Friday, July 17, 2020

Star Trek, The Animated Series: The Final Binge

Season 4, Sort Of
Yes, I had to be a completist when it came to binging Star Trek, The Original series, so I went through all twenty-two episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series as well (though I went through this one rather quickly on my own, while I had access to the series). My memories from the early 1970s isn't great, but it's possible that it was actually this show, and not reruns of TOS, that were my first true exposure to the World of Trek. I've given them the same grading scale as I did the rest of TOS, occasionally making allowances for the fact that, after all, we're dealing with horribly animated 25-minute cartoons. Still, mostly I take them seriously, and I think I'm justified in that; there is often genuinely good writing in these episodes, including some stuff that has become central to the canon.

Beyond the Farthest Star: A-
Wild, weird sci-fi with an evil, unknown alien (with the message from the other long-dead aliens it killed!); within the limits of the cartoon--and yes, the limits are atrocious--this is exactly the sort of far-out story that should always kick off a Star Trek series. And it leaves us with an ambiguous message, with the alien suffering from loneliness. Was that purposeful?

Yesteryear: A
Another winner--important to the Star Trek canon, and the death of the sehlat is sad in a way that was perfectly appropriate to a Saturday morning cartoon. And I am officially declaring Spock saving himself as where Rowling got the idea for the climax of Prisoner of Azkaban.

One of Our Planets is Missing: B+
Another excellent sci-fi adventure, nicely plotted, with great action with McCoy and Scotty and some real pathos and sacrifice. But the Vulcan mental trick in the end is pretty sappy.

The Lorelei Signal: B
Utterly dumb plot--they had a basic idea, then came up with the most direct way to accomplish it--but Scotty's singing is hilarious, and isn't it great to see Uhura take command?

More Tribbles, More Troubles: B-
A weak story filled with repetitive plot points (what, Sherman's planet still needs food?), as well as actually childish jokes, but it's still fun.

The Survivor: B-
A story that's been done many times (including in The Man Trap), and Anne Nored is stupidly helpless, but the basic outline of this sort of tale is strong, and this version of it works, with some sophisticated interplay with the Romulans.

The Infinite Vulcan: C
A choppy, somewhat rushed sci-fi story, with a pat ending. And what's with that "scrutable" comment to Sulu at the end? The snarky work of Walter Koenig, no doubt.

The Magicks of Megas-Tu: C+
Okay, that was really weird. They're at the center of the galaxy? The Enterprise certainly gets around. Lucifer? Holy cow, it's Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods! Still, it's fun to see Kirk use magic.

Once Upon a Planet: C-
In a story like this, the crappy animation and art design of the program really hurts; it would have been fun if this very basic story had had some real artistic craziness to it.

Mudd's Passion: C
I dislike this the least of all of Mudd's appearances, but the cheap sexism--and in this case the abuse of Nurse Chapel--is hard to take, despite the silliness. Points for some glimmers of Kirk/Spock slash and scenes with McCoy on the make.

The Terratin Incident: A-
Glorious, wacky sci-fi, with everyone acting in smart, problem-solving ways. Dopey ending, though.

The Time Trap: C+
Weirdly undramatic episode. Why does Kirk keep agreeing that Elysia is a "perfect society"--is there any society even there except wrecked ships stranded in space? They work together, they get out, the Klingons betray them, etc.

The Ambergris Element: C
Cool, space shuttles can go underwater! But the story was dull. Reminded me of Wink of an Eye--aliens can't help themselves, so need to bring help to the conditions they are stuck in.

The Slaver Weapon: A
Really great, because of the world-building involved, the sense of history it gives to the Star Trek universe, and all the cool stuff Sulu, Uhura, and Spock got to do. The story is pulpy--touch the ancient spooky weapon and be doomed!--but the image of that weapon is one of the oldest things I remember. I suspect I was drawing pictures of it when I was only 4 or 5-years-old.

The Eye of the Beholder: B
Cute episode, mostly because the aliens are adorable; much better than most of the other "meet the advanced race so far beyond the Enterprise crew that they don't know what to do with them" stories.

The Jihad: C+
Hey look, it's a Dungeons & Dragons quest! With a thief, a ranger, and a warrior! But unfortunately, a mostly kind of boring and predictable one. Nice to see someone hitting on Kirk when he wasn't interested for a change.

The Pirates of Orion: C
The stock shot of Kirk calling for McCoy in sickbay while McCoy was standing right beside him was annoying. Oh well. The motivations of the pirates made little sense. Why wouldn't they make a deal?

Bem: A-
Solid, straight-up, far-out sci-fi. Bem's alien-ness is obviously cartoonish, but well done, and if you're going to have a story about super-powered aliens watching over primitive races, this is the way to do it.

The Practical Joker: B-
Perfectly adequate joke episode, with a nice preview of the Holodeck. How did Kirk figure out how to get rid of the computer virus? Ah, who knows.

Albatross: C
Nice to have McCoy at the center of a story, but it was kind of a by-the-numbers trial story. Fun trick with the original hunt for evidence, though.

How Sharper Thank a Serpent's Tooth: B
Man, there's a lot of the Chariot's of the Gods in these animated episodes. But this version of dealing with an ancient god from outer space was better than TOS's Who Mourns for Adonis.

The Counter-Clock Incident: C+
Another indication that the teleportation device could make someone immortal. Oh well, as a morality tale wrapped up in sci-fi strangeness, it's fine.

And that's the end of 2020's journey through The Original Series (including the "lost" Animated fourth season) everyone. It was fun--some good reminders of the profound weaknesses of so much of the original story-telling and visual production when this franchise began, but more importantly, reminders of the great charm and power that science-fiction television can provide (even for, if my family's viewing reactions proved anything, TikTok-reading 14-year-old girls today).

Converting all my grades to GPA scores, they come out as follows: Season 2: 2.75; Season 4 (TAS): 2.68; Season 1: 2.55; Season 3: 2.03. I don't think I expected those results, but in looking back over it all, it's clear that it took TOS a while to find it's groove, with Season 1 weighed down with several very middling episodes at the beginning. That was the season that gave us the greatest episode of them all, "City on the Edge of Forever," but the number of classics in Season 2 ("Doomsday Machine," "Amok Time," "Bread and Circuses") justifiably puts it up there. And Season 4 was a real delight to rediscover. Still, overall the level of quality was never great: Star Trek was, in its original iteration (both live-action and animated), really never better than B-/C+ television. But perhaps that can be said for all episodic television programming made in America between 1966 and 1974, especially from our perspective today? Whatever the facts of the matter, Star Trek: The Original Series connected with me and millions upon millions of others, and still does today, apparently. That's all that needs to be said.


Tukuvwi said...

I've enjoyed your Star Trek reviews, but didn't feel prompted to comment until now. "The Slaver Weapon" is taken directly from Larry Niven's Known Space series -- it's actually an adaptation of the short story "The Soft Weapon", which was anthologized in Neutron Star. Star Trek kept the kzinti, but ditched Nessus, the puppeteer, which was too bad: the puppeteers are much more interesting aliens than the kzinti, which are basically just furry orange Klingons.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Thanks for the comment, Tukuvwi! I knew about the Niven connection with "The Slaver Weapon," but I didn't know there was a particular short story which lay behind this episode. I'll have to check it out!