Star Trek: The Animated Series

“The Slaver Weapon”

3 stars.

Air date: 12/15/1973
Written by Larry Niven
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Review Text

The shuttle crew of Spock, Sulu, and Uhura (a singularly unique teaming for this cast, I believe) come in possession of an ancient "stasis box," in which time stands still, making it the most perfect time capsule ever made. It's a rare remnant from the ancient Slaver Empire that was destroyed in a war with its subjugated population a billion years ago.

The box is a valuable scientific find, and also a beacon for other boxes like it, and it detects another box in the wondrous Beta Lyrae system. The shuttle lands on an ice planet to locate the other box, but the team is ambushed by Kzinti pirates, who want the box's mysterious contents. Held captive by the Kziniti (carnivorous lion-people who despise herbivores like Spock and who have among them a haggard-looking Kzinti who is a telepathic mind reader), the shuttle crew must figure out how to outsmart the Kzinti, which ... well, is not the toughest assignment of all time.

The Kzinti open the box and hope to unlock the secret of the ancient weapon they find inside, which initially resembles a green football gun. The weapon changes form and function depending on the setting that's selected, and most settings are fairly unremarkable, easily matched by the Enterprise's current-day technology. But there is one setting that is far more dangerous and destructive than the others — like a hand-held nuclear bomb gun — and it's for this reason it becomes crucial to keep it out of the Kzinti's hands.

This is a fairly intriguing premise, nearly undermined and yet made goofily entertaining by the Three Stooges sensibility in how it unfolds. To combat the telepathic Kzinti and hopefully gain an advantage, Spock tells Sulu to think of vegetables rather than meat (since the Kzinti hate herbivores and don't want to read their minds), and tells Uhura to act dumb (since Kzinti women are dumb and not worth mind-reading). Meanwhile, a series of turned tables where our heroes escape and are recaptured (Uhura thanklessly gets shot and held hostage not once, but twice) allows the Kzinti to get their hands on the weapon a second time. But the weapon also has a built-in robotic AI that has awakened and activates a self-destruct that blows up the Kzinti when they pull the trigger. Ha ha, morons.

This gets a pass for being silly fun, but the Kzinti are literally too stupid to live, and this is yet another TAS episode that seems to have deeper ideas lurking in its closing final lines than what we actually watch unfold for the duration of the episode. Spock's musings on a new war that was almost sparked by a weapon from a billion-year-old dead society is an idea that hints at a message far grander about the intersection of past and present, and is far more interesting than the middling plot mechanics we actually get. It's like TAS has these unpursued asides that serve as more cerebral concepts than it knows what to actually do with. But what we have here is amusing enough to recommend.

Previous episode: The Ambergris Element
Next episode: The Eye of the Beholder

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5 comments on this post

    The original of this story is the 1967 Niven short story "The Soft Weapon" (which I have in a collection called "Neutron Star") which I rate as pretty good. The "think of vegetables" part by Sulu is taken in the original by a Puppeteer who are herbivorous aliens and the distaste Kzin telepaths have for reading their minds is part of Known Space lore. IMHO this is a case where the author has tried to cram an existing story into a new framework where it doesn't quite fit.

    An original and interesting episode with only Spock, Sulu, and Uhura involved -- no Captain Kirk and no Enterprise. Thus it is refreshing to see Sulu and Uhura play significant roles.

    The idea of the Slaver species is a fascinating one, as is the pursuit of a weapon of massive power. The Kzinti are a bit comical, with one of them being a telepath and somewhat meek, whereas the Chuft-captain is domineering but foolhardy. The idea that the Slaver device obviously has some intelligence is creative and Spock theorizing how it will react given that the last thing it remembered was the war that destroyed the Slavers a billion years ago is fairly clever in the writing.

    There is a bit of depth given to the Kzinti in terms of their respect for meat-eaters and the Chuft-captain's honour being lost and his desire for revenge. Definitely one of the better TAS outings.

    3*

    As others have said, it was interesting to see only Spock, Sulu, and Uhura in this episode. The concept seemed fresh, and I thought the plotting hung together and made sense. The only thing that bothered me was the way the crew could run at top speed all over the ice without slipping on it. A decent episode.

    Forgot to say--and not really a criticism--that cats as aliens was a little stale. It would have been cooler to have the Kzinti be some really strange and outlandish beings.

    I’m glad Jammer shares my appreciation of this episode. I also give it 3 stars. Unique to see the only show in the original cast’s history that does not have any James Kirk in it. We don’t even see the Enterprise or other crew.

    I love the concept of the fickle ultimate weapon and the peaceful resolution. I understand the writer took the Kzinti alien race and other trappings from his separate, original science fiction writings. They’re interesting, even if the plot unfolds in a sometimes perfunctory way.

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