Captain's Blog pt. 3: The Animated Series (Episode by Episode) 1 of 2

Nimoy, Kelley, and Shatner recording TAS. There's a lot of 70s in this photo.
Let's jump right in to part one of our episode-by-episode one-stop-shopping for TAS, organized least-to-most favorite. Engage.


PLOT: Spock, Uhura, and Sulu are aboard a shuttlecraft en-route for Starbase 25 to deliver a Stasis Box, a rare artifact of an ancient alien species (The Slavers.) They are attacked by the hostile catlike Kzinti, who want to use the artifact to restore their empire to greatness. The Kzinti are killed when they artifact requests access codes and, failing to get them, self-destructs. (Full overview here)

Larry Niven was visiting Gene Roddenberry's house one afternoon, and Roddenberry suggested he use his short story “The Soft Weapon” as the basis for an episode of TAS. Niven changed the identity of the characters in the original to their analogs in Star Trek, but the characters from the Kzinti ship remained unchanged. DC Fontana adds: "The only thing we couldn't do was make them striped (…) animating the stripes would have been far too expensive, so they were tabby cats without the stripes." Probably good, as the stripes would have just ended up being pink, on account of Hal Sutherland’s colorblindness. (I’m not sure if it was someone else at Filmation who was colorblind or Hal Sutherland, but DC Fontana says Hal Sutherland, so let's go with that.) 

Here we see one of the novelties of TAS, these personal force fields generated by life support belts. Much easier to animate! As well as being much more logical than 20th century spacesuits for 23rd century outer-space work.
It's not a bad idea - and more power to Mr. Niven now and forevermore - but the execution is not great. The weapon never seems all that threatening (or makes much sense), and the animation of the Kzinti is unrealized enough to make a real difference.

Even in last place, I'd still rather watch it than 80% of the tv now or since.
LEGACY: The Kzin have stuck around. There's a planet Kzin in TNG, and the cat-dancer from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was a Kzinrrett. Had Enterprise not been canceled, according to Manny Coto, they would have appeared in the fifth season.

Marc Daniels directed many episodes of TOS and is among other things co-credited with introducing the three-camera-set-up for sitcoms still in use today.
PLOT: The Enterprise must stop a planet-consuming cloud before it destroys a planet with 82 million Federation folks on it. Once enveloped in said cloud, Spock determines it is an intelligent being and communicates telepathically with it. Upon realizing the planets it consumes are filled with other living beings, it departs the Milky Way for parts unknown. (Full overview here)

Is it just me or is the title to this episode a little too whimsical for its subject matter? It would be not just fine but awesome, however, if it was an exclamation point instead of a question mark.
Spock: Messiah! Spock's mind-meld with the cloud is a bit nuts, but fun. He's mind-melded with robots, alien-rock-monsters, and now nebulous sentient clouds. He should write a book.
LEGACY: A nice return for Bob Wesley, last seen in TOS episode "The Ultimate Computer," now governor of Mantilles, "the most remote planet in the Federation."

The most remote planet in the Federation has a population of 82,000,000? And only one governor? 

Samuel A. Peebles wrote "Where No Man Has Gone Before" for TOS and is credited with talking Roddenberry out of his original idea for Spock, that of his being half-Martian with a reddish complexion and a plate in his stomach through which he consumed energy.

PLOT: While star-charting (an activity Kirk returns to with unintentionally-amusing gusto in the Captain's Log at the end's episode,) the Enterprise comes across a strange alien vessel.

It is unfortunately inhabited by a malevolent entity who beams aboard and takes over the ship. After saying "Obey me!" a hundred times in three minutes. it's tricked into thinking Kirk is going to destroy the ship and flees for its life. As the Enterprise departs, the creature is left to orbit around the star forever, wailing, as Memory-Alpha puts it, "in terrible, endless loneliness."

Endless is right. "Soooooooo loooooonely...." it cries, while the crew calmly look on for what seems an eternity.
LEGACY: Lieutenant Kyle appears here (though voiced by James Doohan and not John Winston) sporting a pretty serious mustache. This influenced Kyle's appearance in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Fandral-the-Dashing-goutee he's sporting there.


PLOT: Harry Mudd returns; Mudd-esque hijinks ensue.

