“The Trouble With Tribbles” – 50 Years Later, Their Incalculable Impact on Star Trek & Sci-Fi TV

Since September 8, 1966, Star Trek has been a major part of pop culture.  In that time, there have been 13 movies and 31 seasons worth of seven separate TV series, for a grand total (thus far) of 741 episodes.  The Trouble with Tribbles, by science fiction author and icon David Gerrold, is probably one of the most popular episodes .

Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) was buried in tribbles. {image via Paramount}

The Trouble with Tribbles

The Trouble with Tribbles was the 15th episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series and the 44th episode over all.  First broadcast on December 29, 1967, it is now fifty years old.  Joseph Pevney directed the episode, but it was written by a young man named David Gerrold, now an award-winning author and a social media star.  It was his first professional sale.

The Trouble with Tribbles was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation at the 1968 Hugo Awards, but came in second to The City on the Edge of Forever.  Most critics rate it as one of Star Trek‘s top ten episodes, and deservedly so. It blends adventure and comedy, with a mystery to solve, superb one-liners, and one of the best barroom brawls in Hollywood history.

The Trouble with Tribblesaccording to the New York Times, “was the first comic episode of Star Trek. One of the series’s best-remembered moments occurs when William Shatner as Captain Kirk is buried in an avalanche of the mewing, puffy title critters.”

David Gerrold wrote two books about his experiences writing for Star Trek, and especially this episode, The Trouble with Tribbles: The Birth, Sale and Final Production of One Episode and The World of Star Trek.  

Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) cuddles a tribble while Ensign Chekov watches. {image via Paramount}


The episode, if you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it, involves Kirk’s Enterprise stopping at Deep Space Station K7, where he is expected to protect an experimental grain from Klingon sabotage or theft.  Both the Enterprise and the crew of the Klingon vessel enjoy shore leave (well, station leave), leading to a minor disagreement between Scotty and Korax.  Also on board Station K7 is Cyrano Jones,”intergalactic trader and general nuisance,” trying to sell sweet, furry tribbles.  Jones gives one to Lt. Uhura as a gift.  As tribbles are born pregnant, the Enterprise is soon inundated with tribbles.  And after that, things get … interesting.

Tribbles, Tribbles, Everywhere

The Trouble with Tribbles makes an allusion to the first season episode Errand of Mercy, with its mention of the Organian Peace Treaty, which would eventually be paid homage by two direct sequels and several more episodes.    The Saturday morning cartoon, Star Trek: The Animated Series, had an episode called More Tribbles, More Troubles, also written by David Gerrold.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a time travel episode, Trials and Tribble-ations, meant to commemorate Star Trek’s 30th anniversary. In this one, Benjamin Sisko and his crew had to travel back in time to save Kirk’s life.  They wind up being present for the infamous barroom brawl aboard the space station.

Tribbles also make an appearance in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode The Breach, in which Dr. Phlox feeds them to his lab animals in Sickbay.  They’ve also been referenced twice in Star Trek: Discovery in the episodes The Vulcan Hello and Context is for Kings (Captain Lorca has one as a pet, and it sits on his desk).

The comedic impact of tribbles is a constant presence in Star Trek. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation, one episode We’ll Always Have Paris mentions them, but this time as a menu item from the Café des Artistes: Tribbles dans les Blankettes: Trois petit jeune tribbles saute avec les beurre chaud serve dans les pains tubulaire: “Tribbles in a Blanket – three small young tribbles sauteed with hot butter served in a wrapped bread.” Now that’s some authentic 23rd Century French cuisine!

Tribbles are shown as pets in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek Generations, and mentioned in passing in the DS9 episodes A Man Alone and The Nagus.  Sharp eyed fans may spot tribbles hidden in the background of other episodes, and if you spot one we haven’t noted, tell us in the comments and we’ll add it to the article!

Hugo and Nebula Award winning science fiction novelist David Gerrold.

David Gerrold, Father of Tribbles and Sleestaks

“Since I first wrote that damn script for Gene
And the electrical picture machine
Tribbles have chased their creator
From here to Decatur.
Nobody knows of the tribbles I’ve seen.”

— David Gerrold

Fifty years ago, a young writer, thinking of what rabbits had done to Australia, wondered what a cute alien might do to Jim Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise before they realized that it was dangerous.  Since then, David Gerrold has won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology. His novel The Martian Child, based in part on his own experiences as an adoptive father, won both Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.

He is also the author of the popular War Against the Chtorr and Star Wolf series of novels. He was the creator of the TV series Land of the Lost, and wrote several scripts for it, but also wrote for Tales from the Darkside, Babylon 5, the reboot of The Twilight Zone. He’s also written scripts for Land of the Lost, The Biskitts, Tales from the Darkside, Babylon 5, the reboot of Twilight Zone, and many other shows. He is also politically active, and wrote the preface to the science fiction/fantasy political satire anthology More Alternative Truths, the sequel to the popular Alternative Truths.

It all began with the simplest of creatures, and a fascinating idea, but David Gerrold made it all look effortless. To the outside observer, it was apparently no tribble at all.


How one small ball of fur changed the face of science fiction on television.
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About Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children's book R is for Renaissance Faire, as well as short stories in Alternative Truths,  Swords and Sorceress #30, Supernatural Colorado, Barbarian Crowns, and Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid. Her articles have appeared on Krypton Radio's website, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.


  1. There have been 13 movies, not 14.

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