As with the film and the live-action series, Return to the Planet of the Apes involved a handful of astronauts from Earth who were hurtled into the future and found themselves stuck in a world populated by advanced apes and primitive humans. Over the course of the thirteen episodes the astronauts attempted to keep one step ahead of the apes while at the same time trying to make some sense of what had happened. Additionally, they did their best to safeguard the human population from the apes.
Each episode was self-contained to an extent. The story threads did weave in and out, with characters and plots from earlier episodes popping up in later ones. In order for the series to make any sense, the episodes need to be viewed in order.
The animated series does chronologically fit with the rest of the Apes universe. It borrows characters and elements from the movies, the TV series, and the original novels. General Urko is borrowed from the TV series. Along with Zaius, Zira, and Cornelius, Brent (renamed here as Ron Brent) and Nova are from the movie series. Krador and the Underdwellers in the animated series are loosely based on the mutants in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. As with the live action television series, the animated series was concluded before the resolution of the storyline, and we do not learn if the astronauts are able to return to their own time period. But the animated series does otherwise offer a conclusion. Doctor Zaius, in recognising the threat of a military overthrow from General Urko, assures that he is relieved of command. Further, Cornelius and Zira, in recognising that Simian Society was established long after human society had deteriorated, believed that the time was right for humans to be offered equal rights to that of apes, and intend to present their proposition to the Senate. Characters in the animated series frequently mentioned prominent Apes noticeably named after human historical figures by appropriately inserting the word "ape" into their name. A notable example included "William Apespeare", an Ape analog of William Shakespeare. Another scene showed a couple of Ape soldiers chatting about a new movie called The Apefather, an apparent analog of The Godfather.
EPISODE # 1 : FLAMES OF DOOM
Astronaut Bill Hudson transmits to Earth from the NASA spacecraft Venturer. On board are crew members Jeff Allen and Judy Franklin. The ship's date is August 6, 1976. Bill explains that they are living proof of Dr. Stanton's "time thrust" theory. Due to the advanced speed of the Venturer, their Earth clock indicates that they have traveled over a century into the future. The craft begins to reel wildly as the Earth clock starts clicking up. The crew blacks out while the ship enters a planet's atmosphere and crashes into a desolate desert region. Meanwhile, General Urko, leader of the gorilla army, is debating before the Supreme Council of Ape City. He demands permission to begin an all-out assault on the humanoids. Cornelius, an animal psychologist, pleads for the council to allow the humanoids to live as subjects of scientific research. The Council decrees that the humans should not be exterminated since they have no language, but they will continue to be hunted, enslaved, domesticated and studied. According to the Book of Simian Prophecy, however, the humanoids must be destroyed if it is ever discovered that they can speak. Bill, Jeff and Judy have escaped their disabled, sinking ship and rafted to shore. Bill's watch reveals the date still to be August 6, but in the year 3979 A.D. With no better plan, they begin trekking across the wasteland. They encounter sudden electrical storms, high-velocity winds, tremors, unexplained flames and ruins. Judy pleads with Bill and Jeff to go on without her, but they refuse. Another mysterious wall of flames consumes their survival packs. After many days, they find green, living plants; water must be nearby. Suddenly, a quake swallows Judy. Frantic, the men move to higher ground in the hopes of spotting her and find a puzzling and frightening sight: ape faces carved into the mountainside. They find a group of primitivel humans. They try to speak to them, but the primitives run away. Finally, Bill and Jeff collapse from exhaustion. The tribe takes the two men to their cave dwellings and nurse them back to strength. One of the tribe's women, Nova, is wearing US astronaut I.D. dog tags around her neck belonging to a Ronald Brent, an astronaut born in the year 2079. Bill and Jeff manage to teach Nova their names. Suddenly, gas bombs are thrown into the caves by gorilla attackers. Nova manages to hide Jeff, but Bill is captured along with most of the tribe and taken to Ape City in cages.
RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES : FLAMES OF DOOM
20TH CENTURY FOX TELEVISION (1975)