As well as some non-Mudd-esque hijinks. (Full overview here)
I was prepared to rank this one last, as I'm just not a Harry Mudd fan. Sure, "I, Mudd" of TOS was my favorite thing in the world when I was thirteen, but my appreciation of it hasn't aged well. (I'll still take it over 83% of what's on now or since.) Stephen Kandel wrote both "I, Mudd" and the character's first appearance, the exceptionally creepy "Mudd's Women." This TAS episode is probably the best iteration of the character. And it's not a bad little episode. Watching McCoy and Spock under the influence of the love-drug is pretty amusing, and the weirdness of Mudd's parting remarks ("I just hate to leave you all... all my... loved ones...") stuck with me for days.

"That is an outstandingly stupid idea." - Spock to Kirk. (Great line)

THERE'S A LOT OF LOVE IN THIS ROOM: "Thanks, Jim, it's good to have a friend like you."
"Strange, that's how I feel about you, too. My dear friend Spock..." One wonders if they weren't trying to hint at a different direction for the episode, here.


PLOT: The Vedala, the oldest known spacefarers of the Federation, ask for Kirk and Spock's help in recovering the Soul of Skorr, an ancient religious artifact that could spark an intergalactic holy war. Kirk is chosen to lead a diverse group of aliens for the mission, one of whom steals the artifact in an effort to return his species to their warrior ways.

Full overview here
Not much to say about this one. It's an interesting enough idea, one its writer originally envisioned as a Mission: Impossible episode. When he couldn't get the network interested, he transcribed it for TAS.

"I already have a lot of green memories." - Kirk's response to Lara's suggestion that their hooking up would provide them both with "green memories" in the years to come. One of the few episodes I can think of where Kirk spends most of his time turning down overtures of romance.
This guy, the oddly named M3-Green, a self-proclaimed "coward," gets a lot of good lines, though his voice is a little annoying.
Voice provided by David Gerrold, who wasn't particularly happy with his performance, either. Speaking of:


PLOT: Bem (shorthand for "Bug Eyed Monster" in old sci-fi talk) is an observer from the planet Pandro. Pandronians are colony creatures, i.e. multiple component organisms some of which may be capable of autonomous function. (Say that in your best Data or Geordi voice, please.)

On an away mission to Delta Theta III, to observe the aborigines there, Bem creates several headaches for Kirk and Spock, ultimately getting them locked up by the planet's native lifeforms. At episode's end, he/it/they explain these things were done to better test Kirk's capacities as a commander. Amidst all this, they discover Delta Theta III is under the protection of a god-like creature (voiced by Nichelle Nichols) who chastises them for interfering with her "children" but lets them go in peace. (Full overview here)

This episode's commentary track is a wealth of info. Gerrold relays how his original concept changed several times due to Roddenberry's repeated directive to first insert and then how to properly utilize the god-like creature. Roddenberry had several pet go-tos for Trek, and this "and then, the god-like creature" set-up was one of them. (Down the road, Paramount producers stopped taking his calls, as from the late-70s on, his single idea for every movie was "The crew must go to Dallas 1963 and stop the Kennedy assassination.") But Gerrold was able to accommodate Roddenberry's idea easily enough, and the script for this one is pretty tight. Kirk and Spock in particular have a lot of fun back-and-forth.

Oddly, though, at one point Kirk says, "Why don't you try your... uhh... Vulcan Nerve Pinch?" The line is delivered with the uhh just like that, suggesting our good Captain has forgotten the many times he's seen his first officer use this technique to subdue a foe. 

At one point, Scotty says, "The Loch Ness Monster couldn't get through that." Sometimes I wonder why they bothered putting a uniform on him instead of a kilt, wielding a highland claymore. I love Scotty, don't get me wrong, but in the Museum of Televised Cultural Stereotyping, Montgomery Scott gets a wing all of his own.

You mean there's no Scotchtoberfest?
LEGACY: This is the episode that establishes Kirk's middle name as "Tiberius."


PLOT: Essentially the same story and structure as TOS episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." But it's fun enough to not be redundant, and it furthers the concepts by adding a "Glommer," i.e. a Klingon-designed genetically-engineered "Tribble eater." (Gerrold's original concept had this glommer growing in size like a Tribble until it eventually started eating crew members, but this was judged too much for Saturday morning TV.)

