Why am I including what is doubtless the most forgotten Star Trek series? Because it was absolutely canon until it wasn’t. It introduced several elements into Star Trek, some of which have remained canon. And, of course, it was absolutely an official Star Trek TV show made and distributed by the IP rights holders in great part due to the fans of the original series. To not include it in what is quite clearly a fan exercise in celebrating TV Trek seems wrong.
One of the great things about the animated series is that the writers clearly understood they didn’t have the same budget restrictions as a live action series. This means you not only get more alien-looking aliens, but huge spaceships, magnificent vistas and “sets,” and special effects sequences that would give the regular VFX teams headaches. You’ll also notice two new non-human crew members (who, sadly, have pretty much zero character development.) Not only that, but some of the episodes were clearly hour-long ideas that are shoved into 22 minutes. Those episodes move at an admirable clip.
At the same time, the animation isn’t anything special. True to TV animation of the time (and Filmation in general), they are thrifty, so expect lots of identical shots of the Enterprise moving through space. They also decided to make human (and Vulcan) eyes stylized in a way that you must keep reminding yourself you’re not watching a bunch of dead sharks. Dead sharks that, at any moment, may forget the Prime Directive and devour us all.
So, to sum up: it’s true, outside of kids addicted to all animation and Star Trek completists, I doubt it’ll get many views. All the same, as with all the series, there’s some good Trek to be found here.
Note: Everything below may contain spoilers and definitely contains some snark.
22) “The Practical Joker”
Season 2, Episode 3
It probably sounded better on paper, but in practice, this feels like an awkward draft of a Star Trek sitcom that eventually remembers it should be an adventure show. Painful. Bonus points for the proto-Holodeck.
21) “Mudd’s Passion”
Season 1, Episode 10
Some cool-looking rock monsters notwithstanding, this was an altogether uninspiring entry in Mudd’s hijinks, with Christine Chapel being unfairly portrayed as something of a dunce. Bonus points for Scotty/M’Ress “shippers,” I suppose.
20) “The Pirates of Orion”
Season 2, Episode 1
After “Journey to Babel,” you would hope you’d get more than this plodding story with no surprises. Bonus points for the Orion ship design are offset by demerits for the Orion uniforms, which look like rejected minion outfits for some unknown Marvel villain.
19) “The Lorelei Signal”
Season 1, Episode 4
At least these aliens aren’t trying to mate with a different species, just steal their lifeforce. And it’s nice to see some of the supporting characters like Chapel and Uhura do more, but it’s still not much of an episode.
18) “The Magicks of Megas-tu”
Season 1, Episode 8
Trek explores the familiar sci-fi idea of aliens visiting Earth to become our myths and legends, but despite an explosive opening, journeying to the center of the galaxy, and trying to explain how magic could work, it ends with a rather boring court case. Yeah, there’s a traditional Trek twist at the end, but I’m just not feeling this one as much.
17) “The Terratin Incident”
Season 1, Episode 11
The “incredibly shrinking crew” plot is played remarkably straight which, in the end, saves the rather ridiculous episode from being just nuts.
Season 2, Episode 2
Intriguing if goofy episode focusing on an alien observer. It’s good in that it establishes a really alien alien with a different outlook, but waits too long to try and delve into why he’s such a jerk for most of the episode. Luckily, there’s a goddess voiced by Nichelle Nichols and an ending that edges back to that Trek we know and love.
15) “The Counter-Clock Incident”
Season 2, Episode 6
After shrinking the Enterprise crew and turning some of them into mer-people, we get them de-aging. After Spock notes “our brains are working in reverse” it gets pretty silly, but the poignancy of Commodore and Dr. April’s story somewhat grounds the proceedings.
14) “The Survivor”
Season 1, Episode 6
The story goes in unexpected places and has a strong Trek feel at moments (e.g. finding beauty beyond physical appearance, etc.), but still comes up short.
13) “Beyond the Farthest Star”
Season 1, Episode 1
Starting the series off with a bang, we have a mission at the edge of the galaxy, an ancient ship, and an evil intelligence. All in all, very much in keeping with previous Trek and what’s to come in the rest of the series, but the ending could have used a better denouement.
12) “One of Our Planets Is Missing”
Season 1, Episode 3
A very Trek episode that has many specific callbacks to the original series, from Bob Wesley, to choosing not to kill… today. A nice entry in the animated series.
11) “The Ambergris Element”
Season 1, Episode 13
Apparently not content with shrinking the entire Enterprise crew a couple episodes previously, the writers decided to turn Kirk and Spock into mermen. Much like that other episode, playing it straight works out and tells a fairly nice story of overcoming prejudices, generational differences, and working together.
Season 2, Episode 4
Generally decent episode showing a not-quite humanoid race with quirks and grudges and different characters.
9) “The Eye of the Beholder”
Season 1, Episode 15
Another great example of the animated series going where no live action budget could go before with a familiar, but sufficiently involving tale of advanced aliens putting a crew in a zoo.
8) “Once Upon a Planet”
Season 1, Episode 9
This sequel to “Shore Leave” actually improves on the original episode by leaps and bound because it actually explores ideas like artificial consciousness, what it means to serve, and knowledge. Bonus points for the proper way to interact with a two-headed dragon.
7) “The Slaver Weapon”
Season 1, Episode 14
Pretty exciting episode all around introducing Larry Niven’s Kzinti into the Star Trek universe. In some ways, this had all chances to be one of the best. However, between introducing the history and culture of the Kzinti and explaining all the backstory of the slavers, it feels like a whole lotta exposition in a very short episode. Additional demerits for having Uhura impersonate “Dangerprone Daphne” from Scooby Doo.
6) “More Tribbles, More Troubles”
Season 1, Episode 5
Just like the original Tribbles episode, this one packs in a lot of plot and is pretty satisfying, especially if you like to see Klingons tormented.
5) “The Jihad”
Season 1, Episode 16
Just when you thought they couldn’t get more crazy-go-nuts than “The Infinite Vulcan,” we’re introduced to an “Alien Legion commando team” hunting for an ancient artifact to stave off a potential galactic war. Pretty fun all around, but it loses something with most of the aliens being one note and lacking some of the Trek-ness of other animated episodes.
4) “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth”
Season 2, Episode 5
An ambitious episode that takes full use of animation’s ability to blow past all budget realities as we get treated to a tale with equal parts ancient astronauts, “Who Mourns for Adonais?,” and Stargate. You just have to accept the coincidence that Ensign Walking Bear was at the helm on this particular shift.
3) “The Time Trap”
Season 1, Episode 12
An episode of the animated series I actually wanted to last just a little longer as it felt like there was more story to tell about the pocket dimension society as well as the antagonist Klingons.
2) “The Infinite Vulcan”
Season 1, Episode 7
Taking full advantage of animation’s lack of budget constraints, Walter Koenig takes a shift in the screenwriter’s chair and produces an adventure with an entire sentient plant civilization, giant clones from a Eugenics War mastermind, and an invasion fleet to pacify the galaxy. If you’re up for the usual animated series wackiness, you are rewarded with a very Trek ending.
Season 1, Episode 2
An absolute delight of a time travel story that gives us a look at Vulcan and Spock’s childhood courtesy of an inventive and nimble script by D.C. Fontana.