Star Trek’s 30th anniversary arrived in the fall of 1996, and it was a truly great time to be a Trekkie. I was turning 30 myself around that time, and Star Trek was everywhere; two concurrent TV series (“Deep Space Nine” “Voyager”), an explosion of books, a rather silly televised anniversary special on (defunct network) UPN, and, best of all, a Next Generation feature film (“First Contact”, due later that same year). That’s a lotta Trek.
The two Star Trek TV series were both scrambling to create ‘special’ episodes that would commemorate the 30th anniversary in style. “Star Trek: Voyager” was the first out of the gate with an episode featuring Captain Sulu (George Takei), “Flashback” (written by Brannon Braga).
“Flashback” wasn’t entirely successful, since the Capt. Sulu scenes aboard the USS Excelsior were not terribly evocative of the original series (Sulu wasn’t seen as captain until the 1991 feature film, “The Undiscovered Country”), and they had little context with the central plot of the episode, which was about a memory parasite invading the brain of Vulcan tactical officer, Tuvok (Tim Russ). The titular ‘flashbacks’ could’ve been about any event in Tuvok’s past, and were clumsily ret-conned to fit (Tuvok was never seen aboard the USS Excelsior any time during the film “The Undiscovered Country”). The episode also featured Grace Lee Whitney returning as Janice Rand, the role she played in both the original series, and several of the feature films (including “The Undiscovered Country”).
“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”’s anniversary episode came a little later (in November) but was much more worthy a celebration. Their anniversary episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” literally took the DS9 crew back to the era of the original series…specifically to the events of the David Gerrold-penned episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Written by what seems like the entire writing staff of DS9 (Ron Moore, Rene Echevarria, Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler and Robert Hewitt-Wolfe), “Trials…” is nothing short of a love letter to the classic series. Best of all, the episode’s connection to the past feels plausible (unlike “Flashback”), as the DS9 characters have a genuinely good reason to be lurking about during the events of “Trouble With Tribbles.”
Star Trek had done several prior crossover episodes between past and present. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” saw Admiral Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) in a cameo aboard the Enterprise-D during the pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.” Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his father Sarek (Mark Lenard) were featured in “Sarek” and the highly touted two-part episode, “Unification.” Chief engineer Scotty (James Doohan) was even featured in the melancholy episode “Relics.” DS9 also had several episodes set in the ‘mirror universe’ that was originally featured in classic Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror.”
Of all of these crossovers, “Trials and Tribble-ations” is, by far, the best of the bunch. It’s not just sentimental fan service; it’s also a damn solid story as well.
**** 22 YEAR OLD SPOILERS! ****
This is the voyage.
The episode begins in Deep Space Nine’s 24th century, with two agents from Temporal Investigations, “Dulmer” and “Lucsly” (anagrams of The X-Files’ Mulder & Scully), arriving at the station to debrief Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) on his recent unintentional trip back to the 23rd century. Sisko agrees to give only the truth to the humorless agents, who seem straight out of “Dragnet” (or the IRS).
Sisko tells the two that the starship Defiant was sent to retrieve an “Orb of Time” (one of the powerful ‘orbs of the Prophets’) recently found on Cardassia. The Defiant was also taking on a human passenger who was stranded on Cardassia during the recent Klingon occupation. The affable older man is named Barry Waddle (Charlie Brill), a merchant trapped behind enemy lines who is seemingly grateful for the rescue. Unbeknownst to the Defiant crew at the time, the man is actually a very old, surgically-altered Klingon agent who is using the orb of time to travel back in time to rewrite his past encounter with the legendary James T. Kirk (William Shatner), originally a failed mission which saw the Klingon exiled from his Empire in disgrace.
The orb throws the Defiant back in time and space. Barry has beamed off of the ship, as the disoriented crew tries to get their bearings. On the Defiant’s main viewer, they see the original starship Enterprise, NCC-1701. Immediately cloaking the Defiant to avoid detection, the crew then uses their ship’s computer to piece together why Barry, using the alias ‘Arne Darvin’ in this century, returned to this time and place. They determine he is there to kill Capt. Kirk before he can expose Darvin’s younger self as a spy (see: “The Trouble With Tribbles”).
