Mon
Apr 12 2010 3:30pm

Tribbles Week: Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Trouble with Tribbles”

The Re-Watch has come upon “The Trouble with Tribbles,” easily the most celebrated episode of the entire original series (if not the whole franchise). It would be wrong—nay, criminal—if we did not properly do our own tribute. As such, we are taking the opportunity to devote this week to everyone’s favorite furry little breeding factory, the Tribble.

Each day this week features a tribble-related re-watch, culminating on Friday with a chance to win a tribble of your very own (along with a few other goodies). So stay tuned, and enjoy.


“The Trouble with Tribbles”
Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Season 2, Episode 15
Production episode: 2x13
Original air date: December 29, 1967
Star date: 4523.3

Mission summary

As Enterprise arrives at Deep Space Station K-7, Chekov and Spock brief Kirk on the history of the area. This could be a tricky mission; they’re only one parsec away from the Klingon border, and control of nearby Sherman’s Planet is disputed by the Federation and the Klingons. The Organians have stipulated that whichever side can best develop the planet will win the prize, as if this were some reality show for their amusement. A call from Uhura interrupts Chekov’s Russian nationalism to tell them that K-7 is transmitting a Code One Emergency distress call, used only in situations of “near or total disaster.” Assuming a Klingon attack, Enterprise goes to warp six, prepared for battle.

When they reach K-7, it looks perfectly fine. Kirk hails them to find out what’s up, and the station manager Mr. Lurry apologizes for the false alarm and asks them to beam over. Lurry, you got some ’splainin to do...

Kirk and Spock are greeted by Nilz Baris, the Federation Undersecretary responsible for agricultural affairs regarding Sherman’s Planet, and his assistant, Arne Darvin. Baris ordered the priority distress call and demands that Kirk post security guards around the storage compartments. “Storage compartments? Storage compartments?” Kirk asks, his mind already broken. I’m glad you asked, Captain. Baris is worried about the compartments filled with quadrotriticale—space wheat! Lurry describes the episode’s plot:

Quadrotriticale is the only earth grain that grows on Sherman’s Planet. We have several tons of it here on the station. It’s very important that grain gets to Sherman’s Planet safely. Mister Baris thinks that Klingon agents may try to sabotage it.

Kirk’s upset that Baris called him out there to watch some grain, so he orders a security detail of only two guards, authorizes shore leave for off-duty personnel, then he and Spock hit the station bar. Chekov and Uhura join them there, ready to do some shopping. While Kirk shows Chekov his sample of quadrotriticale, Uhura’s attention is captured by a small ball of fur that a trader, Cyrano Jones, is attempting to sell to the bartender. She holds it and it starts purring. Cyrano calls it a tribble. The bartender and Jones finally settle on a price (a bargain at six credits! Have you seen how much Paramount charges for these things?), and Jones gives Uhura one for free. Good thing, because it’s already eating Chekov’s grain.

Kirk and Spock are having a coffee break in the briefing room when Uhura calls him with a priority message from Starfleet. Admiral Fitzpatrick orders Kirk to give Undersecretary Baris whatever he wants—nothing is more important than that grain. Uhura has more bad news: the Klingons are coming. They go to red alert and he rushes to the Bridge, only to learn that there’s no danger after all. The Klingon commander is already in Mr. Lurry’s office, having a nice chat. They cancel the emergency, again, and beam over to the station.

The Klingon captain Trelane Koloth welcomes Kirk and tells him the Klingons are there for shore leave. No one really wants them to stay, but there’s that pesky Organian Peace Treaty... Kirk allows them to beam down twelve men at a time, with an equal number of Enterprise red shirts keeping an eye on them. Koloth assures him there will be no trouble.

Meanwhile, Uhura has brought her tribble on board the ship, and it’s already reproduced. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy discover the new pets in the mess hall. The doctor and science officer are clinically interested in the unusual lifeform. Spock comments:

A most curious creature, Captain. Its trilling seems to have a tranquilizing effect on the human nervous system. Fortunately, of course, I am immune to its effect.

Which doesn’t stop him from stroking the tribble, which we hope isn’t the equivalent of Vulcan bestiality considering that thing they do with their fingers. McCoy takes one back to his lab, and Uhura gives away the rest of the litter to the entranced crew. Another heated conversation with an agitated Baris about the “swarming” Klingons sends Kirk to Sickbay himself—diplomacy gives him a headache. McCoy tells him what he’s learned about the tribbles he’s studying, which have already multiplied from the one Uhura gave him:

KIRK: How do they? How do they...?
MCCOY: I haven’t figured that out yet, but I can tell you this much. Almost fifty percent of the creature’s metabolism is geared for reproduction. Do you know what you get if you feed a tribble too much?
KIRK: A fat tribble.
MCCOY: No. You get a bunch of hungry little tribbles.
KIRK: Well, Bones, all I can suggest is you open up a maternity ward.

