Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Trials and Tribble-ations   Rewatch 
April 21, 2016 6:50 AM - Season 5, Episode 6 - Subscribe

DS9 goes Zelig, as the crew gets groovy.

Due to this being a complex episode, both on a narrative and technical level, I decided to import large amounts of the Memory Alpha page to the summary and converted all of the links so that they would work from here (hopefully).

Select Quotes
"Be specific, captain - which Enterprise? There have been five."
"This was the first Enterprise, Constitution-class."
"His ship."
"James T. Kirk."
"The one and only!"
"Seventeen separate temporal violations - the biggest file on record."
"The man was a menace."
- Dulmur, Lucsly, and Sisko

"Oh, another glorious chapter in Klingon history. Tell me, do they still sing songs of 'The Great Tribble Hunt?'"
- Odo to Worf, on the destruction of the tribbles' homeworld

"I had no idea."
"He's so much more handsome in person. Those eyes!"
"Kirk had quite the reputation as a ladies' man."
"Not him...Spock."
(Sisko quickly shuts the panel he's pretending to work on and starts pushing Dax away)
"Let's go."
- Dax and Sisko

"I can't wait to get back to Deep Space 9 and see your face when you find out that I never existed!"
- Bashir, when O'Brien refuses to believe his predestination paradox theory
"They are Klingons... and it is a long story.""What happened? Some kind of genetic engineering?""A viral mutation?""We do not discuss it with outsiders."
- Worf, O'Brien, and Bashir, when the lack of cranial ridges on Kirk-era Klingons is noted (see below)

