Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the plots of both Ephraim and Dot and The Girl Who Made The Stars, as well as for Star Trek: Discovery. If you want to avoid spoilers, turn back now!
Star Trek: The Animated Series ran for two seasons in 1973-74. It featured the voice talent of most of the original cast (sans Walter Koenig), but since then Star Trek has stuck to live-action series and films. Until, that is, the latest two episodes of Short Treks, which were released a couple of days ago.
At least they were for Trekkies in the United States – ViacomCBS apparently places no value on its overseas fans. But let’s not get into that right now, because these two episodes were absolutely fantastic.
After I was finally able to track down copies, I watched The Girl Who Made The Stars first, as I thought I probably wouldn’t find it as interesting as the other episode, Ephraim and Dot. But The Girl Who Made The Stars was a cute, Disney-esque bedtime story, told by Michael Burnham’s father to her when she was a child. I got a distinct Moana vibe from this short episode, which tells of a young girl who teaches her tribe of ancient humans to overcome their fear of the night – aided, in true Star Trek fashion, by an ethereal alien.
As in Moana, the key to defeating what the tribe’s elders called the Night Beast wasn’t violence, and hiding away from it didn’t help either. It took someone to be bold and head out beyond the safety of the tribe’s valley to overcome the imagined monster. How much of the episode was actually based on African legends is something I don’t know, but this was a uniquely Star Trek look at history and at Africa. Framed as a bedtime story, I’m certain we aren’t supposed to take the episode’s main plot as canonical, but it was an interesting look at Michael Burnham’s childhood. Burnham has been in some respects a hard protagonist to get behind in Star Trek: Discovery. Partly that’s a consequence of her internal struggle between a logical Vulcan upbringing and human emotion, which she has at times seemed to be confused with. And partly, it has to be said, it’s a consequence of a character whose motivations – especially in Discovery‘s premiere – were impossible to follow and understand. This short episode doesn’t change anything fundamental about her character, but it does show the audience that she’s human at her core. Something which may be important as Discovery travels to unknown destinations next season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this bedtime story referred to, perhaps inspiring her to lead Discovery’s crew and/or the Federation in season 3.
The other episode was absolutely adorable. Ephraim and Dot told the story of a tardigrade, the species seen in season 1 of Discovery, laying its eggs. After trying to find a warm place, the tardigrade chooses the warp core of the Enterprise – by this time under Kirk’s command. We see an animated recreation of the TOS engine room, and this is where Ephraim (as I assume she’s called, she’s never named on-screen) lays her eggs, only to be kicked off the ship by Dot – an R2D2 or BB8-type droid, seemingly employed on the Enterprise to perform menial tasks and jobs humans wouldn’t be able to do.
The episode then launches into a brief “greatest hits” of the Enterprise under Kirk’s command. We see Khan waking up in sickbay from Space Seed, the hand of Apollo, Sulu brandishing his sword, the Planet Killer from The Doomsday Machine, and a recreation of Lincoln featured in the episode The Savage Curtain. As the sequence continues, we see the refit Enterprise fighting Khan’s Reliant in The Wrath of Khan before Ephraim finally manages to scramble back aboard, just as the Enterprise is set to be destroyed over the Genesis Planet in The Search for Spock.
I’m going to let you guys in on a secret – I got legitimately emotional at this point. As Ephraim races to save her eggs from the crippled, soon-to-be-destroyed ship I was literally on the edge of my seat. And when Dot got to her first and threw her overboard yet again, I felt a real emotional stab. I’ve always been a sucker for animals in films and television, and the cute way Ephraim is styled here no doubt contributed to that.
Luckily, at the last minute Dot realises that the eggs are on board and manages to save them, delivering the newly-hatched babies to Ephraim after the ship has exploded. The two then disappear into the Mycelial Network – perhaps laying the groundwork for a future episode or an appearance in one of the two new animated shows? Gosh I hope so.
These two episodes were absolutely unlike anything Star Trek has done before – at least not since some of the weirder episodes of The Animated Series in the 1970s saw a 50-foot-tall clone of Spock, or the Enterprise visiting a parallel universe where magic is real. Yes, those really happened. And yes, they’re canon. Deal with it.
These episodes were undoubtedly inspired by Disney – the storytelling, the use of animals, cute robots, and a child as the main characters all come together to make these the most child-friendly Star Trek episodes so far, as well as a fantastic way to introduce little ones to Star Trek. Ephraim and Dot in particular contained some very funny moments, complete with traditional cartoon sound effects. At one point, Ephraim is sucked into a tube and bounces through it, with the tube bulging out in a throwback to old-school cartoons.
But at their core, these were just cute, heartfelt episodes. I’m sure that people who haven’t enjoyed modern Star Trek will hate them, and that’s fine because at this point those folks hate just about everything. Both of these episodes have something to say about Star Trek. Yes, characters are important. Yes, alien races and cool ship battles and the politics of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants are important. But at its core, Star Trek is about inspiring stories, and seeking out new life. The Girl Who Made The Stars tells such a story, and Ephraim and Dot takes a look at one example of the kind of new life that Starfleet has been seeking. And these episodes are presented in a cute, fun, approachable way. Show them to anyone sceptical of Star Trek and I bet they’d come away thinking about the franchise in a whole new light.
Overall, Ephraim and Dot and The Girl Who Made The Stars leave me hopeful that the new animated series – Lower Decks – is in good hands and will turn out to be a lot of fun. And moreover, that the currently-untitled animated series that’s supposed to be more kid-friendly will also have something to offer to adult fans like myself. The best kids’ shows manage to find a way to appeal to us too, and from these shorts, I feel like there’s a real chance that the new series will absolutely have something to offer older Trekkies.
Star Trek animation is back – with a bang!
There’s only one episode left in this season of Short Treks – and it’s set to be a prequel of sorts, leading into Star Trek: Picard. So I can’t wait to see that. And Picard is coming next month! It really is a great time to be a Star Trek fan right now.
The Star Trek franchise – including Short Treks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Short Treks is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and is now available on Blu-ray elsewhere. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.