To better blend in during their search for Darvin, Sisko and his crew replicate uniforms and costumes from the 23rd century. Sisko tries on a gold lieutenant’s uniform, Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) wears a blue medical tunic, Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) wears engineering-red, and Commander Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) is wearing… well, a lot less, in an era-appropriate red miniskirt.
Using tricorders and communicators of 23rd century design (beautiful recreations of Wah Chang’s iconic original props), the crew inconspicuously beam aboard the Enterprise, and set about scanning the interior of the ship for Darvin.
Meanwhile Security Chief Odo (Rene Auberjonois) and Klingon Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) arrive at the nearby space station K-7 (a detailed recreation of the station seen in the original “Tribbles” episode) dressed as civilian merchants.
Worf is wearing a large hat that covers some of his more obvious Klingon features, since Klingons of the 23rd century appear somewhat…different. When pressed later on about this seeming disparity in Klingon looks, Worf simply says, “We don’t discuss it with outsiders… and it is a long story.”
The Defiant crew’s attempts at scanning the Enterprise and space station K-7 lead to many close calls with characters and events from ‘history’, such as Julian encountering a flirtatious “Lt. Watley” (Diedre Imershein), whom he believes may be his own grandmother (!).
Jadzia Dax vividly and fondly recalls her Trill symbiont living in the 23rd century. She tells Sisko about a previous host’s tryst with a young Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) whom she recalled as having “the hands of a surgeon.”
During their searches aboard the Enterprise and K-7, the Defiant’s time-travelers encounter increasing numbers of ‘tribbles’; the titular, cooing fur balls that reproduce at alarming rates…with all-new generations arriving in a matter of hours.
Meeting Odo and Worf at K-7, Bashir and O’Brien are accidentally caught in an altercation between several surly Klingons and several Starfleet officers, including Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Scotty (James Doohan) in the famed bar brawl seen in the classic episode. It’s near the end of the fight that Odo spots the aged Darvin and goes after him with Worf’s assistance. Unfortunately, Bashir and O’Brien (in their Starfleet uniforms) are snagged by Starfleet security and taken back to the USS Enterprise for questioning by none other than James T. Kirk himself!
After lying to Kirk, the two Defiant officers are dismissed along with the others and resume their secret mission.
Aboard the Defiant, Worf and Odo have the older Darvin in custody and manage to get him to confess his nefarious plan to kill Kirk…he has placed a bomb within one of the millions of tribbles that Kirk will encounter soon.
From the Defiant bridge, Major Kira Nerys (a pregnant Nana Visitor) reports that the tribble-bomb has a tri-cobalt signature that the crew should be able to read with their instruments, but they have to scan all of the tribbles that Kirk is likely to interact with in the near future.
Dax and Sisko locate the deadly tribble-bomb among thousands of tribbles in a compartment of grain aboard the station…the same overhead compartment that is due to rain tribbles down upon Kirk at any moment!
Sisko places his tricorder next to the fuzzy creature and tells the Defiant to beam it out into space a safe distance away. The bomb detonates harmlessly, and the older Darvin’s plot is foiled.
Once again, Kirk exposes the younger Darvin as a Klingon spy and history resumes. Darvin strikes out yet again!
Before leaving the 24th century, Sisko takes care of one last bit of business…stealing an autograph from his hero, James T. Kirk, by pretending to have him sign a bogus status report. The scene very cleverly manipulates footage from the classic episode “Mirror, Mirror” where Kirk signs a roster from Lt. Marlena Moreau (Barbara Luna). Sisko is edited into Moreau’s place, but the reactions and timing work perfectly… even Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura seems to look slightly agape at the handsome Ben Sisko (!).
At the conclusion of the 24th century debriefing, agents Dulmer (Jack Blessing) and Lucsly (Jim Jansen) determine that no irreparable harm was done to the timeline, and the two men leave the station… completely unaware that the promenade deck of Deep Space Nine is currently in the grip of a tribble infestation, presumably by a single tribble ‘accidentally’ brought back by the Defiant crew.
A Labor of Love.
Everything from the recreated props, costumes and sets to even mimicking the cinematographic style of the 1960s Star Trek reeks of love for the classic series.
