The original Star Trek recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of the air date of its first episode, “The Man Trap”. Since then, the series has had a number of adaptations, including feature films, continuation TV series, games, comics, books, and even a cartoon. However, when the last first-run episode, “Turnabout Intruder” aired, fans had to resign themselves to watching the series in syndication, despite the efforts put into letter writing campaigns.
The dearth of new Star Trek episodes came to an end in 1973, when Gene Roddenberry worked with Filmation to create an animated series. Now known as Star Trek: The Animated Series, to distinguish it from other Trek entries, the cartoon brought back the crew of the USS Enterprise for two more seasons, this time on Saturday mornings. Filmation is best known for series such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, its spin-off series She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Ghostbusters*, and animation techniques that were budget friendly, including long establishing shots and animation reuse. During the series’ two seasons, twenty-two episodes aired.
Budget-friendly animation helped ST:TAS, allowing the series to bring back most of the cast to reprise their roles for the cartoon. With the reuse of animation, artists could ensure that the characters looked like their actors. Also because of animation, aliens were no longer limited to looking like humans in rubber masks. Two new crewmembers were introduced, Lieutenant M’ress, a cat-like communications officer, and Lieutenant Arex, a tripedal navigation officer. Both additions allowed Star Fleet and the Federation to feel larger and inclusive. Thanks to being animated, alien worlds could look alien with no more effort it took to paint a corridor of the Enterprise.
ST:TAS brought in science-fiction writers as much as the original series did. Larry Niven wrote “The Slaver Weapon”, bringing in his Kzinti from his short story, “The Soft Weapon”. David Gerrold, who wrote the original series episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, revisited the furry ecological menaces with “More Troubles, More Tribbles”. DC Fontana, who both wrote and was a story editor for the original series, contributed “Yesteryear”, a look at Spock as a young boy. The limitations of the format, a 22-minute long cartoon, was worked around and, in many cases, used to great effect.
For a while, the animated series was considered non-canonical, except for the cases where it was. Kirk’s middle name, Tiberius, was given to him by Gerrold in “More Trouble, More Tribbles”, and stuck. Fontana’s “Yesteryear” provided such a rich look at both Spock’s early life and Vulcan culture that it was more-or-less accepted as is. “Yesteryear” is part of Spock’s story arc, as he evolves from having his Human and Vulcan sides at odds to him accepting that he is part of both worlds, as seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home. Canonicity has returned in bits and pieces, with ST:TAS being mined for background for different characters.
The series continued to delve into social issues and showcased characters that didn’t get spotlight time in the original series. Of note, “The Lorelei Signal”, by Margaret Armen, placed Uhura in command of the Enterprise after the male crewmembers fell under the effect of space sirens. Beings that appeared to be dangerous turned out to be misunderstood. The dangers of introducing an invasive species were explored. The show worked to keep to the spirit of the original series. While there were episodes that fell flat, the same happened with the original series. However, the animated series took what it had and expanded the Trek universe, entertaining fans who were starved for new episodes without disappointing them.
Star Trek: The Animated Series transcended the Saturday morning cartoon format, bringing back the crew of the Enterprise to boldly go, once again, where no man has gone before.
* Not to be confused with The Real Ghostbusters, the animated adaptation of the Ghostbusters movie.