Star Trek: The Animated Series

"Once Upon a Planet"

2 stars

Air date: 11/3/1973
Written by Chuck Menville and Len Janson
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The crew returns to the planet from TOS's "Shore Leave" — where a supercomputer can create a robot-populated fantasy realm based on reading your thoughts and creating whatever you want — to take some, well, shore leave, in a story that might as well be called "Shore Leave II." What starts as a relaxing time of sitting by the lake and enjoying the fresh air quickly turns into another example of your thoughts transforming into your enemies because the machines have decided to run amok.

After being attacked by the queen's army from Alice in Wonderland, McCoy beams up to report the malfunctions. Uhura is kidnapped by the supercomputer and held captive while the computer makes TOS-style computer misunderstandings (like believing Uhura is a slave to the "sky machine" because it thinks the Enterprise controls its crew instead of vice-versa) and decides it wants to grow beyond its servile existence of creating fantasy worlds for the pleasure of visitors.

In their attempt to rescue Uhura, Kirk and the team must work through the obstacles of the fantasy realm, including pterodactyls, a two-headed dragon, and a giant cat. This story unfortunately doesn't have an example of Kirk Outsmarts the Computer™, unless you count the (somewhat convoluted) plan where Spock takes some drugs to simulate illness so the computer's rescue drones will open the fake mountain which will allow Kirk access to the control room.

Meanwhile, Scotty must deal with the supercomputer's attempts to take over the Enterprise by hacking the ship's computer — resulting in the gravity being turned off and other inconveniences.

At the heart of this story, I guess, is the question around artificial intelligence and what happens when a computer decides to take matters into its own hands while applying logic based on incorrect assumptions. I wish the story had spent more time on that dialogue rather than all the action with Kirk & Co. interacting with the fantasy realm, which consistently fails because the animation is so bad. The story here is solved very quickly with one conversation of convenient persuasion, where Kirk and Spock appeal to the computer's logic and it agrees to all their terms.

But only on TAS: The hilariously goofy final shot of the no-longer-in-jeopardy crew members sitting on a picnic blanket with the two-headed dragon. Bonus points for that.

Previous episode: The Magicks of Megas-Tu
Next episode: Mudd's Passion

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3 comments on this post

Elizabeth Palladino
Mon, May 29, 2023, 9:02pm (UTC -5)
I am with Jammer on this one. There was a lot of running around dodging the fantasy creatures, and a lot of mayhem caused by the computer interfering with the Enterprise. It was watchable, but a bit silly and tedious. I , too, loved the final scene, with the crew having a picnic with the dragon. Alice in Wonderland was sitting on the blanket, too. I wish that shot had lasted longer.
Wed, May 31, 2023, 8:33am (UTC -5)
A sequel to "Shore Leave" that is actually a far better episode. The one issue is that, again, the antagonist, just like in "The Infinite Vulcan", is going down a rabbit hole based on a highly flawed assumption -- that humans are slaves to computers. Kirk easily convinces the planet's computer of the reality that humans and machines co-exist.

But what is interesting is that the computer had developed intelligence from all the visiting aliens and came to the decision once the caretaker died that it was tired of being a servant. The episode sort of plays out like "That Which Survives" in that the landing crew (this time with Spock) has to figure out how to disable a planet's defence systems. That "disabling" is done by talking rationally. What is also good is all the main characters had a role to play, including Lt. Arex and M'Ress on communications.

The plot mechanics are pretty good as well. The landscapes on the planet were well done and an episode like this is particularly well suited for animated Trek. Nothing too profound here, but there's at least more plot and tension than in the TOS episode.

Trek fan
Mon, Jun 12, 2023, 10:22pm (UTC -5)
I give this one 3 stars. It’s an amusing follow up to the superior Shore Leave that is entertainingly goofy.

Where Jammer keeps looking at this show in a glass half empty way, I see the glass half full. It’s a creative expansion of the Trek universe using animation standard at the time. This one isn’t deep but gives us a nice romp with some new twists.

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