David Gerrold Recalls "More Tribbles" and "Bem"
StarTrek.com, continuing our week-long celebration of Star Trek: The Animated Series, caught up with award-winning sci-fi author and popular Star Trek figure David Gerrold. Here, Gerrold talks about writing the TAS episodes “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” a sequel to his beloved TOS “Tribble” tales, and also “Bem,” the TAS installment that revealed the “T” in James T. Kirk’s name to be Tiberius.
How were you approached to be a part of The Animated Series?
Gerrold: By 1973, Dorothy Fontana and I had been to so many conventions, we’d become pretty good friends. I’d heard about The Animated Series and I’d dropped notes to Gene (Roddenberry) and Dorothy that said, “I’m available if you need me. I’d love to do one.” Dorothy called me and said, “Well, of course you’re going to do the Tribble episode that we didn’t get to do during Star Trek’s third season.” So I went in and we blocked something out that we thought would work and we had a lot of fun with it.
You also wrote “Bem.”
Gerrold: I had wanted to go in a different direction, but Gene was involved in the show enough to say, “Try this, do that,” and then he got tired and let Dorothy run the show. But the “Bem” episode, he added some elements that I didn’t think it needed, like God on the planet. I kept thinking, “How can I make this work? How can I make this work?” But when all is said and done, I looked at the episode again recently and thought, “Well, it turned out better than I thought.” So I don’t have a lot of complaints. We had a lot of fun. I got to do a voice and I got a SAG card. The Animated Series, I wished we’d been doing live-action Trek – we all did – but it was Star Trek and we were having fun. The nice thing about having Dorothy as the producer of the show was that she knew Star Trek. So she was doing stories that they would have done primetime if they could have had the budget.
“Bem,” actually, is an example of an episode that benefited visually from being animated versus live-action, right? The concept was developed for TOS, not TAS…
Gerrold: Yes, the original idea for “Bem” was for third-season Trek. I’d said, “Here’s how I think we can do the costume,” and I’d done a sketch, but we never got there because Gene left the show and Freddy Freiberger came in. Freddy’s first words to me were, “I screened the ‘Tribbles’ episode this morning. I didn’t like it. Star Trek is not a comedy.” I went, “Oh, all right. Well, then I’ll do something else.” So he killed the second Tribble episode for the third season and I had the idea for “Bem,” but he said, “I don’t like that, either.” So that’s when I came in with “The Cloud Minders,” which I called “Castles in the Sky.” But the effects for “Bem” probably would have been tricky. The effects for “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” would not have been, except for the “glommer,” the Tribble predator.
“More Tribbles” is pure fun, but you were going for something different with “Bem.” Take us through that…
Gerrold: Remember, this was the middle of the civil rights push and there was a lot of talk about the nature of prejudice. People were saying that “Prejudice isn’t logical,” and I said, “What would happen if you had a logical reason to be prejudiced?” I thought it’d be interesting to have Spock prejudiced against an alien. What would he be prejudiced against? The alien being a practical joker. And that was where “Bem” started, with Spock having a logical reason to be prejudiced against Bem’s bad behavior.
Let’s clear up a misconception. It’s out there that you did several voices for TAS. How many did you do?
Gerrold: I did Em/3/Green for an episode called “The Jihad.” I know a lot of people think I did Korax for “More Tribbles,” but I didn’t. Jimmy Doohan did that. But it was my idea to do a voice. I asked Hal Sutherland. I said, “You know, I need my SAG card. Please let me do a voice.” He said, “We don’t really have it in the budget to do guest stars, but come on, you brought in Stanley Adams for ‘Tribbles’ and Roger Carmel for ‘Mudd.’ We’ve got enough in the budget for one little voiceover.” It was like $75, but it was enough to get me my SAG card. And Em/3/Green was the only one I ever did. Since then I have done voices for a couple of dozen Japanese anime and one Japanese live-action that were translated into English, but I only did the one Star Trek.
Lastly, for “Bem,” was it you who came up with “Tiberius” as Kirk’s middle name?
Gerrold: Yes. I’ll tell you how that happened. I got the name from a book I’d read about the history of torture. So, Dorothy and I were at a Star Trek convention in 1973 and somebody asked “What does the T in James T. Kirk stand for?” And without really thinking, I said “Tiberius.” It got a big laugh and it became a running gag. Then, when I was writing that episode I decided to put it in. Dorothy ran it by Gene Roddenberry, and he said, “Sure, let’s go ahead.” Then I recapped it in a Star Trek novel I wrote a year or so later, and I showed where the name Tiberius came from. The funny thing is if anyone really knew (back in 1973) where the name came from, I never would have been able to use it.