Star Trek: The Animated Series: The Ambergris Element   Rewatch 
July 7, 2020 4:56 PM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

The crew of the Enterprise explore a submerged culture on a water world.

There's not exactly a flood of information on this episode on Memory Alpha.

Background information
Story and production
  • This episode's writer, Margaret Armen, also wrote TAS: "The Lorelei Signal", as well as the scripts for TOS: "The Gamesters of Triskelion", "The Paradise Syndrome" and "The Cloud Minders". She remembered how she came to write this installment; "[Story Editor Dorothy "D.C." Fontana] approached me. I thought it would be fun." Armen also expressed that this episode (in common with "The Lorelei Signal") was indeed fun and that she enjoyed doing it. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 98)
  • As Star Trek: The Animated Series' vocal specialist, James Doohan did the voices of six characters in this episode. In fact, this is one of two episodes of the animated Star Trek series that Doohan provided the most voices for (the other installment being "Yesteryear", for which Doohan voiced seven characters).
  • D.C. Fontana has repeatedly cited this outing, with its extensive use of underwater scenes, as an episode that was only possible because it was produced in animation rather than live-action. (Star Trek Magazine issue 125, p. 83)
  • This episode introduced two water-themed landing craft – the Enterprise's aqua-shuttle and the scouter-gig – for the first and only time.
  • Scott uses a life support belt, rather than a diving suit, in this episode.
  • The NCC-1701\5A aqua-shuttle was the first armed shuttlecraft to appear in Star Trek.
Poster's Log:

This is the only Season 1 episode that I missed in original broadcast, and it seemed to see less life in repeats than other episodes did.

Multiple shots of Kirk and Spock swimming went uncolored, either as a cost-saving measure or an animation error.

Lou Scheimer, co-founder of Filmation and producer for TAS, voiced two of the Aquan men. He'll return next season for a couple of other voice roles.

Shatner's voice sounds higher pitched than normal, as if they slightly sped up his tapes to fit time allotted. It's also hard not to focus on Majel Roddenberry's inability to choose a consistent accent for the Aquans.

McCoy mispronounces "ambergris" as "am-bur-gree" (all of the pronunciation guides I can find say the 's' is not silent in English).

On rewatch, I found myself pondering the writing lapse that led to the crew not even trying to fly the shuttle off the surface of the water before the sur-snake attack.
posted by hanov3r (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's kind of disappointing when they do an animated episode for a story that probably would have been too expensive to do live-action, but then don't get the budget for a really decent animated episode, either. There seems to have been enough there for at least one full-length TOS episode: dissent between the elders and the young, ancient ruins to explore (good thing that they didn't run into Space-Cthulhu down there), specialized shuttles (maybe looking ahead to the potential toy market), and an intelligent aquatic species; the latter would get some play in the future with Star Trek IV, dolphins on the 1701-D, and the Xindi-Aquatics in Enterprise.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:02 AM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be surprised if they did speed up Shatner's voice, because boy was this a jam-packed episode. There are TNGs with less actual content than this. But I agree that there was more potential here than there was execution.

I assumed that the uncolored swimming animations were some manner of re-use from other Filmation stuff?

All the same, I was glad to see an aquatic episode (enabled of course by the freedom of animation) and I hope we get one in LOW. The only other strongly-aquatic episode I can think of is the one VOY where Paris gets in trouble, which was a decent VOY, IIRC.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:14 PM on July 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

A more fun episode to look at than to think about in some ways, if you dig 1970s animated fantasy creatures. It's got a feel typical of a Margaret Armen script, with a vivid yet somewhat generic alien society. The abbreviated nature of the script provides really no space for the crew to react to being made aquatic, which would have given it a certain missing oomph.

Was it really practical for Kirk and Spock to swim around in those uniforms and boots? Probably not but the animation budget demands it...

There are no cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG, but:
The shot of Kirk with his webbed fingers puts me in the mind of Zaldan. Dig all those ORs! One of a handful of cards that can be defeated by Wesley Crusher dint of him being Wesley Crusher. This was never a great card and would be pretty much obsolete when personnel got more and more skills per card over time, but would be nasty if it worked.
posted by StarkRoads at 3:32 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Was it really practical for Kirk and Spock to swim around in those uniforms and boots?


I've seen this episode a few times, and it never once occurred to me to ask this question. If there was ever a time for them to animate shirtless Spock or shirtless Kirk, certainly it was this episode.
posted by hanov3r at 9:09 AM on July 16, 2020

Another cost-saving measure:

While Kirk and Spock are in the tank on the enterprise, there's a ripple effect. You can see the ripple slowing down and speeding up randomly during the later portion of that scene while Spock is talking. I'm guessing they re-used the animation of Spock talking from earlier in the scene, and adjusted the speed to make the mouth movements match his different dialog

Unlike the uncolored parts, that was subtle enough that I just thought it was kind of a neat detail.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:16 PM on February 1, 2021

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