Conceiving the episode
"Trials and Tribble-ations" was conceived as a tribute to TOS, broadcast to coincide with Star Trek's 30th anniversary. When Paramount asked executive producer Ira Steven Behr to come up with a suitable story to mark the event, he and the writing staff of Deep Space Nine gathered together and began brainstorming for plot ideas. Behr toyed with the notion of harkening back to the episode "Charlie X", since that installment was a favorite of Behr's and because actor Robert Walker who had guest-starred as Charles Evans in the TOS episode was still available. Skeptical that Walker would be interested in returning to Star Trek, this concept was discarded. (Star Trek Magazine issue 123, pp. 79-80)
An alternative idea, conceived by writer Ronald D. Moore, was to revisit Sigma Iotia II, from the episode "A Piece of the Action", where imitators of Kirk and Spock would be discovered as a social commentary on the Trekkie phenomenon. However, fellow writer René Echevarria wanted to revisit a classic episode using original footage. This was made possible by recent technological innovations, such as those used in the 1994 Robert Zemeckis movie Forrest Gump.
  • When the writers sat down to decide which episode to use, there was little question that "The Trouble with Tribbles" was not only arguably the most famous TOS episode but also an excellent choice in that it was relatively lighthearted compared to other well-known episodes such as "The City on the Edge of Forever". In what Ira Steven Behr later described as the most incredible coincidence he has ever experienced, Behr and the other producers were at a pizza parlor in Beverly Hills, discussing the possibility of bringing original TOS actors back for this episode, when he recognized Charlie Brill (Arne Darvin). Although Behr was hesitant to discuss the matter directly with Brill (due to the complications that normally entail Hollywood negotiations), Brill was greatly honored to be given a chance to make history twice and felt that Gene Roddenberry would be proud. Behr later joked, in a DVD audio commentary for this episode, that the remarkable turn of events proved God was a DS9 fan, while Brill stated that he was happy he hadn't gone out for Chinese food instead.
  • The difference in appearance of TOS and TNG/DS9/VOY Klingons, first recognized as canon here (it was not broached in the DS9 second season episode "Blood Oath"), was addressed in the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes "Affliction" and "Divergence". There was a conscious effort to keep Worf at a distance from TOS-era Klingons due to the obvious make-up differences. Ronald Moore wrote Worf's explanation (or lack thereof) into the script because he felt that there was "not a single explanation that's less than preposterous" for the make-up differences and he believed that fans could figure out why the Klingons looked so different. Bashir and O'Brien's dialogue concerning the issue had them suggesting reasons, "genetic engineering" or "viral mutation", that had long been proposed by fans as the reasons for the differences. When the Enterprise episodes were filmed, the final canon explanation for the difference combined both their suppositions.
For a more detailed explanation, see Klingon augment virus.
Combining the past with the present
  • Contrary to the normal technique of chroma key (better known as "blue screen" or "green screen") shooting, in which the new footage is shot with a blue or green background in order to allow the computer to easily place the characters into another piece of footage, the scene in which Dax and Sisko are working behind Kirk and Spock was shot with an actual set background and then placed into the existing footage. This was due to the fact that there was no panel for Sisko and Dax to pretend to repair in the original shot.
  • Everything from the TOS sets was created faithfully right down to the blinking lights on the bridge, which the crew recreated by freeze-framing and painstakingly examining the TOS footage. Everything from the turbolift control panels to the wall intercoms to basic surface textures and back-lit graphics in the corridors were reproduced exactly as they originally appeared. Even the pattern of the overhead graphics in the Enterprise corridors is identical to the original.
    • However there were some minor details that didn't come out as planned. In the novelization, David Gerrold - who wrote the original Tribble-episode - spoke about the production in the preamble. Among other things he tells how Bob Justman pointed out that both the panelling and orange frames across from some ladder were not right. Michael Okuda explained that those were the only two things they could not perfectly recreate, as the company that made the reflective plastic had gone out of business ten years earlier and that nobody else produced that kind.
  • The original Enterprise, now in the Smithsonian museum exhibit, had been refurbished and altered slightly over the years. Knowing that fans would inspect every minor detail of this episode for consistency, the staff consulted sketches made for the original series and had a special set of plans made for the new model's construction. They even inspected it with a magnifying glass to ensure that everything was perfect.
  • The clip featuring Sisko meeting Kirk was created with footage from "Mirror, Mirror" rather than "The Trouble with Tribbles", taking Kirk's introduction to the prime universe Marlena Moreau and inserting Sisko in Moreau's place.
  • In relation to making the show "feel" as close to the spirit of the original as possible, Ronald D. Moore has commented, "My only real gripe was the music I had hoped it would be more like the original score and I thought it hurt the show particularly during the barroom brawl by changing the tone of the scene. Rene and I also had this idea to redo the entire end title sequence as an homage to the original series, with freeze frame shots from various DS9 episodes in the background, the TOS end credit music and changing the font of our credits to match theirs. That idea never got very far chiefly because we were the only proponents of it and also because the show was so far over budget that we couldn't afford to spend any more money anyway." (AOL chat, 1997) To date, the only episodes of a Trek show to have changed title and credit sequences for a specific episode have been the mirror universe Star Trek: Enterprise episodes "In a Mirror, Darkly" and "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II".
  • The producers specifically chose Jonathan West to direct this episode due to his cinematography training. According to West, he shot the episode as if it were actually 1967, with sixties style lenses and lighting techniques. He also used a sixties film stock with a finer grain and a different color saturation from that used in the nineties. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
  • The film elements from the original "Trouble With Tribbles" episode were used and transferred digitally, instead of using the 1980s analog flying-spot scanned transfers that were on professional format 1 inch Type C open reel videotape, so that there wouldn't be a difference in quality between the original scenes and the new Deep Space Nine scenes, especially for scenes where the characters from both shows were in the same shot. (DS9 Season 5 DVD)
