“The Trouble with Tribbles” is the fifteenth episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek.
Written by David Gerrold and directed by Joseph Pevney, it was first broadcast on 29 December 1967.
In the episode, the starship Enterprise arrives at Deep Space Station K7 and is conscripted to guard a consignment of grain from sabotage, the Klingons being of some concern. Lt. Uhura is given a tribble which leads to dramatic consequences, including the grain being eaten by the tribbles.
It is claimed the short story “Pigs Is Pigs” by Ellis Parker Butler inspired the episode, but strong similarities to sections of the novel The Rolling Stones led the producers to seek a waiver from author Robert A. Heinlein.
The original episode has had several produced follow-ups. The first “More Tribbles, More Troubles” (S01E05), was originally pitched for the show’s third season but not accepted but was ultimately produced for Star Trek: The Animated Series. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek in 1996, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” (S05E06) used digital techniques to insert the Deep Space Nine actors into the events of “The Trouble with Tribbles”.
The Enterprise is summoned to Deep Space Station K7 by a “priority one” distress call, used only in case of disaster. On arrival, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is infuriated to learn that there has been no disaster; the distress call was ordered by Nilz Baris (William Schallert), the Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs, who only wants guards for his shipments of quadrotriticale grain bound for Sherman’s Planet. The grain is crucial for the Federation’s plan to develop the planet and claim it under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty. Starfleet Command shares Baris’s concerns and orders Kirk to cooperate.
As the Enterprise crew enjoy shore leave on the station, interstellar trader Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) arrives with goods for sale, among them purring balls of fluff called tribbles. He gives one to Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), who brings it on board the Enterprise, where it quickly begins to reproduce. The human crew adore the creatures and Uhura gives the offspring away.
A Klingon ship arrives under the command of Captain Koloth (William Campbell), who invokes his right under the Organian treaty to shore leave for his crew. The tribbles, multiplying rapidly on the station, disgust the Klingons, and the feeling is mutual. Korax, a Klingon, insults the Enterprise crew (led by Scotty and Chekov) and a fight breaks out. Baris, for his part, is terrified of possible Klingon interference with the grain project, and suspects Jones of being a Klingon agent.
Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) are concerned that the increasing number of tribbles threaten to consume all the food aboard the Enterprise. When it is discovered that they are entering ship systems through air vents, Kirk realises that they could be a threat to the grain aboard the station. He is too late, however; when he opens an overhead storage compartment, he is literally buried in grain-gorged tribbles. Spock and McCoy discover that many of the tribbles in the hold are dead or dying, suggesting another problem with the grain.
Baris vows to see Kirk punished for the fiasco, and Koloth demands an apology from Kirk for what he considers disrespectful treatment of his crew. Their arguments are cut short, however, when Baris’s assistant Arne Darvin (Charlie Brill) walks into the room and the tribbles react as if in the presence of a Klingon. McCoy reveals Darvin to be a surgically-altered Klingon. Darvin confesses to having contaminated the grain with what McCoy explains is a virus that interferes with an organism’s ability to digest food, eventually killing it.
After Darvin’s exposure and arrest, Cyrano Jones is ordered to remove the tribbles from the station (a task that Spock estimates will take 17.9 years), or he may face charges for transporting dangerous life forms (punishable by twenty years in a penal colony). Just before the Klingons depart, all the tribbles aboard the Enterprise are transported onto the Klingon vessel by Chief Engineer Scott, where, in his words, “they’ll be no tribble at all.”
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Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Joseph Pevney.
- Writer(s): David Gerrold.
- Production: Desilu Productions (1966-1967) and Paramount Television (1968-1969).
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures (1966-2006), CBS Paramount Television (2006-2007), and CBS Television Distribution (2007-Present).
- Original Network: NBC.
- Release Date: 29 December 1967.
- Running Time: 50 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.