The untapped potential of Short Treks

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3, Discovery Seasons 1-4, Short Treks Seasons 1-2, and minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

At time of writing, the most recent episode of Short Treks aired two-and-a-half years ago in the run-up to Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Since then, Paramount has been content to put the format on ice, and although it’s been mentioned more than once in interviews and conversations, no new episodes or seasons have been forthcoming. I think that’s a shame, because in 2022 Short Treks has a lot of potential – arguably more than it did just a few years ago.

As a concept, Short Treks always felt nakedly commercial to me. At a time when many subscribers to what was then still called CBS All Access would watch their favourite show and then cancel their subscription, the corporation in charge hoped that dropping a handful of short episodes in between seasons would be enough to keep some of those folks paying their subscription fees. Promises that Short Treks stories would tie into the world of Star Trek: Discovery in a big way were part of this, too.

Cadet Sidhu in the Short Treks episode Ask Not.

However, as Short Treks rolled on, there seemed to be a bit more leeway given with the kind of projects that were greenlit. Short Treks became more experimental, producing an overtly comedic episode, two animated episodes that used wildly different storytelling and animation styles, as well as continuing to connect with ongoing or upcoming Star Trek projects. It’s this experimental aspect and the potential to create some truly different and interesting one-off stories where I feel Short Treks could excel in the years ahead.

Not every Star Trek character or concept can be spun out into a film or an entire season of television, and there’s scope to use Short Treks to tell one-off stories that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Robert Duncan McNeill’s Captain Proton pitch, for example, could absolutely work as a one-off short story, and I think that could be a cute nod and wink to fans of Voyager.

Captain Proton might work well in this format.

There would be scope to bring back legacy characters in this format as well, particularly if actors are unable or unwilling to make a longer commitment. Fans have asked for a long time to see Captain Sulu aboard the USS Excelsior, for example, and a Short Treks story featuring George Takei could be a truly excellent way for the franchise to celebrate his decades-long association with Star Trek. Rather than trying to shoehorn legacy characters into ongoing shows – or writing out main characters to bring back legacy characters, as happened in the case of Picard Season 3 – giving some of them their own Short Treks stories could be an alternative option.

The Short Treks format could even operate as a kind of backdoor pilot to test the waters and see how fans respond to concepts that could go either way. Michael Dorn’s Captain Worf pitch, for example, could be converted into an episode or two of Short Treks, recycling sets built for Picard Season 2, as a way to see how interested fans would actually be and whether the character truly has spin-off potential.

Could a successful Short Treks story finally lead to the Captain Worf spin-off that has been pitched?

Star Trek has never shied away from being an experimental franchise, and that continues in its modern iterations. But given the serialised nature of shows like Picard and Discovery in particular, the scope to go completely off-topic and to different thematic and narrative places is more limited than it ever used to be. Short Treks could be the catalyst to bring more of that experimentation back to Star Trek.

The episodes The Girl Who Made The Stars and Ephraim and DOT showed off a very different style of animation and storytelling to anything we’ve seen so far in any iteration of Star Trek, and with advancements in animation happening all the time, there’s even the potential to use animation to bring some of these concepts to life. Where it might seem prohibitively expensive to tell a story set in an alternate reality where the Borg have conquered large swathes of the Alpha Quadrant, for instance, an animated Short Treks story could delve into that concept in a way live-action couldn’t.

Ephraim the tardigrade.

When we look at the production side of Star Trek, too, Short Treks has a lot more to work with than it did in the 2010s! New sets have been constructed in recent years for Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery’s 32nd Century that could all be taken advantage of to tell stories set in different eras. With a few changes here and there and some clever set redresses, Short Treks stories could be set in basically any era of Star Trek without having to spend excessive amounts of money on design and construction.

Then there’s the AR wall – the massive video wall that’s been used to great effect in Discovery and Strange New Worlds to bring depth and scale to some of the sets. The AR wall opens up all kinds of possibilities for unique designs: starships, planets, and more could be brought to screen without having to construct new sets. It would even be possible to use the AR wall to reconstruct something like the bridge of the Enterprise-D and tell a new story set during the events of The Next Generation.

