Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek played a pivotal role in the development of pop culture. It was a science fiction series that promised its viewers that there was hope for a better tomorrow. War, famine, and disease were wiped out on Earth. Segregation and racism were things of the past as humans of all races and religions worked side by side with beings of other worlds to accomplish their peaceful mission of understanding themselves and their place in the vastly unexplored universe.
The five-year mission of the USS Enterprise was a mission that everyone who watched the show felt they were an equal part of. And then, after only three seasons...
It was cancelled.
Sure, we all know what would eventually come to pass. The Enterprise crew would reunite 20 years later to blast off into new voyages of the unknown with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its subsequent sequels. A new Enterprise crew would emerge in the franchise's "future" as the Enterprise-D embarked on its own continuing mission with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
But what about the unexplored final two years of that first ship's brave mission? Join me as Fifty Years in the Final Frontier continues to explore a short lived — and somewhat controversial — series that, for all intents and purposes, filled in that gap. Let's take a look at what would commonly come to be known as Star Trek: The Animated Series.
'Star Trek: The Animated Series'
Following the cancellation of Star Trek in 1969, NBC was flooded with letters from fans asking them to bring it back. Though the original series never returned, its existing three seasons were put back on television in syndication. Through the success of that method and its powerhouse ratings, NBC finally realized what it had on its hands.
In 1973, NBC started airing a new animated series version of Star Trek (later to be called The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek). The series was produced by Filmation (a cartoon studio that would later come to be known for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) and Paramount TV.
The new show (which we'll just refer to as Star Trek: The Animated Series) reunited creator Gene Roddenberry with, not only his beloved characters, but also the stars that brought them to life. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and everyone else returned to voice their characters for the further adventures of the USS Enterprise. Well, almost everyone else. It is said that in order to afford Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley, they had to drop Walter Koenig and his popular Ensign Pavel Chekov. The young Russian was replaced with a humanoid space dog named Arex.
The show seemed to pick up where the original series left off, with the crew traversing the galaxy, encountering new lifeforms and boldly going where they had never gone before. Much like the format of the original series, The Animated Series followed the episodic formula of Wagon Train and saw little, if any, connection between episode stories. However, there were a few voyages that were sequels to popular TOS adventures, such as 'More Troubles, More Tribbles,' which saw the Enterprise once again trying to deliver grain to Sherman's Planet and encountering Cyrano Jones and his multiplying pets.
This time, though, they were specially engineered to not multiply. However, they did grow at alarming rates when they gorged themselves on the grain. They also encounter the Klingons, once again, who are looking for a genetically engineered creature that Jones had stolen to eat all of the Tribbles that had taken over the space station in the original series classic episode. (A little heavy handed for a kids' cartoon by today's standards, but I feel like Gene didn't care about stuff like that in the '70s.)
It should also be pointed out that the series had a small problem with color consistency, with the Tribbles episode in particular, because the art director was color blind. Along with shirt colors sometimes, inexplicably, switching the tribbles ended up being pink instead of brown and grey.
Star Trek: The Animated Series was allowed to get away with a lot more than the original series, which was often hindered by budgetary constraints. Alien creatures were actually allowed to look more alien and less humanoid. Extraterrestrial planets weren't forced to resemble the California desserts that surrounded the studio's sound stages. The show introduced such new sets and inventions as the Enterprise Recreation Room, which would later go on to evolve into the Holodeck on The Next Generation. On paper it was actually everything Gene Roddenberry probably hoped Star Trek would be.
However, in 1974 — after only two seasons — the animated series came to a close. Even though most writers and producers would hold firm to the idea that the two seasons of the animated series actually concluded the Enterprise's five year mission, Roddenberry and Paramount would take a different stance and consider Star Trek: The Animated Series to be its own entity, separate from the continuity of the live action franchise.
This was a stance that would last for decades, until Paramount released a complete series box set for Star Trek: The Animated Series on DVD in 2006. With that, it was now widely considered that the show was an official part of Trek canon and, therefore, can actually be seen as the conclusion to the original Enterprise's mission.
Love it or hate it, Star Trek: The Animated Series has its place amongst the stars of Star Trek's beloved history. Join me again soon as Fifty Years in the Final Frontier takes a look at the series which would never be, Star Trek: Phase II. Until then, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) for all things rant and ravey.