly dedicated to the original series, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Premiering on Sept. 8, 1973 — the anniversary of the original series debut — the idea behind this animated series was to continue Star Trek with all its elements intact. To those working behind the scenes, the change in media from live action to animation did not mean a change in Star Trek‘s core values or storytelling possibilities. If anything, animation allowed concepts to be realized that modern special effects techniques could not yet achieve. As far as anyone was concerned, the five-year mission continued. With the notable exception of Walter Koenig as Chekov, all of the original actors returned to voice their now-iconic roles, with James Doohan and Majel Barrett also providing the voices of most of the guest-starring characters. The writers behind the animated series, led by D. C. Fontana, were many of the names who scripted the original series. Koenig would make his writing debut on one of the episodes. In spite of its short run (with the final episode airing Oct. 12, 1974), it would earn Star Trek its first Emmy Award in 1975 for Outstanding Entertainment – Children’s Series.
For myself, I was born at the dawn of 1974, so by and large, the animated series wasn’t something I had the opportunity to see growing up. I would see still shots and summaries in episode guides or magazines, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I found two episodes of the series to rent on VHS at the local Blockbuster Video (remember those?). Being a student of film, art, and animation, the buildup in my mind was much greater than the execution. I’ve largely not been impressed with the limited animation style of Filmation, and the music smacked of the early and ever-dreaded disco era. I let this first impression affect my viewing of the series once I finally did see it in its entirety despite growing up with a great many other cartoons from the same studio. I freely admit, I’m a bit of an animation snob, always have been. In the intervening years, I’ve come to see the intent of the writers shining through, and my appreciation of the series has grown. I still see the stories as being told somewhat in fast forward, but I can also see what the series achieved. For its time, it served as a proof of concept that laid groundwork for the future, not only for Star Trek, but for a great many franchises as storytelling in animation — and animation itself — became more sophisticated.
Just a quick note before we dive in: I’m not going to offer as many thoughts on these episodes as I did on the original series. Half the length, half the thoughts. Seems fair.
S01E01 – “Beyond the Farthest Star”
At the farthest reaches of the galaxy, the Enterprise encounters a large, insectoid-like ship, dead in space, but harboring a trapped lifeform capable of integrating itself into ship systems.
Try to imagine… you’re on a vessel in deep space, and some entity comes along and integrates into it, effectively becoming the vessel. You’re pretty much screwed, so you figure, if you’re going to die, you’re setting the self-destruct and taking the entity out with you. People, this is the first episode of a cartoon that a network aimed at kids. The writers on this series never saw it that way. It was simply always Star Trek, but the networks put it on Saturday morning, back when that was a sacred ritual for kids to get up way too early, turn on the TV, and binge watch until noon or whenever the first infomercials came on, whatever happened first. Put into context, this first episode sets a standard not to be ignored.
S01E02 – “Yesteryear”
Spock, finding himself erased from history, travels through the Guardian of Forever to save his younger self from certain death in a coming of age ritual.
Right up front, we’re given what many consider to be the very best of this series. We get to meet Spock’s pet Sehlat (the “teddy bear with six inch fangs”)… and remembering that the network aimed this at kids, we watch as young Spock has to make the choice between letting his pet suffer or allowing the healer to euthanize. Daaaaaamn. Also of note, the Vulcan capital city design would be seen again in the fourth season of Enterprise, and Mark Lenard returns to voice Sarek. Always wonderful to have him back.
S01E03 – “One of Our Planets is Missing”
The crew of the Enterprise must find a way to stop a living cloud that eats planets.
Space amoebas, starship swallowing doomsday machines, vampire clouds, and now a planet eating cloud. It really makes me wonder how many Trek writers read up on Galactus. Of course, Kirk has to make the kind of command decision left up to him: communicate with it or kill it. That’s pretty much right out of the classic Trek playbook. By the time you get this far, you’ve already grown accustomed to the animation style, but that theme song… OMG, it gets stuck in your head. You see, it enters through the ear and wraps itself around the cerebr… *ahem* Never mind.
S01E04 – “The Lorelei Signal”
When the men aboard the Enterprise are entranced by a race of women who feed on life energies to stay young and beautiful, Uhura takes command and leads a female landing party to rescue her crewmates.
Credit where it’s due, Uhura would make an incredible starship captain. A natural communicator and diplomat, and here we find out just how much of a badass she is. We did see it in the Mirror Universe, of course, and we’ll see it again in her brief but memorable transporter takeover in Star Trek III, but… hell, I never get tired of seeing it. I can’t help but wonder just how empowering that was for young girls in 1973. Filmation also ramped up Super Friends that same year, so Wonder Woman was seeing some action too, before she’d get her own TV series. Girl power!