Star Trek: The Animated Series: The Slaver Weapon
July 14, 2020 9:43 AM - Season 1, Episode 14 - Subscribe

A group of Kzinti divert the shuttle Copernicus and retrieve a newly discovered Slaver weapon.

There are some hidden gems in the info stored in Memory Alpha:

Background information
Story development
  • David Gerrold remembered how noted science fiction author Larry Niven came to write this episode; "By then, [story or] Dorothy ["D.C."] Fontana knew Larry Niven, and so when it was time to do the animated Star Trek, she was a BIG fan of Larry's, and said, 'Gee, I'd love to get a Larry Niven story, could we adapt one of your stories, Larry?' And that's when the deal was made." Fontana herself said, "I thought bringing Larry Niven in was a good move, again to have that connection to the science fiction community. He was the one person who had an almost perfect story for us." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 16, p. 67) The story in question was "The Soft Weapon" – a science fiction, non-Star Trek short story that was notably republished in Niven's collection of stories Neutron Star in 1968 (having first been published in 1967) and is set in his Known Space universe.
  • Following D.C. Fontana's invite to write for the animated Star Trek, Larry Niven proposed two plot ideas that went undeveloped, as both had content that was deemed to be too problematic for the series. Shortly thereafter, Niven and Fontana were spending part of an afternoon at Gene Roddenberry's residence when Roddenberry suggested that Niven rewrite "The Soft Weapon" as an episode. (Playgrounds of the Mind) Fontana reflected, "We told Larry, 'Just write it, but put in our characters. You can put in the Kzin and all that.'" (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 16, p. 67) In retrospect, Niven remarked of the adaptation idea, "That worked." However, he was initially not entirely sold on the prospect of including in the episode the Kzinti, who feature in the original short story as well as elsewhere in the Known Space universe. "I thought hard before giving the Kzinti to the Star Trek universe," Niven acknowledged. "I did it because I thought it would be fun to see what others would do with them." (Playgrounds of the Mind)
  • D.C. Fontana admitted that the Kzinti of this episode were easily shown on screen due to the fact that the episode was produced with animation rather than in live-action. However, Fontana also said, "We didn't do their stripes, because it's hard to animate stripes." She elaborated, "The only thing we couldn't do [regarding drawing the alien creatures of TAS] was make the Kzin striped. We had big orange cats, but we couldn't put the stripes in because animating the stripes would have been far too expensive, so they were tabby cats without the stripes." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 16, p. 65) D.C. Fontana viewed the Kzinti during the episode's production period. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 16, p. 67)
Continuity and trivia
  • This is the only animated Star Trek episode that does not feature the Enterprise, apart from in credits sequences. In fact, it is the first episode ever to not feature the Enterprise, and was the only episode or movie to not feature a ship named Enterprise for almost twenty years, until DS9: "Past Prologue".
  • This is the second of three animated episodes that do not feature any scenes set on the ship's bridge, the others being "Yesteryear" and "The Jihad".
  • Between Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Animated Series and the first seven Star Trek films, this is the only time after the character of James T. Kirk was first introduced that he does not appear. He also does not appear in the first Original Series pilot, "The Cage", which predated his first appearance.
  • The death of the Kzinti during this episode's conclusion marks the only time any characters are killed on screen during The Animated Series.
Poster's Log:

I originally saw this episode before I started paying attention to things like "credits" and "writers' names". Years later, reading the Known Space stories for the first time, I ran across "The Soft Weapon" and thought "wow, this story is a rip-off from Star Trek".

For an episode based on a story that packs a lot of information, there's a surprising number of long, silent shots of star fields. There's easily another 60-90 seconds of story that could have been added.

There are a number of animation / continuity errors related to the shapes of the weapon. As an example, the first change ends up with the weapon looking vaguely tear-shaped. After testing (Sulu feels some vibration in the metal of his belt, but no ill effects), when Chuft-Captain raises the weapon to switch it to the next setting, it's in the "telescope" shape, and then shifts back to the teardrop. After testing the telescope, he changes it again but, when it's raised in the next shot (seen from Chuft-Captain's POV), it's back to being a telescope. When Chuft-Captain reaches the 'personal jet' setting, one of the other Kzin notes that it has projections that could work as pedals, but none are seen in the actual drawing.

Once again, Hal Sutherland's colorblindness affected the final product. The Kzinti ship Traitor's Claw is seen in a rather garish pink, much like the tribbles in "More Tribbles, More Troubles".

Nichelle Nichols gets another great script in this one. Her portrayals of Uhura's indigence at the Kzin presuming her to be non-intelligent and her annoyance at failing to escape added still-needed depth to the character.

