Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 15 – The Trouble with Tribbles

Ah, so much to say, so much to say.  The Trouble with Tribbles is a comic episode.  It allows Shatner and the rest of the regulars to ham it up outrageously.  And as it turns out that is the highest and best use of the series.  Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, McCoy, Spock and of course Kirk are provided dialog and space to flesh out their characters with some comic verve.  Finally, something to enjoy.

The plot has the Enterprise summoned by an emergency distress call to Deep Space Station blah blah blah  where they find that there is no emergency but that a space bureaucrat is worried that his space wheat seeds will be sabotaged before it can be delivered to a planet in dispute between Klingons and the Federation.  Kirk is outraged by this high-handed use of a distress call and insults the Under-Secretary of Wheat.  Then Kirk is called up by his boss and told to do what the bureaucrat tells him to do.  Kirk obeys with bad grace and assigns guards to protect the wheat from the Klingons who are on board the space station for rest and relaxation.  The Klingon commander is played by the actor who showed up on the episode, “The Squire of Gothos” as the titular character Trelane.  So Kirk uses the opportunity of the stay at the space station to allow his whole crew to take shore leave on the space station.  Scotty is the only crewman who doesn’t want to take leave but Kirk forces him to go and keep an eye on the rest of the crew and avoid trouble with the Klingons.

A space trader named Cyrano Jones shows up at the space station and among the things he is selling are tribbles.  These are fur balls that purr around humans and hate Klingons.  Jones gives one to Uhura while she is seated at the bar in the space station lounge.  She takes it back to the ship and we find out that tribbles are prolific breeders and within a few days the Enterprise and the space station are both becoming overrun with the fuzzy creatures.

Meanwhile, Scotty, Chekov and some red shirts are having drinks in the lounge when one of the Klingons starts insulting Kirk.  Chekov is incensed and wants to start a brawl with the Klingons but Scotty restrains him explaining that it isn’t important and everyone is entitled to his opinion.  But when the Klingon starts insulting the Enterprise as a ship Scotty punches him in the head and a huge brawl breaks out.  The fight alarms the Under-Secretary of Space Wheat and he rants and raves at Kirk about dangerous Klingons and rowdy Federation spacemen and tribbles.  Kirk is annoyed and promises to discipline his crew.

At this point the tribble infestation on the Enterprise becomes a catastrophe.  The tribbles have managed to infiltrate the food production systems and we see the spectacle of Kirk staring at his lunch tray covered with tribbles muttering “my chicken sandwich and coffee” to anyone who will listen.  When Scotty explains that the tribbles have managed to get into the air ducts, Kirk immediately realizes that the space wheat storage bins have air ducts too.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy rush over to the space station and when the storage bins doors don’t open easily Kirk fiddles with it and the overhead bin opens up and pours down hundreds of tribbles onto Kirk.  They’ve eaten all the space wheat and the Under-Secretary of Space Wheat, who was there to witness this debacle, blows a space-gasket and starts heaping abuse and threats on Kirk.  Meanwhile Spock, after first estimating the number of tribbles as something north of a million, observes that many of the tribbles are dead.  Bones then diagnoses the cause of death as a poison that the wheat contains.  A virus has been added to the wheat which renders the eater unable to ingest nutrition and therefore subject to death by starvation.

Using the tribbles’ hatred of Klingons Kirk is able to discover that the  Under-Under-Secretary of Space Wheat is a disguised Klingon and poisoned the space wheat.  This of course shuts up the Under-Secretary of Space Wheat and allows Kirk to walk away as the hero.

Finally Kirk returns to the ship and finds it cleared of tribbles and after a lot of hemming and hawing we find out that with the approval of Spock and McCoy, Scotty beamed all the tribbles onto the Klingon battleship just as it was about to warp out of orbit.  His words were, “I beamed them into the engineering section where they’ll be no tribble at all.”

Other than the fact that writer David Gerrold stole the concept of the tribble from Heinlein’s martian flat cats as they appeared in the novel “The Rolling Stones” I wholly approve of this episode.  It is obvious that a comical take on the adventures of the crew of the Enterprise is the only good purpose the show can be put to.

Kirk spends the whole episode outraged about everything.  The Under-Secretary is a truly annoying character.  For once you actually sympathize with Kirk.  The Klingons mock Kirk in front of his crew describing him as a strutting autocrat.  When Scotty tells Kirk about it and further admits that he didn’t bother to defend Kirk from the insults but did become enraged when the ship was insulted Kirk is cut to the quick.  And when the tribbles start discomfiting Kirk at every turn he is irritable and petulant.  This was indeed Shatner’s finest hour on Star Trek.

