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19. TRIALS AND TRIBBLE-ATIONS Deep Space Nine - Season Five


Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore and Rene Echevarria
Story by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Jonathan West
First broadcast 4th November 1996


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Trials and Tribble-ations (made as a 30th-Anniversary-of Trek ‘special’) is one of the most outstanding comic episodes in Star Trek history and the most successful ‘tribute’ to the original series from the new Trek series. It says much for the scope of DS9 – an essentially ‘dark, gritty’ series – that it can include such a comic burlesque such as this. In fact DS9 indulges in a number of original series tributes, several of which take place in the alternate universe established in the key original series episode Mirror Mirror, but these tend to descend into rather obvious excuses for the cast to play against type. In terms of its storyline, Trials and Tribble-ations is similarly paper-thin, but is a far greater success in comic terms than these episodes because its comic approach is broader and more obviously tongue-in-cheek. Indeed, the story’s plot is an obvious ‘excuse’ for the technical wizardry that the show features, wherein DS9 characters are placed ‘inside’ the original series episode The Trouble With Tribbles by means of (highly convincing) computer-imaging techniques. The sets and costumes from the original series are also painstakingly recreated, making the entire episode completely convincing on a visual level. While this achievement in itself partly signifies the differences in sophistication between modern-day and 1960’s Star Trek, Trials and Tribble-ations’ overall approach is to mix a kind of nostalgia for the original series with a series of ironic comments which reflect on the differences between the audience of the 1990’s and that of the 1960’s. In short, the episode is a self-conscious parody of Star Trek itself, exploiting the audience’s knowledge of the history of the series to often hilarious effect. It succeeds so well because of the consistency of its script, and the presence of Star Trek’s most accomplished comic writer Ronald D. Moore on the writing team was undoubtedly a key factor in this.

combadgeThe episode audaciously departs from the usual Star Trek formula by being told in a flashback mode through Sisko’s narration. This immediately signifies to the audience that the episode will be a unique ‘experience’. The sequence near the beginning, where Sisko is ‘interrogated’ by two rather pedantic Starfleet bureaucrats and given a ticking off for contravening the ‘temporal Prime Directive’ establishes the tone of the episode particularly well. The story itself revolves around a ‘rogue’ Klingon, Darvin, who somehow manages to steal one of the Bajoran orbs and uses it as a time-travel device, in order to go back to the exact time of the original-series episode The Trouble With Tribbles. Darvin plans to plant a bomb inside one of the small furry creatures, so altering the timeline (and rendering Star Trek history redundant!). Sisko, Dax, Bashir and Worf follow him back in time where, disguised as Starfleet officers of Kirk’s time, they eventually foil his wicked scheme. The plot is merely a framework for a series of jokes reflecting on the differences in style between the original series and DS9. When Dax puts on one of the original series’ ‘microskirt’ costumes she expresses an ironic delight in wearing it, rather as if she is a fan at a Star Trek convention indulging in a little ‘dressing up’. The fact that such costumes were abandoned in the new Trek series in favour of more functional ‘bodysuits’ is, as most viewers are well aware, part of its modern ‘politically correct’ stance. Female characters in the new Trek series are depicted as highly assertive and independent individuals – none more so, perhaps, than Dax herself. Yet, as the audience is also aware, female characters are still seen by TV companies as ‘eye candy’ for (perhaps less discerning) viewers. Again Dax, played by the strikingly beautiful ex-model Terry Farrell, is no exception. By showing Dax – normally dressed in the regulation unifotm trouser-suit - as playfully taking on the role of a ‘60s chick’ the sense of ironic parody is thus double-edged.

combadgeThe whole episode revolves around a kind of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia which works on several levels. Both viewers and writers can indulge in nostalgia for the ‘innocence’ of the original series, which overlaps into nostalgia for the 1960’s itself as a less ‘knowing’ era. At the same time the characters appear to be enjoying a sense of nostalgia for the 23rd Century. Throughout the new Trek series the 23rd Century is portrayed as a kind of ‘age of innocence’, when the galaxy was barely mapped and the truly unknown was encountered on every voyage. Kirk himself is regarded as a great pioneer, but it is often made clear that his ‘devil may care’ attitude to interplanetary relations would never pass muster in ‘present-day’ conditions. Such an attitude reflects on the greater sophistication of the new Trek series but also provides the scriptwriters with a justification for the difference in tone between these series and the original model.

combadgeHowever, there are certain differences in the presentation of characters which are more difficult to explain... In particular, the original series’ Klingons lack the highly structured ridge-shaped foreheads that all ‘modern’ Klingons possess. Their only significant difference to Starfleet humans was their thick black eyebrows, their generally swarthy features and their droopy moustaches. As most Star Trek fans are aware, the higher budgets of the 1980’s movies allowed the ‘movie Klingons’ to be provided with new state-of-the-art prosthetics, which Roddenberry was happy to adopt for TNG. In the past, no reference had been made to the visual difference between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Klingons but this episode inevitably throws it into the light. But instead of being cagey and avoiding the issue, the writers confront it head on. Bashir and O’Brien are sitting in a bar at the space station where the events of the original series’ episode take place. Surrounded by original-series Klingons, they ask Worf to explain how the Klingons’ appearance could have changed so much in a century. Worf, as ever playing the impenetrable stoic, merely replies that ...we do not discuss it with outsiders.... In terms of the ‘credibility’ of the story this is, of course, a ridiculous and meaningless answer, but for the viewer it is probably the funniest line in the episode. The humour is deliberately self-deprecating, with Worf’s ‘explanation’ deliberately mocking the lack of visual continuity within Star Trek itself. As Worf, Michael Dorn has proved extremely adept at delivering such straightfaced, deadpan, lines, proving perhaps that he, rather than Data, is the true successor to Spock.

 

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COPYRIGHT CHRIS GREGORY (C) 1999-2002 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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