The AR wall first began to be used during Discovery’s fourth season.

If Star Trek chooses to settle on one primary era for its main shows – such as the 32nd Century or the 25th Century, for instance – then Short Treks could be the way to keep other eras and alternate timelines alive. Short Treks would be great to tell one-off Mirror Universe stories, for example, or stories set in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries if those aren’t going to be the franchise’s main focus in the years ahead.

A particularly fun idea could see Short Treks expand on our knowledge of the events of individual episodes. We could see one of the battles of the Dominion War from the perspective of another Federation ship, for example, with its crew coming to the aid of the USS Defiant. Or how about the same battle from the Cardassian side? A Short Treks episode could absolutely do that.

How cool would it be to get a story from the Cardassians’ perspective?

There are many Star Trek stories that, while not exactly incomplete, are definitely able to be built upon to show us more. The Lower Decks Season 2 episode wej Duj took a unique format showing us the crews of several different ships who were all part of one larger story, and Short Treks could do something similar. By picking up story threads that we only caught glimpses of in classic episodes, there’s scope to expand our understanding of some of these stories.

There’s also huge potential to dip into the wider lore of Star Trek. What happened in the years in between The Undiscovered Country and The Next Generation Season 1, for example? This massive eighty-year span of Star Trek’s history contains many interesting events that have been mentioned or referenced but never explored on screen, and Short Treks could change all that. We could see, for instance, the “Tomed incident” that led to the Romulans entering a prolonged period of isolation and find out what happened to cause the Federation to give up cloaking technology.

Why did the Romulans isolate themselves prior to the events of The Next Generation?

With sets already built for the USS Stargazer that we saw in Picard Season 2, Pike’s Enterprise, and more, as well as the AR wall, there’s a heck of a lot that Short Treks could do with existing sets that it couldn’t a few years ago. That has greatly expanded the number of potential stories that episodes could tell, and right now it really does feel as though Short Treks is a concept that Paramount is not taking advantage of.

Not only would some of these ideas be interesting and fun for longstanding fans, they could serve as soft landings for newcomers to Star Trek too, providing fans of shows like Prodigy with new experiences that build on their burgeoning fandom. Fans who’ve only just begun to fall in love with Star Trek could find one-off episodes that serve as easy ways into what can be a complicated and convoluted franchise, and that’s another massive benefit to creating stories like these.

Short Treks episodes could ease new fans into the wider Star Trek franchise.

From Paramount’s perspective, the original idea behind Short Treks is still valid. While 2022 may yet see five different Star Trek productions, in years ahead there will still be downtime; gaps in between seasons of the franchise’s main shows. Short Treks stories could fill those gaps, keeping Star Trek alive in the minds of fans and casual viewers alike, providing one more reason to sign up for and remain subscribed to Paramount+.

The experimental nature of some of these stories could see Paramount test out pitches that may be able to be expanded into full series of their own – just like Short Treks episodes featuring Pike, Spock, and Una helped prove that a Captain Pike series would be viable! Stories that draw significant reactions from fans, or that bring back elements from past iterations of Star Trek that prove popular, could be spun off into their own miniseries, show, or even films, setting the stage for Star Trek’s continued expansion.

In short, there are a lot of ways that brand-new episodes of Short Treks could be utilised to not only tell fun, entertaining, and fan-servicey stories, but to give a boost to Paramount+ and provide a way for the creative teams to experiment with completely different ideas that would be difficult or impossible to fit into any of the existing shows. Short Treks has a vast amount of untapped potential.

The first two seasons of Short Treks are available to stream now on Paramount+ (in areas where the service is available). Short Treks is also available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Short Treks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten “comfort episodes” of Star Trek for difficult days

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Voyage Home, The Next Generation Season 6, Deep Space Nine Season 6, Voyager Season 4, Enterprise Season 2, Short Treks, Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, and Prodigy Season 1.
Phew. That was a lot!

