Captain's Blog pt. 2: The Animated Series (An Overview)

Star Trek: The Animated Series ran for two seasons in 1973 and 1974 as part of NBC's Saturday morning cartoon line-up.

Twenty-two episodes were produced altogether. Most were directed by Hal Sutherland, though Bill Reed directed a couple. We'll get to the writers of the episodes next time, but no less personage than D.C. Fontana was the story editor.

The animation is not great. It re-uses a lot of the same shots and (whether for budget or artistic reasons, I don't know) is particularly fond of bizarre split-screens like this.
But, as all-around fascinating guy and Trek commentator Eugene Myers mentions here, “First off, if you’re going to enjoy this series at all you just have to make allowances for the animated format, trading cheesy sets and special effects for cheesy designs and rudimentary animation. Filmation was notorious for cutting costs; if you ever watched Super Friends or He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, you know what to expect. (...) However, I got used to it once I was caught up in the story and stopped noticing how groaningly bad it looks.

He also mentions that the guy who did the colors for the Filmation production company was color-blind. That might've been something to look into before hiring the guy, one would think!

The AV Club's official Trek-overseer, Zack Handlen agrees: “Given the presence of most of the original cast, and the surprising amount of continuity with TOS, this is Trek for fans in the best possible sense: it takes a devotee to get past the roughness, but once you accept that this is never going to be perfect, it's a charming, intelligent reward for everyone who ever wondered just what the hell was going on inside the planet of “Shore Leave,” or what Kirk's middle name really was, or what would happen if Kirk and Spock became fish-men. (Everybody wonders that last one, right? It's not just me?)

You're not alone, Zack.

The visual design of TOS is upheld pretty well.
According to the wiki, the writers used the same guide that was used for the original.
A copy of the series bible, as revised for TAS, is held in the sci-fi research collection at Temple University, Philadelphia.

I'll get to the individual episodes next time, but this comment on “More Troubles, More Tribbles” by the author of Into the Dark Dimension is worth noting here: “The klingon with male-pattern-baldness waiting in line to board the Enterprise... Actually, that whole line looks more like the line for the johns at a Trek convention than a boarding party. Anyway, that particular Klingon foreshadowed what Klingons would later become in The Motion Picture.

Although Roddenberry claimed on several occasions the events of TAS were non-canon, many aspects of it are upheld or referenced in the Trek to come. This design for the Klingon ship, for example, appears only a few years after TAS in TMP, and as Zach notes above, it was in TAS where we learned Kirk's middle name, upheld as recently as the Abrams & co.'s Star Trek (2009.)
It must have been something Kirk kept close to the vest. His close friend Gary Mitchell, who thoughtfully creates this tombstone for Captain Kirk while trying to kill him in Where No Man Has Gone Before, didn't even know.
In addition to the original cast (all but Chekov) reprising their roles, Mark Lenard returns as Sarek, Stanley Adams returns as Cyrano Jones, and Roger Carmel returns as Harcourt Mudd. (I doubt anyone here needs any links or more information on those folks.) The animation format allows for some decidedly non-humanoid bridge personnel, as well,

such as Lt. Arex
and Lt. M'Ress.
Ms. M'Ress is particularly popular with one member of my household. Meee-OWW!
(JULY 2013 EDIT: RIP, Big Boy.)
All other voices provided by:

James Doohan, who provided a lot of the alien-voices in TOS, as well. Unlike in TOS, though, the animators didn't have to go to such ridiculous lengths to hide the fact that Doohan was missing a finger on his right hand. (He lost it, at Normandy on D-Day under friendly fire.)
Nichelle Nichols
and Majel Barrett, also the voice of the computer in later Trek series. (As well as Mrs. Roddenberry, in case anyone lives under a Horta.)
TAS hasn't inspired the same level of manic fandom that accompanies most of Trek's other incarnations. Part of that is due to its dated animation, no doubt, or its relative unavailability for decades. But that did not stop Curt Danhauser from creating this site, not to mention his own episodes. Non-canon, of course. (Someone should do a spin-off/ unauthorized-sequel to one of his episodes, actually, just for the non-canon-to-the-fourth-power madness of it all. Not that that's a knock on his episodes, or any non-canon stuff; more power to you, Trekkers.)

