Apr 13 2010 3:30pm

Tribbles Week: Re-watching Star Trek: The Animated Series “More Tribbles, More Troubles”

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). The first installment was yesterday, with the original “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

“More Tribbles, More Troubles”
Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 5
Production episode: 22001
Original air date: October 6, 1972
Star date: 5392.4

Mission summary

Enterprise is escorting two robot ships loaded with quintotriticale to Sherman’s Planet when they happen across a Klingon battle cruiser attacking a one-man scout ship, in Federation space. While Kirk orders the Klingons to stand down, Scotty attempts to beam the pilot aboard before his ship is destroyed; fortunately the Klingons are terrible shots, which buys him some time. The scout ship is finally destroyed, but the explosion makes it difficult to integrate the transporter signal.

The Klingons turn their attention to bigger prey: Enterprise. The battle cruiser fires a strange ray at them, the new Klingon weapon they’ve heard so little about. This “projected stasis field” disables Enterprise’s weapons and propulsion systems, leaving them dead in space. “Well, we could always throw rocks,” Uhura quips. Transporters are surprisingly unaffected, and Scotty manages to reestablish the pilot’s signal in the beam.

The Klingons finally respond to Enterprise’s hail and Captain Koloth appears on the viewscreen. They won’t release Kirk’s ship unless he hands over the pilot of the scout ship, whom they accuse of “ecological sabotage.” Though Enterprise is crippled, the robot grain ships aren’t; he orders Sulu to set them on a collision course for Koloth’s ship. The Klingon battle cruiser turns its stasis field on them as well, but it drains too much power and the weapon fails. They fire at a grain ship then beat a hasty retreat.

They’ve kept us waiting long enough—Scotty finally integrates the pilot the Klingons were so interested in. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy arrive at the transporter room just as a familiar figure materializes on the pad. “I think we know that man,” Kirk says. It’s the intergalactic trader, Cyrano Jones. “And he’s got tribbles with him,” Scotty exclaims in horror. “Tribbles!”

Jones insists that these tribbles are “safe”: genetically engineered so they won’t reproduce. Also, they’re pink. Kirk asks how he escaped Deep Space Station K7, where he was sentenced to clean up the last tribble infestation, and Jones introduces a glommer. The nasty-looking tribble predator that quickly dispatches one of the furballs off-screen. “Well at least it’s neat,” McCoy says. Jones doesn’t know why the Klingons were after him, but it might have something to do with him selling tribbles on one of their planets. As you know, Bob, Klingons don’t like tribbles.

Dr. McCoy studies the new tribbles in his lab and confirms that they don’t reproduce after eating: “They just get fat.” Kirk’s more worried about the new Klingon weapon, which Spock explains requires so much power it will handicap the battle cruiser as much as their own. Enterprise is already hampered by the load of grain they’ve taken on from the damaged robot ship, and they still need to protect the remaining robot ship. Sherman’s Planet desperately needs their Wheaties.

The Klingon battle cruiser returns and Enterprise prepares for another blast of their stasis weapon. Kirk sends the robot grain ship off as a diversion, since using their weapon on more than one ship is too big a strain. The battle cruiser disables the grain ship before firing on Enterprise. Shields hold, but the quintotriticale storage containers don’t; the tribbles get into the grain and start putting on weight. The Klingons leave without using their stasis field and Spock theorizes they merely wanted to burden Enterprise further. Now they have one grain shipment on board and are towing the other in their tractor beam, limiting their ability to defend themselves. “We could always throw tribbles at them,” Spock says.

Kirk keeps pushing one very fat tribble out of his chair, and Scott tells him the others are eating all the grain. He summons Cyrano Jones to the Bridge.

KIRK: Your tribbles are all over my ship. My security men can’t find them all.
JONES: You need better security men, Captain.

Well, he’s got him there. The Klingons return before he can question Jones further. He also cuts off McCoy, who has something important to say about the tribbles. They cut the robot grain ship free and raise shields. The stasis field grabs them again and Koloth demands Jones again. He orders Korax to “implement Boarding Plan C,” while Kirk orders “Emergency Defense Plan B”: something Spock suggested. Scotty beams a load of giant pink tribbles over to the Klingon battle cruiser.

