Classic Sci Fi TV: Star Trek The Animated Series

By | April 18, 2017

Classic Sci Fi TV: Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.

What Is It?  This animated continuation of the adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise came into existence in response to the phenomena that developed around the original series when it blossomed in syndication during the early to mid 70’s.  The animated version continued the five year mission from the original series with most of the same characters and cast in place and even used the same series “bible” as a guideline for its writers.  And though NBC wanted to do a more Saturday Morning friendly version with kids taking active roles on the bridge of the Enterprise (more on that at this link), Gene Rodenberry dug in his heals and insisted on following generally the same path as the live action version.

When Did It Air? NBC, 1973-74, 2 Seasons Totaling 22 Episodes

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nicols, James Doohan, George Takei

Created By: Gene Roddenberry

Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi? Not necessarily, but at least worth a look for a few of the stand-out episodes.

The Skinny: Many Star Trek fans simply dismiss the animated series and consider the twenty two episodes that it produced as apocryphal, but the fact is that it did a decent job of carrying on the spirit of the original series and at delivering a decent Saturday morning sci fi series. It brought back the majority of the original actors to voice their characters, it continued the basic premise of the original series, and it carried over several of the writers from the original show such as David Gerrold, D.C. Fontana, and Samuel A. Peeples.  And even though it ran on Saturday mornings, Gene Roddenberry resisted NBC’s attempts to make it “kiddie trek” and insisted on presenting intelligent science fiction stories that did not pander or talk down to its audience.

The show gave fans the chance to return to the “Shore Leave” planet, catch up with Harry Mud and Cyrano Jones (and his tribbles), and the chance to look back at Spock’s childhood.  Fans of the original series jonesing for more adventures from their favorite Starfleet officers in the early 70’s got at least a small fix from this show.  Despite the corner-cutting animation delivered by Filmation and and the thirty minute running time that sometimes constrained episodes to story sketches, the show had it moments (though it also had its share of subpar episodes as well). It also had strong artistic direction, delivering beautiful alien vistas that the original series never could, and gave sci fi fans some respite from the wasteland of Prime Time television of the early and mid-70’s when genre entries were mostly shunned.

Episodes of Note:  Among the stand-out episodes from the series are “Yesteryear” in which Spock visits himself as a child, “The Slaver Weapon” written by noted science fiction author Larry Niven, “More Tribbles, More Troubles” in which the furry creatures return (and Stanley Adams reprises the role of Cyrano Jones), and “The Infinite Vulcan” (written by Walter Koenig) which gives as a more credible take on the original series episode “Spock’s Brain”.

Cancelled Too Soon? Star Trek: TAS was considered a hit when it first aired, though for Saturday morning television that doesn’t mean that the show will continue for multiple seasons.  Typically, a successful Saturday morning series would get a couple of seasons or maybe even a third, but go through years of reruns because younger audiences are more willing to re-watch a show over and over.  Oddly enough, though, NBC was reluctant to renew the show beyond its second season despite the fact that TAS appealed to a broader audience than the typical age-range for Saturdays.

Interesting Facts:  Most of the original cast returned to voice their characters, though Walter Koenig (Chekov) did not make the cut (with the alien Lieutenant Arex taking over as navigator) because Filmation had to keep casting costs down.  And the studio didn’t want to include Nichelle Nichols and George Takei either, but Leonard Nimoy refused to participate unless they were onboard, because he wanted the show to continue to highlight the ethnic diversity of the crew.    The multi-talented James Doohan (Scotty) and Majel Barrett (Christine Chapel) voiced the regular alien characters Lieutenant Arex and Lieutenant M’Ress respectively as well many of the other characters that appeared throughout the episodes.

As a consolation to Chekov not being included in the animated series, Walter Koenig was given the opportunity to participate in the show by penning one of the episodes (“The Infinite Vulcan”).

IGN currently has the show ranked as the 96th best animated television series.

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