Stardate: 4523.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: December 29, 1967
Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Joseph Pevney
“Where they’ll be no tribble at all…”
At last we arrive at this classic fan-favorite, a campy light-hearted romp featuring everyone’s favorite tiny furry alien creatures. The Enterprise is approaching Deep Space Station K-7 (perhaps foreshadowing for DS9) which is located in a disputed quadrant near a planet known as “Sherman’s Planet” which has been claimed by both the Federation and the Klingons since the Battle of Donatu V which took place about 23 solar years prior. Spock notes the Enterprise is within one parsec of the nearest Klingon outpost so this will be a tricky mission. However, the quadrant which includes Deep Space Station K-7 and the nearby Sherman’s Planet is actually protected by writ of neutrality under the Organian Peace Treaty (the treaty was established in the Season 1 episode “Errand of Mercy”). Interestingly enough, the Organians have decreed that whichever side can successfully develop Sherman’s Planet will win the right to claim the planet.
The Enterprise suddenly receives a priority one distress call from Space Station K-7. Suspecting the Klingons, the Enterprise approaches at warp six, fully armed and expecting a conflict, however when they arrive all seems peaceful. Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs for the quadrant, Nilz Baris (William Schallert), merely requests that the Enterprise guard a large shipment of quadrotriticale, a high-yield wheat-rhye hybrid perennial grain, as it is delivered to Sherman’s Planet. Baris has been tasked with overseeing the development of Sherman’s Planet, a place of great strategic importance to Starfleet. Kirk expresses frustration at Baris, as well as his assistant Arne Davin (Charlie Brill) and station manager, Lurry (Whit Bissell) for issuing such a high priority alarm (priority one is supposed to be used only in cases of “near or total disaster”). Nevertheless, Baris defends his decision. Quadrotriticale is the only wheat-like earth grain that grows on Sherman’s Planet, and it is vital that several tons of it arrive safely. Baris suspects the Klingons may try to sabotage the grain.
Against the backdrop of this confrontation, some of the crew take some time for shore leave on neutral K-7 –a deep space station teaming with all manner of people. Uhura and Chekov beam down for some shopping, but Uhura quickly encounters a deep space trader not unlike Harry Mudd named Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams). Jones is peddling a toothless squeaking little furry creature known as a tribble. He sells it for six credits to the barkeep, but he freely gifts a tribble to Uhura free of charge. Then the Klingons arrive on K-7 for their own shore leave, led by commander, Koloth (William Campbell –remember him from Season 1 as Trelane?) and his brash second-in-command Korax (Michael Pataki –who looks suspicious similar to Lazarus in Season 1’s “The Alternative Factor”). When Scotty reluctantly joins Chekov at the bar on K-7, a scuffle ensues after the Klingons insult Kirk and the Enterprise. The tension between the Federation and the Klingons leads to a lengthy bar brawl.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Uhura has returned and her new pet tribble fascinates Spock and Bones to no end –Spock notes the tribbles have a “tranquilizing” effect on humans, though as a Vulcan he is immune to their charms (do we believe him?) The tribbles also have a curious affect –they appear to screech at any nearby Klingons. Soon, the tribbles begin rapidly reproducing. Apparently, they are naturally born pregnant and half their metabolism is geared for reproduction. Every hour, many new Tribbles seem to appear on the Enterprise and on K-7, Kirk soon spots them lining the bridge and they quickly infiltrate the air vents (cue the iconic scene of Kirk opening an overhead door only to be covered in an avalanche of tribbles). What is the cure to stopping the exponential breeding of the tribbles? Stop feeding them. When the tribbles find their way into the quadrotriticale shipment, the crew discovers the grain has been poisoned by Baris’s assistant Arne Darvin, who turns out to be a Klingon spy in disguise. The grain was infected with a virus that slowly kills a person as he consumes it. Many Tribbles now lay dying, yet their numbers are still massive aboard the Enterprise. Tribbles offer both a problem and a solution for the Enterprise. The problem is their expanding presence, yet they also help solve the Klingon dilemma with the poisoned grain (and by helping identify Darvin as a Kingon spy with their screeching).
As punishment for the attempted poisoning, Darvin is arrested and Kirk gives Koloth six hours to get his ship out of Federation territory. He then gives Cyrano Jones a choice: twenty years in a rehab colony for transporting a harmful species, or else gather each remaining tribble on the station (Spock calculates it would take 17.9 years to complete the task). Jones chooses the latter. In the end, Scotty says he has scrubbed the Enterprise of remaining tribbles and has beamed them al aboard the Klingon ship inside their engine room “…where they’ll be no tribble at all!”
Klingons, shore leave, campy comedy, inept Starfleet bureaucrats, a traitorous plot, and everyone’s favorite rapidly reproducing furry alien species –what’s not to love in this episode? While the pacing is a bit awkward at times, “The Trouble With Tribbles” is simply too much of a cult classic not to appreciate it. Tribbles have become the stuff of science fiction legend, parodied innumerable times. After all, where would the Ewoks in Star Wars be without Tribbles? Inspired by the rabbits who were brought to Australia and began to exponentially multiply in a habitat with no natural predators, the tribbles
To me, Kirk comes off a bit strong and heavy-handed in this episode. He is more or less insubordinate to Baris, though perhaps some of it is justified as Baris did seem to abuse the priority one alert system. In addition, the Klingons (or “Kling’ns” as they are often called in these early episodes) seem to be more silly than terrifying, a far cry from the “brutal and aggressive” as well as “efficient” warriors we have come to expect. While not my favorite episode, this is still a wonderful installment with great character development for Uhura (in a rare moment off-ship), Chekov (as he continually claims the Russians invented everything), Scotty (who is desperate for some alone time to read his technical manuals), Bones (in his curiosity about this amusing new species), and even Kirk (who is unusually irate in this episode). All in all, this was a terrific adventure in deep space.
