42 "The Trouble with Tribbles"

(airdate: December 29, 1967)

Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Joseph Pevney

Nilz Baris: William Schallert
Cyrano Jones: Stanley Adams
Korax: Michael Pataki

Koloth: William Campbell
Lurry: Whit Bissell
Arne Darvin: Charlie Brill

Stardate: 4523.3

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is summoned by a priority one disaster call to Deep Space Station K-7. The emergency turns out to be the desire by Federation Undersecretary Nilz Baris to guard a large supply of the grain quadrotriticale, due for nearby disputed Sherman's Planet, against sabotage by Klingon agents. Under protest, Kirk assigns guards to the grain and allows shore leave for his off-duty personnel. Baris's fears seem justified when a Klingon warship arrives, but Captain Koloth insists his men are simply also looking for shore leave. Meanwhile, Uhura takes possession of an unusual creature called a tribble, which is essentially a ball of fur, but the Enterprise crew soon discover that tribbles breed incredibly quickly and can make their way into almost anywhere - including the storage compartments for the quadrotriticale on K-7. However, it's determined that the grain had been poisoned, killing most of the tribbles that ate it; the grain had been poisoned by Baris's aide Arne Darvin, who is secretly a Klingon agent and was only discovered because tribbles react negatively to Klingons. The plot foiled, the Enterprise carries on its way - but not before beaming all the tribbles aboard the Enterprise into the Klingon ship's engine room.

Whoops!: For some reason, the final shot of the episode (the Enterprise moving away) looks like it's in black and white. [This shot occurs in other episodes, but we're mentioning it here because this is about the only issue with this one.]

Classic Lines: Kirk: "Cyrano Jones, a Klingon agent?" Baris: "You heard me." Kirk: "I heard you..." Spock: "He simply could not believe his ears."
     "You issued a priority one distress call for a couple of tons of wheat?"
     McCoy: "Does everything have to have a practical use for you? They're nice, soft, and furry, and they make a pleasant sound." Spock: "So would an ermine violin, but I see no advantage in having one."
     "I have never questioned the orders or the intelligence of any representative of the Federation. Until now."
     Bartender: "Four credits." Cyrano: "Is that an offer or a joke?" Bartender: "That's my offer." Cyrano: "That's a joke."
     Kirk's conversation with Scotty regarding how the fight started.
     Darvin: "You can't deny he's disrupted this station." Kirk: "People have disrupted stations before without being Klingon agents. Sometimes, all they need is a title, Mr. Baris."
     Basically, the entire script.

