I just watched Star Trek The Animated Series (ST TAS) for the first time. This series was first broadcast in 1973-74–within my lifetime but not within my conscious memory. Only 22 episodes were made, and they were 30 minutes instead of the full hour of the original series (ST TOS).
There were a couple significant scenes in this series that relate to the topic of how women were depicted in the original series that both involve Lt. Uhura. Before I get to those, however, I wanted to report out on the overall animated series.
First, the animation is horrible, and the music is limited and repetitive. The shows were produced by Filmation, known for quite a few cartoons of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, including Archie’s TV Funnies (1971), Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972), The Brady Kids (1972–1974), The U.S. of Archie (1974), and Gilligan’s Planet (1982).
They cut costs by limiting the number of frames per second and using as much stock footage as possible. There were only a few music cues, and they were used over and over, including in other series. Even though I have no memory of TAS, I recognized the music from other series I watched a little later in the decade.
The original cast members from Star Trek were used to voice the characters (all but Chekov were in the show), which lent a level of authenticity, and D. C. Fontana, one of the main script writers for TOS was also a producer of TAS. The result is good stories that look pretty amateurish.
There were a couple of remarkable moments in TAS that most people aren’t aware of:
- The episode “The Practical Joker” shows the first use of a holodeck on board the ship.
- “The Slaver Weapon,” written by Larry Niven based on a non-Star Trek short story of his, is the only Kirk-era episode that does not have Kirk in the show. The action centers on Spock, Sulu, and Uhura, who are traveling in a shuttle craft and encounter problems.
- The only actual time Kirk says, “Beam us up, Scotty” occur in TAS.
- In “The Lorelei Signal,” Lt. Uhura takes command of the Enterprise.
Yes, that’s right. In this episode, the men aboard are compromised by a siren signal coming from a planet made up entirely of women. An all-male landing party beams down to investigate and are taken prisoner, and the men who remain on board the ship can’t help but daydream about fantasy women.
Lt. Uhura realizes that the Enterprise will be lost unless she takes action, so she takes command of the ship, takes and all-female landing party down to the planet, and defeats the inhabitants, who release the men. Way to go Uhura!
Nichelle Nichols has stated that this is her favorite Star Trek episode because of this, and who can blame her?
The only unanswered question this episode brings up is how does the siren signal affect the gay crew? Does the premise assume that everyone on board is heterosexual, or does it affect men regardless of their sexual orientation?
By the way, although Kirk is compromised during this episode, he figures out what is going on, and he and the other men are able to hide in order to stay away from the native women until the Enterprise women come down to rescue them.
There is one other episode where Uhura shines in one scene: in “The Ambergris Element,” Kirk and Spock beam down to a water world and are transformed by the inhabitants into water breathers. The Enterprise loses contact with them and starts sending down search parties. At one point, Scotty, who is running the search on the planet, gets into a brief argument with Uhura about procedures and orders.
The captain’s orders are for search parties to return to the Enterprise after a certain amount of time (to avoid the risk of endangering themselves?), but Scotty wants to keep searching. Uhura asserts that their orders are to beam back up and continue the search from the Enterprise, and Scotty relents. Naturally, they figure out what happened and rescue Kirk and Spock.
This is another important moment, since Scotty, as third in command of the ship, is challenged and backs down when Uhura reminds him of his duty.
Because the animated series was only a half-hour, the plots couldn’t spend time on relationships like the live-action series, so you don’t have McCoy falling for a female crew member during an episode or Kirk seducing an alien do get information. These short episodes just deal with one plot and let go any subplots.
Many of these stories are good, including ones that revisit places and guest characters that first appeared in the original series. They visit the Guardian of Forever again, and Spock ends up having to go back in time to assist his younger self from getting killed as a child (a scene of young Spock dealing with other children who make fun of him for being half-human may have inspired the similar scene in the 2009 Star Trek movie).
The crew also meets up again with Harry Mudd, who is selling bogus love pills to a mining colony. Nurse Chapel ends up slipping one to Spock hoping that he will finally fall in love with her.
The Enterprise also runs into Cyrano Jones, the tribble merchant again. The weird thing about this episode is that the tribbles are pink. In the original episode, they were natural shades of brown, but according to one source I read, they became pink in the animated episode because the production designer was color blind. First, who hires a color blind production designer? Second, doesn’t anyone call him on the whole pink tribble business?
Okay, I’m way off topic now.
My point to all of this is that the animated series is able to redeem the original series a bit in its depiction of women by showing a female officer as capable of taking over the ship and commanding a successful rescue mission. Also, Uhura is able to be the voice of reason when discussing orders with Scotty and win an argument. You mean women aren’t slaves to their emotions after all. Well, what do you know? I guess we will learn something by the 23rd century.