Star Trek vanished in 1969. For all anyone knew, it would go the way of countless westerns and police shows, as well as several science fiction series like Land of the Giants. After all, science fiction was now 2001 and Silent Running and even the Soviet-made Solaris. For a show that survived its first pilot despite it being “too cerebral,” filmed science fiction needed to be very cerebral.
And then syndication happened. Conventions happened. Star Trek was bankable. But Paramount couldn’t make a clone of 2001 and expect the nascent Trekkie population to follow. And a season 4 would never happen. Solution?
Partner with Filmation and make an animated Trek. Pitching this to NBC as a kids Saturday morning show sold this. Of course, Gene Roddenberry and company had no such intention.
The Animated Series, as it’s now called, featured most of the original cast, minus Walter Koenig as Chekov. (Koenig would write an episode that called back the Eugenics Wars.) James Doohan and Majel Barrett would do the bulk of non-cast voices. NBC had originally intended for only William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley to return. NBC stated they did not have enough money for George Takei and Nichelle Nichols. Nimoy countered they also did not have enough money for him as Spock. Soon, they did not seem to have enough for Shatner and Kelley. Takei and Nichols came aboard, and Filmation made 22 episodes.
TAS was a more ensemble-based show, including one episode where Shatner does not appear as Kirk. Additionally, Roddenberry gets his fondest wish by putting Uhura in the center seat twice. The first time occurs in “The Lorelie Signal,” where the men of the Enterprise are disabled. Uhura boldy states, “Why I’m taking command of the Enterprise” and organizes the female crew in response to the crisis. A later episode, she briefly has the conn while Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Sulu are on the planet. While not shown sitting in the seat, she does order Scotty back aboard as “those are the captain’s orders.”
As an animated show, the writers could do more stories than live action would permit. Aliens could look more alien, foreshadowing the CGI creatures of Babylon 5, the muppety goodness that was Farscape, and even Michael Westmore’s lumpy-heads-of-the-week in the 90s Treks.
But for a show with a tenuous connection to canon, it has a lot of important story points embraced by Trek as a whole. In particular, “Yesteryear” establishes a major chunk of Spock’s backstory immediately referenced in The Next Generation and even foreshadowed in Discovery. Robert April, while looking very different and being much older than Adrian Holmes’s depiction, is established as the first captain of the Enterprise. We also get return appearances by Kor, Koloth (both voiced by James Doohan), Robert Wesley, Cyrano Jones, and, of course, Harry Mudd. The roster of screenwriters included DC Fontana, David Gerrold, Paul Schneider, and Walter Koenig, as well as newcomer Margaret Armen. They treated the show less like a Saturday morning cartoon and more like Star Trek season 4. So, in theory, the Enterprise jumped two and a half years from “The Counter-Clock Incident” to The Motion Picture.