A Scotsman, a Russian, and a lieutenant walk into a bar... Cyrano Jones tries to sell Scotty and Chekov a tribble but they pass, and he has worse luck selling it to Korax—the tribble emits a high screech in the Klingon’s proximity. Korax sends him away, then begins insulting humans. Scotty, ordered to take shore leave with instructions to keep an eye on his crewmates, stops Chekov from getting up. Even when Korax calls Kirk “a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood” and “a Denebian slime devil,” he tries to calm the angry ensign down.

SCOTT: Forget it. It’s not worth fighting for. We’re big enough to take a few insults. Now, drink your drink.
KORAX: Of course, I’d say that Captain Kirk deserves his ship. We like the Enterprise. We, we really do. That sagging old rust bucket is designed like a garbage scow. Half the quadrant knows it. That's why they’re learning to speak Klingonese.
CHEKOV: Mister Scott!
SCOTT: Laddie, don’t you think you should rephrase that?
KORAX: You’re right, I should. I didn’t mean to say that the Enterprise should be hauling garbage. I meant to say that it should be hauled away as garbage.

Scotty canna take anymore of it: he hauls up and hits Korax. An old-fashioned bar brawl ensues, while Cyrano Jones helps himself to free drinks behind the bar. An Enterprise security force finally shows up. Before you can say “shore leave’s cancelled,” Kirk is dressing down the crewmen who participated in the fight, demanding to know who threw the first punch. No one admits to anything so he confines everyone but Scotty to quarters. Scotty finally confesses that he’s the one who started the fight, admitting it wasn’t because they disrespected Kirk, but his ship. He restricts the engineer to quarters, too, which thrills him because he can catch up on reading The Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual. This is the equivalent of grounding your kid in his bedroom where he keeps his videogames.

Kirk returns to the Bridge and takes his seat. A tribble squeaks when he sits on it, and he realizes tribbles are everywhere. McCoy and Spock have been working out their nature: they’re born pregnant, and reproducing at an alarming rate that threatens to overrun the ship. Kirk orders maintenance to clean up the ship and beams over to K-7 with Spock to speak to Cyrano Jones about his animal trade. Kirk comments, “You should sell an instruction and maintenance manual for this thing.” (Rule 1: Don’t feed tribbles after midnight...er, or ever, really.)

Baris bursts in, angry as usual, and Kirk snaps:

BARIS: Captain Kirk, I consider your security measures a disgrace. In my opinion, you have taken this important project far too lightly.
KIRK: On the contrary, sir. I think of this project as very important. It is you I take lightly.

Darvin, Baris’s assistant, accuses Cyrano Jones of being a Klingon agent sent to sabotage the grain. Spock actually vouches for the trader and Kirk takes off: “People have disrupted stations before without being Klingon agents. Sometimes, all they need is a title, Mister Baris.” No more Mr. Nice Guy. Plus, it’s time for lunch!

The mess hall is covered in tribbles. Kirk orders his food, and his tray comes with a plate of tribbles and one perched in his Styrofoam cup. This is the last straw.

KIRK: My chicken sandwich and coffee. This is my chicken sandwich and coffee.
SPOCK: Fascinating.
KIRK: I want these off the ship. I don’t care if it takes every man we’ve got, I want them off the ship.

Scotty, strangely no longer confined to quarters, comes in with an armload of tribbles and explains that they’ve gotten into the machinery and air vents. Kirk realizes that space stations also have air vents and beams over to K-7, asking Lurry and Baris to meet him at the storage compartments. There, he tries to open the door to the compartment but it’s jammed. He tries an overhead door, and is buried in an avalanche of gorged tribbles. Spock calculates there are 1,771,561 of them, “assuming one tribble, multiplying with an average litter of ten, producing a new generation every twelve hours over a period of three days.” McCoy shows up and helpfully tells him that he’s figured out how to stop them from breeding: don’t feed them. They also discover that many of the tribbles are dead. Kirk sends him back to the lab to analyze the grain and tribbles.

