Feb 6, 2020
Star Trek (TAS) “More Tribbles, More Troubles”
It’s hard to believe, but for some reason our host Dr. Winston O’Boogie and I never got around to recapping the last two Star Trek (the animated series) episodes. And given that two new animated Short Treks episodes are premiering today, he suggested that it was about time we rectified that. So without further delay, I present:
After the credits, we get the obligatory beauty shot of the Enterprise… for eighteen seconds. Not kidding; there’s no captain’s log, no dialogue of any sort. Just blinking lights and background music. The fact they’ve got to pad out a 24-minute kid’s show (with two of those minutes being opening and closing credits) does not bode well.
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Kirk exposits that the Enterprise is escorting two robot cargo ships loaded with grain to Sherman’s Planet, and for those who know their Star Trek lore, Sherman’s Planet was first mentioned in the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”, which this episode is obviously a sequel to. Not only that, the grain the ships are carrying is called quatrotriti—oh, I’m sorry, it’s “quintotritacale” now; it’s new and improved. In the first Tribbles episode, Sherman’s Planet was desperate to have the quatro version of this special grain for survival, and now apparently that wasn’t good enough, so they need the upgraded stuff. Sounds to me like Sherman’s Planet just really sucks as a world; I think I’d let the Klingons have it and laugh while they starve.
And speaking of Klingons, Kirk decides to break off to chase down a Klingon battle cruiser that’s apparently pursuing a smaller ship. Enterprise moves lethargically through space to intercept the other vessels and as they approach, Sulu confirms it’s definitely Klingons, and they’re closing in on what Spock calls a “one-man scout ship of common design”. Last time a ship like this was being chased, the cargo consisted of this.
Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be that lucky this time out. Kirk orders the Klingon vessel to cease and desist, and he repeatedly demands the battle cruiser identify itself. But the Klingons refuse to do either and blow the scout ship up, just as Scotty beams the pilot out. Scotty mutters to himself as he tries to re-integrate the poor bastard. The Klingons turn their attention to Enterprise, and fire a new weapon on our heroes.
The weapon disables phasers, photon torpedoes, shields, and engines. Uhura suggests they might be able to throw rocks at the enemy. What a silly suggestion, Uhura; Enterprise doesn’t carry rocks. The Klingons hail the Enterprise and demand the pilot, who they claim committed “ecological sabotage”. That’s a pretty serious charge from the civilization that strip-mined Praxis until it blew up. Kirk and the Klingon captain jaw jack until Uhura whispers that they’ve still got control of the robot ships. Kirk has her cut communications and then orders Sulu to set the robot ships to ram the Klingons. The strategy turns out to be sound as the Klingons can’t freeze all three ships, so they opt instead to blow the engines off one of the robots and hightail it out of there. This allows Scotty to finally integrate the small ship’s pilot, and it’s… Cyrano Jones!
But he hasn’t come alone. Scotty breathes, “He’s got tribbles, Captain. Tribbles!” and God bless you, James Doohan; the tone of sheer horror in Mr. Scott’s voice as he meets his old nemesis once more is priceless. It’s like he’s meeting the ghosts of those tribbles he beamed over to that Klingon ship and they’ve now come back… for revenge.
But credit to Shatner, too. When Jones beams over, Kirk actually has to try and recall who this guy is, which makes perfect sense, seeing as James T. has tooled around the galaxy, met so many people (and slept with his fair share), and suffered so much trauma such as being forced to fall in love via magic tears, getting stuck in a woman’s body, suffering amnesia and getting married and watching his wife die, getting tortured in a science experiment, mind controlled to fight Klingons while the ship was hurtling through space, gotten rage high in a mine and almost murdered a man… and all that, just from season three. So yeah, after everything he’s been through, barely remembering this jackass from a few years ago actually seems reasonable.
So to recap: we have Sherman’s Planet, a special seed grain, Klingons, Cyrano Jones, and the titular furry beasties, all of which we also had in “The Trouble with Tribbles”. At least when we saw Harry Mudd in his three appearances, the common theme was a dude and his get rich quick schemes, but each scheme was different. This whole setup feels so cut and paste, and dare I say it, lazy. The only thing different so far is that the tribbles here are pink, but apparently that was just a production mistake due to director Hal Sutherland being colorblind.
