starlady: Kirk surrounded by tribbles: "What the crap is going on here?"  (kirk)
[personal profile] starlady
My friend [ profile] sparowhawk and I commenced our epic Fourth of July by watching four episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series. It exists. It may or may not burn out your eyeballs and/or cause you to choke from laughter. But it does have all the original actors providing voice talent (with the notable exception of Walter Koenig, so that Chekov has been replaced by an alien named Arix with a deep helium voice) and classic TOS scriptwriters slumming, so it is quasi-canon. And a hoot.

Please note: absolutely not spoiler-free.

1x01 - "Beyond the Farthest Star"

The Enterprise sails beyond the farthest star in the galaxy (get it? that's why the episode's called "beyond the farthest star"!) on a mission of--stellar cartography. Let me say it again, like Kirk does: STELLAR CARTOGRAPHY. Once they get beyond the edge of the galaxy, the ship encounters a derelict starsquidship orbiting a "dead" star (Spock: "I can only describe it as 'hypergravity,' Captain") and accidentally lets the malevolent magnetic lifeform that's been aboard the derelict for 300 million years, give or take an eon, jump ship to the Enterprise. Nice!

The animation in this series is terrible. It's worse than anime from the same time period, and anime looks the way it does because all the series that established the medium were made as cheaply as possible. If TAS had taken pointers from anime, it would look a lot better. So, yes, expressions are mostly made of eyebrows (and holy crap does McCoy in particular have some powerful eyebrows), shots are recycled and repeated verbatim, etc.

I'm not even going to object that, contra what the episode says, life existed on Earth more than 300 mya (maybe they meant 'intelligent life'?); in general, there's so much hand-waving in the series that hands doubtless fell off and had to be reattached multiple times. More importantly, the title of this episode reminded me of a VNV Nation song, so I was happy when the alien squidship (which occasions Uhura making random comments about the advanced-ness of a culture that designs its ships "with such grace and beauty," incidentally) turned into an alien disco rave ship after Kirk and the boarding party tripped the magnetic life-form's awareness. Party! Or not! Also, TAS introduces "life support belts," which allow our crew to beam directly into vacuum without so much as a face mask, because clearly there wasn't enough budget to draw even rudimentary EVA suits. Actually, I'm sort of glad they didn't try, given that the whites of human eyes were apparently beyond the budget, too.

As [ profile] sparowhawk said, "Where are the Ghostbusters when you need them?" Fun and games ensue after the boarding party beams back onto the Enterprise, most notably when Kirk agrees to give control of the ship to the alien to save Spock from being zapped by a bug-zapper thing on the ceiling of the bridge from which the alien talks to them--doesn't he know Vulcan stamina by now? Then Kirk and Spock roll around on the floor together. Somehow the ship is saved, but it made no sense and I don't remember it.

1x02 - "Yesteryear" by D.C. Fontana

One consequence of the cheap animation and general lack of facial expressions is that all the characters look incredibly shifty (TAS makes one appreciate the acting in TOS, and that's saying a lot). Thelan, the Andorian who serves as first officer of the Enterprise in the timeline in which Spock died in Vulcan's Forge at age seven, looks particularly creepy. I feel that Andorians are the Bothans of Star Trek: they're valued allies, but no one particularly likes them, and if a Fed turns bad, there's good odds they're Andorian. Not that Trek would ever indulge in racial species stereotyping...ahem.

So yes, someone in Starfleet Command apparently forgot to leave the LSD at home and assigned Kirk and Spock to go back in time using the Guardian of Forever to "observe" Orion history (Kirk makes a big deal of the fact that they didn't touch anything, or anyone. given his track record with Orion slave girls, I'm not convinced this means he didn't do anyonething while he was there. ahem.), and upon their return (sidenote: TAS does an okay job of using its animated-ness to show off aliens who couldn't be shown live action, such as the avian historian here, or Mr. Arix) Kirk has an Andorian XO and no one remembers Spock, leaving Kirk to rant about people not showing the first officer of the Enterprise proper respect (no one puts Spock in the corner!) before he figures out what's happened: Spock's "cousin" Selek, who saved him in the desert during his kas'wan, didn't show up this time around, because Selek aka Spock was back in time on Orion. So naturally Spock uses the Stoned Talking Rock Donut the Guardian of Forever to go back in time to save himself...again.

This episode is actually pretty good once Spock gets back to Vulcan, where he ingratiates himself into the home of his "cousin" Sarek and his wife Amanda. I didn't pay attention to whatever Spock said to effect this, since frankly it would only have been embarassing to everyone involved to hear what it was, but more importantly, Mark Lenard and Amanda's actress return to voice their characters, and the episode actually manages to convey a few home truths about Vulcans in general and about Spock in particular in a surprisingly subtle way. There's a scene in which Spock is teased by his school mates which could have been spliced straight into the new movie (except that all parties are wearing blue go-go boots and speedos), and while it's not dwelt on, in the timeline in which Spock died Sarek and Amanda separated and she was killed in a shuttle accident, so there's a lot besides Kirk's emotional stability riding on Spock saving himself when Little Spock heads out into the desert before his kas'wan to prove himself to himself.

