The Good: Tension and plot of "The Pirates Of Orion."
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Lack of scientific basis makes one a children's story!
The Basics: Spock contracts a fatal disease that Kirk must negotiate medicine for and the Enterprise falls victims to dumb pranks in this volume of the Animated Series!
Star Trek: The Animated Series is a problematic collection of inconsistent television. At times, it is the natural successor to Star Trek, presenting adult storylines as best as can be crammed into half an hour, the remainder of the time, it is the most disappointing of children's programming relying on the silliest standards and obvious plot devices that only a child would find fresh and new. In other words, at times, this series is Star Trek and the rest of the time, it is something far worse. And the result is ultimately disappointing. While some episodes rise above being simplistic and childish recreations of Star Trek, some of them are just children's programming. And those tend to be pretty unremarkable, if not outright terrible kid's programming.
With the "Volume 10" VHS of the Star Trek: The Animated Series, "The Pirates Of Orion" and "The Practical Joker" the viewer is subjected to one of the most disconcerting pairings of episodes on the volumes of the series. "The Practical Joker" is entirely a silly children's story, while "The Pirates Of Orion" is far too intense and realistic for most children. The result is a viewing experience that will leave neither group satisfied.
"The Pirates Of Orion" has Spock contracting a case of choriocytosis, a disease that is a mere annoyance to humans, but fatal to Vulcans. While Doctor McCoy struggles to keep Spock alive, Kirk takes the Enterprise in search of the drug needed to save Spock's life, strobolin. Spock needs naturally-occurring strobolin, the nearest supply of which has just been hijacked by Orion pirates. As Spock lays dying, Kirk and the crew must negotiate and outwit the Orions.
"The Practical Joker" finds the Enterprise near the Romulan Neutral Zone where the ship comes under attack by three Romulan ships. Fleeing, the Enterprise encounters an energy field which essentially causes the computer to have a nervous breakdown. The computer begins altering reality around the crew, condemning them to a series of annoying pranks and hijinx all the while the ship is under the threat of the Romulans returning.
First the positive: "The Pirates Of Orion" has some genuine tension to it and it is a surprisingly strong idea for the Animated Series. Spock and Dr. McCoy are put in a medical drama and there is a strong sense of political drama as Kirk works to get the strobolin. Despite the certainty in the mind of the viewers that Spock will not die, the episode plays the threat out remarkably well and in a fairly adult fashion.
Beyond that, though, the episodes fall down. And hard. "The Pirates Of Orion" is heavily plot-driven and there is no genuine character development in it. Moreover, even the aspects with the mysterious Orions gives us little new information about them - despite the fact that this is the first time in the franchise that male Orions appear.
And even worst than that is "The Practical Joker." That episode is all about a gimmick, a spatial anomaly that allows dumb pranks to be pulled on members of the crew. Yes, to be clear, the big gimmick of "The Practical Joker" is that the computer is altered to play tricks on the crew like writing "Kirk Is A Jerk" on the back of the Captain's uniform shirt. There is no scientific or pseudo scientific explanation of the anomaly and as a result, it is wiped away as a children's cartoon conceit.
The problem with "The Practical Joker" is that it is a kid's cartoons more than they are an animated reimagining of Star Trek. For a series that promised sophisticated stories and character development for adults, Star Trek: The Animated Series here degenerates into pretty standard Saturday morning cartoon fare. That is a huge disappointment. Especially in comparison to the more tense and adult "The Pirates Of Orion," "The Practical Joker" seems largely silly and childish. But even that is not entirely consistent; "The Pirates Of Orion" guts Star Trek continuity by introducing force field belts so Kirk can be beamed to an asteroid without atmosphere, instead of the classic environmental suits fans would be familiar with.
The animation in Star Trek: The Animated Series is pretty terrible and on the videos, it is not cleaned up like it was for the DVD versions. Even on DVD, the animation is choppy and rather generic. Backgrounds are looped in both episodes. The only genuine benefit of the animation comes in the creature design and ability to do some actual starship battles, which were not possible in Star Trek. "The Practical Joker" makes use of this with the Enterprise under attack by Romulans, though the animation is still pretty primitive looking. In "The Pirates Of Orion," the male Orions are introduced.
The thing is, the Orions could have been very easy to pull off in a live-action series, at least as they are imagined and presented in "The Pirates Of Orion." In fact, they look very '70's cartoonish with their round heads and bright color schemes.
The animation is fair at best by today's standards and the look of the series is a little more blockish than reality. As a result, Kirk has more in common with Captain America in terms of physique than the live-action William Shatner Kirk. Similarly, Spock seems surprisingly ripped (though not in a way that is extreme) and Uhura's uniform actually seems a little longer! All the animation truly allows this incarnation of Star Trek to do that it could not before is make more interesting alien races and this set does that, even if they still look somewhat off.
Neither episode involves genuine character development. The episodes do not enhance or progress Kirk, Spock, McCoy or any of the supplemental characters' character. Indeed, there is never a moment that the viewer doubts Dr. McCoy's determination to save Spock in "The Pirates Of Orion" and the preoccupation with the anomaly and the ridiculous pranks that follow in "The Practical Joker" makes for little or no time to focus on the heroism of our recurring protagonists. In fact, far from developing, Kirk rescues the Enterprise from that scenario the way he usually does.
The voice acting in these episodes is homogeneously unremarkable. The actors give performances that sometimes feel like straightforward line readings and it is odd to see the minimally expressive animation with the more expressive vocals when they are. Even James Doohan, who voices many of the supporting guest roles, gives a surprisingly inexpressive performance and the result is a bland characterization of the various aliens. Between the blockish animation, the dull voice-overs, the recycled plots and the minimal growth of character, these episodes truly are unremarkable.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Animated Series on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the complete collection here!
"The Pirates Of Orion" - 5/10
"The Practical Joker" - 1/10
VHS - 2.5/10
For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject and click here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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