The Animated Series’ “The Survivor” in Review
Seeing only this episode’s title, one might be fooled into thinking it’s the TNG episode “The Survivors”. It’s about an alien trying to fool the Enterprise crew. When it comes to assessing this installment, can the episode fool us?
While on Romulan Neutral Zone patrol, the Enterprise has altered course to rescue a damaged one-person spacecraft. Kirk, Spock and McCoy recognise the survivor as Carter Winston, a prominent philanthropist. One of the Enterprise’s security officers, Lieutenant Anne Nored, is his fiancée. Following protocol, Spock requests Winston’s ID. Though McCoy objects, Kirk agrees and Winston complies.
Winston and Anne reunite but he says he’s changed, due to surgery, and ends their relationship. After questioning Kirk about the wrecked spacecraft, “Winston” transforms into an alien and subdues Kirk. Assuming his form, the alien insists on a change of course to Rator III via the Neutral Zone, ignoring Sulu and Spock advising against this.
Spock briefly commands the Enterprise until Kirk (the real one) arrives on the bridge. He realises the ship has been redirected to the Neutral Zone, apparently by himself! The alien replaces McCoy, counseling heartbroken Anne to forget Winston. Kirk and Spock visit sickbay and uncover the imposter, which Spock identifies as a Vendorian. It escapes, so Spock issues an intruder alert. Anne has a brief encounter with the alien but, still lovesick, is unable to shoot it. Two Romulan battlecruisers then appear.
The Romulan commander demands that Kirk surrender his ship and crew. Kirk uses a delaying tactic, realising the Vendorian is a spy working for the Romulans and impersonated him to take the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone. Communications Officer M’Ress recontacts the Romulan commander, whom Kirk accuses of this plot.
The Vendorian, disguised as an engineer, sabotages the Enterprise. Anne is determined to stop it. As it recalls, the real Winston crashed on its planet and was tended to by the Vendorian, which has adopted some of Winton’s emotions, including his love for her.
The battlecruisers and the Enterprise battle, the Enterprise raising a deflector shield at just the right moment. The Romulans withdraw. The Enterprise bridge officers determine that the “shield” was actually the Vendorian, which explains that it changed allegiances inspired by Carter Winston’s love. It now faces trial. Anne volunteers to guard “Winston”. McCoy and Spock banter about hypothetically being duplicated.
It’s great that this episode begins with some continuity-relevant mentions, including the Romulan Neutral Zone and McCoy’s daughter. The Neutral Zone reference immediately piqued my interest. Fascinatingly, this is the only episode to mention McCoy’s daughter, although a story about her (titled “Joanna”) was rewritten to become the TOS episode “The Way to Eden”.
How Carter Winston is introduced — immediately familiar to the Enterprise crew — feels frustrating, like a joke the audience hasn’t been let in on. However, it’s obviously a realistic introduction, since reality doesn’t take into account the possibility that it’s being watched by an audience. The sense of authenticity in Winston’s introduction, in turn, makes the other characters also seem more realistic.
It might have been even better if there had been an audience substitution character who, at the story’s outset, didn’t know about Winston. With such a short runtime, however, perhaps there was insufficient opportunity to include such a character.
Winston’s renown seems to elevate how important the story feels. His attire is tremendous, looking convincingly exuberant, and guest star Ted Knight delivers a stellar performance by voicing the role.
The first couple of times “Winston” changes into his alien shape, it’s peculiar that people in the same room as the alien take no action and don’t even spot the transformations in their peripheral vision. A sound effect which accompanies the alien’s changes sounds a bit too much like the transporter.
Unfortunately, Nichelle Nichols overplays her vocal role as Anne Nored. However, at least this makes Anne’s dutiful turnaround against “Winston” more dramatic.
Thankfully, the Romulans are written with superb precision, portrayed as the sophisticated characters they are at the best of times. It’s a relief that, although a relatively minor character, the Romulan commander isn’t voiced by a recognisable-sounding actor. On the other hand, the Romulans’ withdrawal from battle makes no sense and the design of their battlecruisers is potentially confusing to some viewers. No explanation is given for them looking identical to Klingon battlecruisers, one of which appears in the previous episode, “More Tribbles, More Troubles” (an explanation for the similarity is provided in the TOS episode “The Enterprise Incident”). Less of an issue is that both Carter Winston’s vessel here and Cyrano Jones’ ship from that installment also look alike, since they’re both supposed to be Federation spacecraft.
I love that this episode introduces Lieutenant M’Ress, one of my favourite characters in the entire show. Unlike when Arex was introduced in “Beyond the Farthest Star”, she’s actually given some dialogue in her introductory episode.
Despite the well established tropes of shapeshifters and a misunderstood antagonist that the viewer can warm to, I appreciate how this episode takes inspiration from the televised genesis of Star Trek — it’s highly similar to “The Man Trap”, the first episode ever aired. It combines this with story elements from multiple other TOS episodes. Whereas the so-called ”salt vampire” persisted until it was killed by Doctor McCoy, the Vendorian spy surprises by double-crossing its Romulan masters because it was inspired by love. Also, the plot twist that it turned itself into a deflector shield is, as Spock says, “interesting.”
I like how this episode doesn’t underestimate its audience — it trusts the viewer to be able to keep up with the story. For an animated production that’s intended to be watched by children (amongst viewers of other ages), this is a fantastic aspect of the storytelling.
As is famously often true with The Animated Series, the animation in this episode is a little hokey. For instance, the collars of the Enterprise crew occasionally look far too big.
This is an intriguing, exciting episode with unusually high stakes but a couple of lapses in story logic. Overall, it’s a TAS highlight.
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.