Star Trek: The Animated Series: Beyond the Farthest Star   Rewatch 
April 14, 2020 3:39 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Kirk's crew come across an ancient derelict vessel, but something is still living inside it.

Welcome to the start of our rewatch of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Premiering in the US on 8 Sep, 1973 (7 years, to the day, after the US premiere of Star Trek), it ran for 22 episodes over two (one and a half?) seasons. I'm aiming to do one episode a week for the next 22 weeks, which should mean the final episode will be posted on 8 Sep, 2020, the 47th birthday of TAS and the 54th for TOS.

As with the previous Trek franchise watches, I'll be using Memory Alpha for background notes and interesting facts, along with my own thoughts and memories about the series as we progress. For those who want to watch along, TAS is streaming, along with the other franchise entries, on CBS All Access in the US.

Memory Alpha has quite a bit to say about this episode:

Background information
Title, story, and script
  • This episode's title was inspired by a book of the same name, one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' lesser-known science fiction novels. (Star Trek Concordance, Citadel ed., p. 78) There is also a similarly named episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, entitled "Far Beyond the Stars".
  • This episode was penned by Samuel A. Peeples, who previously wrote the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before". He remembered, "[Dorothy Fontana] called and said, 'Gene suggested that since you had done the pilot for the original Star Trek, maybe you'd like to do the pilot for the animated Star Trek.' And that's what I did [....] As far as the inspiration for the story, I don't have the vaguest idea. It seems to me that I was trying to say that it would be interesting if there was a space ship which was actually a living creature. It's alive, but it is used to going from one planet to another." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, pp. 98-99)
  • The first draft of this episode's script was dated 10 May 1973. A revised draft of the script was submitted on 17 April 1973, though certain pages were revised on 10 May 1973.
Cast and audio
  • Lieutenant Kyle reappears from the original series here, though with a mustache, brown hair, and voiced by James Doohan, replacing John Winston. This is the only TAS episode in which Kyle has any dialogue.
  • The dialogue from this episode's script was recorded with the full regular cast in attendance (the first time they had reunited since filming of the original series ended in January 1969). This recording session was at Filmation's studios in Reseda, California, in June 1973 (on or prior to the fourth of that month), and also included recording of the vocals for "Yesteryear" and "More Tribbles, More Troubles". (Star Trek: Communicator issue 119, p. 32; The Star Trek Compendium, 4th ed., p. 143)
  • When the cutter beams cut the hinge of the core hatch trapped on Scott, the sound effect it makes when it hits the floor is a common sound effect from The Flintstones (a loud clang noise).
  • Gene Roddenberry once related that the medium of animation made it easy to depict a massive starship such as the one featured here. "If we want an exotic space ship fifty miles across," he said, "it's as easy to draw that as it is to do one the size of the Enterprise." According to background artist Robert Kline, though, pleasing Roddenberry with a feasible, unseen design for the insectoid ship herein was the hardest challenge in the creation of Star Trek: The Animated Series and required "literally 100 tries." (Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures, p. 156)
  • The cutting beam in this episode emanates from an instrument that looks almost exactly like the hand-held spectrum analyzer used by Spock in the TOS episode "The Naked Time".
  • The fact that Lieutenant Kyle is seen to have grown a mustache by this point foreshadows the character sporting a goatee in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • This episode marks the first and only use of the "Automatic Bridge Defense System". The device was never seen again in any subsequent series.
  • A number of sources, beginning with the Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble, incorrectly list the stardate of this episode as 5521.3.
  • This episode marks the first on-screen appearance of an entirely non-Human member of Starfleet, though the USS Intrepid was stated to have an all-Vulcan crew in the TOS episode "The Immunity Syndrome".
  • Like in "Charlie X", Skin of Evil the crew abandon a lonely but evil individual who has caused trouble for them.
Original airing and reception
  • On 4 June 1973, NBC made the announcement that Star Trek's regular cast had reunited to record the script for this installment (as well as the teleplays for an additional two episodes). (Star Trek: Communicator issue 119, p. 32)
