Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 9

The Tholian Web

Aired Unknown Nov 15, 1968 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
165 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

When the Enterprise investigates the disappearance of another starship, the crew loses Kirk in a dimensional interphase and must deal with a hostile alien race while trying to recover him.

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  • While exploring the remnants of the USS Defiant in Tholian territory, Kirk is accidently trapped in another dimension.

    Written by a wife and husband freelance team, this ship-based sci fi ghost story is the third season's apologist's favorite episode to throw in the face of all those who criticize the last year of the show.

    Like a combination of the best ideas of the season, "Tholian" includes a major crewmember's apparent death, a very alien-like alien, and rich interplay between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy -- though the episode sets itself apart by including everyone as well, making it one of TOS's rare ensemble pieces.

    The heart of the story is Spock, giving Nimoy one last great use of the character before the cancellation of the series. Another "Spock in Command" show with McCoy breathing down the Vulcan's neck, the episode sees Spock challenged by one problem after another, with the issues piling up faster than he can come up with solutions. The most imaginative of these is the titular web that threatens to trap the Enterprise, a far more striking visual than the simple space battle another writer would probably use, and an effective ticking clock to boot. (On the other hand, the most annoying issue is Dr. McCoy, with the writers overplaying his favorite pastime of pestering Spock. There's a fine line between being cranky and being a dick, and the doctor crosses it faster than Kirk jumping on a yeoman, though writers somewhat make up for it by finally providing the characters with a touching resolution that ingeniously uses Kirk - from beyond the grave - to bring them back together).

    As with most of the third season episodes, this one's technically a bottle show, though not a cost saving one, even with no guest stars. The writers are savvy enough to borrow a page from "The Doomsday Machine" and "The Ultimate Computer" by using existing sets and models to represent another ship, but between the new space suits (only seen here and in one other episode) and the Tholian effects, this is one of the most expensive episodes of TOS.

    Fortunately, Director Herb Wallerstein and cinematographer Al Francis both do a fine job in their debuts, with Wallerstein taking over for Ralph Senensky (who began directing this episode before being fired) and Francis taking over Jerry Finnerman (who quit). Together, they make an episode of Star Trek that's largely devoid of its leading man one of the more interesting offerings.

    ENT picks up a loose thread left here in its fourth season episode, "In a Mirror, Darkly", which simultaneously serves as a prequel to TOS's "Mirror Mirror" and sequel to this, with a story that features Captain Archer discovering the Enterprise's lost sister ship.

    Remastered Version:

    There's a reason fans love to create new effects for "The Doomsday Machine" but usually leave this episode alone: the original effects are superb, earning an Emmy nomination. Nonetheless, CBS Digital does a great job with their replacement shots, paying homage to the original while adding some subtle improvements that don't draw attention to themselves. The new web is nearly identical to the original, but CGI allows CBS to give it the proper perspective, with the threads on the far side smaller than those in the foreground. (There's even some fine rotoscoping work to integrate a floating Kirk into the new shots).

    Along with some new angles and better "interphase" shots for their upgraded constitution ships, the team also includes more detailed ships for the Tholians (though for some reason they give these alien vessels more neutral colors than the originals) but happily leaves the viewscreen shots of the Tholian commander alone. A brief battle between the ships is redone through CG and comes across as a little bit cartoony but does the job.moreless
  • Poorly-written and full of nonsense plot devices.

    Spock risks the Enterprise when he remains in unstable space claimed by the Tholians in order to retrieve the Captain who appears to have phased to another universe.

    I hate to call this one episode "painful to watch" but it is an example of season 3 tending toward more formula and less solid content.

    The premise is exciting, but its too clogged with dramatic flourishes and odd characterizations. Several things are very poorly-explained. Its good to explore the idea of how Spock and McCoy would be at each other's throats in the absence of Kirk, but much of the dialog is all over the map. What are they really arguing about? Spock's decision to wait for Kirk to phase again? He has negotiated the original amount of time with the Tholians, and merely reacts to the Tholians firing on the Enterprise seconds later. McCoy's accusations would have more weight if they made more sense, he had not said a thing about objecting to Spock waiting for Kirk to re-appear previously. The phasing between universes is interesting, and the pressure of hostile aliens makes the situation even more tense. However, the script here calls for yet another threat, an ill-defined "space-sickness" (that somehow has caused every last crew member of the Defiant to kill one another) but is solved on the Enterprise by a Theragen derivative that merely suppresses impulses to the brain like alcohol. So much for a unique effect of inter-dimensional phasing, its an easy and poorly explained disease that McCoy says is "communicable" like a virus. And when the Enterprise faces its critical moment, a quick power use and its "thrown clear" of the Tholian web. What? Lazy and not well-written.

