TOS Rewind #41: "The Trouble With Tribbles"
Up this time: The Trouble With Tribbles (12/29/1967)
Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. Get it here. The sound quality on this one was rough. I'm working on doing a different method of recording these which should hopefully address the problems.
Ah, the Tribbles. I tend to view this episode as the original series equivalent of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." It's a favorite to both serious and casual fans alike. It's really hard not to like this one, especially since it riffs on the familiar characters so well. Kirk spends the episode with equal measures of snark and irritation at having to expend his Captainly (?) energies on something best left to bureaucrats and rent-a-cops (or would that be rent-a-captains?). "I think of this project as very important. It is you I take lightly." Wouldn't you love to use that line at your next work meeting?! Spock and McCoy are even more sarcastic with their verbal jabs than usual. In a normal episode, this would have risen to the level of distraction, yet it fits like a glove in the rarefied air of this episode. The most memorable character interactions, for me actually revolve around Scotty. His dialogue in the bar scene is hilarious and works so well for the character. The aftermath of the bar fight scene is also spot on. It's really fun to see this much time devoted to scenes like this.
Those great character scenes are of course made possible thanks to the plot, which while moderately important is easy to push aside for funny set pieces. I think what really makes it work here is the way that it has just enough credibility. One of the failings of I, Mudd which is quite farcical is that its plot really pushes things to the extreme. Balance is the key to an episode like this and the flow from scene to scene feels right. "Tribbles" is more than just a bunch of jokes at the characters' expense, which makes if rewarding to return to after so many years. Another interesting factor here is the surprising amount of continuity with an earlier point in the series, something this show (and to be fair, most older TV shows) didn't too very often. The Organian Peace Treaty is used in the plot with the Klingons and they'd even planned on re-using the Commander Kor character from that first season episode ("Errand of Mercy"), but the original actor was unavailable. This was actually a good thing as the actor they did use, William Campbell from "Squire of Gothos" turns in a, dare I say it, flamboyant performance that fits the episode as it's written. The Cyrano Jones trader character, with his groovy 1960s shirt (!) is a lightweight version of the Harry Mudd character. Jones lacks some of the menace of Mudd, but again that works well here. Jones is the Tribble delivery system with some comic scenes for good measure. Besides, Kirk doesn't need a Mudd-like nemesis this time, he has the whole Federation bureaucracy for that!
I once again watched the BD "enhanced" version of this episode with its usual high picture and sound quality. The new effects mostly included renderings of the Enterprise, the Klingon ship (not shown in the original shots), and the space station. These were different shots than were made for the DS9 Trials and Tribbel-ations episode (a really fun DS9 original series tribute episode). They really piled on the bonus features for this episode and included a commentary with the episode's writer and lots of other goodies.
And Eric's take:
Hmm, this one is actually rather difficult. Don't get me wrong, "The Trouble with Tribbles" is one of my faves (an opinion that I think is shared by most fans). It is also widely-believed to be the best-known episode among non-fans. Why? Put simply, it's hilarious. And amazingly, it manages not to be a complete farce. The story is good, and the acting and direction is solid. The only real problem is that its distinct lack of depth or profundity makes the episode difficult to review.
So how about some favorite scenes. There are so many that are wonderful, but I think the best are Scotty's--his scene in the bar and the ensuing fight with the Klingons is classic, although the subsequent scene with Kirk may be even better. The scenes between the big three (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) are also great, and both Chekov and Uhura have some fun moments.
It's also worth noting that this episode was the first professional writing credit for David Gerrold (a noted science fiction author). It also spawned a really good entry in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine franchise: "Trials and Tribble-ations," as well as the not-so-good episode, "More Tribbles, More Troubles," from the 1970s animated Star Trek series.
My only gripe is that tribbles (the creatures) were basically plagiarized versions of the Martian flatcats from Robert Heinlein's 1952 novel "The Rolling Stones." But even that does little to diminish my enjoyment of the episode. It was intended to be a whimsical, lighthearted laugh fest, and as such, it succeeds brilliantly. It will always be in my top ten.
Next time: "The Gamesters of Triskelion"