Back at Lurry’s office, Jones, Koloth, and Korax join Kirk, Spock, Lurry, and Baris. I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you all here... Kirk has questions: “Who put the tribbles in the quadrotriticale? What was in the grain that killed them?” Koloth requests that the tribbles be removed; as the guards escort them out, Darvin enters and the tribbles freak out. Kirk performs the tribble test, holding them near Korax—they screech. They don’t like Klingons. He brings them near Spock and Baris, and they purr. But when they get close to Darvin, they screech again. McCoy takes a less scientific approach and scans Darvin with his medical tricorder: “Heartbeat is all wrong. His body temperature is... Jim, this man is a Klingon.” Talk about a wolf in the fold! Darvin fooled them all by shaving.

What’s more, McCoy confirms that the grain was poisoned:

MCCOY: Yes. It’s been impregnated with a virus. The virus turns into an inert material in the bloodstream. The more the organism eats, the more inert matter is built up. So after two or three days, they reached a point where they couldn’t take in enough nourishment to survive.
KIRK: They starved to death. In a storage compartment full of grain, they starved to death.

Darvin gives his confession under threat of tribble and they arrest him. Kirk orders Koloth to leave with his ship. They give Jones a choice of punishments: spend twenty years in a rehabilitation colony for the crime of transporting dangerous animals, or spend roughly 17.9 years clearing them out of K-7. He settles for the latter.

Back on Enterprise, the tribbles have been taken care of. The Bridge and the captain’s chair are clear of the squeaking menaces. He asks what happened to them. McCoy, Spock, and Scott pass the credit (or the blame?) around, until Kirk demands an answer. The engineer tells him he used the transporter and then looks off into the distance...

KIRK: Where did you transport them? Scott, you didn’t transport them into space, did you?
SCOTT: Captain Kirk, that’d be inhuman.
KIRK: Where are they?
SCOTT: I gave them a good home, sir.
KIRK: Where?!
SCOTT: I gave them to the Klingons, sir.
KIRK: You gave them to the Klingons?
SCOTT: Aye, sir. Before they went into warp, I transported the whole kit and caboodle into their engine room—

Wait for it...

SCOTT: —where they’ll be no tribble at all.

Analysis

This is a perfect episode, deserving of its status as a fan favorite. This is one of the episodes usually trotted out as an example of the show at its best, and probably what people most readily associate with the franchise in general. It has everything: snappy, funny dialogue; Starfleet bureaucracy; Klingons; spies; political intrigue and mystery; cute, furry animals; and a show-ending pun. It is not quite as smart or provocative as many of Star Trek’s best episodes, but what it lacks in social commentary or reflections on the human condition, it more than makes up for with top-notch humor.

As terrific as Gerrold’s script is (and it’s quite brilliant), the story may not have worked as well without the talents of the fine cast. William Shatner shines in particular, conveying Kirk’s growing frustration with comical subtlety. He is shown as impatient, straining against his diplomatic responsibilities, caught in a job he doesn’t want with the situation on his ship spinning out of control.

A lot of the humor in this episode is underplayed, such as checking his chair for a tribble at the end before sitting. I especially liked him borrowing lines from Cyrano Jones when he’s finally had enough of Baris: “I have a ship to tend to. Au revoir.” I didn’t catch that until writing up this review, and there were a lot of other lines, gestures, and moments that I missed when I re-watched it that add to the humor on repeat viewings. I’ve seen this episode, or segments of it, so many times, I found myself laughing in anticipation of the punchlines—then laughing again because they were still hilarious. I could barely keep it together during Scott’s conversation with Kirk about the bar fight.

Every time I watch this episode, I forget exactly what Enterprise is doing at K-7 in the first place. The A-plot of protecting the grain shipment takes a backseat to the tribbles; in fact, you could almost say this show has no A-plot, only two intricately linked B-plots. Everything in the script has a payoff.

A few small things I delighted in when I noticed them this time around: In Lurry’s office on K-7, you can see Enterprise through the window, parked beside the station. Koloth actually gives Kirk a quick bow when he’s dismissed at the end! And is this the first time we see one of those portable magnetic locks (which Kirk uses on the storage compartment)? The technology turns up a lot in TNG and DS9, but I don’t remember it much from the original series.

Nitpicks? Not really, but I was surprised at Uhura’s comment, “If you’re going to dissect it, I don’t want to know about it.” Good ethics, there. Kirk mentions a diverted freighter at the end, but I didn’t remember hearing anything about that earlier; was it on its way to Sherman’s Planet with grain from K-7? Just goes to show how little that plot ultimately matters. As for the disposal of the tribbles... Couldn’t they just beam them off K-7, instead of having Cyrano Jones pick them up by hand? Or are they too small to lock onto? I suppose he needed something to do. It also never sat right with me that they beamed them over to the Klingon ship—surely that’s tantamount to killing them! Like Uhura, perhaps as long as they aren’t the ones doing it, they can sleep at night.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: Long before I ever saw an episode of Star Trek I knew what a tribble was, what it sounded like, and why they were a menace but people loved them anyway. This episode and the creatures that define it are so much a part of our cultural memory that I couldn’t possibly overstate their significance to television history. “The Trouble with Tribbles” is iconic, and it entirely deserves to be. Like many fans, I love this episode without reservation.