Spock and little Spock spend some quality time in Vulcan's Forge with their pet sehlat, which looks like a sabertooth bear and which Little Spock tells "You're too old and fat for this." Ouch! And then it dies from injuries it sustained protecting him. Spock and little Spock are pretty cute, too; they have a lot of good dialogue, and little Spock utters the immortal line, "Have you ever heard the son of Sarek was a liar?" at one point before Spock goes back to his timeline, which, despite the fact that things didn't happen exactly the way he remembered them, is...unchanged. I was totally thinking the Enterprise would be crewed by zombies or something, but with only half an hour including commercial breaks, time's up.

1x03 - "One of Our Planets Is Missing"

I totally called that the amoeba/cloud thing was made of plasma ten minutes before Spock did. And, yes, honest to everything, that is the title. Thinking about it now, it doesn't even really make sense.

This is the first episode in which Chekov's replacement speaks, and he actually doesn't come off too badly; like Sulu, he only reports banal information and acknowledges orders, which is why he's one of the least cracked-out. Also, Transporter Tech Kyle's 'stache is epic, and that needs to be said.

So yeah, there's this plasma/cloud thing that's like an amoeba but also like a human body that the Enterprise catches devouring a planet before it turns its sights on the planet Mentares (?), of which former Starfleet captain Bob Wesley is the governor, and which has only 4.5 hours to evacuate. If you couldn't tell that this episode is like a cross between "The Immunity Syndrome," Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Star Trek 2009, let me just say: it is.

Things get off to a brilliant start when Kirk declares "I need an expert psychological opinion" and turns to...McCoy. A bit later Spock, describing the cloud-amoeba, says that "It's like a huge bull grazing in the pastures of the universe." TAS is worth it just for this line alone, let me tell you.

Now that everyone's cleaned their drinks off their monitors, where were we? Oh yeah, Kirk uttering "There's only one way out...and we're going to take it." That's right, Captain.

So the Enteprise, which was consumed by the cloud in the first five minutes, steals some of its antimatter innards (yes, antimatter; something with the shields being reconfigured to prevent the matter/antimatter annhilation), puts them inside a forcefield a glass box and deposits them into one of the nacelles, allowing Spock time to reconfigure the communications arrays to...mindmeld with the amoeba. Among other things, he tells it, "I am very small and there are many of me." Everyone stares fixedly at the helm's rotary countdown mechanism while the cloud (which speaks in a female voice) possesses Spock, leafs through the ship's memory banks, and decides to come in from the cold, i.e. go back beyond the galaxy where it came from (we know it's not from our galaxy because it's made of elements that don't appear on our periodic tables, Spock says. I say: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!).

1x05 "More Tribbles, More Trouble" by David Gerrold

Time passes, and the Federation now has quintotriticale, which is like quadrotriticale, but even more so. Not only does this episode have Koloth, it also has...Cyrano Jones, who has...tribbles! They go together like a horse and carriage, or sodium and water, or something. But Jones has genetically engineered the tribbles so that they don't breed, but just eat. (Is this the first time Trek brings up genetic engineering? Possibly.)

Scotty: ""There's tribbles in the ship, quintotriticale in the corridors, Klingons in the can really ruin your whole day, sir!"

Yes, Scotty, that it can.

After the Enterprise is disabled by the Klingons' new field-weapon, Uhura says, "Well, we can always throw rocks at them," which is actually one of her better lines in the series thus far, sadly. The key to David Gerrold's scripts, I've decided, is that everyone is given equal license to snark.

Kirk: "That seems logical."
Spock: "Thank you."
Kirk: "Any ideas?"
Spock: "We could always throw tribbles at them."
Kirk: "I thought Vulcans don't have a sense of humor."
Spock: "We don't, Captain."

Jones: "The what?"
Kirk: "The wheat!"
Jones: "They're so hungry, Captain!"
Kirk: "So are the people of Sherman's Planet!"

This is by far the best episode of TAS of the four I've seen, and it could have been great Trek, period, if the characters had been given facial expressions to match the voice acting, which rises to obvious new heights in response to the excellent script. One of the things that makes this episode stand out is the sheer quantity of new animation in it (though a scene of tribbles humping someone's boots does show up at least four times)--the best example of this, besides Jones, Koloth and the Klingon ship (including interior shots), is Kirk dealing with the tribble in his command chair. Priceless.
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