Star Trek: The Animated SeriesBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 21, 2006 - 11:29 PM GMT
After a very long wait, Star Trek: The Animated Series finally arrives on DVD today, with all 22 episodes from the show's two seasons packaged complete in one box set that's roughly the size and shape of the original series season box sets, though this one flips open top-to-bottom to reveal the plastic book-page case that holds the discs. It's an attractive set that looks like nothing else on the market, and the same might be said about the episodes, which range from the sublime to...well, stories that would have fit right in at the end of the original series' third season. Yet even the duds have their moments of enjoyment, and with reprisals of such popular characters as Sarek and Harry Mudd with voices by the actors who played them onscreen, there are many gems for original series fans.
Running over 500 minutes in total, with a number of new features and commentaries, the animated series reunites the voices of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett. In addition to playing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chapel, most of them voiced multiple characters, with Doohan playing numerous aliens including series regular Lieutenant Arex, the three-armed Edoan, and Barrett voicing Lt. M'Ress, a feline Caitian. (If you've been missing them ever since the animated series, Arex and M'Ress turned up years later in Peter David's New Frontier novels for Pocket Books.) Walter Koenig and Chekov were missing from the cast, but Koenig became the first Star Trek actor to write a Star Trek story, penning the episode "The Infinite Vulcan" for the series.
Special features include a making-of documentary, "Drawn to the Final Frontier", a survey of Star Trek connections, audio and text commentaries by the Okudas and writers David Gerrold and David Wise, interviews with producer Lou Scheimer, director Hal Sutherland and writer D.C. Fontana, plus icons, a storyboard gallery and the option of various subtitles and dubbing. The episodes were produced in Fullscreen and the DVD set hasn't altered them, which means that the animation flaws from the original remain in this package, but other than an extremely liberal use of stock "shots" to establish the ship and crew in various scenarios, the visuals hold up pretty well to other cartoons of the early 1970s.
I suspect that few people will buy the set for its place in the history of animation, at any rate; The Animated Series is of far greater significance for its contributions to Star Trek lore, though its place in canon has long been debated. Some details from the series - the first appearance of a holodeck, the establishment of James T. Kirk's middle name as Tiberius - have become inarguable series facts, but the emotional young Spock who undergoes the Kas'wahn ritual in "Yesteryear" is sometimes taken to be apocryphal and the "life support belt", created so that animators didn't have to spend time drawing characters in full environmental spacesuits but merely surrounded by a glowing energy field, is perhaps the most preposterous device in all of Star Trek, even counting the body-swapping device from "Turnabout Intruder".
There are a great many delights to be found: Uhura in command of the ship in "The Lorelei Signal", an introduction to previous Enterprise captain Robert April in "The Counter-Clock Incident" (one of the many characters voiced by Doohan), Spock meeting his younger self in "Yesteryear", the theft of a glommer, a genetically-bred creature created by the Klingons to get rid of tribbles, by intergalactic pest Cyrano Jones in "More Tribbles, More Troubles"; a crossover between the Star Trek universe and that of Larry Niven's Kzinti in "The Slaver Weapon" - also famous as the only original series Star Trek episode in which Kirk does not make an appearance - and the Peabody Award-winning "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" in which the cast meets ancient Mayan god Kukulkan.
Koenig's episode, "The Infinite Vulcan", finds a scientist trying to clone Spock, and "Bem" takes on the theme of gun control, as Gerrold explains in the commentary for the episode, which he said emerged from the idea of Spock having a prejudice against someone. Gerrold also discussed "More Tribbles, More Troubles", explaining that he intended it as a live-action sequel to "The Trouble With Tribbles" but one of the producers hated the concept. Other high-concept episodes include "Jihad", which concerns an artifact that could trigger a holy war and "Albatross", in which McCoy is accused of being responsible for genocide, while the ever-popular "The Practical Joker" finds the computer turning on the crew, first with harmless jokes, then with potentially deadly ones.
Ironically, the animated series was cancelled for being too sophisticated for children, who were never its intended audience. The second season ran only six episodes, and the crew on the commentaries agree that the idea was never to make a cartoon but an animated version of the live Star Trek which would finish the original five-year mission. Whether or not a fan considers these episodes legitimate canon, they hold up very well on DVD and these lost episodes make a nice bridge between the original series, the films and The Next Generation, where the holodeck finally came into its own.
Star Trek: The Complete Animated Series, which debuted in September 1973, is available now to order from Amazon.com. The Trek Nation will review each episode of the series in 2007.
Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.