Star Trek TAS: Season 2, Episode Five “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth”

Stardate: 6063.4 (2270)
Original Air Date: October 5, 1974
Writers: Russell Bates, David Wise
Director: Bill Reed    

“You will be given one chance to succeed where your ancestors failed.
Fail me again and all of your kind shall perish!”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Enterprise is tracing the origin of a mysterious alien space probe. It approached the Federation homeworld, made a scan of earth’s system, and then signaled outward into space before self-destructing. The Enterprise is now investigating the probe’s trail. Suddenly, the Enterprise encounters a crystalline “wall of clay” wherein the ship becomes entrapped inside a force globe. Then a strange ship appears and it probes the Enterprise before transforming its exterior into the visage of a dragon.

Ensign Walking Bear (James Doohan) seems to know the ship’s shape, Kukulkan, a god among ancient Native Americans. Various crewmen are then kidnapped by the alien life form and sent to an ancient Mayan-esque city in a test to learn Kukulkan’s true purpose. They restructure the city’s central pyramid which reveals Kukulkan true appearance –a giant flying snake (James Doohan). He explains that he once visited earth to allow humans to live in peace, promising to one day return, but he complains that he was never summoned and then forgotten. It was Kukulkan’s probe that circled earth only to be chased and fired upon by the Enterprise.

While Kukulkan chases the crewmen around his private zoo (which Bones notes includes a vicious Capellan power cat), Spock discovers a method whereby he can escape from the force globe. The Enterprise then fires upon Kukulkan’s ship while Kirk manages to use a hypo to sedate the Capellan power cat. Kirk manages to reason with Kukulkan that he was needed as a god for humanity in prior years, but he is now no longer necessary.

My Thoughts on “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth”

An homage to TOS episodes like “Who Mourns for Adonias?”, “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” is rife with Native American lore and religious imagery. Once again, we visit a zoo of aliens, and once again the Enterprise becomes entrapped, this time in a giant force orb. I guess there is nothing particularly new in this episode, though I tend to be impressed by Star Trek episodes which feature ancient human gods roaming through the cosmos. However, admittedly a giant flying serpent was a bit silly, even for this cartoon Trek series. At any rate, there are worse episodes in TAS. At least episodes like this allow the series to venture into unique territory which would have been an impossibility in live action.


Russell Bates knew D. C. Fontana, through TOS producer Gene L. Coon, whom Bates had apprenticed under. Bates wrote several never-produced scripts involving parasites. Bates was Kiowa Native American, and he was keen to develop a story inclusive of Native Americans. Co-writer David Wise, an animator, was added to help fill out the script.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The title comes from Act 1, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare’s King Lear: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” It is the longest title in TAS.
  • This episode was influenced by the recent death of TOS producer Gene L. Coon.
  • This episode earned TAS a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Series in 1975 (the first Star Trek episode to win an Emmy).
  • Including “The Cage,” this episode marks the 100th appearance of Spock.
  • Ensign Walking Bear says he is a Comanche and he studies Native American history.
  • Kirk mispronounces Kukulkan as “Koo-kla-khan” in this episode.
  • Ensign Walking Bear and Kukulkan were voiced by James Doohan.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

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