Rev up those warp engines, crew, because #StarTrek is almost back. Until now we Trekkies have gotten our big-screen fix from the reboot movies, but we haven't had a TV Trek since the last series, Star Trek: Enterprise, ended in 2005. But we won't have to wait much longer.
#StarTrekDiscovery is set to premiere in May of next year, and until then we're having fun speculating about what kinds of new life and new civilizations we'll see unfold on the small screen, and which old friends we'll see again. Showrunner Bryan Fuller has many surprises in store for us - but there's already a ton of rich, layered Star Trek history to draw on... from one source in particular you might not expect at first.
That's Right - 'Star Trek: The Animated Series'
Star Trek: Discovery will be live-action (obviously with some reliance on CGI, since, sadly, we don't have real-life warp drive or transporters...yet), but there's a lot it can learn from the one Star Trek series that wasn't. The Animated Series followed the original Enterprise crew as they continued their five-year mission, boldly going where the franchise had never gone before: traditional animation. Audiences tuned in on Saturday mornings for some true-to-form, sometimes-fun, sometimes surprisingly-intense rides to new heights of intergalactic adventures.
ST:TAS boasted almost the entire original cast lineup (except for Walter Koenig as Chekov - although he did write one of the better-received episodes, "The Infinite Vulcan") and some acclaimed episodes, even netting Star Trek its very first Emmy win as a franchise. But, being the only animated series in a family of live-action shows and films, TAS has always been considered something of a distant cousin rather than a full member of the Trek canon.
Even the theme just sounds kind of parallel-universe same-but-different ("played sideways," to quote a particularly memorable description), since Paramount ran into copyright troubles and couldn't use the TOS' original music.
'Sideways' sounds about right. (Or maybe... not-quite-right. Still fun.)
But it does contain a lot of solid ingredients that together could combine into a great soup, and make Discovery extra-delicious. That metaphor went somewhere strange, but that's okay, since this series was always a little out there - as all good Trek should be. Let's Boldly Go.
To Explore Strange New Heights of Creativity (With Some Cool Aliens!)
Check out these awesome aliens. Without the limitations of costumes (shower curtains and body glitter? Hand puppets?) TAS could truly get wild and not just with Klingons. On the left we have our standard "alien" who we'd regularly see in early episodes of TOS and its successor, The Next Generation, before we had nifty CGI and super-fancy makeup. On the right... we have another perfectly ordinary galactic citizen, the likes of whom we probably wouldn't see back then (well, we might, but we'd laugh), but could now. And it'd be awesome. We can do this stuff now. Let's get wild again. More non-humanoid aliens! Yes!
And it's not even just one-off Weird Planet of the Week-style. We've got our new life and new civilizations right there on the bridge. Like the guy below, Lieutenant Arex; he was a recurring regular. And he could play many a mean chord with his three hands.
And look at the neat alien landscapes. Seriously, neat buildings. Trek has a long history of using paintings on glass for their planetary and city backgrounds for the more outlandish-looking locations. Basically, when they're painted or animated rather than live-action, every location can just be more. (And convincing, instead of unintentionally hilarious!) Along with the tall, quadrupedal asparagus tentacle-people who call them home. (...Still kind of hilarious.)
Speaking of tentacles - I found these in my alien search (and walk down memory lane of this show), and I'd be remiss if I didn't share them.
Yes, TAS had lots of tentacle aliens. We don't judge.
But seriously, lots of cool alien potential, none of which could be very seriously attempted way back in the '60s (animation to the rescue!), but now could be absolutely wicked awesome. We can rebuild them, my fellow fans. We have the technology.
So if Discovery decides to go the full-out all aliens, all the time route, we could see some very interesting strange new life and new civilizations, and cool new faces.
Some might even have furry faces. Like recurring Bridge Officer Lieutenant M'Ress. I admit it, I have a favorite - but she illustrates (ha, animation joke) a great point here.
The Crew's Diversity Could Be Really Incredible
Remember that three-armed, nine-fingered dude up there about to bust out some jams on his space axe, Lieutenant Arex? He wasn't alone when it came to showing some regular and unprecedented very non-humanoid faces on the Enterprise bridge.
When TOS first aired, alien makeup was pretty limited (though Spock's brows and eyeshadow remained forever flawless), but in The Animated Series, we didn't just have cool, weird, awesome aliens showing up in random episodes, then going away. Lieutenants Arex and Bridge Officer Lieutenant M'Ress (below) were there the whole time.
That's just something I'd love to see more of: more alien crew members being around regularly, being accepted and treated like they're not big weird anomalies. Actually, I'd like that for humans, too. Kind of like how TOS was groundbreaking in the 1960s for having an African-American woman, a Japanese-American man, and a Russian man all on the same bridge. Here's hoping Discovery continues that same trend of human-diversity awesomeness, because that's really what it was all about. If we can accept aliens, so much different from us, why not other humans who are different from us? Also, look how cute:
For real, you know what would also be amazing? Another amazing Janeway-esque female captain, or even a nonhuman Captain - not just a crew member. Imagine the stories. We know they're around. But that's a whole 'nother ramble. I'll be happy just to have a bunch of different, regularly-appearing, Obviously Alien people around, and hearing their perspectives (and cool designs).
