Bringing ‘The Animated Series’ into canon with a Vendorian

While fans rave about Lower Decks, there’s a new focus on the original Star Trek cartoon — The Animated Series. Lower Decks creator and showrunner, Mike McMahan, says that Lower Decks is really a tribute to his favorite show — The Next Generation. But in a moment on the recent episode, “Envoys,” McMahan may have used a shape-shifting Vendorian to make the older show canon.

For those who are not aware, canon is a term that refers to shows, films, comics, and books which make up the “official record” for a series or group of stories. According to multiple sources, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not want The Animated Series to be considered part of the official Star Trek story.

The story goes that Roddenberry used this request as some sort of power move, as he was being pushed out of the franchise that he created.

The Vendorian and the Andorians. Courtesy of CBS
The Vendorian and the Andorians. Courtesy of CBS

Otherwise, the old show is well thought of. One of the episodes, “Yesteryear,” gave fans a look at Spock’s childhood, and was later adapted to become a big part of the 2009 reboot movie.

So, in “Envoys,” a scene with Boimler and Mariner featured just a few seconds of a very interesting character, which had been seen only on TAS before this point — a Vendorian.

The villain took the form of an Andorian thief, who Boimler attempted to rescue.

This is not the first time folks have tried to make TAS part of the canon. The great Ronald D. Moore, who is known now for shows like Apple’s For All Mankind and the great Battlestar Galactica reboot from the early 2000s.

Moore gained prominence writing for TNG and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Moore considers The Animated Series to be and official part of the Trek story and made sure that TAS would get a nod here and there as often as possible.

The Vendorian, as seen on The Animated Series. Courtesy of Paramount
The Vendorian, as seen on The Animated Series. Courtesy of Paramount

The TAS episode featuring the Vendorian, “The Survivor,” gives fans a real taste of what the alien is able to do. Much like DS9’s Odo, the Vendorian can take the form of pretty much anything. But the octopus look-alike can also assume a being’s memory and personality.

What does it all mean?

It means we all need to pay attention to what McMahan does on his show. We know that he slips in references throughout his take on Trek, but he might also be rewriting the rules fans were used to understanding.

Through humor and action, Lower Decks is making Star Trek a more inclusive place — not because of human female captains, or people of color in a prominent role on the show, but he’s expanding what is allowed to be referred to as “canon.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks is now streaming in the U.S. on CBS All Access