Tribbles Week: Re-watching Deep Space Nine’s “Trials and Tribble-ations”

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.

“Trials and Tribble-ations”
Story By Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler, & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Teleplay By Ronald D. Moore & René Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan West

Season 5, Episode 6
Production episode: 5×06
Original air date: November 4, 1996
Star date: 3614.9

Mission Summary:

Dulmur and Lucsly from Temporal Investigations have arrived (on time…) on Deep Space 9, wishing to see Captain Sisko. They are dour, humorless g-men, and not ones for chit-chat. They ask him point blank, “Why did you take the Defiant back in time?”

Sisko explains that it was an accident, and Dulmur and Lucsly are thankful, at least, that he doesn’t try and claim a predestination paradox. “We hate those,” Lucsly says.

LUCSLY: So, what happened?
SISKO: This may take some time.
DULMUR: Is that a joke?
DULMUR: We hate those too.

Sisko begins his story…

The Cardassian government contacted Sisko to say they wanted to return one of the Orbs of the Prophets, alien devices considered sacred to the Bajoran people. Most of the ones that crop up tend to be fakes, but, and they didn’t know it at the time, the one they picked up happened to be the Orb of Time.

On Cardassia Prime they picked up a passenger: Barry Waddle, a human trapped on Cardassia during the Klingon invasion. He’s thrilled to be back among humans, and compliments the replicator’s raktajino: “After six months, I was hoping the Klingons would invade. At least they know how to make coffee, even if they are foul-smelling barbarians.” He then sees Worf and sheepishly apologizes.

They manage to get about halfway home with no trouble, until Chief O’Brien picks up heavy doses of chronoton radiation. The bridge is filled with light, and when things return to normal the viewscreen is just white noise, they’ve dropped out of warp, decloaked, and they’re 200 light years from their previous position. They manage to recloak just as they pick up another ship dead ahead: it’s the Enterprise.

DULMUR: Be specific, Captain. Which Enterprise? There’ve been five.
SISKO: This was the first Enterprise. Constitution class.
DULMUR: His ship.
LUCSLY: James T. Kirk.
SISKO: The one and only.

This makes Lucsly and Dulmur visibly irritated:

LUCSLY: Seventeen separate temporal violations. The biggest file on record.
DULMUR: The man was a menace.

The Defiant had gone back in time over a hundred years, and was now orbiting the space station K-7, near the Klingon border. Someone had stunned the deputy who was guarding the orb and broke into the cabin, purposely using the Orb of Time to travel to this specific place and time: Barry Waddle.

Worf explains the plot of the original “Trouble with Tribbles” for us: Waddle’s real name is Arne Darvin, and he’s a Klingon surgically altered to appear human. At this point in the past he’s posing as a Federation official, a spy whose real mission is to poison a shipment of grain to derail colonization efforts. Eighteen more hours into the future, Kirk will expose him for what he is and he’ll be arrested. This ends his career, and he spends the next century eking out a meager living pretending to be a human merchant, only to be trapped on Cardassia after the invasion.

So why come back here? They don’t know his intentions—is he going to warn his younger self, or kill Kirk?—and they don’t know where he is, so they decide to search both the ship and the station and stop Darvin before he can change history. But they mustn’t interact with anyone: “The last thing I want is a visit from Temporal Investigations when we get home.” They decide look the part, and Sisko puts on a gold command uniform, Dax has her hair in a beehive hairdo with spots covered up, and each has an old-style communicator and tricorder. Bashir has Scotty’s hairdo, and Odo and Worf decide to look like average traders.

BASHIR: Wait a minute, aren’t you two wearing the wrong color?
O’BRIEN: Don’t you know anything about this period in time?
BASHIR: I’m a doctor, not an historian.
SISKO: In the old days, operations officers wore red, command officers wore gold.
DAX: And women wore less.
BASHIR: I think I’m going to like history.

They split up: Sisko and Dax on one end of the ship, Bashir and O’Brien on the other end of the ship, and Odo and Worf on the space station. Sisko and Dax pretend to perform repairs while Dax scans for Darvin, but she is absolutely enthralled by being on the old ship, marvelling at the “classic” technology. Sisko is able to hide it a bit better. Bashir and O’Brien are having a more difficult time. Apparently saying “Deck 21” doesn’t make the turbolift move. O’Brien, thinking it’s broken, tries to pry a panel off—but a pretty young lieutenant enters and uses the handle. They look embarrassed and follow suit.

Odo, meanwhile, can’t seem to get a raktajino in the K-7 bar. The waitress says that he’s the second person to ask for that today, and that the man said he’d be back later. Odo decides to pull the hard shift and wait in the bar until his man arrives. As he waits, Uhura (on the other end of the room) gets her tribble from Cyrano Jones.