  • The names of the temporal investigators, Dulmur and Lucsly, are anagrams of "Mulder" and "Scully", the paranormal investigators of The X-Files (or, in the case of Dulmur, a near-anagram). Indeed, when meeting Sisko in his office Dulmur tells him he wants "the truth", while Lucsly is mostly skeptical about elements of Sisko's story. The writers considered having one of the characters deliver the line "The truth is out there". (The Magic of Tribbles: The Making of Trials and Tribble-ations)
  • The term "D7", in reference to the original Klingon battle cruiser, started out as an inside joke between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. It eventually became a reference to this style of battleship, but it wasn't "official" until this episode. The designation had been used since 1979 in the game Star Fleet Battles for that particular class of ship.
  • As Dax tells Sisko about how much more handsome Spock was in the flesh, the Kirk-Baris dialogue in the background is actually taken from their later confrontation aboard the station after Cyrano Jones had been detained.
  • Also regarding the comment by Dax regarding the Spock's looks, it is curious that this seems the first time a Dax has seen Spock in person. Both were actively involved with the Khitomer accords, but being at that time the womanizer Curzon, he may have never considered or even noticed Spock's handsomeness, and so the symbiont Dax could barely have a memory of him other than a high-ranked male Vulcan. Instead, it is the first time Jadzia has seen Spock in person.
  • When Julian Bashir suspects he is experiencing a predestination paradox and is destined to fall in love with Lieutenant Watley and become his own ancestor, he remarks to Chief O'Brien that surely he has attended Elementary Temporal Mechanics at Starfleet Academy. However, as an enlisted crewman, O'Brien has never been to the Academy.
  • O'Brien believes that Lieutenant Freeman is Captain Kirk; the actor in that scene, Paul Baxley, was a regular stunt double for William Shatner in the original series.
  • In the same scene, Odo's failure to immediately realize that Freeman is not the captain is somewhat incongruous; since he had been in the bar before Chekov and Uhura, who had entered just as Kirk and Spock were leaving, he and Kirk must have been in the bar at the same time.
  • Worf (slightly younger than he is here) met an older Scotty 101 years later, while serving aboard another Enterprise in TNG: "Relics". O'Brien was also serving aboard that Enterprise at the time, though it's not known if he and Scott ever actually met.
  • Dax claims that Koloth once told Curzon that he regretted not facing Captain Kirk in battle. However, in TAS: "More Tribbles, More Troubles", Koloth fought the Enterprise several times. This may be due to the fact that The Animated Series was officially declared "non-canon" by Paramount despite TAS references being worked into the series, including the Edosian orchid in DS9: "Broken Link". A more benevolent reason could be that Koloth and Kirk in the TAS episode never had a REAL battle, just skirmishes and tricks. Koloth might also have been indicating a face-to-face, physical combat, rather than a clash of starships.
  • One of the Temporal Investigations officers mentions that James T. Kirk has made "seventeen temporal violations". Considering Kirk went back in time on at least seven separate occasions (TOS: "The Naked Time", "Tomorrow is Yesterday", "The City on the Edge of Forever", "Assignment: Earth", "All Our Yesterdays", Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek Generations), seventeen violations seems reasonable, though the time travel in "Assignment: Earth" likely wouldn't count as a violation as on that occasion Kirk was acting under orders from Starfleet.
Some obvious ones include, but are not limited to:
  1. beaming aboard a 20th century Earth Air Force pilot (allegedly "erased")
  2. beaming aboard a 20th century guard (allegedly "erased")
  3. breaking into a military base in 1969 and getting caught (allegedly "erased")
  4. breaking into a military base in 1968 and getting caught, and beaming out risking being seen doing so
  5. stealing clothes and clashing with law enforcement in 1930
  6. beaming aboard two NYC policemen
  7. helping to sabotage a rocket launch in 1968
  8. being involuntarily transported into Sarpeidon's past
  9. giving information about transparent aluminum to the Plexicorp president (although this can be attributed more to Scotty than Kirk, and Scotty himself speculated that they were merely preserving history by providing the original inventor with the means to create it)
  10. bringing two whales from the 20th century to save Earth from the cetacean probe
  11. bringing back Gillian Taylor to the 23rd century
  12. leaving Klingon technology on board the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) (Chekov throws his non-functioning phaser at his captors while trying to escape)
  13. allowing Bones to cure a 20th century patient with 23rd century medicine
  14. using a phaser and de-cloaking a Klingon Bird-of-Prey in the presence of 20th century natives
  15. Temporal Investigations may not know about this, as McCoy may be unaware his phaser went missing and a homeless man killed himself with it
  16. taking work, money, housing and food that others would otherwise have consumed
  17. after Kirk saved the USS Enterprise-B from being destroyed in the Nexus, he was swept into the energy ribbon. Although from his point of view, Kirk was altering future events, he technically went into the past by agreeing to assist Captain Picard stop Soran. However, Picard altered past events by preventing the destruction of the Veridian System and the survivors of the USS Enterprise-D. Kirk would have known that by leaving the timeline, he would be assisting Picard alter the timeline by preventing the torpedo launch.
Cast trivia
  • David Gerrold, writer of "The Trouble with Tribbles", can be seen in two scenes, playing an Enterprise crewman (he is the gray-haired man who passes Sisko and Dax when the Enterprise goes to red alert). Bashir and O'Brien later see him petting a tribble in the corridor (which, in actuality, is an original tribble used in "The Trouble with Tribbles"). Gerrold thought the episode was "one of the cleverest Star Trek scripts I've ever read."
  • The permission of the TOS actors had to be sought to use their performances in the various episodes the archive footage was taken from. It took the producers three months to negotiate for the use of the footage. Walter Koenig remarked he was paid "eight times more" for the use of his likeness than he was for the original episode.
  • After Michael Ansara (Kang), John Colicos (Kor), and William Campbell (Koloth), Charlie Brill (Arne Darvin) is the fourth and final actor to reprise a role which he had originally played on The Original Series in one or more episodes of Deep Space Nine. All four actors played Klingons.
posted by Slothrop (19 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
"Rene and I also had this idea to redo the entire end title sequence as an homage to the original series, with freeze frame shots from various DS9 episodes in the background, the TOS end credit music and changing the font of our credits to match theirs."

