Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Time Trap”

The Time Trap
Written by Joyce Perry
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 12
Production episode: 22010
Original air date: November 24, 1973
Star date: 5267.2


Mission summary

Enterprise is investigating the “Delta Triangle,” a region of space where starships have been disappearing for centuries. It’s almost as if the suits back at Starfleet are trying to get rid of them.

Sensors are all wonky and at first all they see are some interesting fireworks, but soon a Klingon battlecruiser makes a surprise appearance. Before Enterprise can say “How do you do?” the other ship fires on it. Kirk returns fire and the Klingon ship shimmers and vanishes. Kirk is flummoxed by this unexpected turn of events. Spock explains that the phaser fire didn’t destroy the enemy, nor did they engage their cloaking device. If he had to guess, he’d say this mysterious disappearance might be attributed to…the Triangle! DUN DUN DUN.

With sensors down, Sulu raises the periscope and they make a 360-degree visual survey of the area, only to discover they are surrounded by Klingon vessels. “Moustrapped,” Kirk squeaks. Clearly the Klingons plan to disappear them the old-fashioned way and blame it on the Triangle. One of the enemy hails them, and Kirk cautiously prepares an escape plan: on his signal, they’ll head for where the first Klingon battlecruiser disappeared, at warp eight. He also asks Uhura to record their conversation for quality assurance, as a memento for Starfleet. It’s short and sweet:

KURI: I am Commander Kuri of the Klingon Imperial Fleet. We have witnessed the destruction of our sister ship, the Klothos, and hold you responsible. Surrender immediately or we will destroy you.
KIRK: We did not destroy the Klothos, and you are well aware of it, Commander.
KURI: Surely you don’t expect me to believe she just vanished?
KIRK: You may believe what you like, Commander. We were fired upon first and returned fire. The Klothos deflectors turned aside our phaser fire and then disappeared. I don’t know why. But we are in the Delta Triangle.
KURI: I do not accept this.
KIRK: Frankly, Commander, what you accept is of little importance to me. Enterprise out. Now, Mr. Sulu.

Sulu floors it, and Enterprise warps toward the last known coordinates of the Klothos, with the Klingons in hot pursuit and Scotty grousing about running away from battle.

Suddenly every system on the ship goes haywire as Enterprise vanishes! Uhura and Sulu get disoriented and dizzy, and the helmsman keels over. Spock observes that they’re experiencing “some form of vertigo,” which quickly passes when the ship reappears in a starless void. They have a little company, at least: “It’s like a vast Sargasso Sea,” Kirk says. “A graveyard of ships from every civilization imaginable.” Kirk and Spock reason that they’ve entered a kind of alternate universe, which only occasionally interacts with their own and lets a ship in. Spock also detects lifeforms on some of the ships out there.

The Klothos is also out there. As soon as the two ships fire on each other, their weapon controls are frozen, and Kirk is abruptly transported off the Bridge.

He reappears in a council chamber beside his old friend Kor, commander of the Klothos. They are surrounded by representatives from various races, including an Orion woman, a Romulan, a Tellarite, an Andorian, and a Gorn. This motley group welcomes them to Elysia, a makeshift society comprised of 123 races trapped in this pocket universe. Xerius and Devna explain that they all  learned to work together, enforcing a strict code of non-violence–ruthlessly enforced by the psionic talents of some of the member races.

DEVNA: Under our law, you as ship captains are responsible for the behavior of your crews. Should a crew member, with or without your knowledge, engage in any form of violence whatsoever, you will suffer the ultimate penalty. Total immobilization of your ship for a century.
KOR: A century? We’d all be dead by the end of it.
XERIUS: No, Commander Kor. This small universe of ours is a curious trap. Time passes here, but very slowly. A century means nothing to us. Our Council appears young. Yet all are centuries old.
KIRK: Your life here must be almost perfect, if you haven’t wanted to leave.
XERIUS: All of us have wanted to leave at some time, Captain Kirk. But we have made the best possible world here, because we have found there is no escape from it.

Naturally Kirk expects to buck this 1000-year-old tradition of failed escape attempts. But they’ll have to make it quick, because Scotty has some more bad news: the dilithium crystals are inexplicably deteriorating, giving them only four more days of power. Kirk’s brilliant escape plan consists of leaving it all to Spock: “You will start work immediately, around the clock, nonstop, until you arrive at a formula that gets us out of here.”

