Trek Tuesday – Trouble With Tribbles

The pretext for tying this to Star Trek: Discovery is slim:

  • It has Klingons in it
  • It has a Harry Mudd stand-in character, Cyrano Jones
  • It has a Klingon spy in it

Aside from that, the episode is a long way from Star Trek: Discovery. It is also brilliant.


I had feared that Trouble With Tribbles would let me down. It was easily one of my most favorite episodes as a child and I was apprehensive that it was not as good as I remember it. Truth is that it remains genuinely funny, partly because of some great physical comedy and timing from William Shatner but also some great ensemble banter among the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Other neat features is that the Klingon characters get a bit more to do than act villainous and also there is overt continuity with other episodes. The ‘Organian Peace Treaty’ is discussed as a shout out to the events of Errand of Mercy. I suspect part of the reputation of the episode is that it helps establish Star Trek as a story with continuity and existing in a wider universe. This also helps explain some of the love for Harry Mudd episodes that I otherwise find mystifying – TV audiences found that they liked when incidental characters came back and that one episode connected with another.

I shan’t recap the plot because for the most part it doesn’t matter. The stakes are low, there is a bar fight, there is a conman and the assistant of the obnoxious Federation bureaucrat is a Klingon spy in disguise. Luckily, Tribbles react badly to Klingons which leads to the spy being exposed. It is shallow and inconsequential but brilliantly establishes the Enterprise as setting in a broader universe. Kirk has to contend with Starfleet giving him not-unreasonable but vexing orders, managing relations with the vexatious Klingons, his  own crew variously misbehaving or innocently causing trouble, not to mention a creeping infestation of cuteness.

A low stakes episode of a Trek series can do a lot of work in establishing that the cast is a crew. Trouble With Tribbles also demonstrates the capacity for Trek to do comedy without falling into parody.

One last note: Errand of Mercy and Trouble With Tribbles share plot continuity but another common thread is that they also both involve Kirk being taken down a peg or two. I suspect that is a common theme in the episode I like best. Sorry Kirk! (and again kudos to William Shatner who plays those moments very well).

20 thoughts on “Trek Tuesday – Trouble With Tribbles

  1. It’s a great epiode, one of the standout episodes of the original series (the other is City on the Edge of Forever, which is pretty much the polar opposite of Tribbles) and perhaps even of the entire Star Trek franchise. Even though it’s one of the least typical Star Trek episodes of the original series (or any Star Trek series, in fact) with its humor and general fluffiness. The two Mudd episodes and “Shore Leave” try to do something similar, but don’t work nearly as well, largely due to dated social attitudes.

    I think you’re right that the crew interactions and reactions are a large part of what makes “The Trouble with Tribbles” work so well. And indeed a lot of what we know about second tier characters like Scotty or Chekhov, e.g. that Chekhov believes the Russians did everything first and better or that you can insult Scotty, but not his ship, can be traced directly back to this episode.

    I love the gif of Kirk getting showered with dead tribbles BTW. Come to think of it, Kirk was wrong a lot more often than I remembered.

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  2. Cora: I love the gif of Kirk getting showered with dead tribbles BTW.

    They aren’t all dead! A lot of them are still cooing!

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      1. Or Sisko and Dax are, according to DS9: Trials and Tribblations. Which is when I choked with laughter.

        And that gif is hilarious. Shatner’s face sells it.

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    1. Echo some of the sentiment. This is also one I could watch over and over again. So much fun all around. As much as I’m supposed to be all tribal about Mr. Gerrold too, he’s always been very friendly and nice to me personally, which I appreciate.

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  3. The scene of the cascading tribbles is also a presaging of things to come, when Shatner tries on toupees. During the show’s run, he tended to ‘borrow’ his work hair for extended periods, but afterwards, his standards seem to have relaxed a bit.

    The bar fight is memorable, too, as an exploration of Scotty’s deep affection for his ship. When I wrote my Star Trek parody, around 1976, I had Kirk turn to Mr. Scott and have him tell someone their mission. He says something like, “Our five-year mission is to go to distant places and meet with situations that fully test the Enterprise’s capabilities, in the interests of improving the machine.” “WHA-AT?” says Kirk. “That’s the way I always seen it, Sir.”

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  4. I have a person in my extended family whose name actually is Tribble, and whose behavior actually is tribble-like. It’s funny not funny.

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    1. In our last years in Virginia, former US Representative and Senator Paul Trible (pronounced ‘tribble’) became president of CNU, and therefore my wife’s boss. We never ever made any jokes about it. Nope. Not us.

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        1. Not if they looked like potential donors. The man’s a politician. I think I may have spoken with him one time, at a public event welcoming him to campus, so I’m not much of a well of colorful stories.

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