That would've been SO GREAT.

All the same, this one is rightly esteemed in the annals of DS9. On Netflix streaming, the Gump effects appear... not QUITE seamless, but very impressive nonetheless. (Better than in the actual Gump film, in fact, IIRC.) And the "Great Tribble Hunt" line is one of Odo's best moments.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:11 AM on April 21, 2016

I love this episode so much. For me, it's really the "Once More With Feeling" of DS9- a bit of a gimmick episode, and not really connected to any main story arc, but immensely fun. You can tell that the cast is having a great time with it, as well. They all look fantastic in their 23rd-century uniforms, and the production team absolutely nailed the design. Even the lighting differences between Enterprise and Defiant were handled perfectly. I'm not super thrilled by Bashir reverting to his whole "lech" persona, and the whole "nasty in the past-y" bit, but his hilarious sixties haircut totally makes up for it, and the bit with the Engineering lieutenant in the corridor was excellent (and O'Brien probably should actually be under observation for job-related stress).

I like that the producers seem to have made a decision to treat the 23rd-century like the "Swinging Sixties" of Star Trek, and I like how Jadzia totally gets that (and her crush on Spock is excellent).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:33 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Speaking of Dax, it also turned out that she'd met McCoy previously:

(McCoy enters.)
MCCOY: Did you want to see me, Jim? Well, don't look at me. It's the tribbles who are breeding.
DAX: I know him.
SISKO: That must be McCoy, the ship's doctor.
DAX: McCoy. McCoy.
MCCOY: Well, the nearest thing I can figure out is that they're born pregnant, which seems to be quite a timesaver.
DAX: Leonard McCoy. I met him when he was a student at Ol' Miss.
SISKO: Who met him, Curzon?
DAX: No, my host at the time was Emony. She was on Earth judging a gymnastics competition. I had a feeling he'd become a doctor. He had the hands of a surgeon.

posted by Pryde at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I loved that episode! Fond memories, as the VHS (yes!) tape of it was Mrs. Mogur's first Christmas present to me, proving that even then she knew me very well indeed.
posted by Mogur at 11:22 AM on April 21, 2016

I have feels about this episode. Let me tell you them.

