05 June 2020

More than a grain of greatness (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.15, "The Trouble with Tribbles")

This is an episode that's rather hard to review. Firstly, it is considered an absolute fan favourite with a main alien that has turned up throughout the history of the franchise in some form or another - 14 times in fact, with the last appearance being in 2019 in a Short Trek that I don't think I've watched yet because it's not on Netflix in the UK...
Secondly, I've already seen it once.

Anyway, a Priority One message warning of disaster leads to the Enterprise racing to its next destination, a space station called K-7. There is in fact no disaster, which leads to a very annoyed Kirk... but there is a Klingon ship. There is also a trader selling small furry little creatures.


For a first professional script, this is a superb effort by David Gerrold (who would write two animated series episodes and was involved with the first season of The Next Generation before quitting after a dispute with Gene Roddenberry over a story idea that was dropped) with Gene Coon providing rewrites. There's a lot of humour, a great plot and an excellent 'threat'.

The regulars are all great, except for Sulu, who isn't in it (George Takei was away for much of the season filming the pro-Vietnam War film The Green Berets). Not just the top three, but Scotty, Uhura and Chekov all are very well catered for in this story; their character traits are wonderfully brought out here. Spock's "I don't feel emotion... until I do" trait gets an excellent appearance here.

No less than 500 tribbles were made for this episode; many went walkies after the episode, others would turn up around the set for months after the fact. They're fairly adorable, although I prefer my cute things to have eyes. The sheer number allows for some wonderful scenes, including Kirk half buried under the things when opening a storage hatch. This in fact took eight takes to get right, with Shatner visibly wondering when this will stop. Well, there are worse indignities an actor can suffer. At least the props were dry.

The bar fight in this episode, when a drunken Klingon insults Scotty's true love - his ship - leads to some truly epic Kirk-fu (without Kirk) that just works here whereas it doesn't where the stakes are truly mortal. Many points to James Doohan for doing most of his own stunts.

The Klingons themselves of course lack the refinement, not to mention the makeup, of their 'later' versions. They're portrayed rather like Cold War Soviets here, engaging in a spot of sabotage for gaining influence. There's a rather interesting bit that foreshadows a certain Star Trek: Discovery character...

One minor flaw - and it's enough to stop this getting a 10 - is that the tranquilising effect that Tribbles supposedly have on people isn't very consistent.



An absolute classic. Small and nearly perfectly formed, much like a Tribble, only it won't eat your grain. The Hugo nomination for this episode was justly deserved although another episode would win it.

Those tribbles was robbed, I tell you. Robbed.


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