Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Animated Series, Season 1: Beyond The Farthest Star

The Animated Series, Season 1
Airdate: September 8, 1973
4 of 22 produced
1 of 22 aired


On a mission beyond the galaxy fringe to investigate mysterious radio emissions and chart new stars, the Enterprise encounters a mysterious derelict in orbit of a dead star. This pod ship, a piece of highly advanced technology apparently left by an ancient insectoid race, has been cold and silent for 300 million years. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty discover that the ancient crew deliberately destroyed their vessel to contain a malevolent intelligence on the star below. When the same intelligence commandeers the Enterprise, they face the same decision. Do they fight, or do they self-destruct, in order to prevent this intelligence from taking over every starship and computer network across the inhabited galaxy? In the end, Kirk and crew bluff the entity off the ship, leading it to believe that they will crash land into the star husk while instead, they use the slingshot effect to surmount its gravitational pull. With the creature safely off the ship, the Enterprise resumes its mission of charting the reaches of extra-galactic space.

But not before Kirk got his animated butt zapped by the entity!

This was the premiere episode of the Animated Series, broadcasting 7 years to the day from TOS's premiere. It turns out that Samuel Peeples wrote the first TOS episode as well, "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It seems as though NBC, in its infinite wisdom, finally discovered that Star Trek was a hit, and bankrolled an animated version, but for the daytime. It would be the most expensive cartoon ever to that point, mainly because of the cost of the voice talent. All of the main cast except for Walter Koenig would reprise their roles, while Chekov was replaced by the orange alien Arex and the feline M'Ress. Many episodes feature stories that follow up on TOS originals, and D.C. Fontana, the associate producer and story editor, considers the 22 episodes presented to be the 4th year of the "five year mission."  Canonicity of the episodes is debated, but with various references in filmed Trek, seems to be leaning towards "yes" at least for some of the better shows.


Matthew: The story of this episode contains nothing that I think needs to be omitted from canon. We get lots of science talk, even if some is inaccurate (e.g. life emerging at some time later than 300 million years ago on Earth; receiving radio transmission from ship that is at absolute zero). Also, how can you chart stars beyond the farthest star? It sounds like Peeples just wanted a nice title. Anyway, it's an interesting concept for a continuation of the Enterprise's mission, so it will remain to be seen whether other episodes explore this extra-galactic space.

Some interesting things introduced in this iteration of Trek are environment belts, sort of a belt-generated force field that acts like an environment suit, a more elaborate engineering set, and the automatic defense system on bridge, which makes its first and only appearance in this episode. We see in this episode some locations, such as on the exterior of the alien pod-ship, that never could have been done in TOS.

Overall, this was mostly enjoyable but lacked some of the elements of a great episode. There was no real development of the characters, which is even more important when we can't see the actors' faces. In terms of sci-fi, the format did not afford much time to develop ideas. Who were these insectoids? Where did the evil presence come from? Beyond the galaxy? But, also given the format, it never really had time to get boring. So I'm going to call this a 3.

Kevin: I enjoyed this one for two basic reasons. First it demonstrated that this format could carry a TOS-style episode. The entire time, I felt like I was watching an episode of the Original Series. Of all my concerns about TAS, I was most afraid that it wouldn't feel like Star Trek, and this episode certainly does. Second, the creators really took advantage of the medium. In any conversion, be it stage to screen, book to film, etc., it's important to not just recite the book on film, but translate it for the new medium, ideally taking advantage of the what the medium uniquely offers. This episode achieved that fairly readily with the alien pod ship. The design was beautiful and massive and, like Matt said, was certainly beyond the ability of the original show. Sure this episode doesn't have the strongest plot and character elements, but it was still fun, and I agree with Matt's 3, for a total of 6.

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