|Saturday, July 5, 2008 09:36 AM|
|(Last updated on Sunday, August 10, 2008 07:52 AM)|
|On the Viewer - Star Trek: The Animated Series, Disc 1|
| by Fëanor|
Although I'm a pretty big Trekker, and I've watched many episodes of nearly every Star Trek television series, and seen every movie, I'd actually never seen even one episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series before. This series came out in 1973, and picked up essentially right where the original series had left off, with many of the same writers and creators returning, and pretty much all of the main cast coming back to provide the voices of their characters. When I heard it had finally come out on DVD, I was excited to give it a try. I thought it would be fun, but I was not at all prepared for how good it is. Any random episode on this disc can be compared favorably to any random episode of the live-action original series. The writing is top quality, the stories are really creative and interesting, the characters are spot on. If anything, this is even better than the original series, because with the magic of animation, things that would have been impossible or far too expensive to do in live action are as simple to achieve as the stroke of a pencil. The special effects budget is unlimited! This means they're able to include alien crew members far crazier-looking than the suspiciously humanoid Spock. Of course, sometimes the animation is a bit jerky and repetitive, but overall it's quite good. And anyway, the stories are awesome.
Up first is "Beyond the Farthest Star," a legitimately creepy episode that sees the Enterprise investigating an anomaly (which, let's face it, is pretty much the premise of every Star Trek episode) and coming upon the remains of an incredibly ancient and beautiful space vessel in orbit around a planet. It seems to be a dead ship until they investigate further and discover there is somehow something still alive there - a terrible presence imprisoned there for millenia, and if they don't figure out how to subdue it, it could take control of the Enterprise and threaten the entire galaxy.
This is one of my favorite episodes on the disc. It has a really eerie atmosphere, lots of cool ideas, and it features the crew coolly contemplating self-destructing the Enterprise to save the galaxy - and not for the last time, either! In the first three episodes, they consider activating the self-destruct twice! Good old Star Trek.
The next episode is another great one, and the first on the disc that's a direct sequel to an episode in the original series. It's called "Yesteryear," and it opens up with Kirk and Spock emerging together from the time gateway from "City on the Edge of Forever," where they've been doing some routine research in the past. But when they come back to the present, they discover that no one remembers Spock any longer. It seems the timeline has been changed such that Spock died in his childhood, never joined Starfleet, and never became first officer of the Enterprise. Spock realizes that he must go back into the past and save the childhood version of himself from dying. Can he do so without altering the timeline even further?
Some interesting things to contemplate: the crew of the Enterprise, by allowing Spock to go back in time, are essentially allowing him to attempt to obliterate the only universe they've ever known. The Andorian who is the first officer in this reality accepts Spock's act as an honorable one, made by a man who wishes to protect his family. But that's some pretty deep stuff. Once Spock gets back into the past, there's some really interesting character development, as we get a look into Spock's childhood, his dysfunctional family, and the warring cultural influences on him as a youth. Spock learns things about himself, as well, and even perhaps changes himself and his family for the better in subtle ways. It's a pretty powerful episode, with some brutal lessons to be learned about life and death and finding oneself.
Next up is "One of Our Planets Is Missing," and it's pretty freaking sweet, too. Again the Enterprise finds itself investigating an anomaly; this time it's a gigantic cloud (like, bigger than Jupiter and Saturn and a couple other planets put together) that's heading right for a solar system that includes a Federation colony world. It quickly becomes clear that the cloud eats planets, and something has to be done immediately to save the colony. But what makes things even more interesting is when the Enterprise enters the cloud and the crew realizes it's also alive. Even though it is a living being, they may be forced to kill it if they can't dissuade it from eating the Federation colony planet. There's a really cool and tense sequence in which they've got the self-destruct armed and ready, they're seconds away from the planet, and Spock is desperately mind melding with the cloud, trying to make it understand what it's doing. This story reminded me just a little bit of that of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, what with the whole traveling inside a living cloud thing. It's powerful, dramatic stuff, with some neat ideas, and a pretty brutal scene with the governor of the colony having to make some hard choices about who to evacuate and who to leave behind.
The next episode, "The Lorelei Signal," is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's a little ridiculous and hard to believe, but on the other, it gives the women crew members a chance to be seriously competent and bad-ass. Also, it's pretty hilarious. It opens with the Enterprise in a sort of Bermuda's Triangle-type area of the galaxy, where a starship has disappeared every 27 years for as long as anyone can remember. They're there right on the 27 year mark to see what will happen. Doesn't sound like a good idea to me, but whatever! They receive a weird signal from a nearby system that has a strange effect on the men. They start having waking dreams about beautiful women, and they get all bemused and goofy, and heedless of any possible danger. They all agree they should follow the signal to its source immediately. The women are confused and worried, but the Enterprise proceeds to the planet and an all-male away team beams down to find themselves greeted by a race of beautiful women, who dance for them, but then begin sucking their lifeforce away. Can the women crew members arrive in time to help the men recover and escape? Or are they doomed to meet the fate of the crews of the vanished starships that came before them?
There are lots of very funny scenes of the male crew members doing very silly things in this episode, and then some awesome scenes of Uhura totally taking over and kicking ass. There's also a really insane and unlikely use of beaming technology at the end of the episode that reminds me of the crazy things they've done with that in ST:TNG episodes. The explanation for what's going on, and the ultimate resolution, is a bit hard to believe, as is the way they all just forgive the man-eating alien women and let them go free. But overall it's quite fun.
The next episode is the second one on the disc that's a direct sequel to an original series episode, and I think you'll guess which one when I tell you the title: it's called "More Tribbles, More Troubles." In some ways, it's sort of a rehash and reimagining of "The Trouble with Tribbles," as it brings back a lot of the elements from that episode and just recombines them in slightly different ways. The Klingons are here again causing trouble, as is Cyrano Jones, lots of hungry tribbles, and an important new grain (Quintrotriticale this time) that's needed for the starving people of Sherman's planet. Again the tension rises quickly towards violence between the humans and the Klingons; again Cyrano Jones is in large part to blame; again the tribbles get out of control and get into the grain; again there's a lot of silly comedy; again there's a scene where Kirk gets buried under a pile of tribbles. Still, despite the fact that it's not particularly imaginative, it's still a very fun episode with a relatively clever story and some very funny moments. There's even a couple of space battles, and a Klingon secret weapon!
The last episode on the disc is sadly the worst. It's called "The Survivor," and opens with the Enterprise coming upon a damaged one-man vessel near the Romulan neutral zone. They beam aboard the survivor, and it appears to be a famous, and long thought lost, philanthropist named Carter Wilson, whose fiance just happens to be a security officer on board the Enterprise. But is it really him? And if it's not, what mischief does he intend for the Enterprise?
The security officer character in this episode is really annoying and weak, and there's just a lot of seriously corny, melodramatic dialogue thrown about. There are some neat moments, but overall it's just so cheesy, with so many eye-rolling scenes, that it's not even really worth watching.
Despite that final disappointing episode, this is a really entertaining disc of really great television, and it's a fantastic continuation of one of my favorite shows of all time. I'd call it required viewing for any Star Trek fan, and I definitely intend to rent and watch the other discs as soon as I can.