  • At one point during the first week of September 1973, this episode was shown at a private NBC screening, at which Los Angeles Times critic Cecil Smith was overheard remarking, "This is definitely not a kid's program." Smith's positive impression of the episode influenced a review (entitled "Star Trek Bows in Animated Form") that was written by him and was published in the 10 September 1973 edition of the Los Angeles Times. (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 19 & iv)
  • Andy Mangels stated, "When excited viewers sat down in front of their television sets on September 8, 1973, they weren't certain what to expect, but they knew one thing: Star Trek was back on the air! [....] It was an auspicious beginning that promised viewers a return to the 'five year mission' they knew and loved."
  • On its initial broadcast in September 1973, this episode faced tough competition. The Monster Times stated it "was completely decimated" in the ratings by other programs airing on the same morning. (Star Trek Magazine issue 180, p. 64)
  • Although this episode's original air date was 8 September 1973 (or seven years to the day from the 1966 premiere of TOS), its first broadcast in Los Angeles was on 22 December of that year, due to George Takei's run for City Council and "equal time" issues. (Star Trek Concordance, Citadel ed., p. 78)
  • As the first episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series to air, this was also the first episode of the franchise to be broadcast in the 1970s.
  • D.C. Fontana has repeatedly cited this as one of her favorite installments of the animated Star Trek (along with "Yesteryear", "More Tribbles, More Troubles", "Bem" and "The Magicks of Megas-Tu"). (Star Trek Magazine issue 128, p. 46) In a 2003 video interview for, Fontana also remarked that she thought this outing "was very good."
  • In the magazine Variety, this episode received a review that Samuel A. Peeples thought was both "absolutely incredible" and "incredibly positive." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 99; Starlog issue #124, p. 37)
  • The editors of Trek magazine collectively scored this episode 1 out of 5 stars (a rating that they termed "poor"). (The Best of Trek #1, p. 111)
  • In the unofficial reference book Trek Navigator: The Ultimate Guide to the Entire Trek Saga (p. 21), co-writer Mark A. Altman rates this episode 2 out of 4 stars (defined as "mediocre") while fellow co-writer Edward Gross ranks the episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars (defined as "average"). Altman describes the episode as "an unspectacular entry" with an "unremarkable" story and, despite recognizing "some nice touches" (counting the life-support belts among them), he laments a lack of "new" elements in the installment, finding that aliens hijacking the Enterprise has been done too much and that the episode's only innovative aspect is the design of the pod ship. Altman concludes, "It's enough to leave one longing for Sybok and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier." Gross agrees that much about the episode has been seen before but also comments, "Samuel Peeples [...] has taken the animated format and attempted to concoct a script whose sheer scale is unlike anything that could have been accomplished in the live-action show back in the 1960s." Gross also describes the alien's loneliness-fearing pleas at the end of the episode to be "a bit touching" but ultimately, considering the entity's other actions, "too little too late."
  • In the unofficial reference book Boarding the Enterprise: Transporters, Tribbles and the Vulcan Death Grip in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (p. 53), Allen Steele described this as one of the "most notable" installments of the animated Star Trek series (in common with "Yesteryear" and "More Tribbles, More Troubles").
  • In the "Ultimate Guide" published in Star Trek Magazine issue 163, p. 24, this episode was rated 4 out of 5 Starfleet arrowhead insignia and was regarded as the fourth best installment of the animated Star Trek. The magazine also commented, "The scale and design of the ship perfectly exploits the medium. A classic Kirk bluff to defeat an energy being that takes over the Enterprise is a perfect cap to the episode."
Additional information
  • This episode was adapted for a novelization, written by Alan Dean Foster, published in Ballantine Books' Star Trek Log 1 (along with "Yesteryear" and "One of Our Planets Is Missing").
  • A limited-edition collector's animation cel inspired by this episode was once available from Filmation. (A Trekker's Guide to Collectibles, p. 46) The cel was number "ST-16" and illustrated the Enterprise drifting in between the massive pod ship.
  • A Daren Dochterman illustration of the pod ship is featured in the Ships of the Line book (pp. 70-71), a publication that is made up of images from the related calendars.
Poster's Log:

