On November 4, 1996 as part of Star Trek’s 30th Anniversary celebration, Deep Space Nine took part in an homage to the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Unlike gremlins, water doesn’t make them reproduce, but feeding them at all will leave you with a horde (legion? swarm? rabble?) of tribbles.
There will be spoilers for both Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Trials and Tribble-ations.” Both series are currently streamable on a variety of online services.
The episode is told primarily in flashbacks by Captain Sisko to officers from Starfleet’s Department of Temporal Investigations. There have been shenanigans involving unintentional time travel, and agents Lucsly and Dulmur are on DS-9 to make sure the timeline has not been corrupted. The two especially want to make sure none of Sisko’s crew believe the trip was a “predestination paradox” — that they were fated to travel back in time — as they hate those; almost as much as the hate Dax’s puns and jokes in general.
While on a mission to retrieve a Bajoran orb the Cardassians took during the Occupation and are returning as a measure of good will — and *incidentally* picking up a passenger who claims he was stuck on Cardassia after war broke out with the Klingons — the Defiant and its crew are transported through time (and space) from 2373 to 2268 (Stardate 4523.7, a Friday), finding itself near the old Deep Space Station K-7. Situated on the Klingon border, the station is currently being visited by the Enterprise (NCC-1701); this episode is filled with conveniences for the sake of moving the story along, but they’re fun, so just go with it.
The Defiant’s new passenger, posing as Barry Waddle, is revealed to be a Klingon spy named Arne Darvin. He broke into the quarters housing the orb, now understood to be the Orb of Time, and used it to send them all back in time. In the original series episode, he was tasked with sabotaging Federation colonization efforts, namely K-7's store of quadrotriticale; here, he’s trying to change his failure. After using the orb, Darvin transported off the ship, so the crew have to go searching for him; this means dressing up in period costumes.
Sisko, Dax, O’Brien, and Bashir search the Enterprise while Worf and Odo search the station. While O’Brien and Dax learn to use the turbolifts (among other things), Dax has a moment lusting over a vintage tricorder. Meanwhile, Odo hits up K-7's bar, observing Uhura and Chekov make first contact with a tribble and Cyrano Jones. Odo warms up fast to the tribble, but it almost breaks Worf’s cover. Worf details the menace of the tribble to Odo:
They do nothing but consume food and breed. If you feed that thing more than the smallest morsel, in a few hours you’ll have ten tribbles, then a hundred, then a thousand ... They were once considered mortal enemies of the Klingon Empire ... They were an ecological menace, a plague to be wiped out ... Hundreds of warriors were sent to track them down throughout the galaxy. An armada obliterated the tribble home world. By the end of the twenty-third century, they had been eradicated.
Then, both the station and the Enterprise are alerted to the arrival of a Klingon warship, the IKS Groth (Koloth’s ship). Dax recounts the story Koloth shared with Curzon to Sisko; she’s itching to flirt with Koloth “in his prime.” He sends O’Brien and Bashir to investigate instead. While continuing their search of the Enterprise, Dax lusts over Spock.
Sisko pulls her away before either of them can make a scene. O’Brien and Bashir meet up with Worf and Odo in K-7's bar where O’Brien mistakes a junior officer for Kirk. They also discover a dirty secret about Klingon’s of the era. Worf informs them “we do not discuss it with outsiders.” Then they all wind up getting in a brawl on the station, after Scotty throws the first punch — no one insults the Enterprise.
Odo and Worf pursue Darvin out of the bar, while O’Brien and Bashir are read the riot act by the real James Kirk. Darvin is apprehended, and reveals that he placed a bomb on K-7 in a tribble. Sisko and Dax go to the Enterprise’s bridge to use the ship’s internal sensors to rule out the bomb’s presence. Dax recounts a tryst one of her previous hosts, Emony, had with McCoy when he was in school at Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi). Odo, Bashir, and O’Brien are feverishly scanning each tribble for the bomb, but they can’t keep up their rate of reproduction. Sisko and Dax decide to follow Kirk to narrow down the bomb’s presence, zeroing in on K-7's grain storage compartments. They find the bomb just as Kirk opens the hatch and gets buried under a pile of tribbles, and history carries on unchanged.
Kira learns how to use the orb and returns them to the future, after Sisko delivers a status report to Kirk — he just had to do it. Lucsly and Dulmur are satisfied with his report and leave the station, unaware of the tribble infestation on the Promenade.
- For Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, the writers were tasked with coming up with a story. Ira Steven Behr wanted to do an homage to “Charlie X.” Ronald D. Moore suggested revisiting “A Piece of the Action.” It was René Echevarria’s idea to pull a Forrest Gump and combine characters from both series to do an homage to the second season’s “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
- They just happened to run into the actor who played Arne Darvin (Charlie Brill) while getting pizza one day and pitched him the idea. He jumped at the chance; in an interview years later, he recounted how happy he was he didn’t go out for Chinese food that day.
- The fight scene took a week to film.
- All of the sets used in the episode were recreated by the props department.
- The models of the Enterprise, K-7, and the Groth were made with exceptional detail, knowing how much the fans would notice the tiniest of differences.
- The scene in the end where Sisko meets with Kirk uses footage from “Mirror, Mirror.”
- Ronald D. Moore: “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.”
- By the end of the show’s fifth season, this was the most expensive episode filmed.
- Dax’s glee at revisiting the era was intended as an in for the writers, and for fans’ enthusiasm and nostalgia; also a little of the actress’ own, as a child Terry Farrell’s grandmother made her a stuffed tribble because of her adoration for the series.
- All the actors who shot scenes on the Enterprise and K-7 were kept away from the sets until they were fully constructed and ready to film, to preserve their stunned reactions to their new surroundings.
- Terry Farrell: “What was great was that we were supposed to react to the sets like, ‘Wow, we’re on the Enterprise!’ And it was easy because we felt like, ‘Wow, we’re on the Enterprise!’ It looked so real!”
- Ira Steven Behr: “The episode was just an amazing, amazing amount of work. The crew, the technical people, the actors — they just threw themselves into it. They were all having fun. Just sitting on those sets, being on that bridge. It was a hoot, a real hoot. Everyone who worked on it should be credited. The enthusiasm was like a little virus that just kept spreading. It’s very rare in television, where you’re fighting the clock and you have to produce so much in a limited amount of time, to really lavish the care on an episode the way we did on this. The only regret I have is that we can’t lavish that time and attention on every single episode.”
- “The Trouble with Tribbles” originally aired on a Friday, which is why Agent Dulmer references the stardate falling on that day.
- Yes, the Temporal Investigation agents’ names are a nod to Mulder and Scully from The X-Files; Dulmur was looking for the truth, while Lucsly was skeptical of Sisko’s story.
- Temporal Investigations really hated Kirk, what with his seventeen violations.