Monday, September 6, 2010

The Animated Series, Season 1: Yesteryear

The Animated Series, Season 1
Airdate: September 15, 1973
3 of 22 produced
2 of 22 aired


After returning from another trip through the Guardian of Forever, Kirk and Spock find that no one on the Enterprise remembers Mr. Spock or who he is. In fact, another man, an Andorian, claims to be the first officer of the Enterprise. History records that a seven-year-old Spock died during a maturity test, and thus never served in Starfleet. Realizing they changed history in some way, Spock uses the Guardian again to go back to Vulcan and save his own life. Will he succeed or will he only further alter the timeline?

Spock rushes headlong into the plot hole...


Kevin: A recurring theme of the Animated Series is that this was the fourth season they never got, and this is the perfect example of they could have done with it. We revisit the best of the TOS episodes, "City on the Edge of Forever." The specific set up here that since Spock was in Orion's past now, he wasn't around to go back to Vulcan and save his own life is a little tortured, but not fatally so. I also liked that while Spock was able to restore himself to the Enterprise, he was not able to complete correct what had happened. I always like it when a time travel story can't be tied up in a neat, self-erasing package.

D.C. Fontana wrote this one, and it shows. Like the first venture to the Guardian, the core of the episode is its emotional connection. I found the scenes of both young and old Spock with I-Chaya quietly touching. The juiciest scenes were older Spock interacting with his parents. His final request to Sarek to try and understand his son was just the perfect amount of heartbreaking that Leonard Nimoy always manages to pull off. Getting Mark Lenard to reprise his role as Sarek was fantastic and it really grounded the episode in its roots in TOS. Future debates about canonicity aside, this rewards the viewer for knowing the past episodes of TOS and expands on them beautifully.

The greatest challenge in terms of an animated series for me is how to develop a good, Star Trek story in 22 minutes, and here they succeeded in spades. I think the reason it succeeds is because of how quickly, but also how fully they fleshed out Spock and Vulcans in general. The city of ShiKahr makes appearances in Enterprise, and Spock's sehlat, mentioned in Journey to Babel, is seen. Also, in this universe, when Spock finds out his mother has been prematurely killed he goes back in time and does something about it.

Inside of 22 minutes, we get a great glimpse into Vulcan culture, a neat look at Vulcan itself, and some wonderful depth added to Spock's character. This is definitely a contender for best of the Animated Series and a prime example of what the medium is capable of. This gets a 5, no two ways about it.

Matthew: The wonderful thing about almost any D.C. Fontana story is that, even though there is a distinct focus on characters and their growth, they always remain science fiction stories. I call the court's attention to "This Side of Paradise," "The Enterprise Incident," "That Which Survives," and "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." This is evident here in "Yesteryear," as well. Of course, we're getting a deeper insight into Spock, his family, and Vulcan society (one which would be parroted in the Abrams film). But we're also getting a time travel story, with the fun notion of an Andorian replacement for Spock, a reasonably good explanation for the change, talk of different time-planes, and so on.

What is surprising is how much of an emotional impact the story has. This is a 22-minute cartoon, after all. But by the time Spock's pet dies (a natural tear-jerker) and the elder Spock pleads with his father for understanding his younger counterpart, we definitely get a story packed with lots of feeling. Fontana excels at this, too, and it's even more a testament to her writing that it can happen in the constrained time and without visible human actors to deliver the lines.

As far as the production goes, we get the welcome treat of Mark Lenard reprising his role as Sarek, and, thankfully, a child actor to voice young Spock (sorry, James Doohan). We also get some great matte paintings of Vulcan architecture and terrain, some nifty Vulcan hover cars, and a nice overhead shot of the Guardian's planet. The only flub is Vulcan's moon, but hey, the TMP production staff missed that, too. So I'm not going to penalize them in the way I might penalize J.J. Abrams for a similar gaffe.

If this episode of TAS doesn't get a 5, no episode of TAS will. I think it's a worthy 5 because it stands, even in its abbreviated form, toe-to-toe in story quality with the best of TOS, and it excels in production design, too. That brings this to a 10 overall.

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