O’Brien has a panel open, presumably trying to tap into the sensor array, but is too scared to touch anything: “It’s all cross-circuited and patched together. I can’t make heads nor tails of it.” When an ensign comes by, he seems hurt, claiming that Scotty asked him to do the job. He then asks why Bashir has a medical tricorder. Trying to cover for them, Bashir says he’s a doctor conducting research on work-related stress. “Just pretend I’m not here.” O’Brien tries to repair the panel, but just makes all the power go out.

BASHIR: The job pressure’s been getting to him. Why don’t you take over?

They exit discretely.

Back in the bar, Odo is petting a tribble, and looks happier than he’s ever looked in his life. It purrs happily until Worf shows up, when it begins screeching. Odo covers it protectively.

WORF: Where did you get that thing?
ODO: From a man named Cyrano Jones. He told me tribbles like everyone, but this one doesn’t seem to like you.
WORF: The feeling’s—The feeling’s mutual. They are detestable creatures.
ODO: Interesting. It’s been my observation that most humanoids love soft, furry animals especially if they make pleasing sounds. [This line is similar to Bones’ line in the original.]
WORF: They do nothing but consume food and breed. If you feed that thing more than the smallest morsel, in a few hours you’ll have ten tribbles, then a hundred, then a thousand.
ODO: Calm down.
WORF: They were once considered mortal enemies of the Klingon Empire.
ODO: This? A mortal enemy of the Empire?
WORF: They were an ecological menace, a plague to be wiped out.
ODO: Wiped out? What are you saying?
WORF: Hundreds of warriors were sent to track them down throughout the galaxy. An armada obliterated the Tribbles’ homeworld. By the end of the 23rd century they had been eradicated.
ODO: Another glorious chapter of Klingon history. Tell me, do they still sing songs of The Great Tribble Hunt?

Suddenly the ship and station go to red alert.

Sisko hails the Defiant, first with his shirt, and then, realizing his mistake, with his classic-style communicator, and learns that a Klingon battlecruiser has entered orbit around K-7. It’s the IKS G’roth, Koloth’s ship. Dax wants to beam over to the station to see him. Koloth was an old friend of Curzon, the Dax symbiont’s previous host, and that’s exactly why Sisko won’t allow her to run into him: he tells Kira to send Bashier and O’Brien instead.

DAX: It would’ve been fun.
SISKO: Too much fun.

Bashir and O’Brien prepare to beam over to the station, but in the turbolift they run into the same pretty lieutenant, who says her name is Watley. She asks if Bashir is a doctor and tells him she’d like to come by for her physical tomorrow at fifteen hundred hours. Rawr.

BASHIR: No one ever met my great grandfather. This could be a predestination paradox. Come on, Chief, surely you took elementary temporal mechanics at the Academy? I could be destined to fall in love with that woman and become my own great grandfather!
O’BRIEN: You’re being ridiculous.
BASHIR: Ridiculous? If I don’t meet with her tomorrow, I may never be born. […] You saw the way she looked at me. You can’t just dismiss this.
O’BRIEN: I can try.
BASHIR: All right, fine. But I can’t wait to get back to Deep Space Nine and see your face when you find out that I never existed.

Dax and Sisko continue looking for Darvin, but they nearly run into Kirk and Spock in the process. Dax is quite taken by Spock, and tries to convince Sisko to meet him:

SISKO: Look, of course I want to meet him. I’d like to shake his hand, ask him about fighting the Gorn on Cestus III, but that’s not why we’re here, old man.
DAX: You’re right. I guess the difference between you and me is I remember this time. I lived in this time and it’s hard to not want to be part of it again.

Back on the space station, Bashir and O’Brien tease Worf and Odo for sitting in the bar this whole time while they’ve been out investigating. O’Brien excitedly thinks he’s spotted Kirk, but it’s actually just Lt. Freeman. Eventually the waitress comes by asking for their orders, but begs them not to ask for another raktajino because they don’t have any:

ODO: Who ordered raktajino?
WAITRESS: The Klingons.
ODO: Klingons?
WAITRESS: Over there, and over there.
BASHIR: Those are Klingons?
WAITRESS: All right. You boys have had enough.
ODO: Mister Worf?
WORF: They are Klingons, and it is a long story.
O’BRIEN: What happened? Some kind genetic engineering?
BASHIR: A viral mutation?
WORF: We do not discuss it with outsiders.

