Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Terratin Incident”

“The Terratin Incident”
Written by Paul Schneider
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Animated Season 1, Episode 11
Production episode 22015
Original air date: November 17, 1973
Stardate: 5577.3

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is investigating the burned-out supernova Arachna. However, Uhura’s attempt to alert Starbase 23 that they’ve arrived is met with interference from Cephenus, a star that has never emitted radio activity before. The transmission is in Intersat Code, which has been out of use for two hundred years, but it broadcasts the word “Terratin” twice before shutting down.

Kirk goes to investigate. When they enter orbit, a diffuse beam of some sort hits the ship, but it doesn’t seem to have adversely affected their systems. The surface of the planet is crystalline, and is suffering from lava eruptions. There’s also an antenna dish on the planet, and it emits a beam at the Enterprise that engulfs the ship and makes everyone glow.

The only damage in the aftermath of the beam is the dilithium crystals, which have spiral fractures that have shattered them. This leaves the Enterprise without anything to channel warp power.

And then the crew all start to shrink. At first, they think the instruments are growing in size, but they soon realize that they’re all shrinking. It grows increasingly harder to operate instruments as everyone gets smaller. At one point, Sulu falls off the navigation console and breaks his leg. In sickbay, Chapel fetches a miniature laser to use as a bone knitter for Sulu’s tiny leg, but trips and falls into a fish tank. Kirk has to rescue her after she cries out, “HELP!” about eighty thousand times.

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Kirk—who just five minutes earlier told Sulu they had no place to aim phaser fire—asks Spock if he can pinpoint the center of the wave that’s shrinking them. Spock says yes, and Kirk beams down there. He only has twenty minutes before they’ll all become too small to operate ship’s systems.

Kirk materializes at normal size. Unfortunately, the surface is littered with exploding volcanoes. However, Kirk finds a very tiny city, but then he’s beamed back to the ship. The crew is so tiny that Kirk’s normal speaking voice deafens them, and the bridge crew is missing. Kirk tries to contact the city he found from Uhura’s station, threatening them with phaser fire if they don’t restore his bridge crew.

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The city of Terratin responds, apologizing for the damage they did, and also showing him the bridge crew, who are all safe. Their planet is dying. They are a lost Earth colony that was subjected to the spiroid waves that shrunk the Enterprise crew, so they’re all tiny. Now it’s a genetic trait, and they’ve harnessed the waves. Unfortunately, their attempt at a distress call failed because of damage done to their communications, so they were forced to “contact” the Enterprise by shrinking the crew and beaming them down to ask for help.

The planet is also chock full of dilithium. The Terratins donate some so the Enterprise gets full power back. First they run the crew through the transporter so they are restored to normal size, then they beam the entire city back (it’s kinda tiny) and take it to Verdanus for relocation.

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Can’t we just reverse the polarity? According to McCoy, the crew is shrinking because the space between the atoms in their bodies is closing, though that would actually make people more dense. Spock then hypothesizes that—because it’s only affecting organic matter—it’s actually shrinking DNA, which makes even less sense.

Also Starfleet uniforms are apparently made out of a kind of algae-based fabric, which is a handy way of explaining why the uniforms shrink with the people (the spiroid waves affect organic matter), thus keeping Broadcast Standards & Practices happy.

Fascinating. Spock is Exposition Boy Like Whoa in this one, even more so than usual, though at no point does he explain how, if the spiroid waves on the planet shattered the dilithium crystals on the Enterprise, how come the crystals on the planet itself are intact?

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I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy grumbles about chasing down the signal from Cephenus because—er, um, because he’s the grumbly guy and his job is to grumble about things? Seriously, his complaining is way out of character, and seems to be there for its own sake.

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu is also out of character, as he panics and insists that Kirk fire phasers on the planet. His flailing about is why he falls off the console and breaks his leg.

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura is the one who picks up the radio signal and expresses surprise, since Cephenus never broadcast any radio signals before.

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty and his engineers set up a nifty little pulley system in order to operate the transporter.

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Forewarned is three-armed. Arex is in mid-scan of the planet when the beam hits the ship and blinds him. You would also think that his three arms would enable him to be more, ah, handy when he shrinks, but no advantage is taken.

Channel open.

“Spock, are you slumping?”

“I have never slumped in my life, Captain.”

–Kirk being confused about Spock shrinking, and Spock taking offense.

Welcome aboard. James Doohan voices Scotty and Arex as usual, as well as the leader of the Terratins. Nichelle Nichols plays both Uhura and the mess hall officer who calls the bridge in a panic when people start shrinking. Majel Barrett and George Takei are Chapel and Sulu, respectively. Gabler, the engineer, is voice by an unknown actor (Doohan is often credited, but it doesn’t quite sound like him.)

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Trivial matters: Paul Schneider previously wrote “Balance of Terror” and “The Squire of Gothos” for the live-action series, and based this teleplay on a one-paragraph story notion from Gene Roddenberry.

Trek would dip into the shrink-the-crew well again on DS9 in “One Little Ship.” And, of course, the Enterprise was shrunk in “Catspaw” also.

To boldly go. “For the love of heaven, be careful where you step!” There are times when you appreciate it when a writer goes to the effort of providing scientific rationales for the crazy-ass stuff in a science fiction story, but sometimes the explanation just makes it worse. Farscape did a particularly nice job of this in “I Shrink Therefore I Am,” where Sikozu raises all the usual objections to shrinking stories—if you compress the space between atoms, you just make people denser, if you take away atoms, the body won’t function, and if you shrink the atoms, you can’t breathe the air—and Rygel points out that it may not be possible, but it’s happening, and you have to deal with it.

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I kinda wish that scene had been here, because the explanations offered by McCoy and Spock really don’t make anything like sense.

Which is too bad, because once you get past that, the episode has possibilities. It’s honestly hilarious watching the crew crawl all over the consoles, climbing up jury-rigged ladders in order to mind their posts, tripping over pins and being too small to make the turbolift doors open, and so on. And I like the fact that Kirk is pissed at what the Terratins did to his ship—and the Terratins are really snotty about it too, providing the lamest apology ever—but there’s still no hesitation on Kirk’s part to help them out in the end. (I half expected him to beam the city into a bottle, though—guess that would be too on-the-nose…)

Having said that, there’s a lot of frustratingly out-of-character behavior here, from McCoy’s grousing about responding to a possible distress call because they have a dead star to study, which is 180 degrees from the doctor’s usual priorities, to Sulu of all people panicking and crying out for a violent answer. And hey, look, the transporter fixed the problem again! It’s magic!

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One expects better from the guy who wrote two of the finest first-season episodes.

Warp factor rating: 4

Next week:The Time Trap

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Farpoint 2017 in Timonium, Maryland this weekend, both as an author and as a performer, the latter with both Prometheus Radio Theatre and the Boogie Knights. Other guests include Star Trek Discovery consulting producer Nicholas Meyer, actors Sam Witwer and Enver Gjokaj, fellow Trek scribes Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, Allyn Gibson, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, David Mack, Marc Okrand, Aaron Rosenberg, Howard Weinstein, Richard C. White, and Steven H. Wilson, plus tons more authors, performers, podcasters, artists, and scientists. Keith’s schedule can be found here.

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