Star Trek: The Original Series

“The Trouble With Tribbles”

4 stars.

Air date: 12/29/1967
Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review Text

They sometimes say comedy is harder to pull off than drama, and if that's the case, this episode shows a cast and crew at the top of their form. But what can I say about "The Trouble With Tribbles" that hasn't been said over and over? It's a classic, it's hilarious, it's got unforgettable scenes.

There is of course the great western-inspired bar brawl sequence that goes all out. And the scene where Kirk opens the door and thousands of tribbles fall down on him. And a light plot that knows better than to make any real threats. And classic confrontations with the Klingons, including a Klingon officer setting off Scotty by telling him the Enterprise is a garbage scow. But it's the cast interaction here that shows itself as really coming together. It occurred to me after again watching "The Trouble With Tribbles" that the natural chemistry evident in the original Trek cast is truly something special that hasn't been truly matched since.

Whether it's Kirk demanding "Who threw the first punch?" or the ending sequence where Kirk gets the runaround when trying to find out where all the tribbles went, the dialog and delivery is at top-notch sharpness. "Tribbles" is perhaps the best, most enjoyable comic piece the franchise has ever put out.

Previous episode: Wolf in the Fold
Next episode: The Gamesters of Triskelion

Like this site? Support it by buying Jammer a coffee.

◄ Season Index

Comment Section

37 comments on this post

    I'm the first commenter on this really?

    I originally saw this episode as its DS9 makeover, I believe. So I remembered some of the plot, but not all of it. It was nice to see the actor who plays the squire in the Squire of Gothos, which I believe is the first time a guest actor appears as a different character in a Star Trek episode — something that happens quite a lot in spinoff series. I think he does quite well in this role. I also enjoyed the Cyrano Jones character, who reminds me a bit of Mudd.

    I watched this episode and Trials and Tribble'ations back to back and those were two of the most entertaining and enjoyable hours I ever spent in front of a TV!

    @Moonie: So true! The only problem I had with "Trials and Tribble-ations" was that after Dulmur and Lucsly I was basically half-dead of laughing for the remainder of the episode :)

    As ever, I find the especially famous, iconic, and high-quality Trek episodes some of the hardest to write about, because I want to do the episode(s) justice and also not just repeat what others have said. Fortunately for me, sometimes a particular framework for looking at an episode with fresh eyes strikes, like inspiration. So here's what I think: part of what drives this episode is the idea that nature cannot be fully tamed or controlled -- and the humour derives mainly from the way those people who value control most are brought down, embarrassed, and defeated by Nature.

    We start by learning that the Federation and the Klingons are competing over who can develop Sherman's Planet, and we further learn from Baris that the planet is so arid that the only thing that will grow there is specially-designed, genetically engineered quadrotriticale. Baris is the ultimate control-freak, so desperate to get his own way that he uses the Number One channel to bully the Enterprise into getting to the station ahead of schedule, so that he can have Kirk put guards on his genetically engineered grain which is the only thing that can possibly grow on this planet. Everything has to be tightly controlled -- or everything will fall apart. Along similar lines, we see the bartender's desire for an orderly bar; we see the Klingons' pride and militaristic might; and we see Arne Darvin's plot designed to steal Sherman's Planet for the Klingons, which relies on Darvin's careful deception in posing as a human.

    The tribbles -- which eat everything, reproduce madly, and are "useless" in every way *except* that they are cute and are powerfully directed toward life -- foil everyone. They have no plan at all, no desire for control -- they just *are* and are bursting with uncontrolled energy, eating and multiplying without any kind of pretense. In the process they eat Baris' grain, mess up the bar, reveal the Klingons' military might to be undermined by harmless furry creatures (Klingons get them so anxious they burst into rage whenever around them), and expose Darvin.

    And most delightfully, there's another control-freak the tribbles end up undermining: James T. Kirk. OK, so I don't think that the Klingon is exactly right when he refers to Kirk as an arrogant, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood, but, like Scotty, I kind of don't think that line is worth fighting over. I share Kirk's annoyance with Baris, but I also suspect that some of Kirk's annoyance with Baris is that Kirk's own authority is supermanded; Kirk likes doing things his way, and his attempt to do even mild power-plays to show Baris who's boss -- i.e., posting exactly two guards -- end up biting him when Baris goes straight over his head to the admiral.

