Stardate: 5221.3 (2269)
Original Air Date: September 8, 1973
Writer: Samuel A. Peeples
Director: Hal Sutherland
“It’s a starship – like nothing I’ve ever seen. The size of it!”
After the abrupt cancelation of Star Trek in 1969, syndication surprisingly elevated the show into the stratosphere as one of NBC’s/Paramount Television’s most popular programs. Much to their surprise, the studio realized they actually had an iconic hit on their hands. Thus, in order to feed a growing fandom with revived characters and stories, in 1973, after four years after cancelation, NBC sought a cost-cutting program to issue new episodes of Star Trek. They secured some of the best TOS writers like D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold for the new show, as well as many of the original actors to voice their characters –William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Majel Barrett (Walter Koenig’s character Pavel Chekov was not included in the program due to a tight budget cut). Interestingly enough, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were nearly cut from the show due to tight budgets, until Leonard Nimoy stepped in and threatened to leave unless they were allowed to voice their characters.
Initially, intended to be an animated continuation of Star Trek’s original series during what is perhaps the final year of the Enterprise’s five-year voyage (though D.C. Fontana considered it to be the fourth year), Star Trek: The Animated Series is a bit of an oddball in the Trek universe. It is a cheaply made Saturday morning cartoon by Filmation, mainly marketed for children, which was later bunglingly de-canonized by Gene Roddenberry. However, later Trek has also built on the established lore in The Animated Series, further muddying the issue. D.C. Fontana served as associate producer on the show and James Doohan played a great many character voices on the show aside from just Scotty. He voices one of two major additions to the crew in the show –a three-limbed Edosian alien navigator named Arex, and Majel Barrett reprises her role as Nurse Chapel (she also voices a feline “Caitian” alien communications officer).
Although The Animated Series (TAS) is often brushed aside by all but the most devoted Trekkies/Trekkers, it nevertheless has been influential on the broader Trek story –it features the first introduction of the recreation room (or what would later be known as the holodeck), the first time Kirk’s middle name “Tiberius” is mentioned, as well as further backstory for Spock and many other new alien species which appear sporadically throughout future Trek. There have been efforts in recent years to re-canonize TAS as it has been undergoing a newfound reappraisal. As such, and since it is a short series, I decided to give it a go.
While on a star-charting mission beyond the fringe of the galaxy, the Enterprise encounters the dead star Questar M-17, which is emitting a source of mysterious radio emissions. Suddenly, a red alert is issued as the ship becomes trapped in a powerful grip of what Spock can only speculate is “hypergravity” which rapidly pulls them into the dead star composed of “negative star mass” according to Spock. With impact due in a matter of seconds, the ship manages to maintain orbit and picks up a radio sound which turns out to be the remains of a long-dead alien starship, with a temperature of absolute zero, and no thermal reading, and no energy store from which to send radio messages (though it does have a slight magnetic flux reading) –it has been in orbit here for 300 million years, far away from any nearby G-1 star.
Next, the crew prepare to board the unknown ship and activate “life support belts” (a piece of technology which is never again revisited in future iterations of Trek). Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty beam aboard and it appears to be populated with large plants in the shape of honeycomb. Its design mirrors natural insect designs on earth with hexagonal window shapes, and with every pod aboard the ship burst open, constructed out of extremely durable material. Spok speculates that this ship was destroyed by its crew. The whole ship is designed to store and accumulate energy. The crew starts to get the eerie feeling of being watched. They encounter some form of interference which has drained their communicators of power, and they enter the ship’s control center where they become trapped.
A cautionary warning signal is issued and, using a translator, the crew learn more about the ship’s self-destruction as an explosion occurs. As they flee back aboard the Enterprise, a mysterious incorporeal alien commander manages to beam aboard the Enterprise with the crew. Decks 5 and 6 then report a life support systems shutdown as does the engineering core, and then phasers are fired at the derelict ship in space. The alien takes control of the Enterprise and demands obedience, but it requires the magnetic force of the nearby dead star to sustain itself. Kirk uses his life belt to disable the warp drive, while Scotty regains manual control of the auxiliary warp drive. The alien is revealed to be a magnetic orgasm without mass, but capable of forming a symbiotic relationship with a host body, it is a form of primal energy which has fused itself as part of the Enterprise. Long ago, this strange entity absorbed itself into the alien vessel which now lies dormant over this star. However, the alien could threaten Starfleet by replicating itself within other ships. Spock then calculates the slingshot maneuver (a nice nod to TOS episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”) and the crew manually activates the warp drive as it heads directly into the star –a faux suicide mission– which forces the creature off the Enterprise. It flees after being tricked into thinking the ship was set to crash when in reality the slingshot maneuver allows the ship to flee Questar M-17. As the Enterprise departs, the alien can be heard crying and begging: “don’t leave me… so lonely…”
My Thoughts on “Beyond the Farthest Star”
One of the persistently alluring aspects of Star Trek, is the notion that there are relics from ancient civilizations strewn about all over the galaxy. As in Ridley Scott’s Alien, the Enterprise crew must uncover the horrifying secrets that lies buried within these relics. While offering a compelling premise to introduce the Animated Series, especially the insectoid derelict ship orbiting a dead star for 300 million years, “Beyond the Farthest Star” ends on a bit of an anticlimactic note as the alien magnetic force seems a bit more silly than terrifying. What exactly was this being? What did he want with a starship? The constraints of time and budget dictate that he remain a mystery, but still, I thought this was a terrific start to a somewhat controversial addendum series to Star Trek.
Samuel Peeples (1917-1997) was a successful Western writer, often under the pen name Brad Ward. He wrote the “second pilot” episode of TOS (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and also drafted an initial unused script for the second Star Trek film (“Worlds That Never Were”).
Star Trek Trivia:
- Ironically, TAS was the first iteration of Star Trek to win an Emmy Award.
- The theme song for TAS was composed by Ray Ellis (1923-2008), a successful musician and producer.
- According to this episode’s stardate, it technically tales place somewhere after TOS Season 3 episodes “Spock’s Brain” and before “The Empath.” Does this imply that Arex and M’Rass have always been members of the Enterprise crew?
- This marks the rare appearance of “life support belts” in Star Trek.
- This episode’s production was delayed because George Takei was running for office at the time in Los Angeles.
- Director Hal Sutherland (1929-2014) directed all episodes of the first season of TAS. He gained early career recognition working on large Disney animation movies before switching to Filmation where he worked on TAS, as well as Flash Gordon, Batman, and Superman animated shows. Notably, pink is a recurring color in TAS. This is because Sutherland was colorblind and thought he was actually selecting the color grey.
- This episode’s title was inspired by one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels.
- Lt. Kyle reappears in this episode, once again operating the transporter, although voiced by James Doohan who voiced several other characters in this episode including the magnetic alien.