Published Nov 4, 2022
How Trials and Tribble-ations Helped Deep Space Nine Find Its Place
The classic crossover episode cemented DS9's place in Star Trek history.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek, the creative team behind Star Trek: Deep Space Nine conceived one of the most memorable episodes of the show’s seven season run. The fifth season episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” was designed to integrate DS9’s cast with characters from Star Trek: The Original Series.
Using special effects technology that had recently been popularized by Forrest Gump, “Trials and Tribble-ations” seamlessly integrated scenes from "The Trouble with Tribbles,” thanks in no small part to the story by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler & Robert Hewitt Wolfe, as well as the teleplay by Ronald D. Moore & René Echevarria.
“Trials and Tribble-ations” was a loving tribute to Star Trek: The Original Series. But in the long run, it played an even more important role by solidifying DS9’s place in Trek lore.
Trials and Tribble-ations
The only time that DS9 was the lone Star Trek series on TV was during the final six months of 1994. DS9 was introduced during the penultimate season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it shared most of its existence with Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, Voyager also had a 30th anniversary Star Trek episode, “Flashback.” We’ll take a look back at that episode another time. Between the two series, DS9 had an unexpected link to TOS — Charlie Brill.
In "The Trouble with Tribbles,” (written by David Gerrold) Brill portrayed a Klingon spy, Arne Darvin, who had been surgically altered to pass as a human. Darvin’s true nature was exposed by the Tribbles, which were able to recognize him for what he truly was despite his appearance. Nearly three decades later, Brill reprised his role as Darvin, who remained trapped in his human form. Within the world of the series, over 100 years had passed since Darvin’s disgrace. The crew of the Defiant encountered Darvin on Cardassia, and they gave him a ride back to Federation space. However, Darvin’s presence on the ship was only a ruse to get access to the Bajoran Prophets’ Orb of Time in order to transport himself and the Defiant back to the past to fix his greatest failure.
That was just the setup, and Darvin’s role within the episode was relatively small. Thankfully, that allowed the DS9 crew a proper chance to experience a point in time that was an important part of their shared history. Benjamin Sisko, Jadzia Dax, and Miles O’Brien were stunned and awed to see the Enterprise; which illustrates that the ship’s legend was still alive in their time. Another common thread between the two episodes was the conflict with the Klingons. At this point in DS9’s run, the Federation and the Klingons were openly opposed to each other for the first time in decades. And in TOS, peace between the Klingon Empire and the Federation was still a distant dream at best.
All of the main DS9 cast, save for Major Kira, got the chance to don old school uniforms and outfits, and embrace the archaic hair styles, and even older tech. That allowed them to explore the space station K-7, and the Enterprise itself without arousing suspicion. As the oldest member of the crew, via her experiences from Dax symbiont, Jadzia had a unique relationship with this era. She lived through it the first time, and absolutely loved the chance to revisit it. Dax even revealed that one of her earlier host bodies, Emony Dax, had a brief fling with Leonard McCoy years before he became a doctor. She also openly expressed an attraction towards Spock, much to Sisko’s surprise.
Julian Bashir had perhaps the most bizarre experience while in the past. While undercover with O’Brien, Bashir encountered Lt. Watley, a science officer who was obviously attracted to him. The feeling was mutual, and she essentially invited Bashir to conduct her physical. However, Bashir uneasily noted that Watley was his great-grandmother's last name, and that no one had ever met his great-grandfather. Bashir briefly wondered if he was meant to become his own great-grandfather in order to fulfill a predestination paradox. But since Bashir didn’t disappear upon the Defiant’s return to the future, we can safely rule out that possibility.
“Trials and Tribble-ations” was also the first Star Trek series to acknowledge the more human-looking Klingons of TOS. The fact that Bashir and O’Brien couldn’t recognize them as Kilngons suggests that this part of history was glossed over by their time. Worf refused to elaborate on it, but Bashir and O’Brien hypothesised that genetic engineering or a viral mutation might be responsible. Star Trek: Enterprise’s fourth season episodes, “Affliction” and “Divergence," revealed that their guesses about the Klingon augment virus were very close to the truth.
Throughout the episode, Sisko resisted the urge to get too close to the icons of the past. He told Dax that he was dying to ask Kirk about his legendary battle with the Gorn (as seen in “Arena”). While Bashir, O’Brien, Odo, and Worf fought Klingons back-to-back with Scotty and Chekov, Sisko remained above the fray until he and Dax stopped Darvin’s plan to assassinate Kirk with an exploding Tribble. Only after the danger had passed did Sisko allow himself a moment to meet Kirk face-to-face.
Kirk’s meeting with Marlena Moreau from “Mirror, Mirror,” was used to create Sisko’s special encounter. While the original scene captures Kirk’s intrigue and perhaps attraction to the woman he met in the Mirror universe, it plays differently within its new context. “Trials and Tribble-ations” shows us that Kirk warmly acknowledged Sisko after the younger officer told him that he felt honored to serve beside him. They shared a very affecting human moment that united two different eras in Trek history.
Keep in mind that Sisko had only been a captain since the beginning of DS9’s fourth season. Meeting Kirk in his prime clearly meant a lot to Sisko, but it also illustrated that Sisko was now on the same level as Kirk, among the growing ranks of captains within the Star Trek universe. Only Jean-Luc Picard had previously shared the screen with Kirk in Star Trek Generations. But “Trials and Tribble-ations” gave Sisko and his crew the chance to demonstrate that they were equals to the classic Enterprise team.
As a final nod to TOS, “Trials and Tribble-ations” also reintroduced Tribbles to the Prime timeline after their reported extinction. Someone on the Defiant brought them back to the 24th Century. It was perhaps the cutest change to the present after a time travel adventure. And if the Tribbles reappear in the far future of Star Trek: Discovery or another Star Trek series down the line, then they owe their survival to DS9’s intrepid crew.
A Timeline Through the Star Trek Universe
This article was originally published on December 20, 2020.
Blair Marnell (he/him) is a featured writer for Superhero Hype, Marvel.com, SYFY.com, Digital Trends, and several other geek media outlets. He's also been a big Star Trek fan for as long as he can remember.