Koloth hails them with a pained, “Kirk? Tribbles?” Pushed to his limits, the Klingon captain finally explains what they want. The glommer is a genetically-engineered predator the Klingons created to kill tribbles. For some reason it’s the only one, and they’re prepared to start a war to get it back.

Kirk’s all too happy to beam the glommer over, and Enterprise is released. The glommer, however, is no match for the giant tribble. The Klingons resort to firing on the mass of fur and it breaks into lots of smaller tribbles which bury Koloth in an avalanche. McCoy explains it to Kirk:

Jones’ genetic engineering was very slipshod, Jim. He may have kept the tribbles from reproducing, but he didn’t slow down their metabolism. You see, they’re not just giant tribbles, they’re colonies.

The doctor sets things right with a shot of neoethylene, which breaks the fat tribbles down into smaller, safe tribbles with a slower metabolism. But it isn’t over until the fat tribble purrs... or collapses into smaller tribbles on top of Kirk.

KIRK: Someday I’ll learn.
SCOTT: Aye, Captain. But you’ve got to admit, if we’ve got to have tribbles, it’s best if all our tribbles are little ones.

Analysis: First off, if you’re going to enjoy this series at all you just have to make allowances for the animated format, trading cheesy sets and special effects for cheesy designs and rudimentary animation. Filmation was notorious for cutting costs; if you ever watched Super Friends or He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, you know what to expect. I’m a big fan of animation, but I find very cheap cartoons difficult to watch. (Witness Scotty in the transporter room—they switch to the close-ups of the mustachioed Lieutenant Kyle!) However, I got used to it once I was caught up in the story and stopped noticing how groaningly bad it looks. It helps that everyone from the live-action series (except Chekov) reprises their roles, letting my imagination take over some of the work. Combining their recognizable voices with often solid science fiction scripts makes this feel very much like Star Trek, no matter the presentation.

On a story level, “More Tribbles, More Troubles” is entertaining with some clever dialogue, but ultimately it treads too much familiar ground. It feels a bit like fan fiction, hitting all the popular notes from “The Trouble with Tribbles,” such as Kirk being buried in tribbles, and they basically use the same pun. A lot of dialogue and jokes are recycled to briefly recap what happened earlier. Yet it’s more than just a rehash, because it’s also engaging with and subverting what came before. For instance, in the previous episode McCoy asked, “What do you get when you feed a tribble too much?” Kirk originally joked, “A fat tribble,” but this time, that’s the right answer! Though Kirk gets the same tribble treatment as before, Koloth is also the victim of a tribble avalanche, with humorous results.

Some of the gags are definitely more kiddie-oriented, and the plot development doesn’t always make sense, but it’s good enough for Saturday morning fare, and probably better than most in a schedule that included the likes of Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Brady Kids, and My Favorite Martians. Though the animated Trek only runs for thirty minutes, at times it felt like I was watching a full-length live-action episode, in good and bad ways. In episode commentary on the DVD, Gerrold mentions that the script was forty pages, nearly as long as the fifty-six or fifty-seven minute Star Trek scripts. They aren’t skimping on story, here. But the pace is also slowed by long shots of ships floating in space, and some extended sequences where the camera follows a photon torpedo for a while before hitting the Klingon ship.

My favorite moment in this was getting to see the interior and exterior of the Klingon battle cruiser, which doesn’t happen often in the original series. For the first time, I noticed that the Klingon symbol that is so prominent on TNG and DS9 dates all the way back to the 1960s, though it’s much more visible on the animated series.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4

Torie Atkinson: Eugene warned me about the production quality of The Animated Series, but I was still totally, woefully unprepared. The bad animation I can deal with—it reminded me of Space Ghost, which I’ve always kind of liked—but the sound equalization was nonexistent, and a lot of the performances were just... odd. There’s a reason people hire professional voice actors! Every line had these uncomfortable, unnatural pauses. It felt like the actors were confused about what to do.

