Warp Factor Trek

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Think The Animated Series is a children’s cartoon? Think again! This episode deals with as mature a theme as religious war and includes an undercurrent of sexual tension between two particular characters, proving that TAS isn’t childish programming. Is this first season finale set to stun, or does it need a warp core breach of excitement?

Log Entry

The Enterprise arrives at the Vedala asteroid on a critical mission. The Vedala — the oldest space-faring race known to the Federation — have warned about a developing danger in the galaxy and have summoned specialists, including Spock and Kirk. Directing Sulu to maintain the Enterprise’s position, they beam down.

A courageous team holds a briefing

On the asteroid, a Vedala female introduces Kirk and Spock to their expedition team: Tchar, a hereditary Skorr prince; Sord, a powerful reptilian; Em/3/Green, a skilled lockpick; and Lara, a hunter. Kirk has been selected for his leadership. Tchar and the Vedala female brief them on a stolen artifact, the Soul of Alar, which has been hidden on an extremely volatile “mad planet.” The Vedala female says her people couldn’t survive there. To avoid the Skorr launching a galactic holy war, Kirk agrees to the quest.

Transported to the planet by the Vedala female, the group encounters a series of challenges. Spock notes efficient supplies. Lara admits to Kirk that she finds him attractive, but he prioritises the hazardous mission. It’s so challenging that Spock and Em/3/Green nearly give up. Reaching a locked fortress, Em/3/Green begins to unpick the lock.

Kirk watches Em/3/Green work

The travellers encounter mechanized sentinels. Inside the fortress, they find the artifact, suspended high. Kirk suspects Tchar has betrayed them, confirmed when he attacks. Kirk and Spock, trained in null-gravity combat, defeat Tchar.

Bringing the Soul of Alar, the group returns to the Vedala, who plan to treat Tchar for his madness. The Vedala offer no reward; the mission’s secrecy is crucial.

Sulu sees Kirk and Spock return

Kirk and Spock beam back to the Enterprise, finding that only about two minutes have passed. The crew resumes exploration.

Status Report

Although the Vedala asteroid strangely looks much like a planet, Kirk saying the Vedala are “the oldest space-faring race we know” gives this story fascinating depth and the stakes are helpfully established straight away, as the Vedala predict a threat specifically to the galaxy. It’s also helpful when a Vedala female introduces the various specialists. However, the asteroid features vegetation, even though a real asteroid would actually be too small to have an atmosphere.

A volcano becoming active makes for an effective act ending. Snow, a freezing storm, and the sudden opening of a crevasse serve as other well-considered natural obstacles to overcome.

The fortress, amid the frozen wilderness

That the episode actually shows us the Soul of Alar is appreciated and having it be audible only when shown on screen is an interesting effect. The twist that it was Tchar who stole the Soul of Alar also works well, and his conservative militarism is an excellent counterpoint to Trek’s typical liberalism. The episode’s (and season’s) final twist — that Kirk and Spock were gone only for about two minutes — is a mysterious quirk.

As Sord says, “There’ll be questions.” Indeed, a few aspects of this episode defy logic and remain puzzling. For example, why is it that the Vedala female says the “mad planet” is unsurvivable by her species? Why don’t the Skorr search for the Soul of Alar by themselves? Why does Spock regard the search abilities of both Lara and the Vedala as perfect? Is there a way to account for a single shot of Kirk wearing a life-support belt, and how might its sudden disappearance be explained? If Lara is indeed Human, which seven gods does she invoke? Why do the Vedala regard Tchar as insane rather than just having different politics than them? Ultimately, what happened during the mission? Did the visit to the Vedala asteroid involve a temporal warp, did the visitors imagine the entire visit, or was another factor responsible?

For a season finale, this episode seems to involve quite a regular mission, during which nothing very eventful happens. In this way, it’s a bit similar to Picard — in the TNG series premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint” — admitting, “I’m sure most [missions] will be much more interesting.

The Soul of Alar surrounded by its recoverers

This episode excels by including a variety of aliens (different social strata mentioned in Skorr culture are another interesting aspect of the plot). As Sord says, “I like this place; it’s got variety.” Speaking of which, Sord is voiced a bit too harshly by James Doohan. It’s fantastic that episode writer David Gerrold is included among the guest voice cast, here voicing Em/3/Green. Though he made a few cameo appearances in Trek, this is his only speaking role in the franchise, and he voices Em/3/Green as someone easy to sympathise with. Jane Webb — voicing Vedala and Lara — is also a great addition to the voice cast, guesting on this episode only. Her character of Lara is wonderfully multifaceted and her attraction to Kirk gives this episode a TOS vibe. Although the Skorr look very like the Aurelians from “Yesteryear” (the Vedala female likewise looks incredibly similar to the Kzinti), Tchar’s flying ability is put to good use.

At first, this seems to be the second episode in a row to feature telepathy, with Tchar apparently using it here to search for the Soul of Alar. It’s to the episode’s credit that this isn’t necessarily true and that Tchar possibly knew where it was all along. Unfortunately, it is the second consecutive episode to feature the same recycled purple swooper animation, only slightly modified.

Rating: 3.5/5

Like many installments of Star Trek: The Animated Series, this makes for a generally fun watch with an adventurous spirit. Of all the TAS episodes, this is one of the most typical for a Saturday morning serial, featuring a mixed bunch — à la The Magnificent Seven or The Lord of the Rings — undertaking a Mission: Impossible-esque obstacle-filled search for a katra-like artifact.

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