Let's get this out of the way immediately: the animation is bad. Actually, let me emphasize this properly - the animation is BAD, and that will not change as the series progresses. The art itself is often quite good - our cast members are all instantly recognizable as their live-action selves, and Filmation's art director painted beautiful background mattes. Those mattes were usually used for long, time-filling panning shots, often with slightly-animated character silhouettes traveling across them (a directorial choice that is echoed in many of the later franchises, starting with TNG). Characters shot in close-up barely move and stock footage is used frequently, often leading to continuity errors. This style of animation was Filmation's signature and can be seen in all of the work they did bringing live-action properties to animation, whether it was "Lassie's Rescue Ranger", "The Brady Kids", or "The New Adventures of Gilligan".

Still, this is a pretty strong first effort. The alien craft is VERY alien, in a way that could not have been captured in live action. The story itself is pretty standard first season Star Trek. It's not really action-packed, but as thoughtful and introspective as could be captured in a 22-minute cartoon aimed at kids. There are shortcuts and places where more dialog would be helpful, but it still feels like decent Trek.

This is at least the second time that the Enterprise is taken over by an energy-based life form (see "Wolf in the Fold", TOS). It won't be the last.

There are a couple of minor dialog flubs. Kirk refers to "milleniums" rather than the more generally accepted "millenia" (used later by McCoy), and notes that the alien ship was built "300 million years ago, before life even emerged on Earth".

New equipment:

To cut down on animation costs, the clunky environmental suits seen in "The Naked Time" and "The Tholian Web" were rejected, and the crew is now outfitted with "life support belts", which surround the wearer with a golden glow, offering oxygen, warmth, and protection from energy weapons. We'll see these a few more times.

As noted in the MA Continuity notes, the Enterprise was (at least temporarily) outfitted with an Automated Bridge Defense System whose sole function appears to be "be taken over by aliens and used to shoot at the crew".

To prevent the alien life form from using the Enterprise to escape, Kirk sends Scotty down to Engineering to activate a self-defense device in the engine core. Previously ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield") and subsequently ("Star Trek III: The Search for Spock"), self-destruct is activated by voice command.
posted by hanov3r (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
...the animation is bad. Actually, let me emphasize this properly - the animation is BAD, and that will not change as the series progresses.

That’s pretty much on-par for Filmation. Their version of limited animation makes Hanna-Barbera’s stuff look like lush, fully-drawn, early Disney animation. I was, I think, about 14 when TAS bowed, and, as much as I lived Trek, I was terribly disappointed by the crap animation. Still, I watched every episode because Trek.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:45 PM on April 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

The absolute best part about TAS is how wild they could get with the alien designs. I wish subsequent Star Trek series had been willing to revisit those truly far out visuals. Who knows? Maybe we'll get some of that with the forthcoming Lower Decks animated show.

The animation is atrocious, of course, but pretty typical for 70s TV animation. Without modern tools and, let's face it, cheap overseas labor, the most common technique was cutting every possible corner. If it didn't need to move it stayed still, and if it did need to move those animations would be reused as many times as possible.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:47 PM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

"I'm getting that radio sound again, Sir; 9 seconds Right Ascension from Galactic Plane" is one my favorite lines in the Star Trek universe.
posted by miguelcervantes at 6:02 PM on April 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Despite the terrible Filmation, I have a soft spot for the introduction and the colours. All the humans and human like species, like Vulcans, have the same eyes but hey, the teeth are different because Hollywood?

I find the music and the sound design interesting.

The stories, as ever with Trek, vary.