    In addition to Kirk's dislike of Baris (and Koloth, too, I think) *maybe* being seeing a bit of his own reflection in the guy, I think there is something dictatorial in the way he tells Scotty to go take some R&R on the space station when he *knows* that Scotty would rather stay on the ship, and when this request that Scotty go have fun is *ultimately* an order that Scotty supervise the other officers having fun. I think this is part of the pleasure of the big fight that breaks up. When Kirk questions the officers and learns that their loyalty to each other outstrips their loyalty to him, he finally gets it out of Scotty that the fight broke out because Scotty punched the Klingon. When he learns that *he* was insulted, Kirk is rather glad to find that Scotty attacked after that point, and then disappointed that Scotty really needed to defend the Enterprise and thought Kirk wasn't worth that defense. The fight probably would have broken out anyway -- stopping Starfleet and Klingon crews from being at each other's throats seems to be, well, like stopping tribbles from multiplying -- but at least if Kirk hadn't ordered Scotty away from his actual relaxation activity to "have fun" in a supervisory capacity, Kirk would have had the comfort of knowing that it was him that Checkov et al. were fighting over.

    Which is all to say that Kirk's eventual panic that his ship is taken over by tribbles, that there's a tribble in his captain's chair, and eventually the iconic image of Kirk buried under tribbles up to his neck, with more tribbles falling every moment, are all a delight because Kirk, for all his considerable good qualities, maybe does need to be taken down a peg. He's not as much of a control-freak as Baris or as much a strength-obsessed militaristic strongman as the Klingons, but he's got traits of each, and there's some pleasure in seeing these lowly tribbles cut him down to size a little bit. What makes Kirk admirable and heroic here is that he ultimately maintains a sense of humour -- when he uses the tribbles to solve the mystery, and when he says, wryly, "First, find Cyrano Jones, and second...close that door," he is able to set his pride aside and recognize, at least a little bit, how funny the situation is. Really, that’s the ticket: for all Kirk and Koloth, Baris and Darvin, etc. fight for dominance, it’s the furry, guileless tribbles who win in the end; and the best that the Enterprise crew can do is to divert the tribbles to the more dominance-obsessed Klingons to escape. 4 stars.

    Most importantly- Spock's maths is correct on the final number of tribbles.

    It's one of my favorite episodes, too, except for the ending. Now, I'm no PETA lunatic by any means, but when Scotty transports all the living tribbles from the Enterprise to the engineering section of the Klingon ship, well, I mean, you just know the Klingons are going to slaughter every last one of the little cuties. Left a bad taste in my mouth after such a fun time.

    @Alex
    In case someone hasn't said it first:
    Mark Lenard was the Romulan commander in Balance of Terror, then
    Sarek (Spock's father) in Journey to Babel.

    Ah yes,the most over rated episode of TOS IMO and one where they should have put a laugh track in as well.
    If you want comedy with your sic-fi there are lots of other options but some of us became fans of the series for it's message of hope and change - that is what really separates it from other mindless T&A ,action packed sci-fi - take away the
    'preachiness' and your left with just that,which is exactly what the 'New Trek' is.

    @Dom - Everyone is entitled to their cup of tea of course, and I like Trek for the same reasons you do. But if I just wanted sci-fi I'd go watch the Outer Limits or a show like that.

    What's special about Trek is the hope and change, yes... but it's also our characters. And sometimes it's fun to just have fun with your characters. It makes them more... human.

    What are you, some kind of Harvey? :P

    Wholeheartedly agree with Jammer's review - this episode really shows how very special the original TOS cast was. No Trek series comes close to being able to pull off that charm, humor, the inter-relationships with each one bringing something unique to the table. TOS will always be the best of all Trek series.
    The plot is quite well thought out too. That a Klingon agent is uncovered via the tribbles works nicely. They are good for something after all. I also liked the way Spock got under their effect after stroking one and then slowing down his speech in a relaxed way.
    The bartender was great - his skepticism/frustration with Cyrano Jones was fun to see. Basically all the supporting actors were excellent in bringing a light-hearted humor - including the Klingons.
    I've seen "The Trouble With Tribbles" highly ranked on many TOS episode rankings and can see why. It's a very different kind of episode - it does a vastly superior job of humor than "I, Mudd".
    In terms of my rating, it's hard to rate because I don't consider it one of my absolute favorite TOS episodes although it would probably be just outside my top 10-15. But given the writing, acting, clever plot and charm, it's 3.5/4 stars for me.

    Jammer is right on -- "Tribbles" is one of the most whimsical and sublime hours of "Star Trek" ever, launching two sequels (on TAS and DS9) as well as constant callbacks right up to the Tribble on Captain Lorca's desk in the new "Discovery." It's just so fun, charming, and purely entertaining that few Trek comedy efforts (with the possible exception, at least for the TOS cast, of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home") have ever been able to match. The natural chemistry of the TOS cast here and the delightful David Gerrold story make it a 4-star episode.