Or Trekcore from compiling this pretty spot-on “Next Voyage” trailers for the TAS episodes in the style of TOS previews:

That SPOCK TWO!!! bit at the end really cracks me up.
It's available to stream or rent via Netflix/ Amazon nowadays and should be available on Blu-Ray release sooner or later.

Not much else to say, this time around, except that a lot of people with whom I've discussed TAS over the years (as mentioned last time, I came to it pretty late, only within the past couple of years) remember it less from the tv show and more from the Alan Dean Foster novelizations of the episodes from the 70s.

ADF was one of the very first sci-fi writers on my personal radar.
While I no longer have copies of either of the above, I've still got a couple of the below:

ADF was also the man credited with putting together the story for The Motion Picture, so, more about him when we get to the movies.

My TAS least-favorite-to-favorite rankings!
(Above clip NSFW, dialogue from Truck Turner)


  1. The animated Trek is a worthwhile thing, overall. But like you say, it does take a LOT of concession on the viewer's part.

    Personally, I can deal with the rough animation. What drives me up the wall is that one piece of score that is used seemingly every time danger arises. It typically accompanies shots of the crew running away from (or running toward) something, and those shots are always recycled animation. I was stressed out by those bits by the third episode!

    Otherwise, though, it's a fun series for the Trekkie.

    1. Totally. (I know exactly which you mean and just replayed it in my head involuntarily. I now have visions of shadowy stick figures running in front of a static backdrop...)

      That sound effect for "swooping dinosaur bat-like creatures" is re-used ad infinitum, as well.

  2. I remember that Saturday morning lineup quite well. I watched most of those shows.

    I was seven when Star Trek animated aired and I recall many of the stories being a little above the head of the average seven year old. My favorite episode then was "The Practical Joker." Now, I prefer "Yesteryear."

    Sigmund and the Seamonster was a quality show in that lineup done by Sid and Marty Croft. Unfortunately, the set caught fire after the end of the first season and rather than rebuild, the Crofts canceled the show.

    1. Yeah the writers did a pretty good job of writing a show that was accessible to kids (or seems like it would be) without having any of the kiddie-show dialogue tropes, or dumbing it down or anything. It feels like what the title states it to be - just an animated version of TOS, albeit slightly different.

      I don't know why Boomerang doesn't play more Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear. Though maybe they do; admittedly, I don't know their programming.

    2. p.s. It's funny about TOS and TAS (maybe TNG and the others, too, those are harder for me to gauge) but most people I know got into Trek when they were kids, yet when you watch those episodes as an adult (TOS, I mean, though it applies to TAS, as well) the adult content/ serious-subtext of it all is so striking.

      I think fundamentally Trek appeals to kids for many reasons. Too many to summarize here, but I hope to come up with a good list by the time this Captain's Blog runs its course... Hopefully you guys will help me out!

      Live Long and Prosper... the weekend beckons.

  3. Ah, TAS, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

    Actually, I won't, but I will mention a few things.

    First, Mr Dog Star Omnibus himself prompted me to watch, and I'm thankful I took the prompt. I recall seeing a few episodes as a kid when it was in first-run (yes, there's a Requiem for Methuselah joke in there somewhere), but the animation turned me off back then - and would again much later, as an adult, when my friends all started having kids and He-Man was almost literally on a video loop at their houses. Another side note - Filmation also did Gilligan's Planet about ten years after ST:TAS. That's right; Gilligan's-Farkocktah-Planet.

    Anyway, I was struck by how quickly the animation became transparent for me (on Star Trek the Animated Series, not Gilligan's Planet). The show's energy imbued it with a charm that far outstripped its limitations. Occasionally the animation became obtrusive, such as the truly wretched work on The Slaver Weapon - which is too bad, given that this is an episode written by one of my favorite SF authors, Larry Niven, and features one of his best creations, the Kzinti. Regardless, the bulk of the animation was just good enough to stay out of the way.

    The Magicks of Megas-tu may be my favorite episode. I recall bmcmolo asking me "have you seen this episode yet...?" and my Spidey-sense going off as a result. How many Saturday morning cartoons can boast of Lucifer and Asmodeus(!) as characters? Holy cats!

    As bmcmolo will know, my favorite thing to come out of ST:TAS, by far, is Giant Spock. Introduced (and quickly dropped) in The Infinite Vulcan, this giant clone of Spock still has a mind-meld on my imagination. Why? Giant. Spock. As Stan the Man says, 'nuff said.