As Eugene said, this really is a perfect episode. No matter how many times you see it every joke is still funny. Every look, every gesture, every tiny bit of body language is comic gold. David Gerrold’s script is brilliant not just because it’s got sharp dialogue and situations that lend themselves naturally to comedy, but because every character here is so very much him or herself. No one but Uhura could be so rapt by the tribbles cuteness and trilling, and no one but Chekov beside her could so immediately distrust the things but want to touch them anyway. Only Kirk could be so incensed by a bureaucratic asshat as Baris to ignore the real threat, and only Spock could dispassionately indict the tribbles while secretly enjoying their presence. And then there’s Mr. Scott, whose pride in his ship extends to his off-hours, whether it’s reading the latest technical manual or defending her in a bar brawl.

Like the best comedies, this episode brings out everyone’s humanity. I love the way that Kirk is constantly having to stick his foot his mouth over Baris, because of course everyone thinks that their job is the most important, whether it’s being the captain of the flagship, or the Federation Undersecretary responsible for agricultural affairs. Kirk finally can’t take it and begins openly insulting him, and the adult in me cheers him on in that wish fulfillment way. (Who hasn’t wanted to do that to some boss or superior who threw his weight around to you over something trivial?) The recurring shots of people around the Enterprise who can’t possibly resist petting and holding the things are so adorable, and it reminds you that no matter how competent and heroic these folks are, they’re still just people stuck in a tin can who probably miss cute furry little purring things.

And the performances! The entire sequence where Kirk meets Baris is just amazing. As Spock demonstrates his knowledge of the grain, the camera goes from one face to another and in those reaction shots you know exactly the kind of person each of these people are. Baris looks angry and self-righteous, refusing to be impressed; Mr. Lurry looks embarrassed and sheepish; and Darvin looks irritated and impatient to get out of there. They’ve barely spoken a word and you know exactly what to expect from them, based on that one telling look. This is television at its absolute best.

The tribbles themselves are a little inconsistent—sometimes people treat them as puppets and just toss them around, and sometimes people treat them tenderly, taking great care to pick them up and place them down, as living creatures. My favorite tribble-as-prop moment is certainly at the end, when Kirk uses the tribbles as a kind of weapon against Darvin. He waves them around threateningly and Darvin is terrified—of these big poofballs made out of shag carpeting and faux fur! Genius.

But really, nothing compares to the scene where we first meet the tribbles, as Uhura’s eyes widen and the whole room brightens with her excitement.

If I have any criticism it’s this: I think Cyrano Jones got screwed. What a horrible punishment! Eighteen years of veritable servitude! That still strikes me as ridiculously extreme. He clearly knew they bred, but he couldn’t possibly have known that they would take over the station. He seemed like a nice guy!

So, all: what was your reaction when you first saw this episode, and what’s your reaction now? Do you remember first seeing it? And pick your favorite scene/line!

Torie’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: Too hard to choose, but at this moment: SPOCK: “So would an ermine violin, but I see no advantage in having one.” (In discussing the usefulness of tribbles with Dr. McCoy.)

Syndication Edits: A reaction shot of Spock when they see K-7 is safe; Kirk complaining about guarding grain in the bar before Chekov and Uhura arrive; Jones offering the bartender Antarian glow water as well as his compliment to Uhura and haggling over four credits; the bartender asking when he can have his tribbles; Kirk leaving Sickbay, a transition to the transporter room, an establishing shot of K-7, and Scotty, Chekov, and Freeman walking into the bar; the bartender puts away his tribbles and rushes out for security; Captain’s Log, stardate 4536.6; Kirk asks Freeman who started the fight; a close-up of McCoy’s tribbles before he and Spock talk about them.

Trivia: A live-action sequel to this episode was planned for the third season but abandoned when Gene Roddenberry left the show; David Gerrold finally wrote it for the animated series six years later, for the episode, “More Tribbles, More Troubles.” The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” refers to this episode more directly than usual, when the DS9 crew travel back in time to stop a plot to kill Captain Kirk; filmed to celebrate the franchise’s 30th anniversary, and integrating DS9 actors with original footage, that episode became another fan favorite.