I was amused by Kirk's description of Cyrano Jones as "intergalactic trader and general nuisance." Also, one of the chapter titles: "They Throw Tribbles, Don't They?" Nice.


Howard Weinstein wrote this when he was only 19. He's been involved in the Trekverse in various capacities ever since.

PLOT: Spock falls ill, and Orion pirates hijack the ship containing the medicine that will save him. Kirk has a mano y mano with the Orion captain on an asteroid and fixes his wagon. Spock is saved.

Some confusion exists around whether or not the Orions, here, are meant to be the same race as appeared in "Journey to Babel" and "The Menagerie" in TOS. Shatner pronounces the pirates as "Ore-ee-on," thus distinguishing them as different from the Oh-rye-ons, they of the green-skinned-scantily-clad-ladies fame. The rest of the cast does, as well. Weinstein maintains he meant them to be the same race as the Orions who appeared in TOS eps just-mentioned. Did Shatner just say it wrong and the rest of the cast went with it? I doubt Bill Reed knew or cared either way. Shatner has had his fair share of stubborn mispronunciations, as captured wonderfully here, so I'll go with Weinstein, here.


PLOT: A species of intelligent plant, led by a clone of a Eugenics Wars-era scientist clones Spock with the intentions of creating a master race. He creates instead a Giant Spock whom he calls "Spock Two."

Let's turn this over to Jeff, author of Into the Dark Dimension who shares my fascination with this concept:

"Giant Spock may be one of my favorite things ever... I still can't get over how they created that character and then, as far as I know, nothing has been done since with him. I mean, it's SPOCK, for God's sake, just giant-size. He'd have the same potential and intellect. Why has that not been important enough to follow up on? 

(on the idea of a Star Trek D&D campaign) "How about Giant Spock nerve-pinching Frost Giants? ... Silliness aside, I like the idea that neither Spock is very troubled by the presence of the other; none of this "am I really me?" bs from Giant Spock. He just looks at it logically. "I am me. Dwelling on the provenance of my memories and experiences is irrelevant and illogical." I would watch or read as much about Giant Spock as they could produce..."

Me, too. Ten Giant Spock's Adventures done in 70s-Marvel-style would be one of my monkey paw wishes. Would he build a giant spaceship? A giant Science Academy? Does Giant Spock undergo pon farr or have a katra? I seriously could riff on this for years. 

Actually, I guess I've already been riffing on it for years.
LEGACY: Interesting to note that Walter Koenig wrote this episode. Koenig, not just a former castmate but also a close personal friend of George Takei's, according to Takei's autobiography To the Stars, would presumably have known Takei's sexual preference decades before Takei officially came out to the world. What are we to make of the ending dialogue, here?

"By the way, Mr. Sulu, any chance of teaching me that body throw? Could come in handy some time."
"I don't know, sir. It isn't just physical, you know. You have to be.. inscrutable."
"Inscrutable? Sulu, you're the most scrutable man I know!"

"Inscrutable" doesn't mean anything akin to "gay," of course, and nor do I at all care whom the guy sleeps with, there's just something wink-wink nudge-nudge about the way both Takei and Shatner deliver these lines, and it even ends with an actual wink (above.) I can't help but wonder if this is an affectionate nod or acknowledgement to his friend's then-verboten lifestyle, coded enough within the boundaries of 1970s television but conspicuous.

All such speculation aside, though... Kirk doesn't know a simple judo move like a body throw? He sure seemed to in "Charlie X" and elsewhere in TOS.

Margaret Armen wrote two of my favorite TOS episodes, "The Paradise Syndrome" and "The Cloud Minders."
PLOT: Kind of a cross between "The Deadly Years" and "Spock's Brain" while foreshadowing the Enterprise episode "Bound." The Enterprise receives a mysterious subspace transmission from Taurus 2 (no, not that Taurus 2, i.e. the one that appears in "The Galileo Seven.") It has a debilitating effect on all male crew members, though, and soon, the men are entranced and eventually begin to age rapidly. Uhura takes control of the ship and assembles an all-female security team to go down to the surface, where she discovers the all-female race there can neither grow old nor die nor have children. They came to the planet long ago but now cannot escape. 

They bring men to them with their siren-like song, (aka a "Loreli"-like song, from Germanic folklore concerning the sirens of the Rhine river) bewitch them, and then consume their life essence to "revitalize." Uhura promises to send a starship to take them elsewhere, and the men are restored to their normal, relatively-non-useless selves.

