The Creator of Tribbles Talks About Making The Weirdest Star Trek Episode Ever
David Gerrold boldly went where no man has gone before
Illustration: Mike Lukowski
As far as furry, sci-fi critters go, Tribbles are some of the most bizarre ever. The species was first introduced in the original Star Trek series in 1967. Since then the furballs have managed to show up in almost every Star Trek series, not to mention they have been referenced repeatedly in pop culture for decades now.
Mass Appeal got a chance to sit down with David Gerrold, the writer of the original “The Trouble With Tribbles”episode, (as well as other notable Star Trek credits), and talk about the Tribble phenomenon, his man-eating version of the fuzzy little guys, and how a Tribble went to space in real life!
Mass Appeal: So how did this whole Tribble thing start?
David Gerrold: I’ve always been a big science fiction fan. So, when this new television series came along called Star Trek I was there for the first episode. I looked at it and I said, “Well, come on, I’ve been studying script format and I know science fiction, and I don’t want them to screw this up. So, I’m going to submit a story outline.” And I did almost immediately and the producer Gene L. Coon was impressed enough that I got invited to visit his office. He told me that they were all bought up for this season but would I please submit stories for the second season. I submitted several outlines and they picked the one called “A Fuzzy Thing Happened.”
It was really about rabbits in Australia. My thinking was that not every alien we meet is going to be ugly and not every alien we meet is going to be immediately dangerous. We’re not going to recognize the danger to us until it might be too late. So, the rabbits in Australia were perfect. Little fuzzy creatures that are fun to pet and they purr, but they breed like crazy. Next thing you know Captain Kirk is up to here in them. When they bought the story they gave me a chance to write the script. I wasn’t yet recognized as a professional writer but they gave me a few weeks to write the script…which I did over the first weekend. My thinking was to have something there for all of the other characters: Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty. It was just the right combination of idea and humor and character that it all came together very well. And then the best part was that we had such a talented and amazing cast that brought it to life in a way that here we are talking about it a half century later.
Yeah, the Tribbles just keep showing up. They’ve been in many of the Star Trek series and most of the movies. You even made an appearance in the Deep Space 9 episode that featured them. However, you’ve also written plenty of other respected material. Do you wonder why this is the thing – out of everything you’ve written – that caught on, or did you know this would be the thing?
Let me put it this way, the Tribbles have been seen by over a billion human beings, it’s one of the most popular episodes of one of the most popular TV series in history, and it’s made millions and millions of people laugh out loud. So, I’m proud of that. That’s an accomplishment not very many writers have achieved. I’ve had it pointed out to me that more people have seen “The Trouble With Tribbles” than have seen Hamlet, which I find hard to believe. But when you run the numbers, yeah. Let me tell you this, there’s an astronaut who spent five months on the international space station and he took a Tribble. He gave it to me a couple days ago in Houston. So, I have a Tribble that went to space. You can’t ask for a better honor than that.
I’ve written a lot of other things I am very, very proud of. The Martian Child is the story of my son’s adoption. The Man Who Folded Himself is considered a classic of [the] time travel [genre]. Even though that other stuff is there, I’m very proud that the Tribbles have become so iconic in American culture.
What was it like voicing in an episode of the animated series and starring in that episode of Deep Space 9?
It was a fun way of saying, see I didn’t waste all that money on acting classes. A lot of my classmates were very talented and never got a break at all. And I thought, come on, let me just get in front of the camera once to prove I can do it. It was fun. Just a little icing on the cake.
You were responsible for other early Star Trek episodes as well. Speak on those.
Well, I did a rewrite of “I, Mudd.” I suggested we use identical twins for five hundred identical beautiful girl robots. Coon thought that was funny, so we did it. Then, I did the story on “The Cloud Minders,” which was about the haves versus the have-nots. And on the animated series I did an episode called “Bem,” which is about an alien who was testing Kirk and Spock. And I wrote the writers/directors guide for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Having lived with them for so long, is there a great Tribble story you have thought of, but haven’t got a chance to tell?
Actually, I’m glad you asked that question. I’ve always wanted to do the story about man-eating Tribbles. I just wrote that one for the fun of it. I wrote part of it last year and finished it this year. So, I have a script that can’t be shot anywhere because it’s Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Cyrano Jones, and Scotty running into the Klingons again on the planet where the Tribbles live. I finally got to do the gag I’ve always wanted to do about man-eating Tribbles [in it]. And of course, we lose a few Red Shirts.
David Gerrold’s Top 5 Star Trek: The Original Series Episodes
1. Journey To Babel
2. The City On The Edge of Forever
3. The Man Trap
4. The Doomsday Machine
5. Balance of Terror
Hey fanboys and girls, you still have time to pre-order the epic Star Trek: 50th Anniversary TV & Movie Collection here.