    It's hard to pick a favorite moment in the episode, but everyone gets a good character-building moment, from Uhura's love of exotic/unique pets to the Chekov-Scotty banter over pride regarding their respective cultures. Scotty's whole arc here is actually much better for the character than "Wolf in the Fold," as his thwarted desire to stay on-board and read technical journals leads to a brawl over his pride in the Enterprise and delightful dressing-down with Kirk. It's a shame Sulu missed this one because of Takei's film commitment, but the Kirk-Spock-McCoy is also delightful in this one.

    The Tribbles themselves are one of the simplest, most distinctive, and fun of all Star Trek aliens. And yet we also get a decent spy plot mired in the comedy of an ever-breeding "terminally cute" alien species. This episode manages to continue the Klingon-Federation Cold War in more effective fashion than either "Friday's Child" or "A Private Little War," making "Tribbles" the true "Klingon episode" of Season Two. It's delightful to have William Campbell (the Squire of Gothos) back in a new role as Captain Koloth, as he makes a sufficiently unlikeable enemy buttressed by his nasty first officer in this one. Great that Koloth returns in TAS' "More Tribbles" and DS9's "Way of the Warrior," but also Charlie Brill (Arne Darvin) makes a great return in DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations." What else is left to say? "Tribbles" is terrific fun.

    This is one of the greatest comic episodes in all filmdom! I still laugh fit to split every time I watch it, and I love those tribbles---I have a small collection at home. There is one hilarious scene after another, and one of my very favorites is the one where Captain Kirk, with a tribble in each hand, pushes them right into Arne Darvin's face following McCoy's startled observation that "this man is a Klingon"! And how the furry little creatures were removed from the bridge---it was Spock's idea, which shows us that Vulcans do have a sense of humor. +

    I'm just gonna leave this here, but...

    Cyrano Jones mentions to Chekhov that ''tribbles have no teeth''. So...y'know...how do they eat? Just thought it was worth mentioning...

    A little too silly od an aepisode for me and I hate seeing william campbell as anything other than trelene.

    Nice Klingon continuity and some very pleasant light comedy, but not all that great. And on that scale it's one of the better episodes of TOS. Moonie is right, watching "Trials" immediately after is a lot of fun. I just love how the Klingons wiped out the tribbles and the DS9 crew brings them back!

    A classic.

    Loads of fun, with the whole crew in on it. Good working and directing, and great performances.

    Love @William B's analysis about the "Mother Nature trumps all little tin gods" theme.

    The ending did leave me worried for the sweet little creatures, but there were no pleasant alternatives for getting the tribbles off the ship, unless their home planet was very, very close by. I wonder what it must like on Planet Tribble, where, apparently, there are enough predators to keep the amazingly productive tribbles under control.

    Planet Tribble. Sounds like a good name for a theme restaurant.

    If "City on the Edge of Forever" is the best TOS drama, then "The Trouble With Tribbles" is the best dramedy. (I say dramedy because there were dramatic stakes to the episode, which made the comedy all the better).

    I think one reason the episode is so good is the characters stay true to character. They didn't have them behaving out of character just to achieve some laughs.

    I think this episode is the one that cemented "Star Trek's" place as an enduring franchise. It's also the peak of the TOS to me. I don't see another episode coming up that matches it.

    It's also one of the few Trek episodes or movies that puts every single minute to extraordinary use. The others:

    City on the Edge of Forever
    Mirror, Mirror
    Doomsday Machine
    The Wrath of Khan
    The Undiscovered Country

    +++

    The Measure of a Man
    Yesterday's Enterprise
    Best of Both Worlds
    Inner Light

    +++

    Duet
    The Die is Cast
    The Visitor
    In the Pale Moonlight
    The Siege of AR-558

    Hey, ZITA CARNO, one does not simply have a "small collection" of tribble

    Kirk's reaction to the grain is great. "What, what now?!" "Grain?! I don't want to hear any more about grains!?" He's just totally clueless to everything going on around him for like five minutes of runtime straight. Great to see this scene as soon as waking up

    Love how Kirk is a total dick in this episode!

    Starting with,

    KIRK: I have never questioned the orders or the intelligence of any representative of the Federation. Until now.

    And going on to only appoint two red-shirts to guard the grain. Then there's the point where Kirk has to mind his French,

    KIRK: As for what you want ............ it has been noted and logged.

    But what I caught on this - my eleventy-seventh viewing, is that we get the same French phrase said twice. First by Cyrano Jones,

    KIRK: You should sell an instruction and maintenance manual for this thing.

