Star Trek (TAS) “The Survivor” (part 1 of 2)

I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and when I discovered one of my local libraries had the animated series on DVD, I geeked. Now, some may have heard TAS is bad, and it’s true the animation is lacking, the music is repetitive, and some of the actors sound like they’re sleepwalking through their lines (Majel Barrett is not even trying to sound like different people), but despite all of this, I’m very fond of the series. Because this was my first introduction to Star Trek, seeing it on Saturday morning television.

And yes, despite that, I’m a Star Trek fan.

So I thought I’d give recapping an episode of TAS a try (because what the world really needs are more internet recappers). The episode I’ve chosen is not “so-bad-it’s-good”. This is just bad. I give you “The Survivor”, written by James Schmerererer… erer…

Caption contributed by Thomas

The man’s name was made for mockery.

Let me make one thing very clear before I jump into this recap: it’s going to be very Trek-heavy, which means there are going to be many references to various past Star Trek episodes from the various series. You have been warned.

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Multi-Part Article: Star Trek (TAS) "The Survivor"
TV Show: Star Trek (TAS)

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  • Rob

    Not bad but way too much inside references. 

    Bring back Ryan and “Saturday Morning Glory.” And more Fear Fan. 

    • Fish Eye no Miko

       He said at the beginning he was going to make a lot of inside references.

    • I liked the inside references.

      And they DID serve a purpose… by pointing out and showcasing, even to non-Star Trek viewers, how often Kirk’s Enterprise crew had run into all sorts of doppelgangers.

      Okay, admittedly the Neelix picture following the “full time token idiot job” joke was probably a bit too obscure for anyone who’s never seen Voyager. ;-)

      Watch the Voyager reviews of sfdebris over on BlipTV, then you’ll know why Neelix is the 5th Rider of the Apocalyse and the poster child for the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Believe me, I would love to see more Saturday Morning Glory and Fear Fan as well.  And duly noted regarding the inside references.

    • Sammy

      Knowing little about Trek I appreciated the cross-references, so don’t cut them all.

      (I’m starting to think we haven’t seen a new Saturday Morning Glory because the Bronies found Ryan and had him drawn and quartered.)

  • Red Cardinal

    Good review and pretty funny. Please do more reviews of TAS with inside references *sticks tongue out at Rob” :)

    • Thomas Stockel

       Thanks. :)

  • CBob

    I like how the reason Spock gives for the Federation quarantining T-Winston’s planet is almost word-for-word the same attitude that in DS9 would be the excuse du jour for a galaxy-spanning race war of conquest, with the federation playing the “no, really, we totally don’t judge you for being a shapeshifter! Some of our best friends are shapeshifters. You’re just being paranoid!” line at every available opportunity.

  • Damanoid

    Sadly, this isn’t even really one of the worst animated episodes in my opinion.   It’s bad, but not in the so-bad-it’s-cracked-out way of “The Infinite Vulcan,” or the episode with the alien ambassador whose head detaches and flies around.  How have you guys not gotten around to that one yet?

    This one’s a fairly mediocre episode, other than the shoddy characterization that drives the plot.  As the review points out, the concept of the shapeshifter/doppelganger antagonist was already well-trodden territory for Star Trek, which pretty much all the other episodes handled more effectively.  It also grates to see well-established characters acting like dunces; a more careful writer could have handled the concept without resorting to the Idiot Plot. 

    On the other hand, in the matter of highly trained professional female characters that suddenly turn squishy in a crisis: it’s not like the original series didn’t also feature this sort of thing all too often.  While Star Trek may have been (marginally) more progressive in this regard than most other American TV shows of the time, it wasn’t anywhere near as committed to feminism and gender issues as it was to other liberal ideals.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the miniskirts as much as the next guy, but I still think Uhura should have been allowed to wear pants and kick ass occasionally.

    That said, this episode also had some good points. Most significantly, I think it’s the first instance in Star Trek of a shapeshifter that it’s actually possible to coexist with– all the previous examples came to a bad end in one way or another.  This is Star Trek at its most inclusive: declaring that it’s not only possible to find common ground between different races or humanoid species, but between humans and totally alien life forms.  Here we see a woman and a squid entering into a committed relationship, years before Japan would embrace the concept.

    Along those lines, this episode also highlights the sole respect in which the animated series outdid the original: in its ability to depict truly inhuman alien species.  The Vandorian shapeshifter in its native form looks very effectively Lovecraftean, whereas any attempt to create such an effect in the live-action series would have appeared laughable (witness those little pipe-cleaner finger puppet things from the one episode where Kirk and Spock find a haunted castle in space and get chased by a giant cat, you know the one I mean).  This is a strength that the animated series could have exploited a lot more.  Shame they only had about three cels to go around.

    The one really clever moment in this episode is when Spock uses acid to flush out the alien in sickbay.  It’s pretty much the same trick Macready uses on the blood samples in “The Thing,” isn’t it?  If only the rest of the episode had been written at that level, it would be a classic.

