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Star Trek: The Trouble with Tribbles

Kirk: "You should sell an instruction manual with this."
Jones: "If I did, what would happen to man's search for knowledge?"

Other episodes are probably considered to be the "best" of classic Trek, but "The Trouble with Tribbles" is probably the most beloved. It is by far the funniest, with an exceptionally witty script and clever plot. And it even manages to give us valid science fiction in the form of an encapsulated ecological disaster, the consequences of interfering with the balance of nature, rabbits in Australia, and so on.

This is our third visit with the Klingons, and this time they were played for laughs. William Campbell, who played Trelayne in "The Squire of Gothos," returned as Koloth, a nasty Klingon with no sense of humor. I always enjoyed his sidekick Korax so much better, though, simply because of the masterful way he delivered all those insults in the K7 lounge scene that turned into an interspecies barroom brawl. Kirk dressing down the brawlers and Scott's confession about why he threw the first punch are classic. And Kirk nearly sitting on a tribble is still funny, no matter how many times I've seen it.

The tribbles themselves didn't fare too well, did they? An entire cargo-hold of the little fuzzies were poisoned, and I imagine the ones that wound up in the Klingon vessel didn't survive for long. But it's hard to feel too sorry for a brainless ball of fluff, especially under the circumstances. Don't tell my cats I said so, though.

Writer David Gerrold did an excellent job, and I give him a lot of credit. But the tribbles themselves and what happened with them were a direct rip-off of the Martian flat cats in Robert A. Heinlein's young adult novel, The Rolling Stones. Heinlein did not get credit and also did not sue, saying graciously that he had taken the idea from someone else's short story. Which he probably did, even though Heinlein indeed came up with an impressive number of fascinating science fiction firsts.

All of this said, you can't patent an idea. And there's no question that Star Trek made the story its own in a great big way.

Ben says...

If you have to go back and watch just one episode, this would probably be the one. I began thinking about the tribbles themselves and how they might survive and it occurred to me that they are actually really useful little critters. So in the spirit of Phlox feeding tribbles to his lab animals, here are the top three unplanned uses for tribbles:

3. Kirk’s toupee. Okay, this is just a cheap shot but honestly, it was the first thing that came to mind when I looked at the little furballs.

2. Calming Pon Farr in Vulcans. I refuse to even try to explain, see the illustration below.

1. Pillow Pets. It's a tribble, it's a pet, it's a tribble pet! If you don't get this reference then you clearly have no children under ten years of age. All it requires is some Velcro and a needle and thread.

Y'know, it kinda does.

Back to Billie for tribbles and bits:

— Stardate 4523.3. Deep space station K7. Dispute over Sherman's Planet.

— Organian Peace Treaty. I like the continuity.

— Scott relaxes by reading technical journals. Maybe with some Scotch on the side. And they were technical journals on computer, so good call there.

— Apparently, crew members on starships are permitted to keep alien pets. Of course, any sort of application process or quarantine would have played havoc with the plot. But you can sort of see why such safeguards are a good idea. Maybe Archer's beagle set some sort of bad precedent.

— When Star Trek's 30th anniversary rolled around, the good people at Deep Space Nine observed the occasion with a very special homage to "The Trouble with Tribbles" called "Trials and Tribble-ations." In it, several members of the DS9 cast were CGI'd into the original episode, and Charlie Brill reprised his role as disguised Klingon agent Arne Darvin. It's pretty wonderful.

Quotes: (Yes, I tried to edit this down. And I gave up.)

Kirk: "How close will we come to the Klingon outpost if we continue on course?"
Chekov: "One parsec, sir. Close enough to smell them."
Spock: "Odors cannot travel through the vacuum of space."
Chekov: "I was making a little joke, sir."
Spock: "Extremely little, Ensign."

Spock: "A most curious creature, Captain. Its trilling seems to have a tranquilizing effect on the human nervous system. (Slowly stroking the tribble) Fortunately, of course, I am... immune... to its effect."

McCoy: "Do you mind if I take one to see what makes it tick?"
Uhura: "All right, but if you're going to dissect it, I don't want to know."
McCoy: "I won't harm a hair on its head. Wherever that is."