I still find the ending cruel but it has that nostalgia aspect that makes some of the dull episodes bearable.
posted by juiceCake at 9:30 PM on April 14, 2020

I remember the first time I saw this one, when I was a kid, and getting truly wigged out by the darkly haunting pleading from the alien at the end.

A couple months ago I showed this episode to my wife, who'd never seen a single TAS, and she too was wigged out by it.

In some ways, this episode feels a little like old-school sci-fi literature, in that (A) it's not afraid to approach cosmic horror, and (B) there's not much of a story besides "exploring something really bizarre" and "discussing technical stuff." But that's fine. Bold, really, considering the circumstances.

Thank god this wasn't an '80s animated show or there would have been a federally-mandated "Don't Do Drugs" episode.

I do know that there are several TASs I missed (e.g. I never saw "Yesteryear" until, um, this year) so I'll be following along with this rewatch. Nice post hanov3r!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:11 AM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

As far as I am aware, TAS never entered syndication (I suppose due to limited number of episodes and Gene’s apparent antipathy toward it in later years), so I never had the opportunity to see these until they surfaced on Prime. Instead, I was familiar with them from Bjo Trimble’s wonderful Concordance, which appears to have been able to obtain access to studio art for the line drawings that illustrate that section of the book.

Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Logs adaptations are the way I truly got to know these episodes, though. Again, I never saw these in bookstores on initial release, whenever that may have been. I did come across many of these editions eventually in a local used bookstore. The reprint editions from the early nineties, which featured a striking series of airbrush illustrations of the Enterprise against solid primary color backgrounds referencing the uniform colors at first, filled in the gap.

I seem to recall hearing that Foster lobbied for the adaptations as a means to scoring the story credit for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At this time in his career, he was a famously productive hack who also managed to bring real literary quality to his work-for-hire output. Later (and I suppose concurrently) he would write the Star Wars licensed Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which introduced several concepts and scenes that would be crucial to the second and third produced Star Wars movies (iirc, he has always been cagey about what ideas wee his and what came from notes and discussions with Lucas and others from the Ranch). Thus, Foster played a unique role in the conceptualization and expansion of our two primary late-Twentieth Century SF genre franchises, which I find... fascinating.

Foster’s Logs are also innovative and in some ways richer than Blish’s adaptations. The Logs were written after broadcast, I think, so Foster did not face Blish’s challenges in the early adaptations of not having access to script changes and so forth, and Foster writes the adaptations at greater length per episode than Blish could... which means that Foster was able to spend more time on interiority of the crew than any writer previously had the opportunity to do. Finally, he takes a crack at harmonizing the episodes such that in his books, the episodes are shown to have taken place in the fictional universe in the order presented in the books, which is drawn from the order that the shows were initially broadcast. It’s possible that this may reflect an effort to use stardates in the shows as broadcast in apparent chronological order, I do not recall.

Anyway, if you haven’t read these adaptations, I urge you to do so. They are far, far better than they had to be.
posted by mwhybark at 9:51 AM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thank god this wasn't an '80s animated show or there would have been a federally-mandated "Don't Do Drugs" episode.

You mean like the one from TNG?
posted by Naberius at 10:53 AM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was lucky enough to pick up a set of original printing Logs 1-7 (along with a bunch of other Trek books - Blish's _Star Trek_ and _Spock Must Die_, _The Making of Star Trek_, David Gerrold's _World of Star Trek_ and _The Trouble with Tribbles_, the TMP adaption, and a few others) at a local flea market last year. I re-read the BtFS section of Log One, for the first time in decades, after rewatching the episode. I'm not sure I could ever have pictured Scotty saying "So would a punch in the snoot, pointy-ears!" to Spock, and yet ADF wrote that.