    • Damanoid wrote: “While Star Trek may have been (marginally) more progressive in this
      regard than most other American TV shows of the time, it wasn’t anywhere
      near as committed to feminism and gender issues as it was to other
      liberal ideals.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the miniskirts as much as
      the next guy, but I still think Uhura should have been allowed to wear
      pants and kick ass occasionally.”

      *sigh* As my mother (who was born in 1940, and introduced me to Star Trek back in the 1980s) likes to point out: In the 1960s mini-skirts WERE an clothing item of female liberation! After the post-world-war 1950s, which were pretty conservative both in the USA and here in Germany, the 1960s saw the invention of the birth control pill, and short hair and rising hemlines for women. Women were finally again allowed to actually show off their legs, to dress in sexy outfits. My mother told me it was a sort of game to see how short you could make your skirt or your trousers during the summer and get away with it in public. (Granted, compared to what some people wear today it was tame. But still.)

      • Damanoid

         Interesting point, thanks for the insight!  I would not have thought there was any more to it than extra skin for ratings; but considered from that perspective it makes sense, and becomes another example of how Star Trek engaged the social upheavals of its time. 

        I still think they could have followed up on the concept a lot further though, with more favorable depictions of female characters.  There was definitely a squishiness problem, I hope you’ll agree.

        • Thomas Stockel

           Gene did try and go that route early on. In the first pilot the women wore pants and the first officer was female (played by Majel Barrett, as a matter of fact.), but the suits at NBC gave him all sorts of grief over crazy ideas like women being in positions of authority over men.  Ultimately to keep Spock (which the execs were not crazy about due to his devilish appearance) Gene had to compromise. That is why Majel Barrett got re-cast as Chapel…The fact that she was sleeping with Gene at the time didn’t hurt.

          There is one TAS episode that was reviewed here at Saturday Morning Glory: The Loreli Signal.  It is pretty awesome in that all the men are rendered helpless and Uhura takes command of the Enterprise, then goes down to the planet to rescue Kirk and co.  That was pretty awesome, IMO.

          • According to Herbert Solow and Bob Justman’s awesome book “Inside Star Trek,” NBC didn’t have a problem with a woman in a position of authority; they just didn’t like that it was Majel Barrett, as her Number One was super-bland. They did, however, get a kick out of Roddenberry putting a blonde wig on her, casting her as Chapel and thinking they wouldn’t notice.

            As for Gene sleeping with Majel, he was also sleeping with Nichelle Nichols at the time. Justman recalled going to Gene’s office for something, hearing a noise from under the desk, peering under, and seeing Nichelle Nichols wearing a sweater and nothing else.

          • Thomas Stockel

             Huh, I had no idea about any of that.  And he was shagging Nichelle, too?  What a dog…

          • He was a bigger dog than that! At a 1977 Trek convention in New York, Roddenberry’s assistant Susan Sackett was sitting next to me. We had a good conversation. Not about Trek, but my job situation. Which was pretty grim at the time; it improved a few months later. I didn’t find out until years later that Gene was shagging her. While he was married to Majel. Whether or not Roddenberry and Ms. Sackett were having their affair while I was discussing my job situation with her will forever remain a mystery to me.

    • Cristiona

      Nah.  Japan’s tentacle obsession dates at least to the early 19th century with the Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.

  • Mike

    The entire TAS series is on Netflix, as is TOS. Dunno about the rest, afraid to look.

  • Voyager 6

    I have no real desire to break a lance for Star Trek TAS, but a wee bit of context has to be given here in its’ defence.  Kick off…IT’S A KID’S SHOW. STOP PRETENDING IT ISN’T.  TAS was not and never intended to be for adults.  I should know, I talked to DC Fontana about the series for *three hours* at a NatCon.  (She likes New Zealand fruit drinks, btw.) Of course the plots are going to be childish in comparison to the live action show….and where did this implied assumption that the 60s series was never rubbish come from in the first place?  The eps run for maybe 23 minutes apiece – Danger Man is about the only dramatic show I can think of that managed to pack a decent story into that short a time.  You will of necessity have to skip stuff to make the runtime. Thirdly, forget the writing – the animation is the big problem.  The animation is APPALLING, even by 1973 standards. Return To The Planet Of The Apes from ’75 was actually worse, yet I don’t see any takedowns of *that* show.  But anyway, my point is that a toon this poorly rendered would make even the best scripts seem worse than they actually are. Which brings me to my last point.  Even the *worst* episode of TAS was miles better than any other cartoon shown at that time.  That’s just a fact. More intelligent, more imaginative, VASTLY less patronising than any other animated show for kids of the early 70s, and believe me I have checked that opinion for validity.  Unlike now, when outright drivel often gets a statue, bad shows did not win Emmies in 1974. The Survivor is an unexceptional episode, to be sure, but a bad one?  F**k no.  I’d rather watch it than The Way To Eden, Mudd’s Women (ohhhh, that one is so utterly horrible), Catspaw, The Remake of Charlie X of Gothos or Court-Martial. 

    • johnhay

       My gosh, she had to talk to someone with this attitude for three hours? Talk about an Agony Booth!