Anyway, forgiven the terrible package that this little gift arrived in, it’s still plenty of fun as an episode. All of the kid-friendly elements of “The Trouble With Tribbles” are there, though the humor felt further dumbed down in that way I find obnoxious because, look, kids aren’t stupid. (At one point Sulu says “The phasers don’t work!” Is “offline” too difficult a vocabulary word? Really?) In any case, the plot was kind of silly and nonsensical, but delightful all the same. I actually felt relieved that the tribbles had been, in effect, sterilized, because now I can get a pass to like and want them! And it’s nice to see that Cyrano Jones recovered so well from his sentence.

As you could expect of any sequel, it has many really clever throwbacks to the original episode: I like that Cyrano keeps addressing the captain as “friend Kirk” and the reference to Spican flame gems was pretty cute, too. Even Koloth’s final fist-shaking at Kirk has a nice (if again, kid-sanitized) version of the line uttered in the bar, and Koloth complains about him being a tin-plated excuse for a starship captain.

I also just generally liked the idea of controlling the tribbles with a genetically designed predator: it’s brilliant as a solution, and one I didn’t expect (moral issues about having the equivalent of feeder mice aside). One nit: doesn’t Kirk mention in the original episode that the tribble homeworld has natural predators that keep them in check? Why not just swing by there?

All in all, a silly, fun episode, but not the worthy sequel I had hoped for, and despite the short run time it really dragged for me. Where “Trouble with Tribbles” made me laugh out loud, this only made me chuckle occasionally.

(If it had been a TOS episode I probably would’ve given it a 3, but I’ll make some allowances for the crappy format and go with a 4.)

Torie’s Rating: Warp Factor 4

Best Line: SCOTTY: Aye, sir, but we’ve got tribbles on the ship, quintotriticale in the corridors, Klingons in the quadrant. It can ruin your whole day, sir.

Trivia: A sequel to “The Trouble with Tribbles” was originally planned for the third season of the original series, but was never produced because Fred Freiberger didn’t like comedy; this, from the man who brought us “Spock’s Brain.” In the original story, Gerrold wanted the tribble predators to breed quickly, and eventually crew members would start disappearing, but this would have a little hardcore for the kids.

James Doohan provided the voice of Koloth, as he does for many roles in the animated series, and Gerrold voices Korax.

According to Gerrold, the tribbles are pink instead of brown because the guy who did colors for Filmation was color blind.

Other notes: A fan who pitched an idea to Gerrold for a sequel to “The Trouble with Tribbles” wanted to share the credit for this episode, even though Gerrold had tried to tell him the episode was already written and in production, and had been planned for the original series.

Tomorrow on Tribbles Week: Re-Watching Deep Space 9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations.”

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

Eugene Myers now kind of wants a pink tribble the size of the one in Captain Kirk’s chair, stuffed with tinier tribbles.

Torie Atkinson thinks Eugene needs to stop stealing her intended signature line, dammit.

Marcus W
1. toryx
I've never seen any of the animated Trek and frankly after this review I'm kind of glad that I haven't. This really doesn't appeal to me at all.
Jeff Weston
2. JWezy
...the guy who did colors for Filmation was color blind


That may be one of the single most amazing things I have read this year. And I follow politics!
Marc Houle
3. MightyMarc
Tribbles Week is my new favourite holiday. If only I could get the week off to celebrate.
Mike Conley
4. NomadUK
I remember watching animated Star Trek on Saturday mornings. I remember when it was first announced, and I was quite excited about it. But I also remember watching each episode with a feeling of great disappointment, because the animation was just so fucking awful. The cels you show above give only the barest hint of the true crapitude of Filmation's animation.

I did, however, collect the entire series of Alan Dean Foster's adaptations of the animated series, which were generally much better than the episodes themselves, and often quite different (much as James Blish's adaptations of the original series were).

Anyway, an interesting trip down memory lane, but I think I'll return those memories to the deep, dark cellar where they belong....
j p
5. sps49
In the 70s, the animated series was better than to Star Trek at all. But not by much.

This also demonstrates why The Bugs Bunny/ Road Runner hour and Jonny Quest were shown in reruns for so long; contemporary Saturday morning cartoons were not good. And TAS was among the best! No, really!