We come back from the commercial break and Kirk, being a “glass half-full” kind of guy, points out in his log supplement that the run in with the Klingons has at least given them some idea about their new weapon. Of course, it also means he’s got tribbles on his ship, so he has an ensign seal off the room. Jones—and thumbs up to the fact they got Stanley Adams to reprise the role—tries to suck up to Kirk, but James T. ain’t having it; he points out that Jones knows damn well there’s laws about transporting dangerous animals. But Jones protests, claiming tribbles are safe. Spock points out “safe” and “tribble” are a contradiction in terms.
Spock: Tribbles are well known for their proclivities in multiplication.
Jones: And they breed fast, too!
Meanwhile, Scotty is standing off in the corner, silent. I imagine he’s just waiting for the inevitable moment when the tribbles try to eat him. Jones explains his tribbles are safe because they don’t reproduce; he had them genetically engineered. He shoves one in McCoy’s face and Bones just arches his epic eyebrow in response. Kirk, now remembering more details, asks Cyrano how he got off of Space Station K-7, where he was destined to spend years picking up the furry bastards. Jones explains he had some help, and pulls a creature from out of his pocket: a “glommer”. He explains it’s a tribble predator and puts it on the floor to show what he means.
The glommer does the inevitable off-screen and McCoy notes, “Well, at least it’s neat.” But Kirk won’t be distracted by the important bit: why were the Klingons following Jones? He remembers how Koloth mentioned “ecological sabotage”, and… Koloth? You mean, Captain Koloth from “The Trouble with Tribbles”?
If the Klingon captain is Koloth, why didn’t Kirk mention him by name before? Why didn’t Koloth say something like, “Well met, Kirk, you won’t foil me this time!”? Why the hell does it have to be Koloth at all?
So Koloth mentioned ecological sabotage, and Jones has no clue what the man’s talking about, or so he says. It turns out he tried selling tribbles on a Klingon world but he had no idea it was a Klingon world at the time. So… what? He just randomly landed on the first planet he came to and decided to sell his wares? Is Jones the Prof. Harold Hill of outer space? Kirk points out Jones is in violation of a ton of laws and has him confined to quarters.
Later, McCoy has one of the tribbles in his lab and is waving his magical salt shaker over it. He goes “hmmm” and he “hmmm”s some more, and some more, and there’s something so simple and funny about it. I gotta admit I feel like the cast is putting some real effort into the episode this time around. Cut to the conference room, where McCoy says that Jones is right, and the tribbles don’t reproduce, they just get fat. Fat shaming, Bones? I expected better of you.
Kirk turns the discussion to the Klingons and their new weapon, and Spock points out the weapon renders the Klingons as helpless as the ships they use it on. Spock thinks the Klingons will be back once their weapon is recharged, and they’ll probably destroy the other robot ship to prevent Kirk from pulling, uh, the Kirk maneuver. Spock also points out the Klingons will be back because they’re jonesing for Jones, and McCoy says the guy doesn’t seem the ecological saboteur type. Kirk tables that and asks Scotty for an update, and he says all the grain from the damaged robot ship is stuffed in every nook and cranny onboard the Enterprise. Huh, tribbles around super grain. Can you guess what’ll happen next? Can you? There’s a shot of tribbles around Kirk’s feet, and I’m wondering what happened to that ensign who was ordered to seal off the transporter room?
Um, yeah, I’m definitely getting a “Gilligan” vibe off this guy. No wonder the tribbles are running amok. Spock reiterates that the Klingons’ new stasis weapon immobilizes an enemy ship but it also means they’re vulnerable at the same time. Scotty says that makes them just as helpless, and it’s all Spock can do to keep the condescending tone out of his voice when he says to Scotty that that’s pretty much what he said. Cut the man some slack, Spock; its obvious Scotty is experiencing some tribble-induced PTSD.
And now the Klingons are back, so Kirk has the robot ship veer off, but it seems Koloth learns from past mistakes. He shoots the robot ship’s engines, disabling it without destroying the grain. The Enterprise and the Klingons exchange shots, and during the melee, some grain containers crack open. And the tribbles feed… and grow larger…
Hmm, super-cute little creatures that eat something and grow into something larger and more dangerous? Something tells me David Gerrold watched Night of the Lepus while he was writing this. The Klingons then break off the attack without using their newfangled weapon and hightail it out of there. Kirk has the disabled robot ship set up for towing, and Spock thinks this might be exactly what the Klingons want. With Enterprise loaded down with grain and towing dead weight, they’ll be sitting ducks. So to quote the immortal Bugs Bunny, the Klingons are employing “a little stragety”. Kirk says that sounds logical and Spock dryly responds, “Thank you.” Damn, the plot feels cut and paste, but the humor is top-notch this time around.