Before Uhura assumes control of the ship, it is in the hands of a thoroughly besotted Scotty; it is not revealed whether he was inebriated before or during the initial incursion, but of all the crew, he seems more inebriated than bewitched. In one sequence, the Enterprise crawls across the screen for what seems like an eternity while the only audio is Scotty drunkenly singing to himself. It is arguably the definitive wtf moment in all TAS.

In another sequence, the transporters are utilized to restore crew members to their younger selves, and Nurse Chapel says this has never been done before. She must have really not been paying attention in TOS. (The ol' "just use the transporter" trick is used even more prominently in TNG.)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: It's difficult to put yourself into the shoes of another era, and aspects of this story must seem either wildly satirical or terribly offensive to some folks. I can sympathize. But I kind of love  contemporaneous gendered mayhem like this.


PLOT: (Full overview here) McCoy is accused by the people of the planet Dramia of mass genocide committed on a previous visit to the planet. He maintains his innocence, but the Dramians are intent on trying him. While investigating, the Enterprise itself is infected with the same plague they've accused McCoy of unleashing on their world. McCoy realizes the aurora through which ships pass to and from the planet is the cause of the planet, and everyone recovers. The Dramians absolve him of charges.

"Hippocrates would not have approved of lame excuses." - Spock to McCoy.

McCoy with Dramians
At one point, McCoy (I think - I neglected to write down who said it) says "I presume you have antibodies?" I wouldn't be surprised if there was some insane reason why the replicator on-board every Starfleet vessel couldn't reproduce antibodies, but that doesn't mean I have to go with numb with acceptance at the idea.

The writer has only one other credit to his name:



  1. I'd be willing to chalk the "ore-EYE-un"/"ORE-ee-onn" thing up to Shatner being Shatner. For example, the infamous "sabotage" audio clip:


    And now for some random comments:

    * I've long been curious about Larry Niven's Kzin books. I'm going to have to read a few of those someday. Can they be seen as Trek spinoffs?

    * Nice "Spock: Messiah!" reference. I've actually read that one! In fact, I wrote a review of it for a blog back in 2009. The blog has since closed up shop, so sadly, I cannot provide a link. The summary: decent novel, some good ideas, some unfortunate racism and sexism.

    * I loathe Harry Mudd. Used to love him; now I loathe him. The last time I watched the series, I cringed through every scene he was in during his two episodes. PLEASE, Paramount, do NOT bring him back.

    * Giant Spock. Can't add anything to that, just...Giant Spock.

    * I remember that Sulu wink! I never thought anything of it, except to note it in a "Hmm...THAT was weird" way. You're probably dead on the money, though. Which makes the whole thing kinda cool.

    * I dug "The Lorelei Signal." Getting to see Uhura and Chapel kicking ass was fun. Would've made a greatly memorable episode of the live-action series, too.

    * That poster for "Scorpio '70" might be the lamest one-sheet I have ever seen.

    Good stuff! I'm gonna go ahead and predict that your #1 episode is "The Counter-Clock Incident."

    1. That "sabotage" link is the very same one I linked to, above. Great minds think alike!

      Spock Messiah is a fun read but for the wrong reasons, ultimately, like you say. The whole set-up is so contrived from page one, and I was personally disappointed to not see Spock go a more Colonel Kurtz direction.

      As for the Kzin books, I've never read them, but they are not spin-offs, no. Niven allowed for their use in Star Trek as part of his Known Space concept. (Sort of like different levels of the Dark Tower.) The Man-Kzin War books take place in their own continuity. If Jeff pops in, he can probably elaborate more specifically, but that's what I've been able to gleam from online summaries.

      I have a book of his short stories, A Hole in Space, that I really like.

      You're in the top 5 with your guess, but "Counter-Clock" is not the top spot, no. Hopefully I can get that one together asap.

    2. Hah! Not sure how I missed that you had already linked to the "sabotadge" video. I think I was so excited by the prospect of getting to comment on Shatner's voice-over irregularities that I just greyed out for a moment!

      Speaking of Trek captains doing voice-over work, it was recently announced that the audio version of Joe Hill's "NOS4A2" will be read by Kate Mulgrew. That'll be good enough to sell me a copy.

