Back in the mid ’70s, the Star Trek animated series was literally one of the few outlets that Star Trek fans had when they were in need of new Trek content. This may seem odd given all the video games, books and whatnot that exists today for Star Trek, but in those times the animated series was the closest thing to new Trek. After all, it was executive produced by the original show’s creator Gene Roddenberry, written by many of the original show’s writers and voiced by most of the original actors.
It may seem easy to dismiss the cartoon today by some elitists who criticize the crude animation and simplistic story lines. But there was a bit more to the cartoon than what was on the surface. Remember these cartoons aired on Saturday mornings and were under strict parental guidelines. Yet, despite the limitations the series stood out. It even won a Daytime Emmy award for “Best Children’s Series”. Many of the scripts were penned by noted sci-fi writers like Larry Niven (who introduced his warlike aliens the Kzinti in the episode “The Slaver Weapon”), David Gerrold, and D.C. Fontana. Even Walter Koenig wrote one script for the series. In many instances, the series followed up with favorite characters like Harry Mudd and situations like the tribbles coming back to infest the Enterprise.
But more importantly, the animated series was true to the spirit of Star Trek. Amid the children-oriented trappings of the episodes were morality tales and interesting sci-fi concepts. For example, the final episode “The Counter-Clock Incident” dealt with the value of old people and how they can still make a difference. In the episode “Yesteryear”, considered by many to be the best episode, the story examined the reality of losing a pet, which is traumatic to children.
One issue with the series is about whether or not it is considered canon in the Star Trek lore. For years, Gene Roddenberry and other insiders expressed the belief that the cartoon was not canon. However, elements of the show did make their way into Star Trek-related works and even episodes of spinoff shows. For example, a lot of background information about Vulcan and Spock’s youth that was introduced in “Yesteryear” have resurfaced in other Star Trek shows and books like the Star Trek Encyclopedia. Even James Kirk’s middle name, Tiberius, was first revealed in the cartoon and later confirmed in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. So, certain features of the animated show were considered canon by Paramount Studios.
Finally, in 2007, the Star Trek official website declared that the show is officially canon. Reinforcing this are statements from Gerrold and Fontana that the show represented the fourth year in the Enterprise’s five-year mission. Think of it this way, the episodes were just simplistic retellings of what actually happened to Kirk and the Enterprise crew during the fourth year.
It is hard to believe that over forty years later, the Star Trek animated series is still looked on fondly by fans. Just like its parent series that it is based on, the Star Trek animated series was more than just a children’s show. At the same time, before the film series and the spinoff TV shows, the animated series was something for fans to treasure and relive the Star Trek viewing experience. It’s regrettable that a new animated show based on Star Trek has not been produced since then. The rich lore of the Star Trek universe will provide so much material for new animated adventures and help keep the fandom thriving much in the same way that Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels has done for the other big sci-fi franchise. This is something for CBS Studios to think about in the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.
Lewis T. Grove