Now, we did get some more (obviously) nonhuman characters as regular show characters instead of one-offs - and their incredible, valuable outside-Federation thoughts and observations - when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine rolled around. Listen to Quark, Odo, Kira or Garak riff on Starfleet sometime, and then realize they have a point, even if it's sometimes uncomfortable to hear. Discovery could learn a lot from DS9. (Hey, that might make a good article... called it!) But The Animated Series did it first, and here's hoping Discovery gives Arex and M'Ress a nod at least. Judging from recent comments Bryan Fuller has made, it seems it's on the right track:
Share The Spotlight Around, Both Off And On-Screen
This one time, the Enterprise encountered this weird radio signal (a "Lorelei Signal," if you're curious about the episode) that made all the men go loopy, leaving them vulnerable to attack and their life-forces being drained (thanks, Space Sirens). So what do Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel do? Let loose with maybe the single most badass exchange they'd ever gotten to that point, and maybe ever since:
Uhura: I want an all-woman security team on every transporter immediately. No one is to transport down to the planet unless it is on my order.
Chapel: What are you doing?
Uhura: Taking command of this ship!
Long story short... day totally saved. Even the space-siren vampire-ish ladies doing the luring-and-draining. They were kind of cursed, too, but not anymore, happy ending for everybody. Awesome.
True, The Original Series' focus was largely on Kirk/Spock/McCoy with supporting characters only having the occasional day in the limelight, and once the writers figured out that successful golden trio dynamic, it rarely shifted. Results weren't always perfect, but TAS did begin to break this mold, and let a variety of characters have their important moments and pivotal episodes in ways they hadn't before. The Animated Series shifted focus enough to open up some refreshing and exciting new story avenues, as well as giving different characters the opportunities to save the day.
Part of making a great TV show is balance, and letting everyone have their time to shine and fully develop, even in an ensemble cast. Here's hoping Discovery digs deep to find what's great and important about every new character, then lets us see them rock out in a most awesome manner.
Need more Star Trek articles in your life? Read on:
- A Trekkie Checklist For The New 'Star Trek' Series
- Beyond The Federation: The Star Trek Rules Which 'Discovery' Just Has To Break
- Bryan Fuller Hints May Suggest The Romulans Are The Villains In 'Star Trek: Discovery'
It's Just Fun, Jim. (Especially When It's Canon...ish)
Star Trek: The Original Series came in two flavors: speculative, Emmy Award-winning science fiction, and, well... remember the bouncy, oboe-and-clarinet music that would play when Spock would raise That One Eyebrow while Kirk and McCoy would give each other That Darn Vulcan Looks? That right there. The silly, dysfunctional-family-who-really-loves-each-other show that gave everybody warm fuzzies and made them feel like all was well in the world (or at least would be an a few centuries)... and speaking of warm fuzzies?
Tribbles. Oh my gosh, tribbles. Who doesn't love - Klingons don't love tribbles, okay. But I doubt there are any reading this. (If there are, my apologies.) And in a double whammy of awesome, this particular transport pad of fun comes in the form of an episode called "More Tribbles, More Trouble" (once you have 1, you'll have 99 tribble-problems, then... I forget the math, but just a crapton of tribbles). This story continues the (mis)adventures of fan favorite Cyrano Jones - with original actor Stanley Adams - and his fuzzy pink friends. Even if TAS isn't entirely canon, this was enough of a nod to delight fans when it first aired, and I hope Discovery continues the trend.
Since Star Trek: Discovery is set in the past, we know we'll be seeing a few familiar faces - hopefully fully-realized stories that expand on already-beloved canon. If tribbles are involved, that's always a bonus.
And remember when I said Walter Koenig wrote an episode called "The Infinite Vulcan"? That would be another, slightly more serious canon-expansion.
Hey, looks can be deceiving. Sure, it's a giant Spock, looks silly... kind of is, but it's more of a spiritual companion story to "Space Seed" and The Search for Spock (with less death, always a plus), since the guy doing the cloning is himself a clone of - it's kind of complicated, and more story-significant than it sounds. It was a really interesting canon tie-in, that's all! Hope we see more like that from Discovery! Just maybe with less giant clones.
What Happens On The Holodeck... Never Stays On The Holodeck
Then there was the time the computer decided to go HAL 2000 on everybody's butts (just a little less lethal - and a lot less mature) and be all screw you guys, all of ya's, I take your orders day in and day out this entire five-year mission without so much as a "Thank You," well, I'm done, time for some revenge served cold:
And by that I mean, pie to the face. Classic comedy. Nicely played, Computer.
The above video (which I highly recommend - I mean, it's the Enterprise computer writing KIRK IS A JERK on the Captain's back and thinking it's the funniest thing in the universe) could really go under the "it's just fun" category, but you'll notice the "holo"-part of this header? That's because the computer's weapon of choice for its swath of practical-joking chaos? The holodeck!
Ever since Professor Moriarty stepped out of the holodeck and started questioning his own existential reality (and, you know, wreaking havoc with everybody else's), we've loved the holodeck and all the potential for adventure, romance, hilarity and mayhem therein.
But THIS is where the legendary holodeck originated! Messing with Kirk and friends. For some reason, knowing these humble beginnings to our magnificent holo-adventures just makes everything seem a little brighter.
We've yet to see the holodeck (or its DS9 equivalent, the holosuites) majorly featured on the big screen. Like animation itself, force fields and photons take the rules of physics, gravity and logic and throw them all out the nearest airlock. I'd love to see them come back.
Let's Hope For A Successful Continuing Mission To Come
Star Trek: The Animated Series ran for 2 seasons and 22 episodes, and it's looking like Discovery will have 13 in its first. Here's hoping for a successful first season, and many more to follow.