    JONES: If I did, what would happen to man's search for knowledge? Well, I must be tending my ship. Au revoir.

    And then the second time, by Kirk,

    KIRK: People have disrupted stations before without being Klingon agents. Sometimes, all they need is a title, Mister Baris. Unfortunately, disrupting a space station is not an offence. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a ship to tend to. Au revoir.

    Well, that's all I have to add on this all-time Trek classic.

    Au revoir!

    https://youtu.be/xYiW4uMa1JU

    A light-hearted comedic episode that has rightly become a classic, as demonstrated by the ‘Forrest Gump’-style reuse of its footage in DS9.

    So many good moments: Kirk interviewing a whole lineup to find out “who threw the first punch “, Cyrano Jones waltzing through the fight with his purloined drinks, Scotty with Chekhov in the bar, Spock’s near-impatience with Tribbles, Kirk opening the grain hatch to be submerged by Tribbles... Who really cares that there isn’t any real drama or tension? This is Trek comedy, a rare beast but one to be treasured.

    Mind you, the Klingons never had a chance, with the Squire of Trelawney as a commander!

    @Liviana Charvanek

    “Cyrano Jones mentions to Chekhov that ''tribbles have no teeth''. So...y'know...how do they eat?”
    The same way that worms do?

    Tribbles was a perfect getaway episode. It started out so serious, and then went perfectly sideways! "...you issued a priority 1 distress signal! State the nature of your emergency! Wheat." "Not just wheat captain, Quadrotriticaly...". And, we're off to the farcical ride of our lives. The support cast were just outstanding. Klingons were type-cast, and did their worst, the barkeep was sullen and sarcastic, The Tribble sales guy was a rogue, and the Federation commissioner was the inept, jerk we fully expected.

    Just great work, and great direction.

    Nothing much happens, dialogue felt padded out. Did anybody else notice how the tribble's reproductive rate seemed physically impossible, like they didn't eat enough food to make over a million offspring? No sci-fi theme, no philosophical value, fails at comic relief, I don't understand the praise this episode gets.

    Over all score: 2/10

    This episode has Klingons, and it has about 15 Russia jokes. Coincidence?

    Re Alex
    I agree that cyrano Jones and Mudd are similar
    Maybe they collaborated sometime back in the day :)

    Watched this again last night and its rating improved
    There are few interesting subplots that are of value like interrelationships with Klingons
    Kirk’s relationship with Federation bureaucrats like head weany and whiny Baris who Kirk handles like Kirk does
    Man vs nature and the limits of man’s power over nature in the form of tribbles
    By mid season year 2 these are being better refined and defined within tos canon

    Not as sophisticated as city on the edge of forever but nonetheless enjoyable for a second or 10th look

    I am glad that there are only a few comedy episodes. More would have damaged the series.

    But this one was gold.

    4/4

    I haven't posted on this wonderful site in some years. I thought I'd pass along a memory about viewing the episode (or more specifically, not viewing it). Growing up in Santa Barbara, after school we'd watch our "usual" shows, including Star Trek re-runs on KTLA (if memory serves) - this was the late '70s, and of course, the popularity of syndicated ST is how the franchise exploded.

    The Trouble with Tribbles was a legendary episode - I even knew David Gerrold had written it (normally a detail not on my young radar at the time), and I knew other details, but I always managed to miss it whenever it aired. Of course, this was even before VCRs. I think I saw it for the first time decades later. Funny that all those circumstances are now completely irrelevant, but then again it's been some time!

    Classic exchange (as remembered):

    NB It's quite clear, Kirk, you do not take this matter seriously.
    JTK On the contrary, sir, I take this matter with utmost seriousness. It is YOU I do not take seriously.


    Still waiting most of my life to use that line.

    Observations--

    Arne guy, clearly a devoted trained Klingon mole, confesses his poisoning merely because chirping furballs are in his face.

    Would be nice to learn that Q-Tremaine modeled himself on some Klingon officer Koloth.

    “Hey guys, it’s the tribble episode next,” my wife exclaimed, prompting my sons to rush in and rejoin us on the couch. None of us had seen the tribbles episode yet. But we all knew of it by reputation, and that says something about Star Trek.

    And indeed, the fact that the whole family was there with me for “The Trouble With Tribbles” made it that much better, because this is one fun show.

    I love and respect Kirk’s natural aversion to self-inflated bureaucratic phlegm wads. But, but, “Mr. Baris is the Federation Undersecretary in charge of agricultural affairs in this quadrant!” I would have immediately made a pumping motion with my fist near the lower part of my body at this. Kirk’s strategy is to belittle him (“Wheat. So what?”) and Spock’s is to show him the verbal business by pointing out that he probably knows more about this special grain than Baris thinks. I was rolling.