Everyone who grew up with better stuff will have a better baseline to compare this episode against (lucky you). It was sooo nice when toons began being less stupid in the 80s with TMNT, Thndercats, and such, leading to the very good cartoons we have on Disney, Nick, CN, CC, and primetime.

Alan Dean Foster wrote these adaptations? I must've never seen them. His only work I read was "Splinter of the Mind's Eye"; which is another better-than-nothing to me, but they still sound intriguing.
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
This is one of the few episodes of TAS that I remember. The one thing that really stuck with me was the glommer, which looks a lot like what viruses were thought to look like at the time. I had slightly misremembered the final pun, as I thought Scotty had beamed all the tribbles over to the Klingons again and wished that all their "tribbles be little ones".

I think the worst thing about the Filmation animation was their fondness for freeze-framing the actors and moving the background with a dramatic musical sting. Cheap animation doesn't have to be terribly (see Rocky & Bullwinkle), but this stuff really sucked. Worse, it was competing against a lot of stuff that was still traditionally animated, Warner Bros. and whatnot.
David Levinson
7. DemetriosX
Oh, and you guys are off by a year on the original air date. The show premiered in 1973, not 1972. And in Los Angeles, we didn't get to see like the first 9 episodes until much later, because George Takei was running for city council and his competitors thought it was unfair for this or any TOS rereuns to air during the campaign.
Eugene Myers
8. ecmyers
@ 4 NomadUK

I didn't actually see TAS until college, when I got my hands on VHS copies of someone's laserdiscs. It was great to see new Star Trek stories, but the animation's laughable, and I never did finish the series.

I have a huge problem with a lot of Filmation's work. I was very disturbed when I saw Superman turn his head in an episode of Super Friends and his spit curl reversed; in order to save money, they simply flipped the cels. That's fine for a symmetrical character like Batman, but Superman and Aquaman looked possessed.

Often when watching TAS I'm tempted to close my eyes and pretend it's a radio drama, but the animation kind of grows on you.
Torie Atkinson
9. Torie
@ 1 toryx

As sps49 points out: it's better than no Trek at all. The show included all the original voice actors minus Chekov, and a lot of the same writing staff, so the episodes on paper were apparently pretty solid.

@ 2 JWezy

...yeah I know. Did we mention they were awful?

@ 3 MightyMarc

If only! But glad you're enjoying it. :)

@ 4 NomadUK

Yeah, I was not prepared. It makes The Smurfs look like a Miyazaki masterpiece. And it's not just the animation--the sound equalization (different actors are VERY LOUD while others are really quiet), the vocal performances (you don't really notice the classic Shatner pause until now...), and ridiculous dumbed-down quality of both the dialogue and plots are like a perfect storm of awful.

@ 5 sps49

Yeah, I don't think I ever fully appreciated The Rescue Rangers until now.
Torie Atkinson
10. Torie
@ 6 DemetriosX

The freeze-framing was not only awful, but disorienting. Couple the moving backgrounds with bright colors and I felt like I was watching someone's acid trip.

...maybe I was. I mean, it was Filmation.
11. firkin
for those interested in (re-)watching tomorrow's Deep Dpace 9 tribbles episode, it seems to be up on youtube: part 1, links to parts 2 and 3 are in the related video sidebar.

this animated episode is up too, which i guess should surprise nobody. the animation IS really bad. wow.
Wesley Osam
12. Wesley
I rented a DVD of the animated episodes once, out of curiosity. I think my favorite trick was when the animators had characters hold their hands over their mouths while talking, so they wouldn't have to animate their lips moving.

I never rented any of the others. I didn't want to spoil my childhood memories of the Alan Dean Foster novelizations.
David Levinson
13. DemetriosX
@10 Torie

No, for an acid trip from that era, you have to go to any Sid & Marty Kroft live-action production. Now those are freaky.

After I posted last night and shut down, I started thinking about other cartoons from that era that were better animated. The first things I thought of were the original Fat Albert and Schoolhouse Rock, but that's not really fair, because those were better all around. Then it hit me: The Harlem Globetrotters, The Jackson Five, and The Osmond Brothers all had better animation. And that's just really scary.