This episode was David Gerrold’s first professional sale. The original title was “A Fuzzy Thing Happened to Me...” David Gerrold named Sherman’s Planet for his friend Holly Sherman, and tribbles were modeled after her fuzzy keychain; the planet appears on a star chart in Star Trek Generations. Spock’s line, “He heard you, he simply could not believe his ears,” was taken from a Mad Magazine spoof of Star Trek called “Star Blecch.”

A tribble makes a cameo in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot film.

Unsurprisingly, tribbles were instantly merchandised by fans and toy companies alike, which continues to this day.

Other notes: In production order, this episode is listed as number 42, which seems appropriate.

Many of the guest stars in this episode have other ties to science fiction and Star Trek: the ubiquitous William Schallert (Baris), the Kevin Bacon of television, appeared in The Man from Planet X and The Incredible Shrinking Man, and appeared in numerous other shows, including DS9 (“Sanctuary”); Whit Bissell (Lurry) appeared in the original (and best) Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Time Machine, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and played General Kirk in The Time Tunnel; William Campbell (Koloth) also played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos,” but due to scheduling conflicts, he wouldn’t reprise his Klingon role until DS9; Stanley Adams (Jones) returned to Star Trek in animated form, lending his voice to the same role in “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” and he also co-wrote the Star Trek episode “The Mark of Gideon” in the third season. Some may remember Adams as Tybo, the giant carrot from the worst episode of Lost in Space, “The Great Vegetable Rebellion.”

Director Joseph Pevney had a background in vaudeville, which he used to great effect in this episode and later in his career on The Munsters.

Real-world note: Chekov refers to Leningrad in this episode, which was renamed to St. Petersburg in 1991. They probably changed it back in the aftermath of the Eugenics War.


Tomorrow on Tribbles Week: Re-Watching Star Trek: The Animated Series’ “More Tribbles, More Troubles.”

Next episode (next week): Season 2, Episode 16 - “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


Eugene Myers owns three tribbles.

Torie Atkinson owns more than three tribbles.

37 comments
Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
Not only is this a great episode, but it's really good for getting kids interested in Star Trek. It's one of the episodes that I remember watching first as a kid, and I can't wait to share this with my little nieces and nephew! :)
Church Tucker
2. Church
Yeah, this is the Ur-TOS episode. Warp 7!

David Gerold also did a couple TAS episodes (PLEASE tell me you're going to do TAS) and then walked away when his TNG script was turned down. ST:New Voyages finally filmed a variant of it.
Torie Atkinson
3. Torie
@ 1 TeresaJusino

It's true! It's a lot of fun, and it didn't surprise me that they made a sequel to it in The Animated Series.

@ 2 Church

I would've given it a Warp 7 but I didn't want to lose hull integrity!

We'll do TAS.
David Levinson
4. DemetriosX
What can I say that hasn't already been said? This is an absolutely brilliant episode. It is perhaps even more amazing when you realize that David Gerrold was 19 when he wrote it. He has been quoted as saying that he did it because no one told him he couldn't. That's good advice, really.

I think my favorite understated moment is during the brawl. Cyrano Jones has picked up a couple of drinks and is weaving delicately through the mayhem. Then, just as he is about to take a sip, the bartender appears out of nowhere and reclaims them. Beautifully done.

OK, I said a few weeks ago that I thought Harry Mudd would have been a good addition to this episode instead of Cyrano Jones (great name, BTW). I still do, but it would have altered the whole thing considerably. Harry would have been full of self-justifications and excuses, keeping himself the center of attention, while Jones just fades into the background.

No one mentioned that David Gerrold took some flak for the tribbles. He was accused of ripping off Heinlein's Martian flatcats. He's always said he just plain forgot about the flatcats, and there are enough differences between the two that I believe him. But it should be pointed out.

Finally, Eugene, in your comment on the bargain price of 6 credits compared to what Paramount is charging today, you forgot to take inflation into account. Six credits in 1968 is like 35 or 40 credits today, so you know it isn't all that bad really. (Confession: I bought a tribble at the 1978 LASFAS con. I wonder if I still have it anywhere.)
Michael Ikeda
5. mikeda
Torie@3

You could have given it Warp 8, but you'd couldn't maintain that rating for very long...

:-)
Irene Gallo
6. Irene
@1
True! Having two older brothers, I was exposed to a lot of sf/f that was ever so slightly above my understanding. Catching tribbles every now and then (at an age where I didn't even know what a re-run was) made the club accessible to me as a little kid.
Jaymee Goh
7. Jha
My favourite line in this is Chekov defending his vodka by saying to Scotty of the scotch, "that was invented by a little old lady in Leningrad."

