As the world celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the airing of the first Star Trek episode on September 8, 1966, I think it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge one of the lesser-known parts of the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: The Animated Series. Created, like the original Star Trek, by Gene Roddenberry, The Animated Series (I’ll also call it TAS) was originally known simply as Star Trek, or The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Twenty-two half-hour episodes were produced over 1973 and 1974 by Filmation, directed by Hal Sutherland (the sixteen episodes of season 1) and Bill Reed (the six of season 2).
Fan pressure after the cancellation of Star Trek: The Original Series (which we’ll sometimes call TOS) led to The Animated Series. They couldn’t return to doing more live-action television because the sets and other props from the original series had already been destroyed or given away, and creating new ones was deemed too expensive. TAS wasn’t terribly successful in the ratings and was canceled after just two seasons. But it was, oddly enough, the first production in the Star Trek franchise to win an Emmy Award, winning a Daytime Emmy in 1975 for “Best Children’s Series” (beating out Captain Kangaroo and The Pink Panther).
With the exception of Walter Koenig (Chekov), all the familiar actors from TOS were again present: William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel and the Enterprise computer). Doohan and Barrett, in fact, did double duty, as they provided the voices for the two new alien members of the crew – Lieutenant Arex, an Edosian with three arms and three legs; and Lieutenant M’Ress, a rather feline Caitian – as well as many other guest characters. Nichols also contributed her voice to some additional characters. Originally, Nichols and Takei were not going to be hired for budgetary reasons. Leonard Nimoy apparently insisted that they be included, refusing to take part unless they were.
Other guest actors from TOS also provided voices for animated return appearances by their characters, including Mark Lenard as Spock’s father Sarek, Roger C. Carmel as Harcourt Fenton Mudd, and Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones (Ted Knight, soon famous as anchorman Ted Baxter in The Mary Tyler Moore show, also turned up as a guest voice). While Koenig wasn’t one of the voice actors, he contributed by writing one of the episodes, “The Infinite Vulcan” – he was the first cast member to write for the series.
Even though it aired on Saturday morning, TAS was designed at least as much for adults as for children. The writers, many of whom also wrote for TOS, used the same “series bible,” or writers’ guide, that had been created for television. On the one hand, animation allowed for a wider range of aliens, spaceships, and planets. But on the other, the budget for the series was not huge, and the overall animation quality is not of the highest. Even so, TAS really does feel like an extension of the original series, and is often every bit as entertaining.
Not only the characters, but many story-lines, incidents, and locations from the original series reappear in TAS. David Gerrold, who wrote the famous “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode in the original series, created a sequel for TAS, “More Tribbles, More Troubles.” (Gerrold, incidentally, also gave Captain Kirk his middle name, Tiberius, here.) Likewise, TAS’s “Once Upon a Planet” was a sequel to the original “Shore Leave,” and “Mudd’s Passion” a sequel to “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd.”
References forward and backward in the Star Trek universe appear in The Animated Series. For instance, the time portal that appeared in the original series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” reappears in the animated “Yesteryear” – written by D.C. Fontana, who also wrote episodes for TOS as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Looking forward, something very similar to The Next Generation‘s holodeck is introduced in the animated series episode “The Practical Joker,” where it is simply called the “Recreation Room.”
For many years, TAS was barely acknowledged as part of the Star Trek universe; Gene Roddenberry apparently didn’t take the series very seriously. Gradually, little references to The Animated Series started turning up in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. Only in 2007 did information about The Animated Series appear at the official Star Trek website, and it is now accepted as part of the official Star Trek “canon.”
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any complete TAS episodes available online, although I’ve included a couple of short clips here. The entire series is, however, available on Netflix. Watching a couple of episodes again recently, even with the somewhat dated animation and the restrictions of having only a half-hour to work with, I found them entirely entertaining. I would like to think that most Star Trek fans are already acquainted with Star Trek: The Animated Series. But if not, do check it out soon.