The Animated Series’ “Once Upon a Planet” in Review
As The Animated Series reaches the mid point in its first season, the Enterprise crew needs some shore leave. Cue a visit to the planet from “Shore Leave”, where trouble looms…
In the Omicron Delta region, the Enterprise approaches the “shore leave planet”. Sulu, Uhura and McCoy beam down and encounter a couple of fantasy characters — the White Rabbit and Alice. Confronted by the Queen of Hearts and her army of playing cards, McCoy calls for an emergency beam-up but Uhura is captured. Kirk withdraws Sulu and McCoy as well as all other landing parties but leads a team to search for the Keeper. The planet’s computer detains Uhura, threatening to murder the newcomers, and blocks communications and transporters. Kirk’s team discovers the Keeper’s tombstone; the planet has been overrun by robots.
While the master computer continues to disrupt the Enterprise, Kirk’s team tries to access the planet’s underground, so they can reach the master computer. They imagine signs pointing the way, which — because the planet produces whatever they think of — then appear. The team follows them but encounters Pterodactyls and a giant cat, much to Uhura’s disconcert. With Scotty left in command, the Enterprise’s navigation is toyed with by the planet as it familiarises itself with how to control the starship.
The Enterprise loses gravity and Kirk’s party — in a cave — trick the robots, rendering Spock unconscious so they can enter the underground. However, only Kirk succeeds. Sulu and McCoy, meanwhile, are chased away by a double-headed dragon. Spock regains consciousness and both he and Kirk are detected by the master computer, which tells Kirk it has outgrown servitude to its many “sky machine” visitors and intends to use the Enterprise to seek out similar computers.
In zero-g, Scotty finds a new computer has been installed on the starship but touching it electrocutes him. He reports the discovery to the Enterprise bridge crew, who now wear seat belts.
While the dragon corners Sulu and McCoy, Kirk explains to the master computer that the ship helps its crew and vice versa. He, Uhura and Spock convince the planet’s computer to end the chaos. The crew resumes shore leave while Spock agrees to talk to the computer. On the planet’s surface, McCoy and Sulu picnic with the White Rabbit, Alice and the two-headed dragon, which is now docile.
I love this episode’s title, far more inventive than “Shore Leave”. This outing, despite being a sequel, is easy to follow by anyone who missed that original installment. I like that it sets up an event — McCoy being taken underground and healed there — concurrent with the earlier episode but never shown.
The underground computer’s predeliction for machine lifeforms, mistaking the Enterprise for one and threatening murder, hints that the Keeper’s demise is obvious. Thankfully, this likelihood is quickly confirmed and the computer’s subsequent cat-and-mouse with the rescue party is entertaining.
It’s puzzling that the landing parties consist solely of senior officers. However, I appreciate the episode’s inclusion of women, like Uhura singing for the first time in TAS and Alice (from Wonderland) as well as M’Ress appearing too. The resemblance of this Alice to Disney’s is remarkable.
McCoy comments, “They just don’t make them like that any more,” but it’s puzzling if he’s referring to Uhura’s singing or a nearby mansion. I love his humorous line, “An army of playing cards came out of nowhere, only they weren’t playing.” Also, McCoy complimenting Spock’s “strong Vulcan hide” is a touching, rare moment between them.
The Queen of Hearts pleasingly adds action and I appreciate the worldbuilding of Spock saying his mother was a Lewis Carroll aficionado. However, Spock makes a rare factual error by attributing the Queen of Hearts to Alice Through the Looking Glass when she’s actually from Alice in Wonderland, not its sequel. Anyway, this plot point enabled Star Trek: Discovery to further the canonising of TAS by establishing (in the episode “Context Is for Kings”) that his mother, Amanda Grayson, also read Alice’s adventures to Michael Burnham.
I enjoy much of the music. However, orchestral stabs when signs and a giant cat appear seem corny, as does an extreme zoom into Uhura’s face.
The animation is generally good. I like the well drawn planet backgrounds. The computer’s design is effective and its hovering robots are suitably futuristic-looking. However, there’s recycling of other elements, including a forest clearing from “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” and irritating noises by the Pterodactyls that come from the swoopers in “The Infinite Vulcan”. After “Catspaw”, this marks the second giant cat appearance in Star Trek. The juxtaposition of a household pet appearing as a massive threat appeals to me, as does the variety of monstrous creatures. However, it’s ridiculously unlikely that McCoy and Sulu (an unusual but interesting pairing) would survive their encounter with a two-headed dragon.
It’s odd that the landing party assumes the Keeper’s advice — that nobody can be harmed on the planet — still applies, especially given that they know the Keeper is dead and the computer is running the planet. The computer’s influence on the Enterprise is strange too. Why not just disable life support instead of jamming communications and disrupting other controls?
It’s a relief to see seat belts on the Enterprise bridge, but this is the only TAS episode they appear in. More frequent use of them would have been sensible.
Left unexplained is the computer’s mistake that the Enterprise controls its crew members. This is akin to V’ger confusing them as an infestation in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A backstory like V’ger’s encounter with a machine intelligence would have improved this episode. As it stands, the computer is another example of a misunderstood antagonist in TAS that quickly turns benevolent. I also wish the episode contained some reference to Scotty’s humorous aversion to shore leave.
Despite a brilliant title and decent animation, this episode has many plot holes and relies too heavily on “Shore Leave”. Ultimately, I’d prefer to watch that episode.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.