Kor issues a similar directive to his first officer, Kaz. Their solution is to try to escape at maximum speed through some weird vortex thing. It’s just simple enough to work–except it doesn’t. The Klingon ship manages to disappear briefly before it’s hurled back into Elysia. But this gives Spock an idea: he derives a formula that requires Enterprise and Klothos to combine to form Voltron and escape together.

The Klingons are surprisingly amenable to linking their ships and resources. Spock throws his arms over Kor and Kaz companionably, freaking everyone out. As the awkward encounter stretches on, the Vulcan apologizes for being “overcome by the moment.” After Kirk and Spock head back to Enterprise to prepare for the mutual transfer of equipment and personnel, Kor reveals to his suspicious first officer that he intends to double cross Kirk and disintegrate Enterprise as soon as they’re both clear of the time trap, which greatly relieves Kaz.

On Enterprise, a red shirt admits he was late to his post guarding the dilithium vault, where he discovered a couple of Klingons nosing around. They claim they were lost, and Spock once again invades personal space; he clasps one of them on a shoulder and offers to guide him to his proper station.

MCCOY: Jim, I’m worried about Spock. He’s just not acting normal.
KIRK: He’s under a lot of pressure, Bones.
MCCOY: I know that. But I’ve never known Spock to act like a pal under any circumstances, least of all toward Klingons.
KIRK: That’s true.
MCCOY: And if he’s coming apart, Jim, we’re in serious trouble. Getting out of here hinges on his computations.
KIRK: I’ll talk to him, Bones. It’s all I can do.

Of course there’s a logical explanation: when Kirk calls Spock on his unusual behavior, the Vulcan tells him he’s been touching Klingons for business, not pleasure: so he can read their minds. And he has the distinct impression that they mean to sabotage Enterprise. With this stunning revelation, Kirk decides it might be a good idea to keep a close eye on the Klingons while they’re aboard.

Which is tricky while he’s preoccupied watching Devna dance for the Enterprise and Klothos crews. She wishes she could see Orion again, and Kirk offers her passage out of Elysia. Devna refuses, having fully accepted that there’s no exit from the time trap. Devna and Xerius have been watching Kirk and Kor’s escape plan unfold, with the help of a telepath named Magen, and have agreed to let them make their useless attempt unhindered, unless they break one of Elysia’s laws.

They get their chance to interfere when McCoy unwisely asks Kaz’s girlfriend to dance and Kaz attempts to shoot him. Xerius prevents the disrupter from doing any harm and takes Kirk, Kor, Kaz, and McCoy to the Council Chamber for disciplinary action. In the hubbub, the Klingon woman hides a tiny capsule inside a computer panel.

The council decides to freeze the Klothos crew for a “star century,” but Kirk protests–they need Klothos to escape from Elysia.

XERIUS: Getting back to your own time continuum is that important to you?
KIRK: Yes.
XERIUS: You will fail.
KIRK: We must try, Xerius. Elysia is, in many respects, a perfect society. But with all its virtues, it is not home. And home, with all its faults, is where we prefer to be.
XERIUS: You would take these renegades with you?
KIRK: We need them.
XERIUS: Very well. I release Captain Kor into your custody. Good luck to you, Captain Kirk. You will be needing it.

The big day arrives! The Klothoprise begins to accelerate toward the time barrier. But the spying Magen alerts Xerius that the Klingons have hidden a bomb on Enterprise. The Romulan calls Kirk to warn him that when they hit warp eight–BAM!

Spock and Scotty discover the bomb just in time, in the warp control panel right where Xerius said it would be. Spock grabs it and runs to a disposal chute, which he uses to eject it into space. As Klothoprise reappears in normal space, Enterprise dismounts and they separate. The bomb explodes outside the ship, leaving her intact, to Kor’s frustration.

UHURA: Captain Kirk, I’m picking up a radio transmission Captain Kor intended for his home base. He took full credit for our escape from Elysia.
MCCOY: Why, that scoundrel.
KIRK: It doesn’t matter, Bones.
UHURA: It doesn’t?
KIRK: That’s what matters.

Kirk points at the stars on the viewscreen. They’re home.


It’s interesting how the time trap encourages unlikely alliances. The aliens who have been living inside the pocket universe for centuries have put aside their differences and created a peaceful society almost worthy of the name Elysia. Meanwhile, the Starfleet and Klingon crews must work together in order to escape, even though Kor ultimately betrays the unusually naive Captain Kirk. If this pocket universe isn’t a natural phenomenon, I bet it was set up by some space douches to study teamwork or ingenuity or something.

