Hi! I'm three.

Hi! I'm three.

Some Fantastic, Issue 12, 3.3 (Summer 2007)

Star Trek : The Animated Series DVD Box-Set Review

When I was a child, watching the space adventures of the Enterprise crew in live action or animation amounted to the same experience. Contrarily to elsewhere in North America, in the mid-1970s, the dubbed versions of TOS and TAS ran concurrently on Quebec television. They were both marketed towards children. The dubbing actors were the same for both shows and the stories crossed series enough that for me, like most children in Quebec, both series were simply the same series in two different formats.

When both series disappeared from the screen, I was saddened, and even though it was not take long for TOS to come back, again and again, I never did see The Animated Series again until I received the box-set in the mail for me to review. I was astonished at how well I remembered it all. In fact, what surprised me the most were the things I thought I remembered that were not there on the box-set. I’ll come to that later.

All 22 original episodes from 1973-1974 are found here in a white and orange plastic box-set, almost identical to the three colored boxes protecting the TOS dvds. This is the first of many obvious attempts by Paramount to reconciled Trek fans with a series that has been largely vilified over the decades.

Until his death in 1992, Gene Roddenberry was adamant that none of the novels, nor the films, were part of the Star Trek cannon. He was also adamant that TAS wasn’t either. He admitted that some of Spock’s back story from the animated episode Yesteryear was canonical, since it was written by D.C. Montana, but that the episode itself was not.

His reasoning was sound : he was only in partial control of what went on in TAS production and some of the stories were in his view anti-Trek. It was especially the case of the episode Slaver Weapon, which was essentially a re-working of Larry Niven’s short story The Soft Weapon, first published in 1967, then again in well-known 1968 collection Neutron Star. The Soft Weapon is the first story in Niven famous N-Space Universe. When asked to provide a script for TAS, Niven created a crossover with his own creation, Kzinti and all. It was a great story and a strong TAS episode. However, to make TAS cannon, logically would make N-Space part of the Star Trek Universe. Roddenberry was not willing to do that, rightfully.

The designers of the TAS box-set are much less worried about that, it seems. This fact becomes obvious very quickly. The very slim booklet contains two short texts, both justifying the series’ importance and relevance to Trek history and lore. The first is a short exposition of what ‘cannon’ is and what constitutes it in Star Trek. According to the booklet, everything of Trek that’s appeared in television or film since the beginning in cannon, including ‘some’ of TAS. The novels are still excluded. The second text is even more specific in explaining how the adventures of TAS were meant to continue those of the three TOS seasons.

When watching the episodes with commentary, this is only made more clear. Some episodes, such as Yesteryear, have pop up commentaries which are a bit of a let down. They are not really trivia. They are rarely funny. Most focus on how animation freed the series producers and made the creation of a science fiction series easier and cheaper to design. Little is learned on the making of each episode or the animation techniques themselves. What trivia is learned sometimes focuses on the actors, but overall are not enough to warrant more than one viewing. The audio commentaries are a little better, but tend to focus on the same elements. None of the actors provide commentary, nor any of the writers. In short, avid Trekkers and old fans of TAS will know most of it already.

What would have been interesting are image galleries, a making of the animation and voicing, some statistics, and the like. Though it is mentioned that James Doohan (a.k.a. Scotty) did the highest number of voices for TAS, nowhere does it specify why and just how many; yet, he did 53 characters over the 22 episodes! Nowhere does it explain why neither Pavel Chekov, nor Yeoman Rand appear in TAS; yet, they did not have the budget to hire all the original actors, so some of the secondary characters with the most recognizable voices were not brought back. It was cheaper to replace them with original characters that could be voiced by James Doohan and Majel Barrett instead.

The box-set contains an English and Spanish voice track, as well as subtitles in those languages and Portuguese. It does not contain the French-language track of my youth! I missed hearing all the  original dubbing actors of TAS reprise their roles from TOS, and I especially missed the voices of the new characters, Lieutenants Arex (the male tripoid pilot) and M’Ress (the female felinoid engineer), respectively voiced by Doohan and Barrett in English. They were the producers' attempt at fully using the possibilities that animation provided over make up and animatronics. The absence of the French track is one of the many examples of Paramount trying to cut cost and to cater to the American market alone. This is a shame. In the case of those two latter characters, the commentaries could have mentioned that they are not part of the cannon, but that they were enthousiastically adopted in the franchise novels.

Still, the episodes themselves are as delightful as ever. None are great Star Trek stories – at 22 minutes, it’s not too surprising – but all are fun, even the worst. The one I remembered the most, The Lorelei Signal, has lost today much of the impact it had as a feminist commentary back then, but from the point of view of the little girl I was in the mid-1970s, being shown that the girls can save the day (and the boys), being told that there are all female starship crews in Star Fleet, was a very empowering message that I never forgot. Other episodes were recycled original TOS themes, like the two episodes featuring the execrable Harry Mudd, including More Tribbles, More Troubles, which shows how Klingons dealt (badly) with their mortal scurge.

The animation is bad. No doubt about that. It is similar to much of the late-1960s, early-1970s cell-based animation, like the first Spider Man series or the cult favorite Rocket Robin Hood. The characters are fixed over static decors, with minimum mouth, eye and arm movement. It is cell animation at its simplest. The whole creates a completely psychotronic experience that I will repeat often. I also think it still can be a nice introduction to Trek for the very youngest of viewers, those who could still be interested in ‘old school’ Saturday morning cartoons. All in all, a good addition to my collection. But I still miss the voices.