    1. Do I recall correctly that Giant Spock is left on the planet at the end of the episode?

      How great would it have been for TNG or DS9 to visit the Giant Spock planet at some point? I smell the need for a comic series!

    2. Yep, they left him there. I first assumed that eventually he'd finish his work on the planet, and a passing Fed ship would pick him up. Or, he'd build his own warp-capable ship and head out. But then it hit me...Khan. Sure, Spock and Kirk would have been more likely to make sure Giant Spock would be looked after, but who really knows? A giant, goateed Spock ruling over a planet using iron-fisted logic strikes me as amusing.

      And what about Pon Farr? Not a lot of options there...

    3. There needs to be a Star Trek: Wrath of Giant Spock. Or some continuation. It is not going to happen, I know, but damn it...

  4. Oh, and I forgot to mention Splinter of the Mind's Eye and The Black Hole novelizations. I read those when first published. For a long time, just by virtue of his film and TV novelizations alone, Alan Dean Foster was one of my most-read authors. He is also good when writing his own material. I loved his trilogy of books about the ice-planet Tran-ky-ky: Icerigger, Mission to Moulokin, and The Deluge Drivers. He also wrote a novelization for John Carpenter's Dark Star which is pretty good.

    I remember reading The Black Hole in Mr. Capelli's shop class circa 1979, when I was in 7th grade. It often ended up being like a study hall class, especially in the Winter. I remember loving that book back then, but it may be more for the cover than the content.

    1. ADF wrote a novelization of "Dark Star"?!?

      I might have to try and find one of those...

    2. "For a long time, just by virtue of his film and TV novelizations alone, Alan Dean Foster was one of my most-read authors."

      Actually, I think the same could be said for me, too, now that I think of it!

      Do they still write these sort of things, I wonder? Not ADF but is there much of a print industry for novelizations anymore? I never see anyone reading any, or any on the shelves... hmm.

      I wonder how much moolah ADF made off these things? I hope he was rewarded handsomely.

    3. Oh, yeah, there are still a lot of novelizations. At least, I see a lot of them on the shelves at Books-a-Million and B&N, or Half Price Books a few months later. ADF is still plugging away, of course, and did the novelization for Abrams' Trek (I'm sure you knew that, actually). Guys like Peter David and Max Allan Collins seem to be go-to guys for novelizations these days. There seems to be a novelization for just about any movie that comes along that wasn't already based on a book, and a book series for a lot of TV shows. Given how many I see, they must be making dough off them. Some are rather bizarre - there is a John Carter novelization that also includes A Princess of Mars. I have to agree that they don't seem to have the same prominence they once did, but they do seem to be pretty de rigueur for marketing.

    4. I only just this morning discovered ADF was writing the novelization for ST: Into Darkness. That's cool. That's amazing to me that they still do novelizations. I guess I only never see them at the places I go, which, come to think of it, are always used bookstores, so no wonder I never see them... Cool, though, considering how many of them I read back in the day, I'm happy kids or teens (or whomever's reading them) still have them.

      The novelization for Star Trek III was great, if memory serves. Lots of "deleted scenes." This was before such things were collected on the dvd, of course, so the novelization was the only place to discover what was cut from the final print.

      I'll probably repeat this bit of info when I cover the movies, but Peter David's comic book adaptation of Star Trek V corrected the incredible mistake of forgetting Kirk already HAD a brother when he tells Spock "I lost a brother once... luckily for me I got him back." Which, ok, maybe Kirk forgot about Sam (as he apparently, ahem, forgot his own nephew, who survived "Operation: Annihilate") but what's Spock's excuse? I can think of two answers: one) McCoy simply forgot to hook up something when he put his brain back in "Spock's Brain," or two) some memories were not recreated after the events at the end of Star Trek III. Anyway, PD altered the sentence to "...got ONE of them back," and bless him for it.

    5. It occurs to me that maybe Kirk and and brother Sam fought a lot and were estranged for most of their lives. It may be that they simply never thought of each other as brothers very much, if they thought of each other at all. I can tell you from personal experience that that is possible. That could account for Kirk's fairly muted reaction to Sam's death, and Kirk's bonding with Spock.

    6. What you say makes sense. But I'd put the odds on the writers just forgetting about Sam Kirk entirely and not that they were characterizing James Kirk in any way.

    7. Oh, sure, absolutely. I was just fan-fic'ing a rationale for myself.