The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Trouble With Tribbles

We’ve made it. Halfway through the second season of TOS, and we hit the most iconic, the most well-known episode of them all – The Trouble With Tribbles. The episode even gets an entire DVD to itself, with The Animated Series and DS9 sequels and various commentaries as extras.

It’s a pretty silly episode, to be sure, but it gets away with it, because there are so many great character moments. On the light-hearted side of things, we have the tribbles – cute, round furry pets that reproduce at a phenomenal rate, swamping both the Enterprise and Space Station K-7. Whilst the tribbles slowly accumulate, Kirk has plenty of other things to deal with – he’s been summoned to Space Station K-7 to guard grain bound for Sherman’s Planet, and, as luck would have it, a ship full of Klingons shows up demanding their rights to shore leave. Naturally, everything comes together at the end to be wrapped up in a nice, little package, but it’s entertaining enough along the way.

More on… Tribbles

Tribbles are small, round and furry, and incredibly appealing to humans – their purring response to being stroked seems to have a calming effect on the nervous system. Unfortunately, the tribble metabolism is so geared for reproduction that simply feeding them is enough for them to develop and give birth to young. According to McCoy, “from my observations, it seems they’re bisexual, reproducing at will”. I assume he means they’re hermaphrodites – I’m bisexual and I cannot reproduce with myself at will. At least, I think I can’t – I’ve never actually earnestly tried. Anyway, many years ago when I used to collect the Star Trek Fact Files, there was a page on the anatomy of a tribble, including a cross-section which revealed that most of the interior is one big uterus.

As far as digestion goes, tribbles must use at least some of their energy on moving, purring and breathing, yet to feed them at all is to cause them to give birth to young. Also, either everyone on the Enterprise and K-7 is scrubbing away furiously, or they never shit. Are they really that efficient at processing food?

The tribbles prolific birth rate seems to indicate that, on their home planet, they are so heavily preyed upon that they have to reproduce constantly just to be able to survive. Either that, or they periodically strip their habitat of resources, die out en masse, and then repopulate.

More on… Klingons

We learn a bit more about the details of the treaty imposed upon the Klingons by the Organians in this episode. Apparently, each side can only claim a planet by proving that they are the most efficient at developing it, hence the Federation’s desperation to grow a hardy strain of wheat on Sherman’s Planet. It’s unclear where the events of Friday’s Child fall on this spectrum, but I guess in this case neither side was trying to colonise or develop the planet, they just wanted to establish trade relations.

Apparently, Klingons are also allowed to claim shore leave rights on Federation space stations. Perhaps the reverse is true, but no Federation starship would actually want to visit a Klingon space station.

Also, Klingons really hate tribbles. The feeling is mutual, as tribbles react badly to Klingons.

A few other observations

  • Rather than being her usual sassy self in this episode, Uhura is quite won over by the tribbles and acts quite soppily around them. She also wants to take shore leave on K-7 to do some shopping – women, eh?
  • The 23rd century Federation unit of currency is the credit, although to be fair, “credits” are used in pretty much every sci-fi series ever. When we come to TNG and its lack of money, we’ll talk more about economics.
  • Chekov gets a grilling from Kirk and Spock on his Earth history and general knowledge, presumably as part of his ongoing training.

Summary – The Trouble With Tribbles: Replete with excellent dialogue, and over a million tribbles besides!

Does everything have to have a practical use for you? They’re nice, soft, and furry, and they make a pleasant sound.”

So would an ermine violin, but I see no advantage in having one.”

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