Meanwhile, Chekov, Scott, and Korax are exchanging insults on the end other side of the bar. The fight scene from the original episode begins, and Bashir and O’Brien get punched by Klingons and wrapped up into the fight. Odo and Worf see Darvin and chase after him before getting embroiled in the brawl. The fight is broken up and the Starfleet officers are brought in for questioning. Bashir and O’Brien are morphed into the line-up shot, with O’Brien replacing Freeman from the original. After getting chewed out, O’Brien beams at having lied to Captain Kirk, and as they leave they step on a tribble—who’ve already begun breeding.

Worf and Odo have captured Darvin, but his plan has already been set in motion. He’s planted a bomb that looks like a tribble, and it’s set to go off within the hour. Dax suggests going to the Enterprise’s bridge, where the internal sensors would be able to detect the explosive quickly. Everyone else (except for Worf, who “seems to be allergic”) returns to K-7 and looks for the bomb there. O’Brien doesn’t think they can get to the station’s internal sensors, so they’re tasked with scanning each tribble individually: all 1,771,561 of them.

Dax and Sisko beam aboard the Enterprise and seamlessly integrate into the bridge. They begin scanning for the bomb as McCoy walks in. Dax thinks that sounds familiar, and finally remembers him as a student at Ol’ Miss:

DAX: My host at the time was Emony. She was on Earth judging a gymnastics competition. I had a feeling he’d become a doctor. He had the hands of a surgeon.

They finish scanning and learn that it’s not on the Enterprise, but Odo has bad news: they’ve only made it through two decks of K-7 and there’s no way they’ll get through it all before the bomb goes off. Because the bomb must have been planted somewhere Kirk was going to be, Dax and Sisko decide to trail Kirk. He eventually beams down to the station by the storage compartment, and Sisko knows that must be the place. They beam into the grain compartment and Dax detects a faint signature. Most of the tribbles in the compartment are dead because the grain has been poisoned. They keep scanning tribbles as Kirk famously opens the compartment and gets buried under them. Finally, they find it. They beam it off the ship and save the day, allowing the original episode to continue in canon.

While they were saving the day Kira managed to find a way to use the Orb to return to the present. But before they did, Sisko had one thing he wanted to do…

…and we see him on the bridge of the Enterprise presenting Captain Kirk with a duty roster. The scene is from “Mirror, Mirror,” and Sisko replaces Marlena. Sisko tells Kirk that he’s been there “on temporary assignment” but wanted to tell Kirk what an honor it’s been serving with him.

SISKO: Now, if you want to put a letter of reprimand in my file for that, then go ahead.
LUCSLY: We’ll have to review the case before making any recommendations.
DULMUR: However, I don’t think there was any harm done. Probably would have done the same thing myself.

Lucsly and Dulmur promise a report in about a month, and they leave. Sisko then runs into Kira, who tells him that Odo wants to see him on the Promenade.

ODO: Did you tell them?
SISKO: They didn’t ask. I’m open to suggestions, people.
DAX: We could build another station.

The station is covered top to bottom with tribbles.


While I have plenty of issues with DS9 the series, “Trials and Tribble-ations” is (like its predecessor) a perfect episode. A brilliantly clever script, outstanding performances, jaw-dropping design and effects work, and countless winks and nods to the original easily make this one of the best Star Trek episodes ever made, in any series.

Upon re-watch it’s amazing how many structural elements are plays on the original story. You have the captain facing humorless bureaucrats (Baris/Lucsley and Dulmur); an A-plot involving sabotage totally forgotten in the entertainment of the B-plot; and, of course, Charlie Brill tying it all together with his performance as Arne Darvin.

The humor is great, even in the A-plot—I love that Kirk is like the Ferris Bueller of temporal violations, breaking rules with impunity. The backwards references are key: the way that lines are repeated by other characters, the way that Sisko says he wants to ask Kirk about fighting the Gorn on Cestus III, the final shot at the end with the bartender (here, Quark) covered in tribbles… And really, if there’s anything at all to remember about this episode, it’s when the DS9 crew confronts Worf about the appearance of the old-style Klingons: “We do not discuss it with outsiders.” (Apparently they “explained” it in an Enterprise episode, which kind of defeats the whole point.) Most of the jokes that fall flat are Dax’s: she has the hots for Spock, well, OK, and also she knows Koloth, okay, and also she slept with McCoy—really? Dax vaguely remembers him from a fling 100+ years ago, but doesn’t remember that he was an Admiral pretty recently?

