Hey, Did You Know “Star Trek: The Animated Series” Was a Thing?
Even as an involved internet Trekkie for two decades, I was only vaguely aware that Star Trek: The Animated Series existed. It was a low-budget cartoon produced the early 1970s, intended to be a kind of fourth season for the live-action show. When I did hear about TAS, I assumed it was awful and just never cared… Until a few years ago, when I found out it was all original actors doing their characters’ voices! I saw a few episodes, but as part of this project to watch all the Star Trek ever, I definitely wanted to see it as a whole. There are 22 episodes, each about 24 minutes long, all currently available on Netflix.
It’s terrible. Let’s just get that out of the way. The animation is awful, the plots and scripts often just rehash live-action episodes, and the voice acting is lackluster. (I’m told some of the actors were recording their lines from a distance and sending them in… William Shatner usually sounds half-asleep. Also James Doohan and Majel Barrett do almost all of the guest voices, and you can tell).
It’s also kind of great, though, at least if you’re a Trekkie. For every repetitive plot, there’s a cool idea or a setting the live-action show never would’ve attempted. You also get some returning guest stars like Mark Lenard as Sarek and Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd! Plus, if you’re familiar with Trek’s fanon, a lot of that stuff came from TAS. For the most part it feels like an imitation of Star Trek, but many episodes imitate it rather well.
Here are my favorites:
- “Yesteryear” – The second episode, and one of the most popular. Spock has to travel through the Guardian of Forever into his own childhood. This is the one with Sarek, naturally, so there are some serious conversations between Spock and his younger self, and both Spock and their father, and it’s really cool. It’s what any fan would’ve wanted. The script really doesn’t do itself justice, if that makes any sense, but it’s still great.
- “More Tribbles, More Troubles” – This episode is a sequel to “The Trouble with Tribbles,” obviously, and another popular entry. Basically it’s a bunch of tribble hijinx, and despite losing a lot of humor that was originally located in characters’ expressions, it manages to pick up on the goofiness of the original episode. Currently my second-favorite after Yesteryear.
- “The Magicks of Megus-Tu” – This one harkens back to some typical Trek plots, but goes off in some interesting directions. The idea, which you’ll pick up quickly, is that Earth’s historical witches and demons are quasi-magical advanced beings who now live elsewhere in the galaxy. I don’t want to spoil it since there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it, so let’s just say I’m a big fan of Good Guy Lucifer, and Kirk’s reaction to the whole situation is amazing.
- “The Slaver Weapon” – For my last favorite, a really cool sci-fi story that’s not like any other original Trek episode. There are new aliens, new concepts, and a different setup with Spock, Sulu, and Uhura as the protagonists separated from the main crew. It mixes Trek-style science and space action really well, and I think it’s what this show was meant to be: A Star Trek story, taking advantage of the animated form to expand the Trek universe.
These aren’t the only great episodes, just my favorites. If you’re a Trekkie, it’s worth a watch!