Time passes and the tribbles continue to feed on the grain, and then the glommer…
…looks like he’s trying to hump one. Talk about eyes being bigger than your stomach. Scotty reports in, and with plenty of horror and awe in his voice, he says they’ve got open containers and grain all over the place, and hungry hungry tribbles. Kirk orders Jones up to the bridge, and when he learns that security can’t find all the furry creatures, Jones suggests Kirk needs better security. Truth hurts, don’t it, Kirk? Jim pushes a big tribble out of his chair…
…and this is the same tribble he pushed out a little while earlier, although it was smaller then. So… what did it just eat to get so big? Wait. We haven’t seen Uhura lately. Where is Uhura? My God, it is Night of the Lepus!
But the Klingons are back, and this time they’ve got Enterprise in their weapons-disabling stasis field. Koloth calls and demands Jones, but Kirk says that as much as he’d love to unload the guy on the Klingons, he can’t. Koloth tells Kirk not to do something they’ll both regret, and Kirk has Uhura close the channel. Oh thank gawd, Uhura’s still alive! Spock asks Kirk if he’s going to sit down.
On the Klingon ship, Koloth orders “boarding plan C”, while Kirk tells Scotty they’re planning “emergency defense plan B”. Scotty questions this, but Kirk says Spock suggested it. And what is “emergency plan B”, you might ask?
They really need to name beaming tribbles over to an enemy ship “The Scotty Maneuver”. Koloth reacts with horror and he comes clean, explaining that all they want is the glommer, which was genetically engineered by the Klingons to eat tribbles. Right now it’s one of a kind, and they need it to produce more. Kirk, sounding all kinds of reasonable says sure, no problem, and he orders Scotty to beam the glommer over. Jones claims it’s his by right and Scotty says he’ll beam Jones over with the glommer, to which Jones retracts his claim, and again the voice acting is so damn tight here with the way Stanley Adams shifts tone.
The glommer is beamed over and Koloth thinks it’s all good, because he’s finally got the tribble-eating monster. But one look at the giant furball behind Koloth and the glommer bails. Koloth orders his men to shoot the big tribble and it explodes into little tribbles, and it seems McCoy figured out the big tribbles aren’t giants: they’re colonies. Back onboard the Enterprise, Kirk says at least one good thing came out of this mess, in that they now know the stasis weapon sucks. Unless the Klingons fly around in pairs, with one ship paralyzing an enemy and the other one blowing the shit out of the helpless ship. But why would they do that?
McCoy’s worked up a magic shot that’ll break the colonies down and make the tribbles safe as well. Kirk points up at a
fat cheerfully stout tribble stuck up a maintenance shaft and says Bones forgot one. Only, Bones didn’t. The tribble explodes and we get a very familiar moment.
The episode ends with Scotty saying if they gotta have tribbles, it’s best if their tribbles are little ones.
“More Tribbles, More Troubles” suffers from using all the same plot elements from the first tribble episode. That being said, it’s an honestly funny episode with the cast doing a credible job selling the material. Stanley Adams is a great addition to the voice cast this time out, and by episode’s end, I was glad they had decided to bring him back. It’s interesting that two Star Trek sites I respect and admire, the Daystrom Institute and Ex Astris Scientia (and if you’re a Star Trek fan, I highly encourage you to check them both out), score the episode so low, where I would give it a more middling rating, with the rehashed material counteracted by the comedic aspects. But hey, to each their own.
Writer David Gerrold is the author of “The Trouble with Tribbles”, as well as a host of science fiction novels, among them The Man Who Folded Himself, When Harlie Was One, and Starhunt, but his most famous work was his War Against the Chtorr series. As an inside joke, it turned out he had a cameo in this episode:
Next time: After 13 years of recaps, we finally close out the animated series with “The Counter-Clock Incident”, which is only slightly less disappointing as a series finale than “Turnabout Intruder”. But before that, we look at the animated future of the Star Trek franchise with two new animated Short Treks episodes, “The Girl Who Made the Stars” and “Ephraim and Dot”.