Star Trek debuted on September 8th, 1966, making this week the 47th anniversary of the series. We'll be bringing you some Star Trek-related content all week long to celebrate.
When Star Trek went off the air in 1969, it seemed as though the USS Enterprise had gone on her last adventure. But when the show popped up in syndication it took on a life of its own, finding a brand new fanbase. Interest in Star Trek actually spiked in the years after it was canceled, and in 1973 Captain Kirk and the crew made their triumphant return to episodic television: in the form of 30 minute cartoons.
This was during the darkest ages of TV animation, and the company that made Star Trek: The Animated Series, Filmation, was cheap as hell, so the show isn't exactly state of the art. The animation uses lots of stock shots, which often lead to errors like having characters on the bridge who are off the ship on a mission, and these limitations have led to the show getting a bum rap. But the reality is that Star Trek: The Animated Series is awesome, and I'm going to bend to the economic pressures of the web and explain to you why in a five part list.
5. The original cast is back.
One of the things that makes Star Trek: The Animated Series feel like Star Trek season 4 is the fact that most of the original actors reprise their roles. William Shatner is back as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy returns as Spock, DeForest Kelly is Bones... in fact, everybody is back except Chekov, who got cut out for financial reasons. Don't cry too hard for Walter Koenig, though, as he wrote two episodes of the show (one of which, The Infinite Vulcan, features an alien plant called Retlaw, which is his name backwards). At one point George Takei and Nichelle Nichols were also going to be left off the cast, but Nimoy made a stink about it, refusing to lend his voice unless they returned. He felt that their presence were important aspects of the 23rd century's diverse, hopeful future.
4. It's not for kids.
And I don't mean to say that it's a grim or dark version of Star Trek. Rather, it's essentially the exact same show as the live action series, featuring heady examinations of philosphy, morality and lots of scifi concepts. That isn't by accident; when the show was initially being developed Filmation wanted to have each member of the crew assigned a child sidekick, a cadet, to make the series more kid-friendly. Creator Gene Roddenberry told them to get lost with that nonsense, and instead he stuck with the kind of show where, in the first episode, the crew would discover a 300 million year old biomechanical ship that harbored an ancient entity which took over the Enterprise until Kirk threatened to crash the ship on a nearby planet. Then there's the episode where a Satan-like character named Lucien brings the Enterprise to a planet of magic-users who were once burned as witches on Earth during the Salem Witch Trials. Or one where an ancient alien being upon whom the Aztecs based their religion captures the ship. You know, Star Trek episodes.
3. It has fewer limitations than the original series.
The original Star Trek always had its budgetary limitations in mind. When Roddenberry first pitched the show he said the Enterprise would visit many planets that had parallel evolution to Earth, meaning they wouldn't have to create strange alien landscapes every week and could occasionally use the back lot sets that were already constructed. But with animation - even on a budget as chintzy as Filmation's - Star Trek could truly boldly go. The designs of alien ships could be stranger, the aliens the crew met were no longer just humans with a coat of make-up and could be all sorts of bizarre beings, and the crew could even add some strange looking members. Plus the show could do things like have Captain Kirk confront an Orion pirate on an asteroid that was coming apart under their feet, something that couldn't have been remotely considered for live action.
This sort of was already covered in #3, but I think M'Ress needs to be pulled out on her own. One of two new non-human members of the bridge crew, M'Ress is a big sexy catlady. I've often said that Star Trek is like the ur-text for all modern fandom, and I wouldn't be surprised if we could draw a line from modern furries to the Caitian communications officer. She's one of two new bridge crew who couldn't have been realized in live action, but unlike Arex, the weird-headed, three-armed navigator, M'Ress' design embraces the cartoony quality of the show. She also never wears shoes and has a tail, which is awesome.
1. It's canon.
At least now it is. For a while Gene Roddenberry didn't consider the show canon for some reason, but over the years different elements from the series made their way into the official histories. A Caitian showed up in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The Vulcan city of ShiKhar, featured in the episode Yesteryear, has been mentioned many times and has even been digitally inserted into the remastered Amok Time. Robert April is accepted as the original captain of the Enterprise, even before Christopher Pike. And James T. Kirk's middle name, Tiberius, comes to us from the animated series. And the episide The Practical Joker (represented in the image above) introduced the first holodeck into Star Trek!
What's more, the animated series featured great sequels to classic Trek episodes, often featuring the original guest actors returning. Cyrano Jones was back for More Tribbles, More Troubles (originally written as a season three episode!). Harry Mudd shows up again, the crew returns to the pleasure planet from Shore Leave, and there's even the return of Klingon Commander Kor, the first Klingon ever on Star Trek.
There's one extra cool bit of canon that comes from Star Trek: The Animated Series. When scifi writer Larry Niven agreed to pen an episode (The Slaver's Weapon), he included elements from his Known Space literary scifi universe, most well known from his Man-Kzin Wars and Ringworld books. While there's no way the events of that series line up with the history of Star Trek, the creators of Star Trek: Enterprise were going to include the Kzinti if the show had reached a fifth season.