The Great Star Trek TAS Rewatch: The Terratin Incident

A satellite dish situated among a crystalline formation

When the Enterprise heads to the source of a mysterious transmission, the ship finds itself bombarded with waves that cause all organic matter on board to shrink. It’s a race against time for the crew to figure out what’s going – before they all become too small to operate the controls.

Apart from its general mediocrity, if there’s one thing TAS really suffers from, it’s that it wants to tell 42 minute stories in a 22 minute timeframe. This means that episodes that might have worked in TOS just become rushed in this format. With its rushed conclusion, The Terratin Incident is another example of an episode that suffers because of this.

Of course, that’s not to excuse this episode – under any circumstances, it would be pretty stupid. Years later, DS9 would manage a serviceable “shrinking crew” episode in the form of One Little Ship, but what we have here is so much worse than that.

Much of the episode is taken up with the crew mysteriously but inexorably shrinking in size, as their “atoms move closer together”. The effect is apparently due to the mystery waves bombarding the ship, which are causing the DNA of all organic matter on the ship to coil more tightly. Let’s have a bit of fun by examining everything wrong with this.

  • It’s explicitly stated that this means the crew retain their original mass, which means that as they shrink, their bodies increase in density. Yet this incredible high density doesn’t seem to crush the crew’s organs, or cause any damage to their surroundings.
  • DNA is in pretty much every cell, but it’s not the entirety of those cells, so how is it causing cells to shrink uniformly rather than hideously distort? In particular, red blood cells have no nucleus (and thus no DNA), so those should not have shrunk.
  • As the crew shrink, how are their lungs able to process normal-sized oxygen molecules?
  • As the body shrinks, surface area to volume ratios will shift, meaning that many functions that rely on this might well stop working.
  • Not only does the ropey animation make the relative shrinkage of different crew members really inconsistent, but there seem to be a lot of random matchsticks and needles lying around on the Enterprise.

Anyway, by the time the crew has all shrunk to a few inches in size, Kirk decides it would be a good idea to beam down to the source of the waves by himself. Fortunately, the transporter restores him to his original size, allowing him to discover a tiny city just before he is beamed back up. It turns out that the city houses the descendants of a long lost Earth colony, who were shrunk by the waves and now need rescuing. The only way they could think of to communicate their plight was to shrink the Enterprise crew.

Wait, I hear you say. There are many things wrong with this – aren’t you going to enumerate them? Of course I am.

  • As soon as Kirk found out the transporter could be used to restore the crew, why didn’t he get everyone else to go through it? Even if they continued to shrink after restoration, it would have bought them more time to find a solution.
  • For that matter, why did Kirk beam down alone, without even a redshirt for company? He had no idea what was down there.
  • The Terratins seem perfectly able to communicate with full-sized Kirk on the full-sized Enterprise, so why did they need to shrink the crew at all?
  • The Terratins have Earth-derived transporter technology, but unlike the Enterprise transporter, it does not reverse the shrinking. Why not? Did they design it not to?

Summary – The Terratin Incident: A pretty stupid episode, even by TOS or TAS standards. And I say that knowing full well that The Practical Joker episode is still to come.

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