After the initial run of the now iconic Star Trek TV series, public outcry over the premature cancellation gave rise to a true wild card: a Saturday morning cartoon version of the series. Crazy, right?
The series originally aired with the name Star Trek, but was also given the moniker The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek before settling on the title Star Trek: The Animated Series. Running on NBC for a total of 22 episodes over two seasons from 1973–74, the show ostensibly picked up after the end of the live-action series, attempting to continue the "5 Year Mission" from the original show.
The series was produced by Filmation, whose initial proposal was to make a "kiddie" version of the show that had children assigned to each of the senior officers as cadets, including a young Vulcan for Mr. Spock. Gene Roddenberry quickly dismissed that proposal, wanting to stay more in line with the original adult show, and fought off repeated attempts by Filmation to assume creative control of the series.
Once the direction of the show was set, the next hurdle was the voice casting. Roddenberry wanted the entire core group (Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu) voiced by the original actors, but Filmation claimed to not have the budget for all of the actors, countering instead with using only William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelly. Nimoy stood firm, refusing to do the show unless all of the core group was involved, claiming that the diverse ensemble nature of the cast was the key to the show's success. Filmation relented, shutting out only Walter Keonig's Chekov, who was replaced by two new characters — Arex and M'Ress — voiced by James Doohan (Scotty) and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel).
Gene Roddenberry enlisted top-notch writers, including many former writers from Star Trek, and demanded that they adhere to the "series bible" from the original series in order to ensure that the show have the same feel and gravitas as the live-action show. Since the voice talent cost so much, Filmation took shortcuts in the actual animation, using many stock shots and cutting the show to 30 minutes. Even the original theme was deemed too expensive to use, and as a result a rather cheesy "muzak" theme was used for the show opening. Check it out:
Two episodes in Star Trek: The Animated Series were followups to episodes from the original series. "Once Upon a Planet" takes us back to the same world we first encountered in the episode "Shore Leave," where R&R soon turns to danger:
And while not a sequel, the episode "Yesteryear" is a time-travel episode in which Mr. Spock uses "The Guardian of Forever," a time gateway from the original series episode "The City On The Edge Of Forever" to travel back to his own childhood.
The Origin Of Tiberius
Any fan of Star Trek knows that the captain's name is James T. Kirk, but I'd wager that few (if any) know that the middle name of Tiberius wasn't revealed until it appeared on Star Trek:The Animated Series. That's a huge character detail, and the show deserves props for that. Series writer David Gerrold was said to have been influenced by I, Claudius, and approached Roddenberry with his choice of middle name for the captain. The rest, as they say, is history.
Other Star Trek: TAS Firsts
A few other huge firsts were also introduced on the show, including a look at the "holodeck" from Star Trek: TNG. In this case, it was called "The Rec Room," and it predated the "holodeck" by some 80 years in the show timeline. Also, a personal force field known as a "life support belt" was seen only in Star Trek: The Animated Series. In addition to supplying the wearer with the appropriate atmosphere and environmental protection, it permitted the animators to simply draw the yellow glow around the existing characters, instead of having to redraw them with an environmental suit, saving considerable expense in the animation process. A version of the "life support belt" later appeared in an early Star Trek: TNG novel, The Peacekeepers, where they were referred to as "field-effect suits."
The other big-time first occurred in the episode "The Lorelei Signal," in which Uhura assumes control of the Enterprise after Kirk, Spock, and the other male crew members were taken by aliens. It marks the first time a woman took control of a Federation Starship. Enjoy:
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this biggie: The show won an Emmy Award, the first in the history of the franchise! Truth be told, the animation is fairly primitive by today's standards, but the mere fact that we get to experience 22 episodes with practically the entire cast and creative team behind the original Star Trek is something to savor. Roddenberry initially disavowed the cartoon as not being part of the canon of the Star Trek universe once other TV and movie iterations came out, but over time that position has softened and most agree that Star Trek: The Animated Series belongs side by side with all of the Star Trek versions since the original. It is a weird little outlier in the Star Trek universe, but it is definitely something that true Star Trek fans should seek out.
Happy 50th, Star Trek!
Check out some of Star Trek's other groundbreaking accomplishments in the video below:
Which version of Star Trek is your favorite?