    The tribbles are impossibly, outrageously adorable. It’s ironic how these simple little non-verbal creatures create such a mess with interplanetary implications, but also expose a Klingon spy simply by existing. Cute.

    The Klingon Koloth (William Campbell)’s appearance was all too brief, but a hoot. Finally we have another Klingon with true gravitas and a delightfully slimy presence, but on that point, where the hell was John Colicos as Kor ("Errand of Mercy")? I’m hoping he was simply too busy with other acting projects to return for this episode, but I’m clamoring to see him again.

    One of the biggest laughs of the whole episode was when Slick Jones offers up a tribble as payment to the bartender, who then scoffs and sarcastically pulls something like twenty tribbles, many trilling and cooing, one by one, from behind the counter.

    And Kirk’s own version of Hell would be the repetition of opening that latch to become buried in a phalanx of tribbles up to his head, while Baris berates him from across the room (Shatner’s reaction shots to Baris’ tirades are priceless).

    The thing is, “The Trouble With Tribbles” is hilarious, well produced, sublimely acted (Shatner & Nimoy especially) and a great time in front of the TV set. But that’s all it is, really. I can’t quite give it a top score because it isn’t thought provoking or compelling at all. Still, while compared with most of season two so far, it sure stands out as a welcome change of pace.


    Speak Freely:

    Kirk -- “I see you didn’t waste any time taking your shore leave.”

    Uhura -- “And how often do I get shore leave?”

    (You… Go… Girl!)


    My Grade: B+

    Still bothered by the plot hole which is not how Tribbles react to Klingons (very hostile, so I guess there is accounting for taste) but how Klingons react to tribbles. A trained agent of a warrior race confesses simply by having tribbles shoved in his face, and the aggressive "garbage scow" second in command is visibly agitated /perturbed as he commands Jones to "take it away". What is it about tribbles that evokes repulsion-aversion, even phobic fear, in Klingons? That should be explained more openly because it adds to the punchline of the tribble transport -- I mean it's scary to think they were given to the Klingons who hate them and might slaughter them but there is some justice to imagining they gave the Klingons a real fright.

    @matt h:

    Is this really a plot hole which would have needed more explanation? To me, the way Klingons react to tribbles has always looked like the issue most Humans have with spiders... and I don't know if we have more reasons to fear spiders than Klingons have to fear tribbles. Their disproportionate reaction is just another comic effect: to see, as you describe it, a trained soldier of a warrior race panicking at the sight of a cute ball of fur. And I think you're totally right abouth the ending : given how the Klingons react to a single tribble, imagine the fright a whole shipload will give them...

    Enjoyable, fun and funny episode ,that breaks up the more serious episodes. Great story and writing. And regardless of the bar fight, at least no red shirts were obliterated in the making of this show.

    An excellent, finely crafted comedic trek episode. There’s really not much to say as comedy outings don’t have the same philosophical potential as more dramatic fare, so when a comedy show is done well, as Tribbles is, it leaves little to do other than praise.

    I will say, I think this episode is where Scotty really gels as a character. He’s had a few other strong moments(Galileo 7, A Taste of Armageddon), and he’s been put through the wringer a few times(Who Mourns for Adonis, Wolf in the Fold) but here in Tribbles we get the best sense of Scotty’s major character beats, such as his almost paternal love of his ship and his willingness to throw a punch about it. The fact that he’s not overly riled by insults hurled at Kirk just makes it all the more fun.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the solution to the tribble problem at the end. On one hand it’s funny to imagine all these Klingons freaking out at the sight of thousands of Tribbles all over their ship, but on the other hand it’s disturbing to imagine the Klingons exterminating the Tribbles with extreme prejudice. Meh, it’s more funny than disturbing, all good.

    Anyway 3.5/4 tribble avalanches.

    I've watched this episode countless times since I was a toddler, when the darling old lady down the street invited my siblings and I over to watch it on her color TV. (Apparently it had been heavily promoted before its first airing, with emphasis on how much Technicolor would add to the experience.) Almost every time, I notice something new.

    This time, the "new" detail I picked up was how much Koloth, the Klingon commander sounds like Trelane, Squire of Gothos (played by the same actor in a different episode) when he accuses KIrk of having been "most uncourteous" (or is it "discourteous"?).

    I don't normally think of Klingons as being sticklers on courtesy, somehow. But it fits with the deception that the Empire is up to in this episode.

    Submit a comment

    ◄ Season Index