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.

“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.

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

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About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.