Library Computer: Deep Space Station K-7 is a Federation station located in a disputed, undeveloped quadrant near the Federation-Klingon border. Sherman's Planet is located nearby. The station itself resembles a cylinder with a dish on top, with a cone on top of that. There are three arms radiating from the center of the cylinder at equidistant points, each ending with a dish-and-cone construction. The cones are filled with lights, presumably indicating habitable areas. There is what appears to be a large docking bay at the base of the central cylinder. K-7 is managed by a Mr. Lurry; however, Lurry does not have the authority to refuse Klingons using K-7 as a shore leave destination [presumably because K-7 is located in a disputed quadrant]. A large number of ships "pass through" K-7.
     Sherman's Planet is located inside the disputed quadrant, and is claimed by both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The area near Sherman's Planet was first mapped by John Burke, Chief Astronomer of the Royal Academy in old Britain. [No information on when Burke mapped the area is given, beyond a passing reference to being almost 200 something-or-others (probably years) ago; however, a barely legible display aboard the U.S.S. Defiant in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" says this occurred in 2067.] Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty [see "Errand of Mercy"], the planet will go to the side that can prove it can develop the planet more efficiently. Spock states that the Federation has the better claim. The only Earth grain that can grow on Sherman's Planet is quadrotriticale.
     Quadrotriticale is a high-yield perennial grain, a four-lobed hybrid of rye and wheat. It's related to triticale, which can trace its ancestry back to 20th-century Canada. [This is presumably a reference to the University of Manitoba beginning the first North American breeding program of the grain in 1953; triticale can actually be traced back even further.] Chekov claims that quadrotriticale is a Russian invention. [However, given that one of the running jokes regarding Chekov - in this episode in particular - is that most of his claims regarding Russian history aren't true, this should be taken with a grain of salt; on the other hand, he does recognize the grain, and Spock doesn't correct him.] It is a bright blue color.
     Tribbles are small round animals, seemingly entirely covered in thick fur of various shades of brown and white. They breed incredibly quickly - McCoy speculates that they're born pregnant, and that nearly half of their metabolism is geared for reproduction. They also appear to be bisexual, meaning they can reproduce at will, given sufficient quantities of food. They aren't dangerous in and of themselves - as Cyrano Jones notes, they don't even have teeth - but their high rate of reproduction makes them a nuisance: an average litter seems to be ten tribbles, and they reproduce every 12 hours or so. [This is based on Spock's estimate regarding the reproduction rate of the tribbles in the quadrotriticale storage compartment - "[There are] 1,771,561. That's assuming one tribble, multiplying with an average litter of 10, producing a new generation every 12 hours over a period of three days. ... And allowing for the amount of grain consumed and the volume of the storage compartment" - which is calculated independently by Jadzia Dax in the Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations".] They produce a trilling sound around humans and Vulcans that Spock notes has a calming effect on the human (and Vulcan) nervous system, but produce a shrieking noise when near a Klingon. They can cling to vertical surfaces.
     The tribbles are brought to K-7 by Cyrano Jones, a large, clean-shaven man in a big coat covered in pockets. Jones is a licensed asteroid locator and prospector who has eked out a living for the past seven years on a one-man spaceship, buying and selling rare merchandise, including Spican flame gems, Antarian glow water, and tribbles. He has never severely broken the law, and he was within the Klingon sphere of influence less than four months prior to stardate 4525.6. He agrees to pick up all the tribbles on Deep Space Station K-7, in exchange for which Kirk won't turn him over to the authorities for transporting harmful animals. [For Jones's subsequent fate, see the Animated Series episode "More Tribbles, More Troubles".]
     Nilz Baris is the Federation Undersecretary in charge of agricultural affairs in this quadrant. This gives him the authority to call a defense alert regarding an important consignment of grain. He is a tall, thin man who gets on Kirk's nerves (and vice versa), and he has taken charge of the development of Sherman's Planet: a duty he takes very seriously. His assistant is Arne Darvin, a short, dark-haired man who is secretly a Klingon agent. He poisoned the quadrotriticale with a virus that turns into an inert material in the bloodstream. After sufficient build-up of this inert matter, the consumer of the grain can't take in enough nourishment to survive and starves to death.
     Captain Koloth is the commander of the Klingon battlecruiser orbiting K-7. He seems much more cheerful than other Klingons, although this cheer appears to be hiding cunning and guile. He and Kirk appear to have met before. His subordinate [named Korax in the credits, albeit not on screen] is a much more traditional Klingon, simmering with anger and cruelty. Korax compares Kirk to a "swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood," and the Enterprise to both a garbage scow and garbage itself - a remark which Scotty takes particular offense to.
     A priority one call signals near or total disaster. Misuse of priority one channels is a Federation offense.
     The penalty for transporting animals harmful to human life is twenty years in a rehabilitation colony.
     The battle of Donatu V was fought near Sherman's Planet 23 solar years earlier. The result of the battle was inconclusive.
     There has been no formal declaration of hostilities between the Federation and the Klingons [presumably due to the Organian Peace Treaty].
     Regulan blood worms are apparently soft and shapeless, while Denebian slime devils are not.
     Scotty reads technical journals for pleasure. [The technical journal he's reading is apparently for a phaser bank for a Constitution-class starship - not that that's remotely legible on screen - and thus is the first use of the term "Constitution-class" on the show (although it does show up in the script for "Space Seed" - and in fact the graphic was originally prepared for that episode). Despite being the general fan classification for Enterprise-style ships, the term won't actually be used in dialogue until the Next Generation episode "The Naked Now".]

Final Analysis: "Does everybody know about this wheat but me?" The second of Star Trek's three overt comedy episodes, "The Trouble with Tribbles" is an unqualified success. The script sparkles, the jokes land, and it's even plotted tightly, with little in the way of implausibilities or logical leaps. It's also a rare opportunity to see the main crew members each get a good amount to do (with the exception of George Takei, who's off filming The Green Berets with John Wayne). It may not be the most thoughtful episode ever, but nevertheless it's just about perfect from start to finish. There's a reason it's so well-regarded.

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Page originally created: March 16, 2016
Page last updated: May 22, 2018

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