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A Forgotten "Trek" Returns From the Void

by on March 8, 2007

Whether you regard Star Trek as a high point in television history or as the touchstone of geekdom, you can’t deny that the show has earned its place in history. I freely and proudly admit to being a Trekkie. (I say “Trekkie” because I was a fan of the show long before the Trekkie/Trekker distinction arose.) Star Trek set the standard for television science-fiction, with continuing characters and stories that could be taken seriously.

When Gene Roddenberry first presented his baby to the networks he marketed it as “Wagon Train to the Stars.” CBS turned him down, as they were quite happy with their own sci-fi show, Lost in Space. But NBC eventually picked up Roddenberry’s show. Although they rejected the first episode, “The Cage” (later incorporated into “The Menagerie”), as being too cerebral, they did give him a second chance, which was quite unusual at the time. That second episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was accepted, and Star Trek was off and running.

The original series was canceled after two seasons, but then something unusual happened. Fans started a massive letter-writing campaign to save the show. Now, when Star Trek premiered in 1966 there were no PCs, no cell phones, no internet, or any of the other technologies that currently bind the world’s fan communities together. Instead, the fans brought it back with nothing but telephone calls, shoe leather, and snail mail. NBC relented to the pressure and renewed the show for a third (but final) season. The show then went into syndication, and that’s when the magic happened. Star Trek‘s audience grew with each airing. Fan clubs sprang up, followed by conventions. The networks soon realized they had a phenomenon on their hands. Almost forty years later the first series (now often called Star Trek: The Original Series) has been followed by four more Star Trek shows: The Next Generation; Deep Space Nine; Voyager; and Enterprise. There have also been close to a dozen movies. At any given time during the week, some incarnation of Star Trek can be found airing somewhere on the cable dial.

But there was another incarnation of Star Trek that did not enjoy the same level of exposure. In 1972 Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer of Filmation Studios approached Gene Roddenberry with the idea of producing an animated version of Star Trek. They even had in hand early production art for a cast of young characters to be introduced to the crew of the Enterprise. But Gene Roddenberry was very protective of his show, and so there would be no young space cadets, cute alien sidekicks, rock bands, or any of the other effluvia polluting animated programming of the era. The animated Star Trek would be a continuation of the live-action series and would remain true to the standards set by the show. To this end, D.C. Fontana was brought in as story editor, the same post she had held on the live-action show. Many of the writers were brought over as well, and science-fiction luminary Larry Niven adapted his short story “The Soft Weapon” into the episode “Slaver Weapon.” The stars of the original program also came over to voice their animated counterparts.

These aspects served to set Star Trek: The Animated Series apart from the other Saturday morning animated programming. It was a serious animated science-fiction drama that did not talk down to its audience simply because they were supposed to be children. In fact, the animated Star Trek attracted much the same audience the live action show had. While there is much debate in the fan community as to whether the animated series is canonical, it cannot be denied that every effort was made to make it a worthy successor to the live-action version. All that being said, it must be observed that Filmation’s animation was down to their usual standards, and the show certainly does not look good when compared to today’s animated and anime offerings. But what it lacked in style it more than made up for in substance. Consistently intelligent and well written, it was shining light in an era that viewed children as being slightly more intelligent than bread mold.

After its original 22-episode run and a brief period of reruns, the animated Star Trek disappeared, to be remembered only by the most avid Trek fans. Fortunately, it has recently been given a respectful DVD release. The new set comes stored in a white plastic clamshell case reminiscent of a classic tricorder, with a transparent window in the shape of the Enterprise arrowhead insignia through which the actual DVDs can be seen. Inside the case is a cardstock sleeve containing the four DVDs of the series. Each DVD features a portrait of Kirk, Spock, Scotty or McCoy. Also housed in the sleeve is a pamphlet listing the contents of each disc as well as information on the production of the series.

This release will not be for everyone, but it brings us a series that is part of the long and continuing history of Star Trek, and it does not deserve to be ignored and forgotten. For serious fans of Star Trek this release is a must-add to your collections.

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