I also kinda love how tribbles are sticking on the walls like they're adhesive, despite how they don't seem to have anything to hold themselves up with.

This is hilarious. Just today I was petting a hat made of chinchilla fur, and I bet tribbles feel just like chinchillas.
Larry Sica
8. lomifeh
Yup one of the best episodes out there. I always wanted a tribble as a kid because of this.
Torie Atkinson
9. Torie
Oh, some trivia we forgot!

The tribbles were originally made from faux fur and shag carpeting, and the noise they make is a blend of a dove and a pigeon cooing. The ones that move had those little moving dog toy parts inside.

@ 4 DemetriosX

I think Mudd is too much of a rapscallion to have been a good addition to this episode. Jones has such a deeply good nature that his presence is just joyful. Like you said, Mudd would make excuses and try and come out on top. All Jones wants is to flatter a pretty lady, get some free drinks, and get by in his little life. (And yes, that scene is marvelous!)

I heard somewhere that Gerrold, after writing it, had the similarity to Heinlein's story pointed out to him and that he sent a copy of the script to Heinlein for approval (even though it wasn't intentional). RH gave the approval. Anyone else hear that, or know the source of the story?

@ 5 mikeda

You know Eugene and I had a lot of trouble finding out what the max warp speed in the original series was. But yeah, Warp eleventy-million.

@ 7 Jha

Hahaha! I love the opening where Chekov keeps ascribing everything to his homeland and Spock decides to challenge him. Kirk finally goes, "Is the rest of your history that faulty, ensign?" He remains undeterred.

And you know, until you pointed it out, I hadn't even thought about ridiculous it is that they stick to the walls.

@ 8 lomifeh

You'll have your chance on Friday!
Jeff Weston
10. JWezy
"My dear Captain Koloth..."

This was always one of my favorite lines, the repetition and reflexive use lending more comic effect. All in all, a fun episode, and a point at which (as was noted) each character was able to be themselves to full effect.
Eugene Myers
11. ecmyers
@ 9 Torie

Oops! How could I forget to mention what little tribbles are made of?
Mike Conley
12. NomadUK
David Gerrold's book, The Trouble with Tribbles, is the story behind the story of this episode, detailing everything that went into the making of this one episode. It's really quite astonishing, and shows how exhausting it must be to make a weekly television show.

My favourite part is, without a doubt, Kirk getting buried by tribbles in the storage area. They had to shoot that scene something like seven times, if I recall correctly, because the tribbles kept getting stuck, or the door not opening on cue, or whatever. All those retakes, and all those hundreds of tribbles getting dropped on his head, contributed to the perfect weary expression Shatner displays in the final take.

It is a great episode, certainly one of the best. Is it my favourite? Well ... no. Why not?

There are so many perfect things about the episode: the bar fight is almost flawless in its choreography. Kirk's reactions to the tribbles are brilliant in every case. The interaction and dialogue between McCoy, Kirk, Spock, and Scotty is wonderful. So what's not to like?

It's ... well ... um ... okay, it's Cyrano Jones. I really can't stand the guy.

I'm sorry, I can't. He's too unctuous. Too cute by half. Too jovial. Too broad. He tries just too damned hard. I'm one of the few people, I guess, who thinks that Harry Mudd would have been a better choice here. Harry, yes, would have tried to connive his way out of things, but that's Harry for you, and it would have been fun to watch what he came up with. And, what's more, you know Harry wouldn't have been stuck on that station for any 17 years; Cyrano is such a putz that he might well be.

Even so, I could almost deal with him, except for one scene: at the end of the bar fight, he has his shot glass of stolen liquor and he's getting ready to drink it -- and he's getting ready -- and he's getting ready -- and, finally, the bartender sails by and grabs it. I keep yelling at him: Drink it already!

I know, it's not the actor's fault: it's the single bit of bad timing on the part of the director in this episode. It is the major one of only two significant flaws I can think of (the other is the far too obvious use of the decapitated mechanical dog toy inside the one tribble Kirk snags from the bridge railing). But Cyrano as a character annoys me sufficiently that I blame him.

But, other than that, yes, the episode is fantastic, an archetypal Star Trek episode, a brilliant example of television production, and it maintains its quality and its humour to this day. It comes so close to perfection, and misses by only the tiniest of margins.
David Levinson
13. DemetriosX
@9 Torie

Harry's a scoundrel, but I think deep down he isn't a bad fellow. Much more flamboyant than Cyrano and he certainly would have changed things. We'd have had a different episode, maybe even not quite as good, but still fun. At the very least, you wouldn't have felt that Harry got screwed being punished by having to get rid of all the tribbles.

