D.C. Fontana On TAS Canon (and Sybok)

Dorothy Fontana (aka D.C. Fontana) was with Star Trek since the beginning as both a writer and Story Editor for Star Trek: The Original Series. She had the same job for The Animated Series and went on to write episodes for both TNG and DS9 (and even for the recent Trek game and New Voyages fan series). Fontana is interviewed in the new ‘Focus on Trek’ from IDW Comics. The interview covers a number of subjects, but her comments on the often debated issues of canon were noteworthy. Regarding TAS and canon Fontana says that Gene Roddenberry never took TAS seriously. She also does not seem happy with the makers of Star Trek V who gave Spock a half brother (details below)

Excepts from IDW ‘Focus on Trek’

IDW: In today’s world, especially in a property like Star Trek, that has seen stories told in movies, TV episodes, novels, comic books, video games, e-books and even Internet-based fan media, too, the question of what constitutes “canon” is very much an ongoing debate. The episode you wrote for Star Trek: the Animated Series, “Yesteryear,” is the only one that contains material that is considered canon. What makes it canonical while the others aren’t?

DOROTHY FONTANA: I suppose "canon" means what Gene Roddenberry decided it was. Remember, we were making it up as we went along on the original series (and on the animated one, too). We had a research company to keep us on the straight and narrow as to science, projected science based on known science, science fiction references (we didn’t want to step on anyone’s exclusive ideas in movies, other TV shows, or printed work). They also helped prevent contradictions and common reference errors. So the so-called canon evolved in its own way and its own time. For whatever reason, Gene Roddenberry apparently didn’t take the animated series seriously (no pun intended), although we worked very hard to do original STAR TREK stories and concepts at all times in the animated series. What freed us there was the fact that we could do environments and aliens without the constraints of sets, makeup and costumes that would have been difficult to do in live action. The research company also worked on this series, again to keep us within rules we had set up in the original series and to keep references in terms of science/science fiction etc. accurate.

IDW: And a follow-up to that question, what does “canon” mean to you? Do fans put too great an emphasis on what is canon instead of just what makes a good story?

DOROTHY FONTANA: I like a good story— but there are certain basic ground rules established which I don’t think can be easily tossed aside. I really hated it when one of the features (STAR TREK V) came up with a half brother for Spock when I had always insisted he had no other siblings. But I guess it isn’t "canon" if I wrote it. Go figure.

The ‘Focus on Trek’ also has an interview with CBS Senior Director of Product Development Paula Block (who is in charge of all Trek licensed products). She too was asked about this issue of ‘canon’ and here is her response

PAULA BLOCK: “Canon” in the sense that I use it is a very important tool. It only gets muddled when people try to incorporate licensed products into “canon”—and I know a lot of the fans really like to do that. Sorry, guys—not trying to rain on your parade. There’s a lot of bickering about it among fans, but in its purest sense, it’s really pretty simple: Canon is Star Trek continuity as presented on TV and Movie screens. Licensed products like books and comics aren’t part of that continuity, so they aren’t canon. And that’s that. Part of my job in licensing is to keep track of TV and Movie continuity, so I can help direct licensees in their creation of licensed products. It gets a little tricky because it’s constantly evolving, and over the years, Star Trek’s various producers and scriptwriters haven’t always kept track of/remembered/cared about what’s come before.

TAS getting more respect…but is it canon?
Gene Roddenberry may not have had a lot of respect for Star Trek The Animated Series, but lately it seems to be getting a kind of resurgence. Last year the show was finally released on DVD. In addition Pocket books re-released the Alan Dean Foster novelizations of the episodes in new omnibuses. This year the Star Trek Remastered team have already dropped in a couple of TAS references, giving the show a sense of retroactive continuity (Spock’s home town from TAS: "Yesteryear" is now seen in TOS: :"Amok Time" and the new Antares in TOS: "Charlie X" is inspired by the robot grain ships of TAS "More Tribbles, More Troubles") Now IDW’s ‘Star Trek Year 4’ series has included the TAS characters M’Ress and Arex. Those characters also showed up in a Star Trek New Fronteirs novel in 2001. 

Just recently STARTREK.COM created a whole new section for TAS. There is a new documentary and feature about the making of the seires. In addition they have added TAS components (such as aliens, technology, and characters) to the Library, but they are not going as far as to saying it is ‘fully canon’ (nor are they saying it has no place in canon). The introduction describes it thusly:

Often viewed as the poor relation in the Star Trek canon, The Animated Series — for the sake of argument — certainly has its own place within the Trek-sphere.

Memory Alpha (the popular Star Trek wiki) long ago decided that TAS should be canon and have included all the events and characters from the series into the database (while still ignoring the novels, comics, games, etc.). Their reasoning is that it was made by the same people and it was "too important to simply ignore."

Last month the official Star Trek Magazine also devoted a 30 page special section to TAS. This included behind the scenes articles, artwork and sketches, as well as interviews with some of those involved (including one done by yours truly with Fred Bronson – writer of "The Counter Clock Incident"). I asked Bronson (who wrote the episode under the pen name Jonn Culver) what he thought of TAS not being part of canon and his answer was actually surprising:

It didn’t bother me. I sort of felt that it exists in its own universe. It is like DC Comics. They have changed origins over the years, pretended things take place in ‘pocket universes’ and so on. Honestly it didn’t bother me. I find it difficult to accept M’Ress and Arex as part of canon. Gene later did say later that Robert April [captain of the Enterprise before Pike, introduced in "Counter Clock"] was part of canon and I never even went to him to discuss it.


STARTREK.COM new section on TAS

TAS at Memory Beta (non canon  Wiki)

Arex and M’Ress


Much more on the future of Trek comics and from D.C. Fontana in IDW’s ‘Focus on Trek’ 

VOTE: Is TAS canon?

TAS is in a canon grey area…so to you is it canon? Vote in the current poll (right column) 

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