It pretty much goes without saying that, by the time this episode aired, Star Trek was no longer the peculiar and often-ridiculed cult phenomenon that it had been during most of the seventies. First the movies (although the first one was something of a mis-step), then TNG had pretty much cemented it as something more than just a fringe sub-set of SF fandom. The cost of this, though, is that TOS itself was left behind; the TOS cast movies were often very different in tone and style from their predecessor, and even more so for TNG. That's not necessarily a bad thing; arguably, the least effective installments (the first and fifth movies, most of the first season of TNG) were those that tried to simply ape TOS. But still. Still. Literally growing up with the show--TOS was the first specific TV show that I can remember watching--and then watching those seventy-nine episodes over and over again, to the point where I could tell if they were using a relatively clean and intact copy*, that was simply what Star Trek, what the future, was simply supposed to be, and sometimes celebrating the newer installments felt sort of like a betrayal.

And that's what makes this episode so great: it is really, truly and literally a celebration of TOS. The characters themselves are TOS fans; even though they're dealing with a temporal alteration that is probably no less severe in its potential impact than the one in "Past Tense", they take the time out to just groove on the nostalgia, and, of course, the tribbles. Dax even makes comments about the design aesthetic of the gadgets. (And let's take a moment to appreciate that Dax is the main Trekkie in this crew; not only does it make perfect sense in continuity, since some of her previous hosts lived through it, but women were hugely important to Trek fandom. Bjo Trimble led the letter-writing campaign to save TOS, and later wrote the Star Trek Concordance, which was practically my bible during the dark years of the seventies.) There's also the classic motif of an alien hiding his non-human features behind a hat. (Or not.) The engineering guy, wielding the oversized tridentine scanner-thing as he works on the GNDN** conduit.

And, of course, Sisko being unabashed as he stands in front of the time cops (and, even though their names are anagrams of Mulder and Scully, their tone and mannerisms are purely Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, another sixties throwback), and their reply that, yeah, they'd do the same. So say we all.

*A number of original prints of TOS episodes were missing bits and occasionally entire scenes, both because the syndicating station wanted more time for ads and because the copies would literally wear out and have to be spliced multiple times.

**Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:14 PM on April 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

Bravo Slothrop on a fantastic post, with lots of details I did not know ( even if some are from Memory Alpha).

I do wish they had gone back to Sigma Iotia II. I always wondered what happened there after the Enterprise left.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:25 PM on April 21, 2016

As Phillip Larkin might have said, "this be the one."

After hitting some home runs in the past few episodes, they don't just hit the ball out of the park here, but completely out of town as well. Everything works, even the daft "I bet you guys are always on time" jokes that Dax makes, and the two investigators response. The level of detail is amazing, from the costumes to things like Bashir's hair looking like Spocks, the tricorders, the sets, just everything. When they are walking around the Enterprise, is is so amazing to see the cast of DS9 on there, and not looking out of place. And Dax in the Starfleet minidress uniform looks absolutely amazing. Her "and women wore less" line, and then the little pose she does is sexy and funny all at the same time.

The plot is well conceived, the whole Arne Darvin getting trapped on Cardassia idea and then the Defiant giving him a lift back, but he has a nefarious plan and how they all get caught up in it works well, it doesn't seem contrived but fits with how Darvin was originally. Even the idea of the Orb of Time being used to send them back to the past sorta works.

The fight is so well edited together, the clips from the original and the modern stuff fit together so beautifully it just makes me want to stand and applaud!

The script is fantastic, everyone has great dialogue and they all appear to be having so much fun with it as well. I even like the Doctors "I'm could be my own grandfather" bit. Not sure why it has been referred to as his "lech" persona, and the whole "nasty in the past-y" bit." He is getting hit on by a beautiful woman, who clearly likes him, she makes eyes at him and eyes him up, what is he supposed to do? No one is perfect, we all have sexual needs and desires, we aren't supermen, immune to these things, so it is no surprise that he feels the way he does. I found all the "I could be my own grandfather" predestination paradox stuff pretty funny (but then, I love Futurama, where this was parodied.) What was nasty about it? There was nothing nasty or obnoxious there at all, and in some ways it was a joke about Kirk always getting the girl, as seemed to happen in TOS.