Speaking of which, shouldn't most of the tribbles on the station be dead? I'd think most of them would have been in the grain storage and thus poisoned. Oh, and Spock's calculation as to the number of tribbles in the storage bin is mathematically accurate.
Hypatia James
14. hypatiajames
I always thought that the trouble with tribbles was the reason Data had a cat in TNG.
hapax
15. hapax
Heinlein not only gave Gerrold approval for his script, but acknowledged the deep debt both owed to Ellis Butler's "Pigs is Pigs."

The story is recounted by Gerrold in his 1973 book about the writing of this episode, which I own and have read numerous times (burnishes geek cred). It's filled with yummy Trekkish trivia, as well as interesting insights on the nature of television writing and productin in the sixties. Gerrold also wrote another fine book about the show in general, THE WORLD OF STAR TREK.
Eugene Myers
16. ecmyers
@ 12 NomadUK

I thought it was weird that Cyrano waited so long to drink that, but after he lost it, he pulled another one out of his pocket. The man gets some credit for planning ahead. Clearly the other drink was just a decoy.
Mike Conley
17. NomadUK
ecmyers@16: The pocketed drink was a nice touch, and I will admit I had never considered the possibility of the loss of the first one being deliberate.
hapax
18. hapax
Gerrold noted that the entire bar fight was explicitly an homage to THE GREAT RACE, especially the bar fight and the pie fight scenes.
j p
19. sps49
Weird. I logged in and was redirected to The Steampunk Cold War.

I remember liking this episode a lot; the next viewing was after missed layers were pointed out by Gerrold in the abovementioned book (Korax mimicking Scotty's accent, Koloth's hourglass outline hands while mentioning Klingon ship's lack of "amenities").

Jones did get a harsh sentence, but I am sure he would get help, if only to get the tribbles and himself offstation faster.

And who says Spock was inaccurate? Spock knows the calorie content of the grain, the volume available for tribbles, and all other variables. Shame on you!

Gerrold also share a few bits of wisdom from DC Fontana, one of which is that in comedy, you can stretch the rules (now codified as the the Rule of Funny) more than in a regular episode. So Kirk not reacting to the grain threat is maybe unusual, but nobody is twisted too far to support the plot.
Larry Sica
20. lomifeh
Torie@9: Oh? I cannot wait then!

I liked Jones and was kind of hoping to see him again like we did Mudd. I actually have never seen the animated series. This episode always reminded me of a lot of kids movies and shows where the bad guys get what they deserve but no one is really hurt and in the end our heroes come out happy. Very kid friendly episode.
Church Tucker
21. Church
@Torie "Like the best comedies, this episode brings out everyone’s humanity"

I think that's the best line Torie has written thus far. Shame on the Oscars (et al.) for not recognizing comedies.

@NomadUK "I'm one of the few people, I guess, who thinks that Harry Mudd would have been a better choice here. "

Meh. I always conflated Cyrano and Harry in my youth. I assumed that one or the other wasn't available that week.
Stephanie Nottelling
22. Drolefille
All I have to add besides saying that I love this episode is that my cat is named Tribble. When I found her she was little more than a tiny ball of fluff who immediately started getting in trouble and hasn't stopped a year and a half later.
hapax
23. ***Dave
I seem to recall (and it has to have been from Gerrold's book, but it's been too long since I read it) that the Jones character was, in fact, originally written to be Mudd, but that scheduling conflicts for Roger C. Carmel made that impossible.

I'm torn because on the one hand, I love Mudd's character. On the other hand, his presence would have complicated the conflict even more (Kirk vs Baris, Kirk vs Koloth, Kirk vs Mudd?).

Speaking of Koloth, I also recall reading at one point that he was meant to become a recurring Klingon foil for Kirk, but that, again, scheduling conflicts kept that from happening. Probably just as well, as it would have made the Klingons less "scary" and more comic-opera.
john mullen
24. johntheirishmongol
About 25 years ago I ran into David Gerrold at a bookstore in Santa Monica. Had a really nice conversation with him, mostly about the books we both liked (and not his particularly, mostly because I wasnt that big a fan at that point). Besides we both were hugh RAH fans, and talked about Heinlein for at least an hr.

Anyway, there are way too many similarities to flat cats for it not to be deliberate and there is absolutely no was DG would let it slip his mind. However, since Heinlein didn't mind, why should I?