The world can be a crappy place, and not just because of wars and pandemics. Sometimes we all need to switch off from current events and seek out some escapism. For me, films and TV shows with very heavy themes, lots of violence, or dark narratives don’t always provide the best escape, and on days when my mental health suffers I find myself reaching for something lighter and comforting. On this occasion, I thought we could pick out a few Star Trek stories that I believe fit that description.

The Star Trek franchise has long been an escape from reality for me. In both its older and modern incarnations, I find that jumping head-first into a future that looks safer and better than anything we could imagine today feels pretty great! Star Trek has always had an underlying setting that feels optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow – and that’s something we all need to hear sometimes.

So with that in mind, let’s consider a few Star Trek stories that I believe make for lighter, comforting viewing. As always, this isn’t a ranked list; the episodes are listed below in the order they were first broadcast.

Number 1:
A Piece of the Action
The Original Series Season 2

Captain Kirk as you may not have seen him before!

The Original Series made very creative use of some of the limitations of its time! It wasn’t always possible to visit a brand-new planet every week that looked and felt very “alien,” so The Original Series used sets intended for other films and TV shows in different – and occasionally silly – ways. A Piece of the Action sees Captain Kirk and the crew encounter a planet whose entire population have based their society around the Chicago mob!

When A Piece of the Action was written, the 1920s were only forty years in the past – the equivalent today of the eighties! So perhaps to viewers at the time it was more relevant and less… camp. But I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a light, almost comedic flair simply because of its setting; the ’20s-inspired dialogue, the old fashioned suits, and the general tone of a “Golden Age of Hollywood” gangster flick all contribute to that.

Spock and Dr McCoy with Tommy guns.

The notion of going to a faraway planet in space and finding a society based on the Chicago mob is silly, but A Piece of the Action sells it in the best way it can, making the very odd juxtaposition of scenes aboard the Enterprise and scenes on Sigma Iotia II flow surprisingly well. But above all, it’s a fun story that imitates, in a very Star Trek way, classic mobster films from a generation earlier.

Apparently A Piece of the Action was going to be the basis for a Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film that ultimately didn’t enter production. It seems as though I’m in a minority, based on the reactions to this news from Trekkies I’ve spoken with, but I’d have been interested to see what a director as undeniably talented as Tarantino would’ve brought to Star Trek. A new film from such a big name would surely have been a box office draw, at the very least! But maybe that should be the topic of a longer article sometime.

Number 2:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Dr McCoy and Scotty in 1986.

Also known as “the one with the whales,” The Voyage Home is arguably the most lighthearted and fun of all the Star Trek films to date! After the very heavy stories of loss and death in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the third and final act of this trilogy came along like a breath of fresh air. I feel that The Voyage Home is the most dated of the Star Trek films thanks to being set in what was, at the time, the modern day. But that doesn’t detract from it; the kitschy eighties flavour is all part of the appeal!

There are some fantastic moments of pure comedy in The Voyage Home. I won’t spoil them if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, but suffice to say that bringing a 23rd Century crew to the modern day and forcing them to interact with basic things like cash and computers led to some absolutely hilarious, iconic moments.

HMS Bounty makes it home.

There’s an ecological message at the heart of The Voyage Home, and the threat posed by the alien “whale probe” is definitely serious. But that theme doesn’t present as excessively weighty, and by the time Kirk and the gang are running around San Fransisco in 1986, the focus is more on the fun side of that premise.

With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 fast approaching, it could be fun to go back to The Voyage Home to see the most recent use of the “slingshot method” of travelling through time – something that may be making a return to Star Trek very soon!

Number 3:
Relics
The Next Generation Season 6

Cheers!

I wanted to put at least one crossover episode on this list, and this time it’s Relics that makes the cut! Bringing Scotty into The Next Generation was a lot of fun, and having him overcome his “fish out of water” status to eventually work alongside Geordi La Forge was absolutely fantastic, and made for a wonderful, heartwarming story.

