The Trouble With Tribbles

The Trouble With Tribbles
"The Trouble With Tribbles"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Captain Kirk up to his chest in tribbles
Episode no. Episode 44
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by David Gerrold
Production code 042
Original air date December 29, 1967 (1967-12-29)
Guest stars
Episode chronology
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"The Trouble With Tribbles" is a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, first broadcast on December 29, 1967 and repeated June 21, 1968. It was written by David Gerrold and directed by Joseph Pevney and is episode #44, production #42.

Overview: Kirk and crew find themselves overwhelmed by fuzzy creatures called tribbles.


On stardate 4523.3, Captain James T. Kirk and his crew are called to Deep Space Station K7 by a priority-one distress call. The station is near Sherman's Planet, a world in a sector of space disputed between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty, Sherman's Planet would be awarded to whichever side demonstrates that it can manage it more efficiently.

Kirk is furious when he later realizes the distress call was unwarranted, and the undersecretary in charge of agriculture in the sector, Nilz Baris, simply wants someone to guard the shipments of quadrotriticale, a four-lobed wheat-rye hybrid grain, bound for Sherman's Planet. To Baris's annoyance, Kirk assigns two token guards to the task shortly before learning that Starfleet Command endorses Baris's concerns. A Klingon ship soon arrives at the space station and requests that its crew be granted shore leave, as entitled under the treaty. Kirk tells the Klingon captain Koloth that he may only bring members of his crew down 12 at a time, and that he will provide one security guard for each Klingon who beams down.

Meanwhile, an independent trader, Cyrano Jones, brings some little furry animals called tribbles onto the station to sell; he gives one to Uhura as a marketing ploy. She brings it on board the Enterprise, where it and its offspring are treated as adorable pets. The animals purr a relaxing trill that the crew (even the stoic Mr. Spock) find soothing. Klingons, however, find tribbles very annoying, and the feeling is mutual: tribbles emit an ear-piercing shriek of aggression, and jump, whenever they are near Klingons. (It has subsequently been explained that tribbles have a keen sense of smell and find food by scent, that they find the smell of Klingons offensive, and that Klingons, who are likewise spoken of as having a keen sense of smell, find the "stench" of tribbles repulsive.)

The "trouble" with the tribbles is that they reproduce far too quickly and are capable of eating a planet barren if their breeding is not controlled; in the words of Dr. McCoy, "they are born pregnant" and threaten to consume all the onboard supplies. The problem is aggravated when it is discovered that the creatures are entering essential ship systems, interfering with their functions and consuming any edible contents present. Kirk realizes that if the tribbles are getting into the Enterprise's stores, then they are a direct threat to the grain stores aboard the station. However, upon examining the holds, Kirk learns that it is already too late; the tribbles have indeed eaten the grain—a fact he learns the hard way, by being buried to more than half his own height in tribbles when he opens a hold with an overhead hatch. It appears the mission has ended in a fiasco. On top of that, Koloth wants a formal apology from Kirk, since some of the Enterprise crew members have started, though not without provocation, a western-style brawl with the Klingon crew in the station's bar.

Spock and McCoy, however, soon discover that around half the tribbles in the hold are dead and many of the rest are dying, alerting the Federation that the grain has been poisoned. Furthermore, the tribbles also give away the identity of a surgically altered Klingon agent responsible. The saboteur is the only "human" the tribbles do not like: Arne Darvin, Baris's own assistant. He had infected the grain with a virus that becomes an inert material in an organism's bloodstream; the more that is eaten, the more inert matter builds up, till the organism cannot take in enough nourishment to survive and essentially starves to death. Upon a medical scan by Dr. McCoy, it is revealed that Darvin is indeed a Klingon in disguise. Thus the tribbles redeem themselves and enable the Federation to score a diplomatic victory against the Klingons. As for Cyrano Jones, who introduced the species to the station, he is ordered to remove the tribbles from the station (a clean-up task that Spock estimates will take 17.9 years) or be imprisoned for 20 years for transporting a dangerous life form off its native planet.

Just before the Klingon departure, all tribbles that were on the Enterprise are somehow beamed onto the Klingon ship by Scotty as a retaliation for the troubles the Klingons have caused, where, in his words, "they'll be no tribble at all."