In the future Trek's, tribbles are an extinct species until they are brought back in one of the episodes. Now you know how mean Klingons really are...lol
hapax
25. Dholton
The concept that I ran across mention of, and would have loved to see in one of the later series, is that of the "Borg Tribble". I can just see a lump of fur with a laser ocular staring malevolently at the world. And it raises the question: In a battle of assimilation who would win? Could the Borg assimilate them fast enough, or be buried in mound of fur a la Kirk?
Madeline Ferwerda
26. MadelineF
Two hilarious elaborations on this episode: the LOLcat version, "We Has Tribbles and Also Troubles", and a link to the full Project Gutenberg text of the aforementioned 1905 Ellis Parker Butler short story "Pigs is Pigs". Both are touchstones of awesome that I return to again and again.
Marcus W
27. toryx
I've been too busy to comment previously but I love the episode, loved the rewatch write-up and I especially love the notion of a week of Tribbles. Huzzah!
David Dyer-Bennet
28. dd-b
Heinlein took the idea for the flat cats from the experience with rabbits in Australia (high-reproductive-rate creatures introduced into an environment with no predators adapted for them go out of control). The tribble details do seem to track flat cats rather closely; but the only person with standing to object (Heinlein) declined to do so, and "ideas" for bits of stories like that aren't protected by any intellectual property law anyway.
hapax
29. DRickard
Dholton @25: Amusing, but one little problem: tribbles only reproduce when they eat; and--unless tribbles are secretly omni-/carni- vorous--there's nothing on a Borg cube for them to eat :(
Torie Atkinson
30. Torie
@ 10 JWezy

I love it when Jones calls him "friend Kirk." Friend indeed! A nice touch that returns in the animated series episode.

@ 12 NomadUK

You're broken! I love Cyrano Jones. He's a stock comic figure but I like how earnest and silly he is. He's clearly not in the market for trouble, and seems just as surprised as everyone else at what happens. But the bar scene is fantastic. And the hidden drink in his pocket is a nice touch.

@ 13 DemetriosX

I hadn't thought of that... I guess they should be dead!

@ 14 hypatiajames

I love Spot!

@ 15 hypax

Thank you! I knew I was remembering that from somewhere. Good on RAH.

@ 19 sps49

I entirely missed the "amenities" joke. Guess I'll just have to re-rewatch it!
Torie Atkinson
31. Torie
@ 21 Church

Really? I thought my Beach Blanket Tongo line was better. (Thank you!)

@ 22 Drolefille

ADORABLE. So cute! Just watch those kittens...

@ 23 ***Dave

Others seem to have that recollection, too, and it makes sense to me. I think you're right that Mudd would've created too much conflict competing for attention.

I wish Koloth had come back. Oh well, he's in the Animated Series!

@ 24 johntheirishmongol

That's good to hear! I can't imagine the person who wrote this being a jerk, but I'm naive like that.

@ 25 Dholton and @ 29 DRickard

But can they assimilate non-intelligent life? I've only ever seen the Borg assimilate intelligent humanoids... though now I want a Borg tribble.

@ 26 MadelineF

I love the LOLCat version! I saw it a few weeks ago and it cracks me up. My favorite: INVISIBLE KLINGON

@ 27 toryx

Welcome back! :)
Torie Atkinson
32. Torie
@ 26 MadelineF

And I just realized that lol version even includes a Settlers of Catan joke. Win!
hapax
33. Dholton
@29 DRickard

Oh you poor sad fool! Don't let petty truths get in the way of a beautiful idea!

@31 Torie

Besides, the Borg are adaptable.
hapax
34. SteveC
No opinion on whether there was a deliberate lifting of concept or if Gerrold did anything wrong even if so - although this is surely not the only instance where a Heinleinesque concept has surfaced in his work - see "The Man Who Folded Himself".

But for whatever reason, Tribbles are clearly conceptually derivative Flat Cats.

-Steve
hapax
35. SteveC
No opinion on whether there was a deliberate lifting of concept or if Gerrold did anything wrong even if so - although this is surely not the only instance where a Heinleinesque concept has surfaced in his work - see "The Man Who Folded Himself".

But for whatever reason, Tribbles are clearly conceptually derivative Flat Cats.

-Steve
hapax
36. ccradio
Another neat piece of business takes place in the bar: when Scotty says "Now drink your drink", he slides a glass of Scotch over to Chekov, who downs it without looking, then pulls a "WTF?" reaction face.

Also, according to Gerrold's book, the Enterprise that could be seen through the window was one of the plastic models that was available at the time.
Church Tucker
37. Church
"Also, according to Gerrold's book, the Enterprise that could be seen through the window was one of the plastic models that was available at the time."

Yeah, it was the AMT model. That should be a telling bit for these kids today. Their budget was so low that they bought a kit from a store to dangle outside a 'window' in the set.

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