|Posted on March 31, 2010 at 8:17 AM|
Ask any Star Trek fan what their favorite original episode was, and overwhelmingly you will hear one answer: “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It was the premiere outing for now veteran Trek writer David Gerrold, a clever tale of the cute and cuddly, contrasted with the brutal and warlike Klingons. It was so popular that Deep Space 9 revisited the episode with its own storyline early in its fifth season.
Let’s start from the beginning. Shortly after the Organian Peace Treaty was signed into law (see March 10 entry), Sherman’s Planet also becomes a hot political potato for the Federation and the Klingons. The key to their livelihood is a grain called quadrotriticale, stored at Space Station K-7, The Enterprise is to pick up and deliver it, hopefully without Klingon interference.
At the same time, the station receives another visitor, Cyrano Jones, an intergalactic merchant and con man who sells, among other things, Spican flame gems, Antarian glow water, and cooing tribbles. The tribbles’ prolific nature is the source of many jokes on the show.
For instance, when Kirk comes to sickbay with a headache, he discovers McCoy is keeping a crowd of the little furballs in a large container. Tribbles under glass?
“How many of these did Uhura give you?” Kirk asks.
“Just one,” says McCoy.
“But you’ve got, uh … eleven.”
“You noticed that, huh?” He goes on to explain their bodies are geared toward reproduction from birth, adding, “You know what you get if you feed a tribble too much?”
“A fat tribble,” guesses Kirk.
“No, you get a whole bunch of hungry little tribbles.”
At one point, Spock quotes the Bible. For me, this is a pleasant surprise from the man who once said “I, for one, do not believe in angels”; and in another episode, “There was no deity involved” in a close-call rescue. Speaking of the leporid tendency for tribbles to multiply, he says, “They remind me of the lilies of the field: ‘They toil not, neither do they spin.’ But they seem to eat a great deal.”
The quote comes from Matthew 6:28, though it is slightly out of context. Jesus was saying even though wild lilies do nothing toward their own survival—no work or making clothes—they survive and are beautifully dressed because God sees to their needs. Therefore, we should trust Him to see to ours. But lilies are also plentiful like tribbles, which is probably what Spock meant.
Lilies, like the tribbles’ cooing, are pleasant for everyone, too—so long as you’re not a Klingon. Tribbles have a violent, screeching reaction toward them, and the feeling is mutual. That’s how Kirk discovered an administrative assistant named Arne Darvin was really a Klingon spy. He was arrested and taken away.
According to the follow-up Deep Space 9 episode titled “Trials and Tribble-ations,” Darvin fell into disgrace after his prison time was up, an outcast from his own people. Eventually he made a meager living as a merchant, until he discovered one of several Bajoran Orbs which could take him back in time. The mythological back story of these Orbs and non-corporeal creatures known as “the Prophets” would take too long to explain here. I might get into that for a future entry.
Like K-7, Deep Space Nine is a space station, though significantly upgraded. Its purpose is much the same: provide a hostel of sorts for space travelers to stop in, relax, and entertain themselves. This time, Darvin’s intent is to change history and make sure his arrest as a spy never happened. (From July 29 through September last year, I did a ten-part series on time travel. One of the first things I discussed was the idea of changing history, as seen in Back to the Future.) To carry through his new plot, Darvin disguises a bomb as a tribble somewhere on the station, set to go off when Kirk is near.
Charlie Brill, the actor who played Darvin both times, certainly showed his age the second go-round, and no wonder. In the fictional setting of the Star Trek universe, people live a lot longer than they do today. Even though more than 105 years have elapsed, Darvin could well have survived. In reality, though, it’s closer to 30 years between episodes.
At any rate, DS9 paid many tributes to the original series. Captain Sisko, Jadzia Dax, Dr. Julian Bashir, and Miles O’Brien all dressed in period uniforms to mingle and investigate. Worf and Odo are also present, but as alien tourists. CGI technology works wonders for including them in these familiar scenes.
Aboard the Enterprise, when Kirk receives a call from the station, Jadzia and Sisko are eavesdropping in the background. Likewise, when Kirk nearly sits on a tribble in his command chair, you can see Jadzia well behind him, trying to remain unnoticed; Sisko is sitting at the bridge engineering station. Dr. Bashir, unfamiliar with the era he’s in, utters one of McCoy’s classic lines: “I’m a doctor, not a historian.” And in the bar scene, Worf, Odo, O’Brien, and Bashir sit together at a table; they take part in the ensuing brawl.
Later, we see O’Brien and Bashir CGIed into the lineup when Kirk questions his crew: “Who threw the first punch?”
O’Brien takes the place of a minor crewman named Freeman in the original, who said, “I don’t know, sir.”
Jadzia also repeats, nearly verbatim, one of Spock’s observations. When the number of tribbles is estimated to be “thousands,” then “hundreds of thousands,” she says, “1,771,561. That’s assuming one tribble, multiplying with an average litter of ten, producing a new generation every twelve hours after three days.” In a wonderfully ironic scene later, she and Sisko are in the quadrotriticale storage bin when they overhear Spock saying the same thing, following the same exact prompts. Fascinating.
And speaking of funny scenes, they just had to include the most hilarious moment in “Trouble with Tribbles”: Kirk buried in a cascade of the little critters. Now at last we know why individual tribbles kept falling with a yip on Kirk’s head: Jadzia and Sisko were searching for the tribble bomb, tossing several live ones aside and out the hatch.
Though interaction with contemporaries is forbidden in this idea of time travel, Sisko violates the rule in one final scene: meeting Captain Kirk face to face. He pretends to be a yeoman, giving Kirk orders to sign, and carries a short conversation with him. Actually, this scene comes from the tag of “Mirror, Mirror,” where Sisko takes the place of a female lieutenant who figured prominently in the episode as Kirk’s mirror wife. That’s another episode I’ll have to cover someday.
In final homage to the original tribble show, “Trials and Tribble-ations” shows the Ferengi bartender Quark surrounded by tribbles, including one on his misshapen head. That reminds us of the state of the deadpan bartender in “Trouble with Tribbles.” Both episodes gave us an equal share of laughs.
Then there is the animated episode, “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” which continued the story by bringing back Cyrano Jones. Somehow he had engineered a predator which could help him get rid of the tribbles on K-7. It’s called a glommer, a four-legged blue creature which could settle over a prey and swallow it whole.
Kirk’s answer to McCoy’s riddle (“a fat tribble” ) is literally true here, for instead of breeding, they grow to immense size. (More accurately, a colony grows inside it.) A vaudevillian running gag has Kirk pushing an ever-larger tribble out of his chair. Finally Spock says, “Aren’t you going to sit down, Captain?”
Beside his chair containing a creature taller than himself, he says, “I think I’ll stand.”
No profound spiritual message this time. Just my gratitude that the tribble episodes provided us pure entertainment with believable animals, a wonderfully fun time for everyone.
And who better than Christians to have fun, since God gave us real joy in our hearts? The source of that joy: Jesus taking our sins on the Cross and dying in our place. Something to remember as we celebrate Easter this Sunday.