The Great Star Trek TAS Rewatch: The Practical Joker

After the Enterprise passes through a strange energy cloud, the crew notice that they are becoming the butt of a series of increasingly silly – and dangerous – practical jokes. When it becomes clear that the culprit is none other than the ship’s computer, Kirk and crew must figure out how to deal with the issue.

The Practical Joker is one of the more memorable episodes of TAS – not because it’s particularly good, but because it is rather silly. Obviously this is far from the only episode that a ship’s computer causes trouble for its crew, but it does mark the sole appearance of a giant inflatable Enterprise. More on that later.

Given that the crew are dependent on the Enterprise and its computer for life support, it seems somewhat surplus to requirements to include a second source of jeopardy – namely, a Romulan ship. It might have been nice to use TAS to explore the Romulans a bit more, but here they are just a convenient enemy ship of the week. The Klingons could equally have been used here, and the episode would have been negligibly different.

The episode also features Star Trek’s first ever attempt at a holodeck, in the form of the ‘rec room’. The rec room appears to function exactly as the holodeck does on 24th century starships – including the obligatory malfunction that traps crewmembers inside.

Notes and Observations

  • Is the giant inflatable Enteprise something that the ship always has on hand, or was it something the ship’s computer specifically manufactured for a practical joke? Yes, it’s just a hollow balloon, but how could the real Enterprise contain either the space or the raw materials to make such a thing?
  • Are the Romulans really unable to tell the difference between a real starship and a giant inflatable one?
  • Why does flying into the energy cloud a second time reverse the changes to the ship? What exactly is the mechanism in the cloud that turns an AI into a practical joker anyway?
  • If the Romulans are reluctant to enter the energy cloud, why don’t they just wait to ambush the Enterprise when it emerges?
  • Given that Uhura, McCoy and Sulu are potentially in grave danger in the rec room, why does Kirk refuse to say “pretty please”? Sure, the ship might have ignored it, but it seemed like he was more concerned with protecting his masculinity than in doing everything possible to save his crew.

Summary – The Practical Joker: Deploy the inflatable Enterprise.

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