With no evil villain to defeat nor a war to fight, Relics posed a scientific puzzle for Star Trek’s first two engineers to overcome – and in the process they were able to save the Enterprise-D from being trapped inside of a Dyson Sphere! There’s definitely a message in Relics: that older people have a lot to contribute if younger people are willing to take the time to listen.

Star Trek’s first two engineers teamed up for this adventure.

When I first saw Relics back in the ’90s, I wasn’t prepared for Scotty’s arrival. This was before the days of spoilers on social media, so I went into the episode completely unaware of what I was about to see. When Scotty materialised on the transporter pad for the first time I was absolutely blown away! The Next Generation had been my first port of call in the early ’90s, but by the time Relics came around I’d seen all of The Original Series films and quite a few episodes, so I was really excited when it turned out to be a crossover episode.

Relics is, in a lot of ways, a very fan-servicey episode. But it’s also a comforting one, and more than that it feels almost like a slice of pure Star Trek. There’s a scientific mystery that’s both interesting and exciting, there are some wonderful character moments between Scotty and Picard and Scotty and La Forge in particular, there’s more than a dash of humour, and there’s an underlying message that may just strike a chord with some folks in the real world. It’s an all-around Star Trek episode!

Number 4:
The Magnificent Ferengi
Deep Space Nine Season 6

Aren’t they magnificent?

The Magnificent Ferengi takes what should be a dark and upsetting premise but manages to put a lighthearted, comedic spin on it thanks to the inclusion of the titular Ferengi. After a less than spectacular introduction in the first season of The Next Generation, in which they were originally supposed to replace the newly-pacified Klingons and become a major antagonist, the Ferengi carved themselves a new niche in Deep Space Nine thanks in no small part to a wonderful performance by Armin Shimerman as Quark.

We came to see the Ferengi as comic relief on a number of occasions, as in The Magnificent Ferengi, but they were also a people with depth. Issues within Ferengi society surrounding the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the second-class status of women, and so on were topics that Deep Space Nine tackled, and the fact that the Ferengi can be funny didn’t detract from those attempts to use them to examine some more serious subjects. But that’s not why we’re here today!

Quark and Keevan.

At the height of the Dominion War, Quark and Rom’s mother is captured by the Dominion, and Quark leads an all-Ferengi rescue operation. With the exception of Grand Nagus Zek, this episode brings together practically every Deep Space Nine Ferengi character, and musician Iggy Pop has a guest-starring role.

The plot descends into a comedic farce – naturally, given Quark’s leadership – and if you’ve ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s… well, you know what to expect! The Magnificent Ferengi is a ton of fun, and a great episode for showcasing some of Deep Space Nine’s recurring characters.

Number 5:
Message in a Bottle
Voyager Season 4

Two Emergency Medical Holograms!

Once again we have an episode with a potentially dark premise that goes in a very different and fun direction! The Doctor is the star here, as he’s sent to the Alpha Quadrant to attempt to make contact with Starfleet for the first time since Captain Janeway and the crew became stranded 75,000 light-years from home… but he finds himself aboard a ship that has been captured by the Romulans!

Comedian Andy Dick guest-stars as a newer version of the Emergency Medical Hologram, and forms an astonishingly funny pair with the Doctor, who was often used for moments of comic relief during Voyager’s run. Seeing the two holograms working together to outsmart the Romulans in a comic story that could verge into slapstick is absolutely hilarious, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments.

The Doctor and his fellow EMH.

I also find Message in a Bottle to be a very uplifting episode. It marks the halfway point of Voyager’s seven-season run, and the first moment that the crew are able to contact the Federation. After four years of being alone, the crew finally get to inform Starfleet that they’re okay and working their way home, and there’s something incredible about the episode’s closing moments as a result.

The Prometheus-class ship is a pretty cool inclusion, too – a brand-new class of ship which has features that even the USS Voyager or Enterprise-E couldn’t match. I always wanted to see more from this ship, but aside from a couple of background appearances, we haven’t yet!

Number 6:
Carbon Creek
Enterprise Season 2

Vulcans… in the fifties!

