Sunday, September 8, 2013

Star Trek The Animated Series: Episode 1 "Beyond the Farthest Star"

We interrupt our regularly scheduled ranting about old comics to inaugurate a new series of posts ranting about an old TV show.  Beginning today, and for the next sixteen weeks, I'll be reviewing the sixteen first season episodes of the animated version of Star Trek on the fortieth anniversary of their original air dates.  
The animated Star Trek debuted on September 8, 1973, exactly seven years after the September 8, 1966 premier of the original series.  While there's a nice synchronicity to that, it was just a coincidence, that being the date that NBC's fall Saturday morning line up was set to debut that year.
In keeping with the desire of Gene Roddenberry, who held the title of Executive Consultant on the new series, and animation studio Filmation to produce a series that was worthy of the Trek name, story editor and associate producer D.C. (Dorothy) Fontana commissioned scripts from many writers who had penned episodes of the former live action version.  According to Fontana's own testimony in "Drawn to the Final Frontier--The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series", a special feature on the DVD collection of the series, she was aided in her efforts to lure these writers to work in animation by a Writer's Guild strike that rendered them unable to take jobs in live action television.
One of the veteran Trek scribes returning for the animated effort was Samuel Peeples, whose contribution to the original series had been "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot episode that finally convinced NBC to buy the series.  Given that, it sort of makes sense that Peeples' "Beyond the Farthest Star" should be the first episode of the animated Trek revival to air.
As the episode begins, the Enterprise is traveling "beyond the fringes of our galaxy," as Kirk intones in his log entry, on a star charting mission when they are pulled off course by the intense gravity of Questar M-17, a "negative imploded star mass", whatever the hell that is.  They avoid crashing into the mass and maneuver themselves into orbit around it, soon discovering that they are not alone.  An ancient starship, more than three hundred million years old, according to Spock's readings, is also orbiting the dead star and emitting a mysterious radio signal, even though the ship is apparently dead.
Beaming over wearing life-support belts to protect themselves from the intense cold Spock has detected within the mysterious craft, Kirk, Spock, Scotty and McCoy soon find themselves trapped in the ship's control where they find a pre-recorded message from the vessel's long dead crew. The ship had been possessed by a being composed of magnetic energy which wanted the crew to take it into the heart of the galaxy.  Rather than unleash a malevolent force on civilization, the crew opted to sacrifice themselves and destroy their own vessel.
When the landing party is finally able to beam back to the Enterprise, they inadvertently bring the energy being with them.  It quickly occupies the ship's computer and attempts to force Kirk to help it escape the pull of the dead star.  Kirk plunges the Enterprise on a collision  course with the star mass, causing the entity, fearing destruction, to abandon the ship and end up trapped by the dead star.  The Enterprise pulls out of its dive at the last minute and slingshots around the negative star mass to freedom, resuming its course "beyond the farthest star."
One of the advantages gained by reviving Star Trek in animation was that  they could do special effects that wouldn't have been possible in live action at the time, especially on a TV budget.  The vast, ancient alien ship and the design of its alien crew member as seen in the warning message are prime examples of this.  Of course, TV animation had its own budget constraints to worry about, as evidenced by the limited animation.  The part where everything is falling apart and the alien control room is exploding looks particularly cheesy.
"Beyond the Farthest Star," while not an example of Trek at its finest, is nonetheless an entertaining science fiction tale very much in the spirit of the original series.  The gambit used to force the energy creature to abandon the Enterprise, essentially a cosmic game of chicken, is vintage Kirk:  bold, brash, unexpected and effective.
All in all, this episode gets the animated adventure of James T. Kirk and his crew off to a fine start.

1 comment:

  1. I ALWAYS extol praise on Trek:TAS.., in many ways for those sci-fi snobs who turn their collective noses up at Trek AND Trekkers who turn theirs up at TAS.., just having the original voices on the characters is a joy to witness.

    I consider TAS the fourth year of Original Trek, at times far better executed than the original Third year. AND most Trekkers seem to forget not only the innovations that became canon from this 'non-canon' entry, but also that MORE industry sci-fi writers were involved in this show than any other franchise outings, if I recall correctly.

    Always loved the cost-cutting measures stylishly done, such as the use of black silhouettes to depict cast members against the lush landscapes..

    Always one of my fav Trek series.