40th anniversary remastering

"The Trouble With Tribbles" was remastered in 2006 and first aired on November 4, 2006 as part of the remastered original series. It was preceded a week earlier by "Catspaw", and followed a week later by "Mirror, Mirror". Video and audio have been digitally restored, and the episode features the all-CGI USS Enterprise that is standard among the revisions. Other changes to this episode include:

  • Space station K7 is rendered as a CGI effect with more surface detail added.
  • A Klingon ship has been added in orbit around the station that was never seen in the original episode, but was seen in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tribute episode, "Trials and Tribble-ations". None of the effects from "Trials and Tribble-ations" were used in the remastered episode, although the more detailed appearance of station K7 (including a prominent K7 logo on the dome of its central module) is clearly influenced by that episode.



In his 1973 memoir The Trouble With Tribbles: The Complete Story of One of Star Trek's Most Popular Episodes [1] author David Gerrold states that he had been a science fiction fan since childhood, and was a film student in college when the series was aired. Gerrold submitted five story premises to Producer Gene L. Coon. One of the five premises, "The Fuzzies", interested Coon, and Gerrold was commissioned to write the story outline (retitled A Fuzzy Thing Happened To Me. . .).

"Tribbles" was originally intended to be a serious take on the introduction of alien species to predator-free environments, as had happened with rabbits in Australia. In the book, Gerrold stated that his goal was to show how a species that seemed harmless could be quite dangerous.

After Gerrold's outline was accepted, he was commissioned to write the first draft of the script, subject to approval. During production, the production company noted strong similarities to the flat cats included in a segment of the Robert A. Heinlein novel The Rolling Stones.

Documents excerpted in Gerrold's memoir show that producers contacted Heinlein, asking him to approve the script, willing to offer story credit or payment if necessary. Heinlein waived any claim, stating that he had borrowed the idea from the 1905 Ellis Parker Butler short story Pigs Is Pigs and asking only for an autographed copy of the script.


Deep Space Station K7 was based on a model for a real-life space station/moon base proposed by Douglas Aircraft as early as 1960. Intended to be housed in the top stage of the Saturn IB or Saturn V rocket, it was designed to deploy like an inflatable balloon. This space station was also available as a model from Aluminium Metal Toys.[2]

Tribbles revisited

The James Blish adaptation of the episode was included in the Star Trek 3 collection published in April 1969. It is based on a version of the script which incorporated Sulu rather than Chekov. The episode was the basis of the third Star Trek Fotonovel.

A sequel episode appeared in Star Trek: The Animated Series titled "More Tribbles, More Troubles", for which Gerrold also wrote the script. He is writing another sequel for the Star Trek: New Voyages fan film series.

Tribbles are handled by Starfleet personnel in the bar scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock while Dr. McCoy seeks illegal passage to the Genesis Planet.

The original episode was later edited and spliced into the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations". In this retelling, the crew of Deep Space Nine witness the original events through time travel in an effort to stop Darvin from returning to change the course of history. This time, Gerrold made a cameo as a gray-haired, red-shirted ensign in a corridor of the Enterprise. During the episode, Worf reveals that Klingons considered tribbles to be an ecological menace and so destroyed their homeworld.

Charlie Brill reprised his role as Darvin in this episode of Deep Space Nine after coincidentally meeting several of the producers. According to a text commentary written by Mike Okuda on the DVD version of the episode, the producers were ambivalent on whether to do a return to "The Trouble With Tribbles" or "A Piece of the Action" when they happened to chance upon Brill sitting in the same restaurant that they were discussing the planned tribute.

Tribbles are also seen in the 2003 Star Trek: Enterprise episode "The Breach" (which takes place in 2152) in which Doctor Phlox uses them as food for his medicinal pets in Sick Bay.

A tribble can be seen in the 2009 Star Trek film, sitting on Montgomery Scott's desk when Scott is first met on Delta Vega by Kirk and Spock Prime.

Gerrold's relationship with Star Trek

This episode marked the beginning of a long association between author David Gerrold and Star Trek. Despite some unpleasant experiences during the start-up of The Next Generation series, he still remains enthusiastic about the ideals of the original series.[3]

See also


External links

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