    3. That is great news about Janeway reading Joe Hill's newest; I may have to get that myself.

      I throw so many (perhaps too many) links into these things I can't fault anyone for missing one or two. I'll be breaking Shatner down decade-by-decade somewhere in the course of these things and address this more then, but as that clip illustrates, he was such a head-case back in the day. It's a good thing for everyone that he embraced self-parody as he did. Listening to him tell a sound tech "you sicken me" for correcting his pronunciation (i.e. his job) for a word whose pronounced one way by 99% makes me sympathize with all the venom Nichols, Doohan, Takei, and Koenig have sprayed over the years. Luckily, he seems to have snapped out of such antics in the 90s, at long last.

  2. The Kzinti are exactly what I wanted to comment about. Niven's Known Space is his future history/setting in which the action of many, if not most, of his books takes place. It's not connected to Trek in any way. As mcmolo says, Niven imported the Kzinti into Trek for some reason or other. As a Trek race, the Kzinti only remain part of the action in the Starfleet Battles space combat game setting, which is its own weird parallel Trek universe that somehow is legally able to stay in print.

    The Ringworld books, of which the first two - Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers - are the best, are the most famous of the Known Space books. The Man-Kzin Wars books are a crowd-sourced series, and I don't know a lot about them. I'd say stick with Niven's own work to start with. Niven does write some of the stories in the Man-Kzin Wars books, by the way, so check the TOC of whatever volume of that series you happen to see.

    The Kzinti are poorly served in their Trek incarnation. Besides the awful renderings of them, they seem almost neutered in ST:TAS. Niven's Kzinti either started or kicked into overdrive the notion of an anthropomorphic-cat warrior race in space opera. Where bmcmolo has described the Klingons of modern Trek as "all Wresltemania all the time," the Kzinti outdo even the Klingons for being hotheaded and prone to extreme violence. Where Klingons are always shown eating disgusting stuff, the Kzinti are pretty simple, requiring freshly-killed meat. It's telling that the Kzinti ambassador to humans is named Speaker-to-Animals. How these guys went from all that to what they are in TAS is beyond me, especially given that Niven himself wrote the episode.

  3. By the way, I forgot to mention that it was also very interesting, and cool, that Niven also imported another element of his Known Space setting into Trek - the Slavers, or Thrint. A billion-years-dead race that ruled the galaxy by way of psionic powers, whose tech is so good that the stasis boxes could still be functioning in the Trek era, is an intriguing bit of color for a history's setting. It's the kind of thing that Trek could have benefited from had it, or something along its lines, been made canon.

    It would have been even more interesting had a Slaver itself been in a stasis box, and went into psychic battle with Spock.

    1. Thanks for the info! Sounds pretty cool. I've had a copy of "Ringworld" for two decades that I still haven't read. One of these days, maybe...

    2. TNG has at least two episodes (though I think there are more) that revisit that sort of concept. (i.e. that of the ancient civilization leaving artifacts/ weapons with which the Enterprise must disarm/ figure out/ utilize, etc.) I agree, it's a cool idea. (And as with the Slaver Weapon, I don't think any of these things were followed up on again, in TNG or elsewhere.)

      One of my ideas for a Trek show is set 5 years after TOS and just has a ship checking-in/ mopping up all of Kirk's mayhem. But it could easily be a "Star Trek: General Follow-Up" show which exclusively deals with concepts under-utilized from ANY of the shows. I'd love to watch something like that.

    3. For the record, Ringworld is one of my very favorite science fiction novels. I always read it and The Ringworld Engineers together, so I consider them one big novel (they aren't, but work well together). Ringworld, the titular object, is one of the most astounding concepts I've read about in scifi. The sheer magnitude of it, and the mystery of its creation, continues to boggle my mind with each re-reading, and I first read them 30+ years ago. I still marvel at the idea of an ocean so large that it contains life-sized "maps" of numerous homeworlds of the sentient species of Known Space, including Earth and (mysteriously) Mars, with their original ecosystems recreated...and the Kzin living on the Kzin homeworld "map" were so aggressive and territorial that they managed to build enormous wooden ships to cross intervening waters many times vaster than the surface areas of several planets to conquer many of the other "planets."

      And that's just a tiny side-note to the proceedings in Ringworld.