One of the difficult things about a series like Deep Space Nine (or TNG, or Voyager, or that Other One) is that it’s obviously part of a franchise, but it’s so different from the original series. The later Star Treks tried to be more relevant, grittier, more complicated, and more dramatic. The problems that Captain Sisko deals with in the series don’t really compare to the kinds of things Captain Kirk deals with, and sometimes they feel like such disparate universes it’s hard to imagine that they’re intended to be the same invented world. This episode united them. It created continuity and heritage and history. It made me feel like Star Trek was something constant, something irrevocable, that permeates everything that’s come after it whether it has “Star Trek” in the title or not.

There’s one line in this episode that really sticks with me, and I think it sums a lot of my feelings up nicely. Dax is unrestrained in her enthusiasm for the old ship and Sisko, despite his obvious love for history and earnest desire to interact with it, holds her back. She says to him: “I guess the difference between you and me is I remember this time. I lived in this time and it’s hard to not want to be part of it again.” In 1996, there were a lot of fans of the new series who had never seen classic Trek (I was one of them). A whole new generation of people grew up with this Star Trek: with Picard, with Sisko, with Janeway. But it was the classic Trekkies, the fans who grew up with Kirk and Spock and who had seen the idea of Star Trek change so much over the years, that still brimmed with enthusiasm and pride at their show. They were the ones to whom this was dedicated, because they were the ones who created Deep Space Nine. Dax is absolutely a stand-in for every die-hard Trekkie that felt inspired by what others called a silly little show. Whatever you may think of the later incarnations of Star Trek, it was created by people who loved Star Trek and felt deeply, intimately connected to that history.

Just like us.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Factor 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: To be honest, Deep Space Nine was never my favorite Star Trek series, though it was the first I watched from its very beginning as it aired. I enjoyed it well enough, but the station-bound series never offered the sense of wonder that TNG and the original series did. It was clearly smarter and better than its two successors, but it never completely felt like Star Trek to me—it was dark, gritty, and preoccupied with themes of faith, religion, identity, and war. DS9 looked inward, while the other shows looked outward. As I’ve been re-watching Star Trek for, I’ve also been revisiting DS9, and I’ve found that I like Trek’s red-headed stepchild more than ever. The writing has generally aged well; the personal and political conflicts are much deeper than I remember; the season and series-long plot arcs are much more interesting to me after shows like Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost (especially since I already know what’s coming!); and the characters are somehow more human (ie. flawed). In short, I’m really into it.

Even when I wasn’t the biggest fan of DS9, I took extra delight in the episodes that hearkened back to its simpler roots. When they returned to the Mirror Universe for the first time in twenty-seven years (at least in canon), I was excited to see them acknowledge James T. Kirk and the original Enterprise, even if the continuing parallel universe storyline wasn’t exactly the best the series offered. So imagine how I reacted to “Trials and Tribble-ations.” As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, fans like me knew all about this special tribute well before it aired, and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally saw it. It was clearly a gift from fans to fans; the crew of DS9 behaved with the same joy any of us would if we somehow found ourselves on Kirk’s ship.

Aside from the impressive technical wizardry involved in marrying the two shows, it was obvious that the creators thought of every detail and lovingly recreated the Sixties’ lighting, makeup, and sets, blending them far more harmoniously than you’d imagine possible. The new Enterprise model was beautiful to behold, a far cry from the abominable CGI recreation in the remastered episodes. The show was also just plain fun, especially in the middle of the heavy developments of the ongoing Dominion War. (Uh, spoilers.) In keeping with the light tone of the source material, “Trials” brought us hilarious moments like the time cops complaining about Kirk’s temporal violations, Worf steering the conversation away from the Klingons’ forehead ridges (long a point of discussion among fans), and Sisko and Dax looking for a bomb in a tribble.

This episode is steeped with nostalgia, and it’s interesting that the show least like Star Trek should pay it the strongest respects. Though TNG was the direct descendant of the original series, it often skirted too close an association, at least early on, as it sought its own identity. Though the ship was named Enterprise, and we saw eventually saw McCoy, Scotty, Spock, Sarek, (and Chekov and Kirk if you count Generations) in the TNG-verse, I’ve come to realize that DS9 had more freedom to borrow from and play with elements from Star Trek because it was so different. The Mirror Universe, Kang and Koloth, Arn Darvin, Eugenics, little easter eggs in episodes like ornithopters and boxing posters from “City on the Edge of Forever”… These are references only the truest of fans appreciate.

