Julien Neaves – Editor
Last Thursday saw the premiere of the newest Star Trek series, the adult animated comedy Lower Decks. And fans are pretty split on it, which seems to be a trend with the new batch of series in the franchise starting with Discovery.
Personally I found Lower Decks very middle of the road. The animation is well done, the Trek part of it was cool, and there are some interesting characters. But the comedy is way more miss than hit and they try way too hard. I did guffaw a couple of times though. The comedic Trek concept can work but the writing has to be impeccable. The first episode, though, was very peccable (am I the only one who didn’t know “peccable” was an actual word? Just me? Okay.) But it’s only the first episode of a ten episode season though, so we’ll see how it goes.
On the other end of the franchise spectrum Nickelodeon is working on its own Trek animated series called Prodigy. Yeah, there is a LOT of Star Trek these days. But avid Trekkies will know that Star Trek went the animated route long before Lower Decks and Prodigy. And that previous entry was Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) which ran for 22 episodes and two seasons between 1973 and 1974.
The series is a continuation of The Original Series (TOS) adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr McCoy, and features almost all of the main cast returning to voice their characters. Shout out to late Montgomery “Scotty” Scott actor James Doohan, who does multiple duty as 50 other characters including most male guest roles. Sadly Walter Koenig (navigator Pavel Chekhov) was left out due to budget limitations. In his place there was the three-armed Edosian navigator Arex (voiced by Doohan) and sexy Caitian operations division officer M’Ress (voiced by queen of Trek Majel Barrett). What? I can’t be the only one who found M’Ress sexy? Quick note – Lower Decks’ grumpy Caitian doctor T’Ana is a shout out to her.
TAS is a bit of an oddity. It is ostensibly a Saturday morning children’s cartoon and has the usual twenty-something minute episode run time. But the writing is not dumbed down for children at all whether in terms of scientific and quasi-scientific concepts or mature (though not adult) content. The animation is very static and a number of shots are recycled to save money. But the animated format does allow stories to go where The Original Series’ budget limitations could not let them go before, including in terms of very out there alien and creature designs. The show overall is not considered canon but a few characters, species and places have made their way into canon after being featured on Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT) and Star Trek: Discovery (DSC).
So with a brand new animated Trek show launched, and another one on the way, I thought it was good time to do an episode ranking of the OG. I know a lot of people have not seen the series so any spoilers will be quite mild. With that caveat here are the Top 12 Star Trek: TAS episodes. Engage!
#12 The Counter-Clock Incident
The series finale episode, which sees the Enterprise enter a very literal reverse universe, is really only notable for introducing Commodore Robert April (Doohan again), the very first captain of the Enterprise, and his wife, a medical pioneer. Yep, this dude predates Christopher Pike.
April is an amiable, capable guy who wants nothing more than to continue contributing to Starfleet. The character would later get a mention in Discovery as one of the most decorated Starfleet captains. Good for him.
#11-10 The Pirates of Orion/The Slaver Weapon
I decided to put these two episodes together as they are both more remarkable for their villains than the quality of their stories. The Pirates of Orion cemented the concept of Orion pirates in Trek lore, though it is odd that the men here are blue skinned when females in TOS and TAS have green skin. Orion males would be green skinned when they later appeared in ENT and DSC.
Next up is The Slaver Weapon which is actually a low key Sci Fi crossover episode as the antagonists, the feline warrior race the Kzinti, originated in Larry Niven’s Known Space series of stories. This episode is also unique as there is no Kirk but only Spock, Sulu and Uhura. There is also no Enterprise as we see the trio on a shuttlecraft. It reminded me a bit of the Spock-focused TOS episode The Galileo Seven.
#9-8 The Ambergis Element/The Jihad
We have another double feature with our number nine entry. Remember I mentioned the animated format allowed for more imaginative visual storytelling? These two episodes are some of the best examples. The Ambergis Element has Kirk and Spock encountering a cool looking fish-like species, the Aquans, in a bright, developed, underwater world with some decent lore.
The Jihad also features some very inventive alien designs. The story sees Kirk and Spock joining with some other aliens to find an artifact to prevent an intergalactic holy war. Their motley crew is made up of bird-like Prince Tchar, strong reptilian Sord, insectoid and M3 Green, and humanoid huntress Lara. And Lara has the hots for Kirk, which is an amusing flip on the TOS trend of the captain wooing various alien ladies.
#7 More Tribbles, More Troubles
This episode is a sequel to the iconic TOS episode The Trouble With Tribbles, is written by the same guy who wrote the original (David Gerrold) and features Stanley Adams reprising his role as trader Cyrano Jones. What else do you need to hear? Well okay, a little more. This time instead of rapidly reproducing the troublesome Tribbles are rapidly growing in size. And again you have those pesky Klingons in the mix. It’s not as funny as the masterful original but it is still good for a few chuckles.
Albatross sees Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy put on trial by the people of Dramia for allegedly causing a plague 19 years prior. It is just a really solid episode and one of the few in TAS that gives Bones room to shine. I could see this script as a TOS episode, though the big ugly yellow aliens would have likely been replaced with more human-looking ones. Gotta remember that budget.
