Star Trek: The Animated Series

“The Jihad”

2.5 stars.

Air date: 1/12/1974
Written by Stephen Kandel
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Review Text

The Enterprise is called to a mysterious rendezvous, where a representative of the Vedala, the oldest space-faring race known to the Federation, says that something incredibly dangerous to the safety of the galaxy is developing. They've asked for specialists from several different species, including Spock and Kirk, to serve on a dangerous mission.

One specialist is Tchar, prince of the Skorr, a society that has been peaceful for centuries, united by their religion. He explains that Skorr is threatened by the recent theft of the Soul of Alar, a crucial artifact central to their religion. The Skorr government is currently covering up the theft, but it can't for long, and if the populace learns it's gone, the Skorr will inevitably return to their warlike ways and unleash a jihad of destruction upon the galaxy.

The Vedala has assembled a motley crew of alien species with unique skills (you could say this team is the Avengers or Justice League of Star Trek: TAS) to go on a mission to the "mad planet" where the Soul of Alar has been taken and must now be retrieved. (Why it's on this planet or how the Vedala knows this is unclear, although maybe that's explained by the twist at the end.) The Vedala teleports the team to the planet instantly.

There's a lot of TAS world building here, with multiple alien species and characters assembled together in a plot of galactic import. The "mad planet" is more atmospheric than most worlds on TAS, with its violent volcanoes and flowing lava, before the terrain suddenly changes and becomes a frozen tundra. (The team is given an armored vehicle to drive around in and outrun the lava, but it's soon destroyed.) There are some heroics, as when Kirk saves Spock from certain death rather than leaving him behind.

And the team members mostly get to use their specialized skills — though I was unclear on why Lara the Cavewoman was even here, and it's awfully convenient that the Vedala knew that a coward specializing in picking locks would be crucially needed on this mission. At one point the team is attacked by mechanized dragon-bots, who carry off Tchar. (These dragons have exactly the same design as creatures in a previous episode — not because there's a story reason for it, but because it saves costs on new animation). The lock-picker opens a door on a replica of a Skorr temple that has been mysteriously constructed in the middle of this wasteland of a planet.

It's around here that the story reveals its twist. Spock suspects something is amiss and that the mission has been sabotaged, and he's right. Tchar actually engineered the whole crisis, having stolen the Soul of Alar himself because he wants Skorr to go back to its warlike ways. So there's a zero-gravity fight for possession of the artifact. It's the sort of thing that seems like it would be suited to animation versus the limitations of live action in the era of TOS — but the action as written is too ambitious for what the animators are able to pull off within their very extreme limitations, which are once again on full display here.

The idea of a Tchar trying to manufacture a crisis because he thinks his world needs to stand for war rather than peace is an idea that maybe could've gone somewhere, but I'm afraid it's another TAS example of the substance of the story being introduced too late for the story to deal with it, after we've spent so much time on volcanoes, lava, and a cavewoman hitting on Kirk. And Tchar's plan doesn't make sense: Why would he engineer a mission just to sabotage it? Or build this replica temple? Why not just destroy the artifact from the beginning?

At the very least this gives us an adventure full of strange new species and a strange new world. It's kind of epic, in its weird TAS way. So epic that the Vedala insists it never be spoken of again. She sends Kirk and Spock back to the Enterprise two minutes after they left, with the cover story that nothing happened. That's what I call plausible deniability.

Previous episode: The Eye of the Beholder
Next episode: The Pirates of Orion

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3 comments on this post

    I didn't hate this episode, but it didn't do much for me, either. Kind of meh. As Jammer comments, Tchar's plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I thought the armored vehicle they drove around in was cool--too bad it got destroyed. Lara was on the mission as a tracker, although as far as I could see, those skills were never needed. It was annoying the way she kept hitting on Kirk, and he had to politely keep fending her off. She sounded exactly like Mae West, too. ("It's not the men in my life that count---it's the life in my men.") Hee, hee. ("When I'm good, I'm very, very good---but when I'm bad, I'm better.") Anyway, Lara/Mae West was a pest. The green, multi-legged insect who could pick locks was cute, I thought. I wonder as Jammer said, how they knew they would need someone with that specialized skill. The greenie kept insisting he was a coward, but I thought he did pretty well. A watchable, somewhat entertaining episode.

    Nothing too profound here as much of the episode feels like padding with adventures on the mad planet and ultimately Tchar's plan is foiled, though it is questionable to begin with. Was he hoping to just eliminate another team that was trying to rescue the Soul of Alar before alerting the rest of his race that it is stolen so that he can start his Jihad? Why hasn't he started his Jihad already?

    The team members had all kinds of personalities and special skills and were enjoyable enough to watch. Lara flirting with Kirk felt out of place. The premise is an interesting one, like Indiana Jones, but the bulk of the story which is the adventure to get to the Soul of Alar could not be done enough justice due to the short length of the episode and the animation.

    Perhaps more could have been made of Kirk's suspicions -- he suggested they rest at one point, but nobody agreed with him and that went nowhere. The writing was a bit weak and Tchar's plan seemed highly questionable.

    2*

    Three stars for me. I love the epic quest here and the colorful supporting characters. The plot is a bit simplistic but fun.

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