If you guys do a TAS rewatch once you're done with TOS, I hope we can manage to talk about anything besides the animation.
Marcus W
14. toryx
I think I might have to search for the Alan Dean Foster novelizations. Those sound like they'd be more up my alley.

I have to admit that I'm really not a fan of animation in general. I don't even particularly enjoy Pixar films all that much. There's just something faulty in my genetic code that prevents me from enjoying them.

But despite all that, what bothers me about this episode of TAS is that it's such a rehash of the original episode. It reminds me of TNG's "The Naked Now" which was such an awful episode (imho) because it was essentially a poor rehash of the original classic. If they'd encountered Jones and Koloth and the tribbles in a way that didn't involve either grain or Sherman's Planet it probably wouldn't bother me near as much.
Torie Atkinson
15. Torie
@ 11 firkin

We warned you!

@ 12 Wesley

They're professionals!

@ 13 DemetriosX

...I kind of love the Krofft shows. *hides* But yeah, even given its contemporaries, TAS sucked.

@ 14 toryx

At least you know you're broken! "The Naked Now" is indeed a truly awful episode, so you're not wrong there. I didn't mind the throwbacks here so much--it was cute, and I thought the genetically engineered predator, the super-huge pink tribbles, and the light humor were all enough to let me enjoy it.
David Levinson
16. DemetriosX
@12 Wesley

I can sort of forgive them for covering characters mouths. At least they didn't go the Clutch Cargo route and superimpose the voice actors' mouths into the animation. That was before my time, but I know people who are still traumatized by it.

@13 Torie

It's OK if you like the Kroffts. Heck, I watched Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and HR Pufnstuf. As for the others, I think it's the incongruity with expectations. If I said here are two cartoons, one based on Star Trek and one based on the Osmond Brothers and one have them has terrible animation, which one would you assume was bad? And apparently Fat Albert was Filmation, too, but I guess Cos had higher standards or something and made them actually, you know, animate.
Eugene Myers
17. ecmyers
@ 13 DemetriosX
If you guys do a TAS rewatch once you're done with TOS, I hope we can manage to talk about anything besides the animation.

I'm sure we can find other things to mock...and appreciate in the series.

Also thought I should point out that there appears to be an animated series titled Starship Farragut: http://www.farragut-animated.com/ It's similar to the the ongoing fan-made live-action Phase II series. I haven't checked any episodes yet, but it sure seems faithful to the high production quality of TAS.

There's also info online about an aborted animated web series called Final Frontier, with more modern character designs and animation: http://zeroroom.squarespace.com/
Mike Conley
18. NomadUK
DemetriosX@16: I got my parents to take me to the H R Pufnstuf movie. Halfway through, I began to suspect that perhaps I had made a mistake.

And, yes, I seem to recall that Fat Albert was a bit better animated than Star Trek, but, having spent so many hours watching Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies and whatnot, I developed an appreciation for real animation early in childhood, and I knew all the rest was crap.
19. a-j
I remember enjoying this episode when first shown in UK (I would be about 10) but it was the only episode I really did like (though the one about Spock going back to his childhood had its moments). I remember being disappointed terribly by the quality of the animation as I'd been looking forward to imagination free of budget. Hey ho. Watching it again on Youtube just now, it is incredibly slow moving in the beginning, the humour seems forced to me now but I remember loving Kirk deciding to stand joke, even though it has the most appalling obvious set-up, and the glommer running away.
btw, am I the only person who finds the theme music just weird?
Eugene Myers
20. ecmyers
@ 19 a-j

You aren't the only one. And I missed the Alexander Courage fanfare...
21. Kansan52
I'm much easier on them because was so starved then for any ST.

Still, warts and all, the episode that had Uhura as Captain is my favorite of all ST episodes and movies.
Eugene Myers
23. ecmyers
@22 NicoleV

They're also available on CBS.com for free, after disappearing briefly (along with most of the original series episodes, which didn't come back.) Great timing for our upcoming TAS re-watch at The Viewscreen, though!
25. Wiseguy
This was originally supposed to have been a third-season episode but the new producer, Fred Freiberger, didn't think Star Trek should do comedy, so the script was shelved.

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