#5 The Lorelei Signal
When the male away team fall under the thrall of some alien sirens who all look like Miss America contestants it is up to the female crew members to rescue them. As senior officer Lt Uhura takes charge and handles the situation like a boss! The character did not often get the spotlight (in TAS or TOS) so it was a pleasant change to see that, and also to see her used so well. Compare that to her wasted appearance in the above mentioned The Slaver Weapon where she just gets captured repeatedly, and you’ll appreciate The Lorelei Signal even more.
#4 Once Upon a Planet
This is a sequel to the TOS story Shore Leave (some of the best TAS episodes were the sequel stories) and features the crew revisiting the “amusement park” planet from that episode. But when the Caretaker is nowhere to be found and the “amusements” turn deadly the crew must solve the mystery before they end up permanent guests. Hey that’s a good log line. I should do log lines for a living.
The episode is interesting for pulling back the curtain on things that were only hinted at in the original episode. And all the wild creatures make for some fun, tension-filled scenes. Well, tense by Saturday morning cartoon standards.
#3 Mudd’s Passion
You can’t keep a good scoundrel down. Con artist Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd, who appeared in the TOS episodes I, Mudd and Mudd’s Women, is back and up to his old scheming ways. This time he is trying to trick some miners into buying some fake love crystals and Kirk and crew show up to shut his deal down. Though uncredited Roger C. Carmel reprises his role and he is just a joy in this episode.
There is an odd plot point though where Nurse Chapel uses the love crystals on her unrequited love interest Spock. She pretty much tries to roofie him and doesn’t even feel bad about it afterwards. Not cool Christine. Not cool. On a side note Harry Mudd appears in DSC as well but it is a much more dark, psychopathic and murderous version of the character which bears little resemblance to the original.
#2 The Time Trap
The Enterprise and a Klingon ship get sucked through a space vortex and enter a timeless zone with a graveyard of ships and a multi-alien council. The council tells Kirk and company there is no way out and they will be stuck there for eternity.
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It is dang near perfect. I love the ship battles, the science of it, the scheming Klingons, and the council which includes an Orion, a Vulcan, a Tellarite, and a freaking Gorn. I get a special pleasure seeing various alien races together as it makes the Trek universe feel like an expansive and cohesive whole. So yeah I loved the Time Trap and it is my number two. But before I get to my number one I have to do some venting…
Dishonourable Mentions: The Infinite Vulcan and The Magicks of Megas-tu
Though Koenig did not return to voice Chekov he did return to write The Infinite Vulcan. And it’s a bit of a mess. A giant clone of Terran scientist Dr Stavos Keniclius (Doohan again again) kidnaps Spock and makes a giant clone of him to be part of an intergalactic peace keeping force? What? Was Koenig watching a rerun of Spock’s Brain when he was inspired to write this? I know TAS is a cartoon but this is way too cartoonish.
The Magicks of Megas-tu was the next episode aired after The Infinite Vulcan and it is infinitely worse. The Enterprise crew end up in a magical dimension through the machinations of an overly friendly satyr-like being named Lucien (Doohan again again again). The crew and Lucien end up being put on trial a la Salem witch trials and have to use magic to escape. Yes. A magical dimension with magical beings where the crew use magical powers to defend themselves. Is this Star Trek or Harry Potter? And the cherry on the crap cake? Lucien is either the actual Earth devil or the inspiration for him. ¿En serio? To hell with this episode.
If you only watch one episode of TAS then it has to be Yesteryear. Why? Well, dear reader it was written by THE DC Fontana, who was story editor for the first two seasons of TOS and wrote ten episodes including Journey to Babel, The Naked Now and The Enterprise Incident (she also wrote The Way To Eden but we’ll forgive her for that). And the episode was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding entertainment in a children’s series. That’s no small potatoes. And Mark Lenard returned to reprise his role as Spock’s father Sarek. You still want more? You greedy targ. Fine!
Yesteryear starts off as a semi-sequel to The City on the Edge of Forever (aka one of the best Trek episodes ever) as the crew meets up with some historians using the Guardian of Forever. But when a team returns through the time travel device only Kirk remembers Spock and everyone’s favourite Vulcan has been wiped from existence. It is up to Spock to travel back in time to save his younger self on Vulcan.
The story is exceptional and Nimoy and Lenard provide excellent voice work. And the plot hits some surprisingly heartfelt emotional beats. Eventually you forget it is a cartoon you are watching and you just get sucked in to what’s happening. Yesteryear is must see viewing for Trek fans, especially for fans of Spock and Vulcans in general. The legacy of the episode is also quite strong and several concepts were incorporated into the three part ENT arc (The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara), and the scene where young Spock is bullied for being half-human is pretty much recreated in the the film Star Trek.
So if you go back in time to TAS for just one episode make sure it’s the best episode – Yesteryear. But do stick around because there are a few other good episodes in this odd, often forgotten little series.
So what’s your favourite Star Trek: TAS episode? For my ranking of all 8 Trek Opening Themes you can click here.
Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting Redmangoreviews stuff on Instagram as redmanwriter, and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.