Unfortunately, aside from some muddled moralizing on the rewards of cooperation, the rest of the episode is thinly plotted and, frankly, boring. “The Bermuda Triangle in space” is good as a high concept pitch, but it’s less compelling when the comparison is so transparent.

It’s rather depressing that Xerius and the others have completely accepted their fates and abandoned all hope of leaving Elysia. They are so sure that there’s no escape, I wonder how they all react when Enterprise and Klothos make it out. Do they feel regret for not trying harder? Do they renew their attempts to break out? And even if they could get out, would it really feel like home after so many years have passed? Perhaps its even more depressing that the real reason they can’t go home is because their old lives simply don’t exist anymore.

I suppose it might be unlikely that two ships have ever entered the Triangle at the same time, especially ships with such advanced warp technology, which would make it nearly impossible to replicate Spock’s solution. (Never mind the fact that I don’t understand how linking the ships improved their chances of success anyway.) Still, it might have been nice for Kirk to leave the formula with them, just in case another opportunity presents itself one day. And did he offer anyone else passage out, or just the Orion dancer?

I just don’t think Elysian society can go on unchanged once they know it’s possible to escape. I suspect that Xerius and Devna will lie to the others and tell them Enterprise and Klothos were destroyed in their escape attempt, since there’s something sinister about the way they enforce good behavior in there with psionic punishment. Though I wonder how much of a deterrent it is to be frozen for a century when a) you’re basically immortal and b) there isn’t much to do.

I also found their casual telepathic spying distasteful, paralleled by Spock’s casual mind melding for the same purpose. What price peace? What price freedom?

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: Here’s this grand mystery–a pocket of space-time–and yet we never have any idea how or why it exists. Their escape is made by some kind of advanced calculation… of what, exactly? I was scratching my head from beginning to end trying to puzzle out why anything was happening. This was a middling episode at best, and a tedious mess at worst.

I wish that the Klingon-Starfleet alliance had been more than lip service. It’s easy to create a childish villain, and much more difficult to come up with an actual story of enemies overcoming their differences for a common goal. The secret bomb plot undermines the already thin moralizing. What a missed opportunity! In a longer episode, perhaps, we could have seen internal dissent about the joint venture aboard the Klothos and maybe a single disatisfied rogue agent planting the bomb. But to have that be Kor’s secret plot, I just don’t buy it. Wouldn’t one look at the Elysians make Kor think he’d do anything to avoid spending eternity with these people and their interminable telepathic goons?? (If I had to sit in on meetings with that cat telepath I would’ve spaced myself.)

Speaking of which, the fact that the new arrivals don’t stir things up even a little is uncharacteristic and kind of a let-down. If I had been in their shoes, I’m sure that Kirk’s determination would have rekindled my own desire for escape, so why none of them? Why not pool their obviously powerful psychokinetic resources and try to get out together? They have nothing to lose by the attempt and everything to gain. Their situation is inexpressibly sad. I can’t imagine that all of those races were so at peace, even after millenia. Wouldn’t some choose to perish rather than never see home again? Doesn’t everyone need hope?

But really, nothing tested my suspension of disbelief like Spock not bothering to mention the secret evil plot he picked up on to anyone until confronted about his weird buddy-buddy man-hugs. Spock shouldn’t been out with that information immediately, none of this pseudo-mystery crap. I couldn’t believe that he just dropped that casually as an explanation for his sudden friendliness. That should’ve been the first thing out of your mouth as soon as you got back to the Enterprise!

I just hope Kirk left a copy of the formula with the Elysians.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 3


Best Line: DEVNA: You have seen the dance of Orion women before? KIRK: Many times.

Trivia: Kirk intros the episode with a captain’s log recording the stardate as 52.2–an obvious mistake which is later corrected.

James Doohan provides Kor’s voice (replacing John Colicos in the role), while Nichelle Nichols recorded voices for four different roles in this episode, including that of the most annoying telepath ever.

A prototype Kzinti appears in the Council Chamber, before the race debuts in “The Slaver Weapon.”

The Klothos is another bit of canon that originated in the animated series, as Kor’s old command was referenced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Other notes: This episode bears some uncanny resemblances to the plot of Len Wein’s “The Museum at the End of Time,” a Star Trek comic published in 1972.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 11 – “The Terratin Incident.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 13 – “The Ambergris Element.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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.