Star Trek TAS: Season 2, Episode Three “The Practical Joker”

Stardate: 3183.3 (2270)
Original Air Date: September 21, 1974
Writers: Chuck Menville, Len Janson
Director: Bill Reed    

“Kirk is a Jerk!”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Enterprise has been conducting a routine survey of Type IV asteroids. At the end of the uneventful survey mission, the Enterprise is approaching the final asteroid to complete its course 72 hours ahead of schedule when the ship is suddenly struck by a Romulan ambush of three battlecruisers. The Romulans accuse the Enterprise of crossing into their territory. The Enterprise escapes into a nearby gaseous energy field where the crew begins encountering a string of odd amateur practical jokes –Scotty is pied in the face by a malfunctioning food replicator (or “food synthesizer”), Spock’s eyes are encircled in dirt by a microscope on his station, Kirk is caught wearing a shirt that says “Kirk is a Jerk,” among other pranks. Needless to say, chaos ensues.  

As it turns out, the Enterprise central computer has “declared war” on the crew. Why? Spock suggests that sub-atomic particles from the gaseous energy field have latched onto the ship’s computer like a disease, causing it to behave irrationally. However, the Enterprise computer decides to play its next practical joke as revenge on the Romulans by sending out a balloon (inflatable dummy Enterprise) as a ruse. As the Enterprise flees from the pursuing Romulans, Kirk tricks the computer and they travel back through the energy field, curing the computer of its disease, but causing havoc for the Romulan battlecruisers.  

My Thoughts on “The Practical Joker”

This is a pretty amusing little misadventure wherein the Enterprise computer turns against its crew! We have seen malfunctions within the transporter in numerous other episodes, but rarely within the ship’s central computer. Also, we have seen a variety of other situations wherein the outbreak of a disease threatens the lives of the crewmen, but now a disease afflicts the necessary technology which governs the Enterprise –an interesting reversal of pandemic inspired hysteria in episodes like “The Naked Time.” However, the best comparison for this episode is likely “Bem,” the prior TAS episode which also features a practical jokester.

While on paper this episode was likely smirk-inducing, but in execution it’s a bit of an oddball situation filled with forced laughter. I’d also add this to another episode wherein Kirk outsmarts a computer run amok –how exactly does traveling through a random gaseous energy field create a disease? And then traveling back through the field somehow cures the computer? I had some fun with this goofy episode.  


Chuck Menville and Len Janson also wrote the first season TAS episode “Once Upon A Planet.” were longtime collaborators working together for a variety of television shows under Filmation and Hanna-Barbara.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode features one of the early iterations of the holodeck, an idea which was intended to be introduced in TOS but it was eliminated due to budget constraints.
  • Filmation co-founders Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott guest starred as the voices of the two Romulans.
  • DC Fontana had left TAS for this second season, and many have cited this as a reason for the show’s continued decline.
  • Majel Barrett voices the ship’s computer in this episode.
  • Apparently, the idea of a balloon resembling the Enterprise reappears in John M. Ford’s novel How Much For Just The Planet? (1987).

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

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