Star Trek: The Animated Series Re-Watch: Introductory Post

Though I knew of the existence of an animated Star Trek series almost since I began following the original series as a kid, I didn’t get a chance to watch it until college.

That might have been too late.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cartoons even more than I love Star Trek, so an animated series should have been the perfect thing for me, especially since it features the voices of most of the original cast. Several writers returned, and even Gene Roddenberry was back at the helm! But just as the live-action show was a product of its time, its animated incarnation is a product of the early 70s, budget constraints, and the Saturday morning wasteland for which it was designed. Sadly, the weakest aspect of the animated series is… its animation. If the first feature film can be called Star Trek: The Motionless Picture, this show could best be described as Star Trek: The Barely-Animated Series.

And yet, the animated series was a rare second chance for the franchise on network television. The moniker “Star Trek: The Animated Series” (or the slightly clunkier “The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek“) is merely used for convenience; the show’s title is simply Star Trek, and it is very much a continuation of the original series. Despite attempts by the creators and studios to exclude the show from canon over the years, most people view it as the continuing voyages of the Enterprise’s first five-year mission. It even used the same writers’ bible, and many plot elements and aliens are referenced in the films and later series, including J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film.

If Roddenberry’s involvement and the voice talents of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Majel Barrett aren’t enough to confirm its pedigree, visually the show is almost an exact match for its live-action predecessor. Reportedly, many of the animation cels were actually traced over footage from the original series to ensure faithfulness. Or maybe it was just laziness. In some cases, improvements were made, such as the addition of a second set of doors on the Bridge in case the turbolifts are out-of-order–but still no bathroom.

One more striking change is the introduction of alien crewmembers M’Ress, a catlady from Cait voiced by Majel Barrett, and Arex, a tripodal alien with three arms voiced by James Doohan. (Barrett and Doohan recorded most of the other guest voices in the series, a nice moneysaver.) Arex’s extra hand must have come in handy at the conn–he replaced Ensign Chekov, because the show couldn’t afford to include Walter Koenig in the cast, though he did write one of the episodes; Nichols and Takei might have been abandoned as well if Nimoy hadn’t insisted on their involvement.

This version of Star Trek also attracted the best science fiction writers of the time, who you wouldn’t expect to write cartoons, including D.C. Fontana (who was also associate producer and story editor), David Gerrold, and Larry Niven. Even Marc Daniels, director of many episodes of the original series, turned in a story, which I’m sure Torie is looking forward to. While we’ll probably go into specifics later, the animated series directly influenced the franchise that followed, most notably with a precursor to the holodeck, the source of 95% of the plots of TNG-era episodes.

True to form, the show only lasted for one full season of sixteen half-hour episodes and a truncated second season of six episodes, from September 8, 1973 to October 12, 1974. Despite network claims of low ratings, at least in its targeted younger audience, the show garnered a Daytime Emmy–the first for Star Trek, which indicates some measure of success. It was also the only NBC cartoon, other than The New Adventures of Flash Gordon, to last more than one season.

Though we’re calling this a re-watch, in truth I’ve only seen about half of the series, so some of this will be new to me–and all of it’s new to Torie. We’re sticking to the same format and warp ratings as the original series, which seems only fitting, but because of the shorter running time of each episode we’ll be posting new reviews and responses twice a week: every Tuesday and Thursday, alternating the lead writer as usual. It remains to be seen whether this cartoon will offer as much for analysis and discussion as the live-action Star Trek, but I have a good feeling about it. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Regardless of how this pans out, it just seems too important to Star Trek history to skip, and it seems particularly relevant in the wake of recent rumors about another animated adaptation that could be developed one day.

We hope all of you will watch or re-watch this one along with us. Again, no purchase is necessary, as all the episodes are freely available online at We’ll be posting links to the episodes each week like we did before, so you have no excuse not to join us on the last TV adventures of the original Enterprise crew.

Torie will start things off on Tuesday, May 24 with Season 1, Episode 1–“Beyond the Farthest Star.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.