Sunday, November 3, 2013

Star Trek: The Animated Series Episode 9--"Once Upon A Planet"

After half a season of contending with such menaces as sentient space clouds, fat pink tribbles, a Klingon super weapon, a shape shifting Romulan spy, a giant clone of Mr. Spock, and Satan himself, among others, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is ready for some R&R.  Thus, the ship heads back to the amusement planet first visited in the first season live action episode "Shore Leave." 
The planet, as you may remember from "Shore Leave," was constructed by an unnamed advanced alien race.  Overseen by the Keeper, a representative of that race, its underground super computer reads the thoughts of visitors to the planet and turns them into reality.
Things have changed, however, since the Enterprise last visited the planet.  The Keeper has died and the planet's computer has decided it is no longer content merely to serve others.  It begins attacking the Enterprise crew and kidnaps Uhura as a hostage.  The computer then begins to take control of the Enterprise so that the ship can carry it off the planet and out into the galaxy at large. Captain Kirk and Spock trick the computer into taking them into its subterranean inner sanctum.  Once there, Kirk, who's never met a computer that he couldn't talk into destroying itself, convinces the computer to abandon its wild scheme and go back to business as usual.  The computer releases the Enterprise and invites the crew to beam down for shore leave on the sole condition that someone stay and keep talking to it, a job for which Spock volunteers.
Of the Star Trek animated episodes that are direct sequels to earlier live action installments, "Once Upon A Planet" is the only one not to be written by the script writer of the original story.   (By the way, the episodes to which I refer are, in addition to "Once Upon A Planet," "More Tribbles, More Troubles" and "Mudd's Passion," which will be the subject of next week's post.  I do not include "Yesteryear," written by Dorothy Fontana, even though it prominently features the Guardian of Forever, as I do not consider th presence of that element enough to qualify the episode as a direct sequel to Harlan Ellison's "The City on the Edge of Forever." In both episodes, the Guardian is little more than a plot device and Fontana could just as easily have come up with an  entirely new method of time travel to get Spock where the story needed him to be.) According to the Trek wiki Memory Alpha, Theodore Sturgeon, the legendary science fiction author who wrote "Shore Leave," as well as the second season opener "Amok Time," actually did write a proposal for an episode with the working title "Shore Leave II" which was never produced.  However, Memory Alpha also seems to indicate that, while some unused ideas for live action episodes, notably David Gerrold's "More Tribbles, More Troubles" and "Bem," were eventually produced as animated segments, there is apparently no relationship between this episode's script, written by Chuck Menville and Len Jansen, and Sturgeon's unused treatment.  I've not been able to find any reason as to why Sturgeon's plot wasn't used or why he was not involved with this sequel to an episode he had written.
"Once Upon A Planet" is also notable for being the first segment of the Saturday morning cartoon version of Star Trek to be written by writers primarily known for writing Saturday morning cartoons.  From the late 1960's until Menville's death in 1992, Menville and Jansen would work together on a wide variety of properties for the two major producers of Saturday morning fare of the period, Filmation, producers of Star Trek, and Hanna-Barbera.  Their collaborative output includes, in addition to Trek, episodes of Speed Buggy, Hong Kong Phooey, and The Smurfs for Hanna-Barbera, as well as segments of Filmation's Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The New Adventures of Batman, and Tarzan-Lord of the Jungle.  They also worked on some of Filmation's live action children's series, including Shazam!, Isis, and Ark II.  "Once Upon A Planet" is the first of two episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series that the pair would write.  Their other episode, the second season's "The Practical Joker," is most famous for its inclusion of scenes set in a holographic rec room on board the Enterprise which is considered to be the prototype for Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck.  To me, however, what sticks in my mind about that episode is the somewhat ridiculous sight of the Enterprise expelling a full sized inflatable replica of itself in order to confound the Romulans.  I shall have more to say on both of those points when I eventually get around to reviewing "The Practical Joker."
With the reappearance of the White Rabbit and Alice from "Shore Leave," it at first appears as if "Once Upon A Planet" is simply going to be yet another rehash of a classic original Trek episode, much like the earlier "More Tribbles, More Troubles."  However, the episode quickly heads off in a new direction as the amusement planet begins to pose a real threat to the Enterprise and its crew.  Unfortunately, the episode is marred by a rather weak ending.  Kirk's argument here is not as flawlessly logical as in his earlier verbal confrontations with rogue computers in "Return of the Archons," "The Ultimate Computer," and "The Changeling," and the computer's decision to suddenly just give up feels too abrupt and rather anti-climactic.
Once again, this episode demonstrates the advantages afforded by the animated format.  Whereas in "Shore Leave," all we saw of the supposedly advanced technology behind the shore leave planet was a little scope like device that seemed to be targeting the crew before their thoughts materialized, here we see flying robotic "nannies" that kidnap Ubura and take Spock into the computer's presence, as well as the vast computer complex itself.  Both of these would have been much more difficult, not to mention expensive, to realize in live action.
Overall, I'd place this episode somewhere around the middle of the pack among the episodes so far in regards to quality.  It's not bad, but it definitely could have been better.

No comments:

Post a Comment