Hello and welcome once again to the latest Final Frontier Friday! This week we’re turning our gaze back to ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’ for a look at ‘The Jihad’.
As the sixteenth and final episode of the first animated season, ‘The Jihad’ in some respects represents the pinnacle of what the show was trying to accomplish in its first season. Namely, it presents an ambitious, but still recognizably ‘Star Trek’-ish story that would have been difficult (if not outright impossible) to pull off with the budget and effects/makeup technology available to live-action television productions in the sixties. And in some ways, it even marks that same pinnacle for the show as a whole. While the animated series would return for a second season, that season would be notably abbreviated. Additionally, that year would also see a marked uptick in the use of recycled or stock animation elements. Though this particular cost-saving measure was in use throughout the series run, it got a lot harder to ignore in the second season.
On the production side, the script for ‘The Jihad’ was penned by longtime ‘Trek’ writer Stephen Kandel, whose history with the franchise goes back to the early days of the original ‘Star Trek’. This marked Kandel’s final ‘Trek’ script, and notably his first and only contribution to not feature Harry Mudd. Yep. He’s the Mudd guy. Prior, of course, to the character’s reintroduction on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, Kandel held the distinction of having written every episode in which Mudd appeared (though ‘Mudd’s Women’ is based on a story by Gene Roddenberry, Kandel is the sole credited writer on both ‘I, Mudd’ and ‘Mudd’s Passion’). So how does he fare when the charismatic con man is nowhere in sight? Well…
The Enterprise has been summoned to a rendezvous by the Vedala, the oldest known spacefaring race. Claiming a grave threat to the galaxy, the Vedala have gathered a group of specialists to deal with this threat. In addition to Kirk and Spock, the team includes Tchar of the Skorr, the reptilian Sord, an expert lockpick/thief called Em/3/Green, and the hunter Lara. Once introductions have been made, the Vedala have Tchar brief the team on their mission. In centuries past, the Skorr were a race of warriors. Now, thanks to the teachings of a religious leader called Alar, their civilization is a peaceful one. Prior to his death, Alar’s neural patterns were recorded into a piece of scripture now known as the Soul of the Skorr. Recently, the Soul was stolen, though the theft has been kept secret. If the theft is discovered, it could spark a galaxy-wide holy war. The Vedala have gathered the team to retrieve the Soul, which is now hidden on a “mad planet,” with a wildly unstable environment, including lava flows, gravitic fluctuations, harsh weather, earthquakes, and more. This is their fourth attempt, the three prior teams having been lost. Once the team agrees to the mission, they are transported to the mad planet. As the winged Tchar takes to the sky to scout ahead and Spock acquaints himself with their equipment, Lara flirts with Kirk. The team proceeds into a volcanic region, where Tchar senses the presence of the Soul just as a nearby volcano erupts.
Thanks to some quick thinking, the team is able to divert the lava flow long enough for Spock and Em/3/Green to modify their Vedala-provided vehicle and get clear. In doing so, however, the craft’s power pack is burnt out, forcing them to proceed on foot. As they approach the structure where the Soul rest, the ground beneath Em/3/Green gives way. Though the others pull him to safety, he is defeated and asks to be left behind. Kirk refuses, instead directing Sord to carry him while Tchar once again flies ahead to investigate the building. As they proceed, Sord thinks he sees… something moving, though Spock reminds him that the planet is lifeless. Sord suggests there may be life that the Vedala didn’t know about. While Spock maintains that as an impossibility, Sord is unconvinced. Arriving at the building, Em/3/Green sets about picking the lock.
As Em/3/Green picks the lock – which will explode if he doesn’t get it exactly right – the team is attacked by a group of mechanized sentinels (which resemble nothing so much as a fat, tailless version of the X-Men’s resident dragon, Lockheed). Though the team fends off the sentinels, Tchar goes missing in the confusion. Once the lock is successfully picked, they proceed inside, where they find the Soul, suspended high in the air. The door closes behind them, and with no access to the locking mechanism, they are trapped. Kirk, though, is not entirely surprised, having come to suspect that the prior expeditions were thwarted by deliberate sabotage. They attempt to scale the inner walls, nearly reaching the Soul when they are attacked from above. With his suspicions confirmed, Kirk calls out their attacker – Tchar. Upon revealing himself, Tchar admits his treachery, explaining that he stole the Soul, and in doing so hopes to return his people return his people to their warrior ways. Tchar neutralizes the gravity in the fortress, challenging the team to fight like Skorr. Calling on their null gravity combat training, Kirk and Spock manage to overpower Tchar and retrieve the Soul, while Lara signals the Vedala for return transport. Upon the team’s return, the Vedala express their gratitude and pledge to cure Tchar of his madness. Explaining that these events must remain secret, the Vedala once again offer their thanks as Kirk and Spock are returned to the Enterprise, mere moments after they left.
I’ve often described this show by telling people to “imagine ‘Star Trek’ as a Saturday morning cartoon.” There is perhaps no episode that embodies that description quite as well as ‘The Jihad’. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed romp of an episode. Though not the best that the animated ‘Trek’ has to offer, it’s nonetheless a fun one. Ultimately, ‘The Jihad’ is a ride. The plot isn’t all that complex, but it’s plenty to keep the action going.
What’s most interesting is the show’s structure, in that – structurally – it’s actually not all that ‘Star Trek’-ish. In addition to the basic set up (a team of specialists assembled for a dangerous mission) can’t help to call to mind a certain other late sixties Desilu production. No, not ‘Mannix’, ‘Mission: Impossible’! That’s likely not a coincidence, given that not only was ‘Mission’ still airing at the time, but Stephen Kandel contributed several scripts to the show. Beyond the setup, the episode is possessed of a very film serial sort of structure, which there’s always something happening, with each set piece leading more or less directly into the next. In that sense, ‘The Jihad’ is more akin to the original ‘Star Wars’ or Hartnell/Troughton-era ‘Doctor Who’ than the typical hour (or half hour, as the case may be) of ‘Star Trek’.
But enough from me, what do you think of ‘The Jihad’? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!