Having Dax do the same calculation as Spock in TOS was a nice touch as well, and then, to have Sisko meet Kirk was perfect, just the right way to end their time on the Enterprise.

As discussed in the FPP, the direction here is class, nothing looks odd or wrong, and to direct something where they are inserting actors into TOS and using clips from that in things like the fight scene, and the bit with Uhura at the bar with the Tribble seller must have been difficult, but it all blends together so well, one can only marvel at what a great job has been done.

Just one of the best episodes of television of any programme ever made, IMHO!
posted by marienbad at 2:21 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

Honestly, I'm probably a little harsh on Julian for that. Mostly, I just like saying "doing the nasty in the past-y".
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:27 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh, one other thing I wanted to mention: years after this episode, Charlie Brill was on This American Life, talking about how, some years before TOS, he and his wife, both struggling comedians, got their big break in show biz--but with really unfortunate timing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:07 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

Wow, Halloween Jack, that is an amazing piece of TV trivia. So, so unlucky to be on that particular show. My respect for Brill just went up tenfold!
posted by marienbad at 7:37 PM on April 21, 2016

A real classic, everything about this episode works... although Kirk does look surprisingly flirty when he meets Sisko! (Yeah, I know they were re-using the footage of him meeting Marlena Moreau from Mirror, Mirror, but it's still kind of hilarious to see him give Sisko that "... and hello to YOU" look.)

Damn, I remember when this episode was a brand new, nostalgic celebration of the original series, and now it's an object of nostalgia itself. This was twenty years ago.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:28 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Man, I love this episode so much, particularly the reveal of why tribbles keep raining down on Kirk in an oddly-spaced manner. (I think the actual explanation is that the people up in the "hold" weren't told when to stop.)

Speaking of Dax, it also turned out that she'd met McCoy previously
Ah, yes, "met."

I'm watching the series for the first time and have just started season seven, and I really appreciate these Fanfare threads (especially this one, what a ton of information); they're great.

Anyway, I wrote a stupid DS9 rap that I thought you guys might enjoy in return (particularly if anyone's a Hamilton fan).
posted by ilana at 7:02 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ilana: feel free to join in even though you're on your first watch! There are no watch-police here ;)
posted by marienbad at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2016

In re: the thanks or kudos... All the information is from the Memory Alpha page for the episode, so I don't want to take credit for any of it.

It was a really fun episode. I grew up with TNG, although I did occasionally see TOS in syndication in my grandparents' town. Still, this was really carefully put together and terrifically fun. The quote from Odo making fun of Worf was probably my favorite part, just edging out Dax's mackin' on Spock and McCoy.

And yes welcome one and all to our discussions!
posted by Slothrop at 12:43 PM on April 22, 2016

Mod note: PSA for Slothrop and other posters -- totally appreciate that this is a good deal of work done with the best of intentions, but this is too much copied text... not a huge deal, but just for reference next time, probably better to pull out some highlights and then just link to the source. We don't want to be stealing other small sites' ad dollars etc. Glad people are enjoying the discussion!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my headcanon, only the most badass, hardcore Klingons have tattoos of Tribbles.
posted by duffell at 9:52 AM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm watching along with the greatest generation podcast, which means I'm watching one episode a week, like it was intended!
So we've just got to thins one.

The hosts both have backgrounds in film production so it's quite nice to hear them talk about some of the production intricacies.
They also recently reviewed "forrest gump" (on their other podcast about war films) and talked about how the effects didn't hold up all that well, but that the same effects in this hold up incredibly well, which is interesting given that this is only a year or so after?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:11 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]'s kind of amazing to read a three year old thread, to find that someone else got here just a few days before you...

This is, indeed, a ridiculously fun episode. My partner was genuinely perplexed at how good the special effects worked out, and all of the extra lore here is fantastic.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:43 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

How had I never heard that McCoy was, uh, will be an Ole Miss alum? Was that only revealed on DS9 or was it in TOS?
posted by asperity at 10:31 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

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