In addition to the changes required to Trek-ify the main characters, there are minor story element changes. The box in "The Soft Weapon" contains, not a picture, but a preserved Slaver claw / hand. Nessus and Jason determine that the box isn't a Slaver (Thrintun) box, but a box from one of the slave species (the tnuctipun), making the determination that it's a "spy weapon" more understandable.
posted by hanov3r (10 comments total)
Far and away my most rewatched episode of the series. Smaller cast than usual (no Shatner!) , a storyline outside the usual format from a well known's kinda like the original Short Trek.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:37 AM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's definitely one of the better episodes, and thanks to Riker mentioning the Kzinti on PIC, TAS is now officially part of canon, but it also reminds me of why I stopped reading Niven: The quantity and scope of his ideas can be very impressive, but the presentation is often very matter-of-fact and can detract from enjoyment of the stories generated by the idea--I was awestruck by much of Ringworld, but couldn't finish The Ringworld Engineers due to sheer boredom. This episode was too short to be boring, but it also has the considerable advantage of the weapon itself; as a kid, I loved the idea of a sort of shape-changing Swiss Army knife of a tool that could have several different functions.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:05 PM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

tabby cats without the stripes

Not sure what she thinks she means, but I have a tabby sitting next to me and those aren't tabbys (stripeless or otherwise.)

I read the original short story long before I saw the episode. I was a big Niven fan as a teen, and streaming wasn't a thing way back then. It works a better as a story, not because Niven's a great writer but because the approach to providing background information started and stopped with "have Spock say it." It was still a good episode for the series and would have provided some intriguing lore if writers had followed up on it.

A true nerd digression: In decade plus long wasteland TAS and TNG the board game Star Fleet Battles was doing their own thing, and Kzinti were a major power and allies of convenience in the Federation's fights against the Klingons and Romulans.
posted by mark k at 2:29 PM on July 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, as someone who watched Star Trek as a kid, then played Star Fleet Battles as a pre-teen, then read Niven as a teen, the existence of the Kzinti were a conundrum. It was like they had escaped one canon to colonize another. (Which is something they would totally do.)
posted by ejs at 4:26 PM on July 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't see what the problem is - you have humans in both the short story and in Trek, and it's not like it requires a special explanation for that.
posted by happyroach at 7:52 PM on July 14, 2020

This was my first time seeing this, albeit after several years of knowing about the episode and its much-argued introduction of the Kzinti into the Trekiverse. I think I used them once, in a minor role, in my own RPG, which made the Riker name-drop in PIC pretty neat. Maybe we'll see some wandering around a spaceport or something in season 2!

I made similar remarks to Jack's and mark's on the clunky exposition, which is stylistically in keeping with the Niven I've tried to read in the past—though, to be fair, is also typical of a lot of mid-20th-century sci-fi writers. As is the shitty gender thinking that leads to the Kzinti women thing here, but at least Uhura gets to confront it. So far, in fact, my primary takeaway in terms of TAS's value to the rest of the franchise is developing Uhura's character. Secondarily, adding more wacky non-humanoids to the Trekiverse.

I didn't like this one as much as a few preceding episodes—too much focus on the Nifty Sci-Fi Ideas of the long-dead totalitarian species and their transforming weapon. But the ideas themselves were kind of nifty, and I appreciated the exchanges between Spock and Sulu, which were well-written (and possibly unique in the franchise? How often do those two really get to work together like this?).

Is the Neurotic Saggy Kzinti a meme? He seems like he should be a meme. Similarly, I'm sure "twist me widdershins" is destined to become a euphemism for something in the OfBrazil household.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:01 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

thanks to Riker mentioning the Kzinti on PIC, TAS is now officially part of canon

That's a fraught statement :)

There are erlier references to TAS in DS9 (including Kor referring to his ship, the Klothos, from The Time Trap).

my primary takeaway in terms of TAS's value to the rest of the franchise is developing Uhura's character

QFT. It's interesting to think about the societal shift that made what was unlikely to happen on "adult" TV in '66-'68 (women in command! an entire squad of women security guards!) possible to show kids in '73-'74.
posted by hanov3r at 7:55 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

thanks to Riker mentioning the Kzinti on PIC, TAS is now officially part of canon
There are a bunch of direct links between the animated episode Yesteryear and the storyline set on Vulcan in Enterprise season 4.

With that said: the original producer, the original script editor, many of the original writers working from a slightly modified script bible, and the original cast all making a show titled Star Trek. TAS is extremely Trek.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

My hot take is they should have just changed the Kzinti to Klingons.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:14 AM on July 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

So if Nimoy is portraying a non-human, then this episode's human characters are exclusively people of color?
posted by a person of few words at 4:22 PM on July 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

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