And Uhura, Scotty, Chekov get much more screen time than on any other episode I can remember.  Uhura gets to play with the tribble and converse with the rest of the crew.  Scotty and Chekov get a barroom brawl scene.  Even Spock gets to ham it up a little.

I won’t quibble about the tribbles.  I’m just going to give this episode a 10  //  10.

The Rolling Stones by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

After rereading Starman Jones and writing a review it occurred to me that the Heinlein juveniles are better than ninety percent of all the Young Adult (YA) science fiction that’s come out since.  So my idea is not to just look at plot but really give a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these classic stories.  Let’s look at “The Rolling Stones.”

The Stones are a family of “Loonies.”  That’s what the human inhabitants of Earth’s Moon call themselves.  In his Future History Heinlein has decided that the Moon is officially named Luna.  Roger and Edith are the parents of Meade, Castor, Pollux and Lowell (or as he’s nicknamed Buster).  And Hazel Meade is Roger’s mother.

Roger is an engineer by profession but lately his job has been writing a television (or whatever they call it) serial called Scourge of the Spaceways.  He despises the vapidity of the show but the hefty paycheck has hooked him.

Edith is a medical doctor and housewife who manages to keep the individualistic personalities of her children from wreaking havoc with her husband’s ideas of domestic sanity.

Meade is the oldest, recently graduated from high school and a social butterfly.  Castor and Pollux are identical twins high school juniors.  They are precocious engineering inventors who have made a good amount of money on an invention and are aching to break out on their own and make their fortune out in the far flung reaches of the solar system.  Buster is a four-year-old who is either a chess prodigy or can read his grandmother’s mind.  Finally, Hazel is one of the original “Founding Fathers” of the Luna Revolution (which Heinlein later back filled in his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”).  She is a senior citizen but because of the preservative effects of living on the low gravity Moon she is quite lively and also extremely outspoken on everything from child-raising to larceny.

Heinlein creates a story about a middle-class family leaving their comfortable but boring environment in order to head out into the frontier of the solar system and experience life as a family and a crew.  Roger and Castor (and later Meade) handle the astrogation.  Hazel and Pollux run the engines.  Edith is the ship’s doctor, cook and also Buster’s mom.  Buster is (as his father notes in the crew list) supercargo.

But really what Heinlein is trying to point out is that the family hasn’t fared well under the modern lifestyle and living life together as a team can allow a father to get to know his children.  And allow them to find out more about their parents than just how much they are willing to spend on useless junk.  All the children benefit from the skills, talents and experiences of their parents and grandmother and the adults are enriched by the challenges of the trip and the chance to influence the choices their children make.

Of course, this is an altogether outlandish odyssey that they are on and apparently bankrolled by the amazingly lucrative writing contract for Scourge of the Spaceways.  Perhaps this is in a way a stand-in for Heinlein’s own lifestyle which was made possible by his well-paying books.  And considering the paucity of other money coming in from the commercial enterprises that the Twins attempt you could be excused for thinking the whole trip was a bust.  But it’s the setup we’re supposed to enjoy.  Seeing the Twins through the eyes of their grandmother as she attempts to extricate them from a legal mess that their ingenuity and inexperience combine to create, we see that this family is resourceful and interesting even when they fail.  These are the story elements that give the book its character.  The action, such as it is, is light and only occasionally rises above familial squabbling.  But Heinlein paints an entertaining picture of his Swiss Family Robinson in space.  Despite the futuristic backdrop and the extraordinary qualities of the individuals, the ethos and character of the family is mid-twentieth century American and it is a charming world that Heinlein has reimagined in the unrealizable future of his era.  The children despite their precocity are decidedly normal and compared to today’s versions, decidedly a breath of fresh air.

And whereas he did manage to tie Hazel somewhat into his other books, I had hoped he would have had a follow-on novel of the brothers in their grown-up stage pursuing fame and fortune while trying to avoid execution.  Some more exciting adventures in this frontier environment wouldn’t wear out the welcome for the Stone family among Heinlein readers.  In fact, one day I might write some of those stories, although if the copyright forbids, I’ll have to alter them to the extent of calling them Castor and Pollux Rock or Boulder or Pebble.  Either way the characters are too good to waste.

A remarkable thing about this book is that it introduced the science fiction creature the flat cat that was stolen by Star Trek and turned into the Tribble.  Of course, Heinlein was gracious enough to permit the theft but it just goes to show you how impoverished Hollywood really is.

The Rolling Stones is different from the other Heinlein juveniles in that the adventure is muted.  But I believe it has its own charm that is completely character driven.  The showcasing of a normal functional family is especially enheartening today when they are almost completely missing in books and films.

Highly recommended for children and adults.