I *love* TAS. I was 6 and a half when BtFS premiered, had already been a Trek fan for a couple of years (first episode I ever saw was "The Apple", on WPIX in New York, when I was about 4), and I was enraptured from the first moment. And, no matter how bad the rest of the animation is, the shot of the Enterprise in orbit from the opening sequence is still one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
posted by hanov3r at 10:56 AM on April 15, 2020

Yeah, the animation was crap, and I think that I realized that at the time (I was nine when this premiered), but I was still thrilled that there was new Trek, of any type or quality; this would have been a bit more than six years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered, and production quality aside (besides the animation, the pale imitation of Alexander Courage's original theme seems to have been done to avoid paying Courage royalties; also, Filmation was originally not going to use George Takei and Nichelle Nichols to voice-act Sulu and Uhura, until Leonard Nimoy threatened to walk if they weren't hired), it was pretty good. The alien-intelligence-taking-over-the-ship thing had been done in TOS' "Wolf in the Fold", but the derelict alien ship looks sufficiently alien--it really does look, inside and out, like the sort of ship that you'd imagine bee-like aliens building--and the threat pretty credible; I wonder if the Discovery showrunners for S2 maybe had an eye or two on this plot. Also appreciated by me, then and now, is that the producers of TAS saw fit to include alien crewmembers that would have been expensive to portray well in live-action back in the sixties (or even the seventies); I'd really like to see Arex and M'Ress show up in one of the 23rd-century Treks being produced now.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:18 PM on April 15, 2020

While M’Ress is Caitian, not Kzin (we’ll get to then eventually), wasn’t there a Kzin reference on either DIS or PIC?
posted by hanov3r at 10:58 PM on April 15, 2020

Yes, in the Picard episode "Nepenthe", Riker mentions needing their defensive shields to protect from Kzinti raiders.
posted by briank at 6:50 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

As far as I am aware, TAS never entered syndication

There was an 80s/90s run on Nickelodeon. IIRC at one time it had a 12:30 Sunday slot, which might not have been a great time to catch a lot of viewers. As there are so few episodes, one would end up seeing the same ones over and over..

Kind of a slow episode, but yeah, the ending is pretty effective as these things go.

I have dubbed the close-up shot of Leonard Nimoy's character used in expository scenes 'cute Spock'.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding the James Blish adaption-they do a lot to expand on the episodes. In this one, they Ryu how the material of the alien ship was not drawn out or milled, but woven. And Kirk recognizing a Captains chair...

The Foster adaption also expanded on the characters of Lt. Arex and M'ress, like how M'ress has carefully concealed combat scars, and how Arex is both painfully shy, and a brilliant musician.
posted by happyroach at 9:12 AM on April 18, 2020

I've only seen one complete episode of the series (the one with the Kzin) so I thought I'd give it a try when I saw this on fanfare. I mean, there's a lot of extra lore that seems to have come from this show back in the day.

I may not be able to do it. I thought the plot was actually OK, but that was the problem because it was a pretty painful 24 minutes. Not sure I could handle that pacing and production on a bad episode.

I listened to the Rachel Watches Star Trek recap and as they said, it's not impossible to make watchable fare in the Filmation style--they point to some of the Adult Swim riffs on it.

I imagine part of the problem is that the writers didn't really know what they were writing for, in terms of finished production, so they couldn't side step the many, many weaknesses.
posted by mark k at 7:22 PM on April 19, 2020

The animation is terrible, but there's a surprising amount of attention to detail in the mouth movements.

I always hated how the eyes are the same color as the skin. It makes them all look jaundiced, or like incompletely painted dolls.

That adventure music theme that popped up in several sections was really familiar. It's it because they used it a lot in this show (and possibly other Filmation shows as well), or is it from something else?
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:25 AM on April 22, 2020

I appreciate that they’re using animation to show things the original series could only dream Kirk somersaulting
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:50 AM on April 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Obey me!

I appreciated some parts of this, but I feel like I'm in for a pretty rocky ride here.

My first reaction to the ship was that it was actually a giant set of eggs, which were punctured from the inside because they had all hatched. Turned out not to be the case!
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:27 PM on August 29, 2020

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