This was the first professional script sold by David Gerrold (1944-present), an early fan of the Star Trek, who was encouraged by Gene Roddenberry to submit scripts to the show (he ultimately submitted a total of five scripts). The first script he submitted was entitled “Tomorrow Was Yesterday,” a sixty page script about the Enterprise discovering a ship launched from Earth centuries earlier (it was never made into an episode). Each of his script treatments struck me as equally compelling. He later wrote several Star Trek books –both novels and memoirs. He also wrote for a variety of classic science fiction shows such as Land of the Lost, Babylon 5, Sliders, and The Twilight Zone (the reboot). Gerrold wrote the Hugo and Nebula-award winning novelette “The Martian Child.” His other celebrated science fiction novels include The Man Who Folded Himself (1973), and the Hugo and Nebula-nominated When HARLIE Was One (1972).
“The Trouble With Tribbles” (originally entitled “A Fuzzy Thing Happened to Me…”) was inspired by Australia’s rabbit population. Gerrold may or may not have also been influenced by Robert Heinlein’s 1952 novel The Rolling Stones, which he had read fifteen years prior, and which is based on a 1905 short story “Pigs is Pigs” by Ellis Parker Butler. In fact, the similarities between this episode and Heinlein’s novel led the producers to seek a legal waiver from Heinlein, himself. The episode also received extensive uncredited rewrites by Gene L. Coon.
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. In a 1985 interview, Pevney named “The Trouble with Tribbles” as the best episode he directed. Co-Producer Bob Justman wrote in his book that he never liked this episode –and he was not alone among the crew. Original series writer Samuel A. Peeples found this episode to be problematic, and Gene Roddenberry also initially disliked “Tribbles” and the comedic episodes under Gene Coon’s tenure (though Roddenberry later changed his tune and praised this episode).
Star Trek Trivia:
- Tribbles have continued to be iconic throughout the Star Trek franchise –they appeared in a follow-up animated series episode which was also written by David Gerrold, they appear in a celebrated 30th anniversary episode of DS9, and they make minor cameos in other Star Trek iterations, such as in J.J. Abrams’s Kelvin timeline.
- The episode was adapted for a children’s book entitled Too Many Tribbles!
- In early 2013, an internet meme parody circulated featuring the face of Paul McCartney superimposed onto the body of Captain Kirk is surrounded by tribbles, accompanied by the quip “Yesterday: All my tribbles seemed so far away…”
- In this episode, Chekov makes several more claims of things invented in Russia. Chekov claims Sherman’s Planet was first mapped by famous Russian Astronomer Ivan Berghoff almost 200 years prior, Kirk corrects him that it was John Burke, chief astronomer at the Royal Academy in old Britain at the time. Later, Chekov claims quadortriticale is a Russian “Inwention” (invention) and he claims Scotch Whiskey was invented in Russia, too, “by a little old lady from Leningrad.”
- Interestingly enough, Spock quotes The Lilies of the Field, a 1962 novel by William Edmund Barrett, when describing the tribbles: “They toil not, neither do they spin.”
- At one point Spock accurately estimates that the tribbles have multiplied such that there are now 1,771,561 tribbles.
- There is a legendary story about a Spock line in this episode –“he heard you, he simply could not believe his ears.” As the story goes, it was placed in the episode as a tribute to Mad Magazine which had just parodied Star Trek with a joke about Spock’s ears.
- George Takei does not appear in this episode, as was the case for much of the second season while he was filming The Green Berets. Many of his scenes rewritten for Walter Koenig
- William Shatner later recalled this episode being a truly wonderful experience.
- Ed Reimers, who plays Admiral Fitzpatrick in a brief cameo via videchat with Kirk in this episode, was the TV spokesman for Allstate Insurance in the 1960s. In a funny sequence from the blooper reel, he catches a tribble thrown at him from offstage and brandishes it in front of the camera and says, “Oh, and Captain: you’re in good hands with tribbles” (a parody of the Allstate motto, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”)
- Wah Chang designed the original tribbles. They have since become sought-after collector’s items, and even during the episode’s production they quickly disappeared from the prop department. According to David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek, tribbles were misplaced and were being found for several months after the episode’s release. Christopher Doohan, son of James Doohan, had a funny story about being a child on-set playing with the tribbles.
- This was another TOS episode in which Klingons were pronounced “Kling’ns.”
- The Klingons chastise Kirk for being “a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood” and “a Denebian slime devil.”
- Apparently, a live-action sequel to this episode was planned for the third season but abandoned when Gene Roddenberry left the show. David Gerrold wrote a follow-up episode for the animated series six years later (“More Tribbles, More Troubles”). The 30th anniversary DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” shows the DS9 crew travel back in time to stop a plot to kill Captain Kirk.