Baris: "Kirk, this station is swarming with Klingons."
Kirk: "I wasn't aware, Mr. Baris, that twelve Klingons constitutes a swarm."

McCoy: "Do you know what you get when you feed a tribble too much?"
Kirk: "A fat tribble?"
McCoy: "No, you get a bunch of hungry little tribbles."

Scott: "When are you going to get off that milk diet?"
Chekov: "This is vodka."
Scott: "Where I come from, that's soda pop. This is a drink for a man."
Chekov: "Scotch?"
Scott: "Aye."
Chekov: "It was invented by a little old lady from Leningrad."

Korax: "There is one Earth man who doesn't remind me of a Regulan blood worm. That's Kirk. A Regulan blood worm is soft and shapeless, but Kirk isn't soft. Kirk may be a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood, but he's not soft."
Scott: (to Chekov) "Take it easy, lad. Everybody's entitled to an opinion."
Korax: "That's right, and if I think that Kirk is a Denebian slime devil, well, that's my opinion, too."

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."

McCoy: "I don't know much about these things, but I do know one thing. I like them better than I like you."
Spock: "Doctor, they do indeed have one redeeming quality."
McCoy: "What's that?"
Spock: "They do not talk too much."

McCoy: "The nearest thing I can figure out is they're born pregnant, which seems to be quite a time saver."
Kirk: "I know. But really."
McCoy: "And from my observations, it seems they're bisexual, reproducing at will. And, brother, have they got a lot of will."

Baris: "There must be thousands of them."
Kirk: "Tens of thousands."
Spock: "One million seven hundred seventy one thousand five hundred and sixty one. That's assuming one tribble, multiplying with an average litter of ten producing a new litter every twelve hours over a period of three days."

Scott: "Before they went into warp, I transported the whole kit and caboodle into their engine room, where they'll be no tribble at all."

Four out of four... do I really have to say four out of four whats?

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Great episode.

    But I've never thought Spock got his math right on this one.

    More like one million rather than 1.7mm.

  2. This is my second Fav after "City on the Edge of Forever", but this definitely has the win for creativity and fun.

    A little tidbit since you mentioned the DS9 episode. One of my favorite geek moments from that one, is when Dax recited the exact same line as Spock about how many Tribbles were in the storage bins.

    Thanks for lovely review of such an iconic episode.

  3. I love this episode - such a classic and so memorable.

    The only that seems weird in DS9's brilliant tribute is the bit at the end, where Kirk's side of Kirk and Sisko conversation is taken from footgage of him flirting with the girl from Mirror, Mirror! I'm sure there's loads of Kirk/Sisko fic out there but I personally didn't need that mental image!

  4. In response to the first post, Spock's math is correct, if a tribble's life span is greater than 3 days. 1 tribble with a litter of 10 = 11 tribbles. 11 to the 6th power = 1771561

  5. If all the STOS episodes were this quotable, this steeped in SciFi (as opposed to being a Space Soap Opera), and this much fun, it might have been on the air until well into the mid-1970's!

    Having a multitude of issues for Kirk & Co to deal with at once (treaty, Baris, Klingons, Cyano Jones, tribbles and a Klingon double agent) made the pace of the show zip right along. There was no time to rest (besides, where would you sit?), and that gave all our friends something to do besides manning (womanning?) their consoles and telling the Captain that hailing frequencies were once again open.

    The episode is Monty-python-like in its quotabliity factor -- every line seems like poetry. Some parts needed no lines at all -- witness the great Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones making a huge production out of shoplifting a couple of drinks from the automatic dispenser! A top-notch, fun, silly episode! --JB

  6. This one is so well known for good reason and it's such a fun time, with all those great quotes. I may end up picking up TNG and DS9 one of these days as well, watched them all back when they were new. Didn't get into Voyager or Enterprise as much though.

    My cat may be a ball of fluff, but he's certainly not brainless! He's the star of my tiny little YouTube channel as I got a short recording of his 'biscuit making' on my phone once! XD

    Wonderfully fun episode. It's a great example of a 'fun' story that doesn't feel like it was made just for filler.


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