Lovingly reproduced motion-control miniatures of K-7, the USS Enterprise herself (with fully working nacelle lights) and even a Klingon D-7 battle cruiser (which wasn’t even seen in the original episode!) are all handsomely photographed to look thoroughly convincing as ‘retro-tech.’
Even Terry Farrell’s makeup and beehive hairstyle are evocative of the original series, as well as Alexander Siddig’s Scotty-like bangs.
Series’ graphics designer Michael Okuda and his wife Denise have often told tales of the art department’s recreation of long-lost 1960s-era materials such as the classic series’ red mesh grating, moire-pattern wall detailing and prism materials seen throughout the recreated sets. Okuda’s text commentary for this episode (featured on the Klingon Collection DVD set) is a must, and will greatly add to one’s appreciation for this episode.
“Trials and Tribble-ations” is also a ‘bonus feature’ on The Original Series Season 2 remastered set, and this may be the only chance to see this magnificent episode in blu-ray format (even if it is only upscaled to 720p resolution).
Another great reference for this episode (and the entire DS9 series) is the “Deep Space Nine Companion,” written by Paula Block and Terry J. Erdmann. The entry on this episode holds a fascinating account of this episode’s genesis, development and production as well.
I’ve also had the good personal fortune to meet both Michael and Denise Okuda at several conventions. I’ve been a fan of their work on the Star Trek series and movies (beginning with 1986’s “The Voyage Home” and continuing through the end of production on “Star Trek: Enterprise” in 2005). The graphics and overall look of Star Trek during that three-decade stretch had become so associated with the Okudas that they’re casually referred to as “Okudagrams.” The two were also instrumental in identifying props and miniatures for the Christie’s Star Trek auction back in 2007.
I’ve also met original “Trouble With Tribbles” author David Gerrold, who has a long career in science fiction (the “Star Wolf” and “Chtorr” books) as well as the semi-autobiographical novella “The Martian Child” (made into a feature film in 2007). “The Martian Child” tells a fictionalized account of Gerrold’s own adoption of a traumatized young boy who insists he is from the planet Mars. A moving novella (and a decent movie adaptation) worth seeking out.
Gerrold happened to be in my home city of Riverside (California, not Iowa) giving a lecture at our City Hall downtown; this was during the time when my city was hosting the touring “Star Trek Exhibit in 2010. I’d originally toured the Exhibit back in 2008 (courtesy of free tickets from a friend of mine).
The link to my Flickr album of the Star Trek Exhibit at Long Beach is directly below:
Meeting Gerrold was a sincere pleasure, and he autographed my ‘big damn Star Trek’ book (a giant coffee table book released in 1994 in which I’ve collected scores of autographs, including Leonard Nimoy’s). Gerrold was somewhat disappointed that the book didn’t feature any pics from his episode, so he drew a tribble along with his signature (hehe…!).
“Trials and Tribble-ations” is the most clever, lovingly-crafted and inventive Star Trek crossover to ever grace a television or cinema screen (or even computer, in the streaming age). It is one of the rare times when seemingly gratuitous fan service actually fits perfectly within the framework of a smartly-told story. That is not a common occurrence.
It is also the last time Star Trek ever visually acknowledged its retro-looking, analog-era past unflinchingly, and without retconning the look or stylings to fit more ‘modern’ sensibilities. All of the Original Series’ 1960s artifacts and trappings (beehives, miniskirts, clunky tech, etc) were shown as direct antecedents to 24th century Star Trek.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that Picard and company went back to the mid-21st century in the feature film “First Contact” (which debuted later in the same month as “Trials…”) where they perhaps unavoidably ‘corrupted’ that original timeline just a bit. Thus, every attempt by Trek to show its own past since “First Contact” (including the prequels “Enterprise” and “Discovery”) present ‘older’ technology and settings that are much more modern-looking than we ever saw in the classic series.
At any rate, “Trials and Tribble-ations” was the last time we’d ever see Star Trek unapologetically embrace its 1960s roots with unabashed love and affection… the exact same love and affection we older Star Trek fans have felt for the original series all along.
And still do.
Screencaps via http://trekcore.com