final frontier friday tribbles

Well those two weeks certainly flew by, didn’t they? Possibly because that “well deserved break” I mentioned last time just happened to coincide with New York Comic Con and thus, a ton of work. In any case, welcome back to Final Frontier Friday! This week we’ll be returning to ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’ with our look at ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’.

As the title none-too-subtly suggests, ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’ is a sequel to the classic original series episode ‘The Trouble With Tribbles‘. Written by David Gerrold (who also penned the original episode), the story actually began as a pitch for the third season of ‘Star Trek’. It was ultimately not produced because Fred Freiberger (the third season’s showrunner) didn’t care for the original tribbles episode, particularly its comedic tone. Reportedly, Freiberger bluntly mixed the episode by telling Gerrold that “‘Star Trek’ is not a comedy.”

Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it, but as is so often the case with ‘Star Trek’, the conventional wisdom of television production would be thrown a curve ball. Following the unexpected success that ‘Star Trek’ found in syndication in the early seventies, work began on the animated series. When Gerrold got wind of this, he reached out to both Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana, essentially to say “I’d love to write an episode.” From there, it was more or less a done deal. Gerrold was among the first writers Fontana contacted. According to Gerrold, it was Fontana who first suggested translating his aborted tribble sequel to the new series, a prospect that was treated almost as a foregone conclusion.

Of course, that’s not to say it was all smooth sailing. Adding to the finished episode’s theme of unintended consequences, an earlier draft of the script included the implication that the tribble predator introduced in the episode was also a man-eater. Depending on how it was handled, this could have been a dicey prospect in prime time, but for a Saturday morning cartoon? Forget it.

Notably, this episode marks one of the few occasions in the run of  ‘The Animated Series’ on with an original series guest star reprised their role, as Stanley Adams returns as Cyrano Jones. While the show made a specific point of retaining the main cast of the original series (with the notable exception of Walter Koenig), guest characters were typically recast. ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’ also features an example of that, as James Doohan assumes the role of the Klingon Commander Koloth, who had previously been played by William Campbell. Indeed, many of the incidental voices on ‘The Animated Series’ were actually performed by Doohan or other members of the cast (with Majel Barrett Roddenberry being similarly prolific). This was both because he was good at that sort of thing and also (of course) a cost saving measure.

The Enterprise is escorting a pair of automated grain ships to the Federation colony Sherman’s Planet, which has suffered ecological calamity and famine since their last visit. While en route, the Enterprise diverts to assist a civilian scout ship, which is being pursued by a Klingon battle cruiser. Though they are unable to prevent the destruction of the scout ship, they are able to rescue the pilot, beaming him off his ship just in time, though Scotty has some difficulty completing the transport. With the scout ship destroyed, the Klingons turn their attention to the Enterprise. Rather than answer hails, though, they deploy a new weapon – which Spock describes as a projected stasis field – disabling the Enterprise’s engines and weapons. At last, the Klingon commander Koloth hails the Enterprise, demanding that they surrender the pilot of the scout ship, who they accuse of ecological sabotage. Kirk refuses, as the pilot is a Federation citizen in Federation space. Realizing that they still have control of the grain transports, Kirk sets them on a collision course with Koloth’s ship and demands the release of the Enterprise. The Klingons attempt to catch the grain ships in stasis fields of their own, but the energy demands prove too much, causing the weapon to fail altogether, releasing the Enterprise. After disabling a grain ship, the Klingons retreat. With the immediate crisis past, Kirk, McCoy, and Spock arrive in the transporter room just as Scotty finally manages to materialize the pilot. They are then greeted, to their collective horror, by Cyrano Jones and a transporter pad full of tribbles.

As Kirk begins scolding Jones for continuing to traffic tribbles, the trader explains that they are “safe tribbles” – sterile, for all intents and purposes, thanks to a bit of genetic engineering. He further explains that he completed his sentence on Station K-7 early with the help of a creature called a glommer – a tribble predator. The nature of the “ecological sabotage” Koloth spoke of quickly becomes clear, and Kirk places Jones under confinement until he can be handed over to the proper Federation authorities. Later, McCoy confirms that instead of reproducing, Jones’ new tribbles just get fat. Analyzing the new Klingon weapon, they learn that the power drain effectively leaves the Klingon ship as helpless as its target. Given how badly the Klingons want to get their hands on Jones, the crew reasons that they’ll likely attack as soon as their able, and that their first target will be the grain ships, to prevent Kirk from using the same trick twice. As predicted, the Klingons begin their approach. Kirk attempts to use a grain ship as a decoy, and the Klingons break away just long enough to disable its engines. After a brief exchange of fire, the Klingons break away, notably without using the stasis weapon. The Enterprise continues with one grain ship in tow and the cargo from the other occupying every available space on board. Unsurprisingly, the tribbles get into the grain, quickly growing too fat for the glommer to eat.

As the Klingons once again approach, the Enterprise releases the remaining grain ship and opens fire. Despite their best efforts, they are once again caught in the Klingon stasis field. As the Klingons prepare to board the Enterprise, Scotty implements an emergency defense plan devised by Spock and beams countless tribbles aboard the Klingon ship. Kirk then contacts Koloth to demand the release of his ship. Koloth simply gloats, right up to the moment an especially fat tribble rolls in front of him. Finally, he repents, explaining that Jones’ ecological sabotage was not the tribbles themselves but the theft of a Klingon genetic construct: the glommer. With the situation clear Kirk agrees – over Jones’ objections – to return the glommer to the Klingons. Later, McCoy explains that thanks to the slipshod nature of Jones’ genetic engineering, the giant tribbles aren’t so much fat as they are colonies of normal sized tribbles. Meanwhile, on the Klingon ship, Koloth turns the glommer loose in the engine room, only for the creature to flee at the sight of a tribble that dwarfs not only it but the Klingons as well. In response, Koloth orders one of his crewmen to simply shoot the tribbles. Instead of doing any noticeable harm, however, the disruptor blast merely causes the “colony” to break apart, burying the two Klingons in a tribble avalanche. Back on the Enterprise, McCoy is able to achieve a similar result with a simple injection, which he says will break down the colonies into otherwise normal tribbles with a slower metabolic rate, thus rendering them actually safe.

As you might expect from a Tribble episode, this is a fun one. In fact, it’s one of the standouts of ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’. It’s not quite as strong as its predecessor, though, and a lot of that is, I imagine, due to the restrictions imposed by the show’s nature as a Saturday morning cartoon (as opposed to a prime time drama). The restrictions I’m referring to have less to do with content than with the show’s truncated (by ‘Star Trek’ standards, at least) runtime of half an hour. This has the advantage of lending the show a fairly fast pace, but it also sometimes leaves you wishing they’d had the full hour to more thoroughly flesh out their stories. This is one of those times.

In particular, the tribbles (which were never exactly at center stage in the original episode) feel like much more of a background presence this time around while the focus falls more on the threat posed by the Klingons. In that regard, at least, it’s actually a bit more serious that ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’. Not that ‘Trouble’ didn’t have its serious elements (the Enterprise’s entire reason for being there, after all, was an outgrowth of the tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire), but they were much less front and center.

That being said, the episode nonetheless adds some interesting wrinkles to the tribble lore (such as it is), and a gargantuan tribble will never be anything less than delightful. And the glommer is just wonderfully odd. Not only is it imaginatively designed, it stands in contrast to nearly everything else in the episode as a great example of something that simply could not have been done in live action. At the end of the day, the episode is well worth a look, especially if you’re new to ‘The Animated Series’.

What do you think of ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’? Is it a worthy follow-up to such a classic episode? As always, leave your thoughts in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for our next installment!