“Trials and Tribble-ations” enjoys the same status as “The Trouble with Tribbles” with many fans, but it’s more than just riding on its predecessor’s success. It couldn’t have been easy to figure out how to insert the DS9 crew into the frame of the original story, and come up with a plot that makes at least some kind of sense. Hiding a bomb in a tribble to kill Kirk was ingenious; my favorite moment in the episode is when you realize that Sisko is tossing tribbles out of the storage compartment onto Kirk, a clever twist to an iconic scene. And having Odo be the one to bring tribbles back from extinction is a great touch, considering that he long feared he was the last of his species. (Turns out, he’s just the nicest one.) I’ve said it before—I’m a sucker for time travel stories, and this is one of my favorites.

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

Background: This aired during the 5th season of Deep Space Nine, after TNG had gone off the air, just prior to First Contact, and during Voyager’s infancy. 1996 was the franchise’s 30th anniversary and to celebrate the studio planned a prime-time television special and Voyager had been given the go-ahead to do a tribute episode featuring one of the original actors. (They wound up using George Takei in the episode “Flashback.”) Rick Berman eventually asked Deep Space Nine if they wanted to be part of the action. After the success of the technique in Forrest Gump, writer Rene Echevarria thought of taking footage from a classic episode to create a new one, and “The Trouble With Tribbles” was an obvious choice. There were complications: the actual anniversary was September 8th, 1996, but that was the day of the scheduled premiere of the fifth season, and the fourth season had ended very tensely, though not officially a cliffhanger. They decided not to push back the premiere and allowed the episode to air in November.

Though enthusiasm for the idea was great, there were concerns about the cost and difficulty of such an endeavor. Two-time Emmy-winning special effects supervisor Gary Hutzel shot some test footage which was impressive enough to get everyone on board, and director Jonathan West as chosen to helm the project. To create the old look, he used a finer grain of film, with different color saturation, and different lens and shot choices. Lighting was meticulously re-created to reflect the old episode. A new score was created (in the style of Fielding’s original), and model maker Greg Jein built a 5 ½ foot long model of the original Enterprise, along with K-7 and the IKS G’roth. (The original models had been lost.)

For costumes, designer Robert Blackburn was able to salvage four old Klingon uniforms, thrown into a ratty box. He had to make the Starfleet uniforms from scratch, though, and make-up and hair were carefully reconstructed to look as they would have thirty years ago. Old footage was freeze-framed and painstakingly re-created, from colors to wall textures. Buttons, panels, and interfaces were replicated in excruciating detail. They consulted sketches from the original series and went over the models with a magnifying glass.

In the end, the episode went hugely over budget, but it became a critical and fan success. It was nominated for the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and three Emmy Awards: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Special Visual Effects, Outstanding Art Direction for a Series, and Outstanding Hairstyling for a Series.

(Many thanks to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion and the invaluable Memory Alpha for much of the above.)

Best Line: ODO: Another glorious chapter of Klingon history. Tell me, do they still sing songs of The Great Tribble Hunt?

Trivia: Ron Moore’s original idea for the episode involved the gang going to Sigma Iota II, from “A Piece of the Action.” They were going to find Kirk and Spock imposters there, and it was going to be a social commentary on Trekkies.

Lucsly and Dulmur are anagrams of Mulder and Scully, and it’s no coincidence that they “only want the truth.”

Arne Darvin as Berry Waddle claims to deal in “kevas and trillium”—what Spock claims to be a merchant of in “Errand of Mercy.”

Shots weren’t blue-screened: sets were re-created and inserted into the old footage.

Avery Brooks and Terry Farrell (Sisko and Dax) weren’t allowed to see the set until filming began. When their characters beam into a corridor in the Enterprise, their awe and enthusiasm is genuine, as it was the first time they saw it. Both reported being completely wowed by the amazing job the designers had done.

When O’Brien mistakes Lt. Freeman for Captain Kirk in the bar, it’s probably referencing the fact that the actor playing Freeman was Kirk’s stunt double.

We learn from Dax that Koloth never had the chance to face Kirk in battle, but actually he did, repeatedly, in “More Trouble, More Tribbles.” (The Animated Series is not canon.)

David Gerrold, the writer of the original, makes a cameo in two scenes: playing an Enterprise crewman who passes Sisko and Dax when the Enterprise goes to red alert, and later petting a tribble in the corridor with Bashir and O’Brien. The tribble he pets is an original tribble.

Walter Koenig visited the sets and taught the actors how to properly interact with the old-style set pieces.

There is a sequel to this episode in the form of a comic: “Nobody Knows the Tribbles I’ve Seen.”

Permission had to be gained from every actor in the original to use their likeness in the stock footage. It took three months and Walter Koenig claims he was paid eight times as much for his likeness as he was for the original episode.

Next on Tribbles Week: Re-Watching Futuramas “The Problem with Popplers.”

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

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. 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 adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.