Carbon Creek uses a frame narrative to tell the story of the first time Vulcans came to Earth… and it wasn’t in the mid-21st Century, as Captain Archer (and us as the audience) had been led to believe! Instead, T’Pol tells the tale of her great-grandmother, and how she and a small crew came to be stranded on Earth in the 1950s during a survey mission.

Carbon Creek is fun for its fifties atmosphere, and Enterprise really manages to nail that feel through some wonderful sets, costumes, and dialogue. It’s also an episode that shows off how Vulcans can be unintentionally funny in Star Trek, particularly when confronted with different or unusual situations. In this case, T’Mir and her crew have to blend in with a town of very emotional humans.

Cheers!

There are definitely some lighthearted moments scattered through the entire episode, and the frame of T’Pol recounting the story to a stunned Archer and Tucker adds to that as well. It’s also a great example of how a prequel story doesn’t have to tread on the toes of anything established previously; nothing in Carbon Creek fundamentally changes what we already know about first contact between humans and Vulcans. In many ways it expands it – knowing that Vulcan had humanity under observation decades ahead of official first contact gives them a reason to be surveying the area during the events of First Contact!

All in all, a fun episode that steps away from many of Star Trek’s familiar elements like starships to tell a story with some interesting characters in a fun setting.

Number 7:
Ephraim and DOT
Short Treks Season 2

Ephraim and DOT.

It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more Short Treks lately; the most recent batch of episodes ended with Children of Mars shortly before Picard Season 1 kicked off in early 2020. The idea of telling one-shot short stories in the Star Trek galaxy may have been a fairly blunt and obvious way for CBS All Access (since rebranded as Paramount+) to convince Trekkies to remain subscribed in between seasons of the main Star Trek shows, but several episodes ended up being fantastic in their own right.

Ephraim and DOT was one of two animated Short Treks episodes that were broadcast in December 2019, and it’s something that we hadn’t really seen the Star Trek franchise do before. Thirty-five years after The Animated Series went off the air, this was Star Trek’s first return to animation, and where The Girl Who Made The Stars was more of a conventional story, Ephraim and DOT was framed very differently!

A well-earned hug.

Telling the story of a tardigrade named Ephraim and a DOT-type robot aboard the USS Enterprise, this Disney-inspired tale sees the unlikely duo team up to save Ephraim’s eggs. With an enthusiastic narrator who sounds like they’ve come from a National Geographic documentary, the short story is a lot of fun – and packs a surprisingly emotional punch at its climax!

Ephraim and DOT also shows off a handful of fun clips from The Original Series that have been reimagined for animation, and this “greatest hits” montage was absolutely fantastic; a blast from the past that elevated the episode.

Number 8:
Nepenthe
Picard Season 1

Picard and Riker embrace.

If you don’t have the same connection to the characters from The Next Generation that I do, maybe Nepenthe won’t be one of your “comfort episodes.” But for me, seeing Picard reunited with Riker and Troi was one of the highlights of Picard Season 1 – and Nepenthe is one of the best Star Trek episodes that I’ve seen in a long time!

After several tense and dramatic episodes in which Picard and the crew of La Sirena had to unpick the mystery of Bruce Maddox, the synths, the Zhat Vash plot, and so on, Picard was able to rescue Soji and use a spatial trajector to escape to the planet of Nepenthe – home to Riker, Troi, and their daughter Kestra.

Kestra and Soji.

There are some very sweet moments between Soji and Kestra as they bond, and while the story has some very bittersweet moments as we learn that Riker and Troi’s elder child had passed away, there are some absolutely incredible and heartwarming character moments as well. After more than eighteen years away from the 24th Century, Nepenthe felt like the homecoming I had been waiting for.

Seeing Riker and Troi enjoying a peaceful life away from Starfleet was something that I needed to see, even if I didn’t realise it beforehand! Although there were issues with the Picard Season 1 finale that meant that, realistically, taking an entire episode away from the main plot to slow down and hang out with Picard, Riker, Troi, and Soji was arguably a mistake, I just can’t find it in my heart to fault Nepenthe for the way it comes across on screen. It’s a beautiful, emotional episode, and sitting down to eat pizza with the characters after everything they’ve been through just feels right.

