Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Remembering the forgotten Star Trek series

There's been some discussion of the animated Star Trek over at the TrekBBS, in light of reports that it'll be out on DVD next year. One site said:

Star Trek: The Animated Series has made it to home video before, despite some who claim otherwise. Besides episodes on VHS release, a LaserDisc release also made it out with the series(...)

There are people who claim otherwise? The world is a stranger place than I thought. I posted briefly in one of the TrekBBS threads, but kept myself from blathering on too long and wallowing in nostalgia there. But not here!

The animated Star Trek is not the best Star Trek series. It's not the second or third best, either. It suffers from cheap animation with occasional bloopers. The music is recycled so much that, if you watch several episodes in a row, it gets annoying. The voice work by the regular cast is inconsistent and sometimes lifeless -- they didn't record together, which is made obvious occasionally when words are pronounced differently. (Like Kirk referring to the orry-ons instead of the orRYEons. I'll let you figure out which episode that happened in. Hint: the word Orion is in the title.)

But TAS is hardly completely awful. Some of the key writers from TOS were heavily involved, including DC Fontana and David Gerrold. A couple of classic TOS episodes got sequels. Spock's background was explored. We saw a proto-holodeck. Really alien aliens, including a couple of bridge officers. New starships and shuttles. Even an episode based on a short story by popular SF writer Larry Niven.

When TAS was airing on Saturday mornings, our reception was so bad I was lucky to catch a few minutes here and there. In 1975 we moved to a city that aired it on Saturday afternoons (that's not why we moved, no) and I was finally able to catch up with all of the episodes. Well, maybe. I'm not sure I actually saw "Albatross" before I bought the videos. But I was already familiar with several of the stories.


1974. I'm 11 years old. It's a cool and cloudy Saturday afternoon. We're at the Towers department store in North Bay, Ontario. I've spent a lot of time and money in their rows of paperback racks, buying Mad magazine reprint books, Charlie Brown books, UFO and Chariots of the Gods-type stuff (I grew out of that within another year or two), and Star Trek books. So I'm looking through the SF books and -- hey! a Star Trek book I haven't seen before! It doesn't even look like the other ones! Wait, there are two of them here! Ballantine Books, not Bantam, Alan Dean Foster, not James Blish, but still based on episodes, according to the back cover. Are they an alternative version of the Blish books? Took me a minute to realize that the front covers were stills from the animated series I'd barely seen any of yet. (I don't like that sentence structure. "Any of yet." But I am possessed and writing at white heat and cannot stop to change it.)

So I bought the two books, excited as all hell, seeing as how there were very few Star Trek books in existence back then and I'd been a diehard fan for months already. (We went to the snack shop and the base rec centre on the way home. Their chocolate milkshakes were almost too chocolaty. And their French fries were superb diner-style fries.) It was a good day. (Well, I warned you I'd be wallowing in nostalgia, didn't I?)

Then I started actually reading the books. Wow. Whereas Blish's adaptations were short and sweet, stripping out a lot of detail from the average TOS episode, Foster's added a lot of detail, fleshing those short 22 minute stories into novellas with more action, more characterization, and (sometimes, where needed) explanations or fixes for goofy events in the stories. Watching the episodes could be anticlimactic after reading his stories. I remember watching one of them, waiting for my favourite scene until the show was over and I hadn't seen the bit I was waiting for. It was only in the book, but I'd pictured it so clearly in my mind I was convinced I'd seen it on TV.

Now, you don't need the Foster versions to make the animated episodes watchable. All you need is 22 minutes of free time now and again. If you're a fan of the original series and you haven't seen these -- if you've seen the worst the third season has to offer without losing your faith in Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the Enterprise, no bloody A, B, C, or D -- you really need to investigate the animated series. Don't expect greatness; even the classic "Yesteryear" suffers from bad voice acting by the kid playing the young Spock. Keep an open mind and accept the fun that's on offer and you'll find it more than worth your time.

Here are a few links with more information on the animated series:

Curt Danhauser's Guide to the Animated Star Trek: history, episode guide, and lots more, from an acknowledged expert on the show. Curt wrote the text for the recent TAS trading cards. (He also has the websites on the old Gold Key Star Trek comics and the Power Records Star Trek story records from the 1970s.)

Star Trek: The Animated Series: lots of stuff here from TAS, including images, sounds, and more, plus new electronic comic book stories illustrated in a style inspired by TAS.

Star Trek: The Animated Adventures at startrek.com. The official Star Trek website has some good info and features.

(Now playing: Ute Lemper, "Scope J," Punishing Kiss.)


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