Number 9:
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

Tendi and Dr T’Ana.

First First Contact might be my favourite episode of Lower Decks so far. It isn’t as hilarious as some of the show’s other offerings, but as an uplifting story with a real “Star Trek” feel, I don’t think it can be bettered! The episode sees the crew of the Cerritos teamed up with the fancier and more powerful USS Archimedes – under the command of one Captain Sonya Gomez, no less – to undertake their first ever mission of first contact!

But naturally, things don’t go to plan. The Cerritos is called into action to save the stricken Archimedes, and the entire crew pulls together to perform the very difficult and dangerous task of literally stripping off the ship’s outer hull! Lower Decks ditched its usual two (or three) storylines format here, and put all four ensigns and all of the ship’s senior staff in the same story – and the result was absolutely fantastic.

The USS Cerritos and the USS Archimedes.

Lower Decks goes out of its way to recreate the look of The Next Generation era, and I’ve always appreciated that. But it doesn’t hesitate to bring new things to the table, and we get our first look at Cetacean Ops in this episode – an aquatic department that had been mentioned in background dialogue in The Next Generation but never seen on screen.

All four ensigns have roles to play in the story, and after the Cerritos had to be saved at the climax of the Season 1 finale, the poetic symmetry of being the one to save a disabled Starfleet ship was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to bring the show’s successful second season to a close.

Number 10:
Kobayashi
Prodigy Season 1

Dal and Jankom Pog with a holographic Dr Crusher.

The Kobayashi Maru test seems like an odd choice for a “comfort” pick, doesn’t it? But the way Prodigy pulls it off feels like a love letter to Star Trek, bringing in classic characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine in holographic form.

There’s more going on in the episode than just the Kobayashi Maru test on the holodeck, and Prodigy’s ongoing story arcs come into play in a big way throughout. But for me, the moments on the holodeck with Dal and the holographic versions of some wonderful characters from Star Trek’s past are what elevates Kobayashi and what makes it so enjoyable.

Uhura!

It’s such a shame that Prodigy remains (officially) unavailable in most of the world, because it’s been one of the most surprisingly fun Star Trek projects, and despite its kid-friendly atmosphere and intended audience, there’s so much to love for Trekkies. I hope that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally will see Prodigy grow in popularity and bring in hordes of new fans – and with episodes as strong as Kobayashi to ease them into the world of Star Trek, there’s a good chance that’ll happen!

The character choices may seem like an odd mix at first – and seeing Odo on the bridge of a Galaxy-class ship definitely felt strange! But each of them is given a moment to showcase their strengths, and what they brought to Star Trek in their original appearances. It makes the entire holodeck sequence feel so very special – and with such an eclectic mix of characters, there really isn’t anything quite like it in Star Trek’s entire official canon!

So that’s it!

The original USS Enterprise.

Those are my picks for ten “comfort episodes” – or rather, nine comfort episodes and a comfort film – from the Star Trek franchise. We don’t need to repeat why the world feels so messed up right now, because we can all see what’s going on. Certain news stories have become omnipresent, completely taking over social media and other apps. If you find yourself doomscrolling, take a break. Do anything other than wallow in the mess of the real world.

The Star Trek franchise has been my comfort place for decades, and I find myself drawn to it when the world feels too much or when my mental health suffers. A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words, and I find that practically every Star Trek story – even those darker in tone – have a lot to offer.

So I hope this was a bit of fun and maybe gave you some viewing inspiration! I had a great time going back to these episodes to put this list together, and with everything going on in the world I thought it could be a good time to share something like this.

The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animated Star Trek is back!

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.

The unnamed little girl in The Girl Who Made The Stars.

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.

Ephraim and DOT.

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.

Ephraim embraces DOT.

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.

The little girl and the alien in The Girl Who Made The Stars.

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.