    Two nice moments are Kirk's final instructions to Spock and McCoy, and the finale has the usual touch of comedy between the three friends. Oh, and Triox compound is mentioned in a moment of continuity with "Amok Time". Not nearly enough to save this one.moreless
  • When the Enterprise discovers the USS Defiant which is literally 'fading away', Kirk is lost during the beam back. As they try to recover him, the Enterprise is caught in an energy-draining web spun by alien beings. One of the third season's best episodesmoreless

    I've already gone over in my previous third season reviews about generally how weak the season is compared to the first two. So I was delighted when this excellent episode came along, marking a definite rise in quality.

    As with the USS Exeter in the second season's "The Omega Glory", it is an obvious re-use of the Enterprise sets. There are no subtle tweaks in colour scheme or design, a result of budget and time limitations, which became even more of an issue in the third season. That said, it didn't bother me as much here as it did in that other example.

    Probably the weakest point of this plot is yet another 'space disease' to cure. We've seen them several times before in the series, and here we get yet another. It doesn't really add much to the story, although doesn't completely spoil it either.

    The loss of Kirk is excellently played out, and the seeming death of the Captain is much better than in the disappointing big-screen 'Star Trek: Generations' (1994).

    I also like the Tholians as an alien race, and love the 'web' that their ships weave around the Enterprise.

    (They also played a part in the Game Boy 'Star Trek' game, where you had to manoeuvre around their 'threads'. I also agree with another reviewer that I would like a Tholian screen saver).

    The episode also contains some of the best moments between Spock, who is now in command, and McCoy. Although their confrontation wasn't clear at first, it played out really well, and I like how Kirk had the foresight to leave them a message to basically 'stop arguing and work with each other'.

    (However, to nitpick, the end, when McCoy and Spock deny ever viewing the message, although it has been established (in "The Enterprise Incident" and others) that Spock cannot lie. That's only a small thing, though.)

    All-in-all, this episode is terrific; I really like it. It rivals "The Enterprise Incident" as one of the best of season three thus far.moreless
  • Web spinner's delight!

    I like this episode of Star Trek although the only thing I dislike is the music score, which I found it out of tune with the episode at hand. When Kirk is lost along with the another starship the Defliant, the crew must deal with an hostle race while trying to save Kirk. I like the exchange beetween Dr. Macoy and Mr. Spook. and I like the way Captain Kirk floating in space. I'm giving it a 7. I was about to give it an 8, but the music score didn't work well with me. It's a 7 and I'll leave it at that.moreless
  • Season 3 proves it can do the "ship in a bottle" 20 times and still keep it fresh. This one is no exception!

    Wow. Without going into barf-inducing technobabble, we get discussions of the fabric of space leading to other dimensions, a cool new alien race, interphasing between the dimensions, the area harming organic life, and Kirk being caught.

    I'll pretend the one gaffe (the Defiant ship is said to be 'dissolving' yet people can still walk on the floor) is due to parts of the ship going into interphase but the floor is still intact...

    The breakdown of the crew as time goes by is definitely stunning. Having Uhura, Scotty, and others see Kirk and treated as if they were breaking down as well is terrific. The idea of being caught alone in a universe is quite novel as presented in this story.

    And then there are the Tholians. "The screensaver race"; I've always wanted a screensaver of a Tholian for some reason. I like their appearance, language, their idea of making a web to fling incapacitated ships out of their domain (instead of simply destroying them - how much moral can a species get?)

    Definitely a classic, and needless to say a triumph for the much maligned season 3.moreless
Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Mr. Spock

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

William Shatner

William Shatner

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Barbara Babcock

Barbara Babcock

voice of Tholian / Commander Loskene (uncredited)

Guest Star

Sean Morgan

Sean Morgan

Lt. O'Neil

Guest Star

Louie Elias

Louie Elias

Crazed Crewman (uncredited)

Guest Star

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Walter Koenig

Walter Koenig

Ensign Pavel Chekov

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (17)

    • At the end of the episode, Kirk states that he had an entire universe to himself once the Defiant was thrown out. There seems no way that he could determine this unless he explored the entire universe in the few hours he was there, limited to where he could float.

    • When they are getting ready for Kirk's memorial service, Spock tells McCoy that he should be in the lab trying to find a remedy and not wasting time at the memorial. After the service, Spock doesn't want to view the captain's last orders because he doesn't have time and he needs to be on a bridge. Well then why did he waste so much time having the memorial service? Come to think of it, the entire crew stops what they're doing in the middle of a life and death situation to have a memorial service. Shouldn't the memorial services wait until after the crisis passes?

    • When Spock grabs Chekov and says his name the first time, the camera cuts to Chekov and the sound of his scream is on the soundtrack, but his mouth does not move.

    • Originally Spock claims that any ship movement or energy usage will disrupt local space, and the Tholians' arrival is why they can't beam Kirk on board the first time. But...doesn't all of the Tholian movement, the spinning of their Web, etc., disturb space and mess up Enterprise's beaming in Kirk the second time as well? Instead, all of the activity doesn't mess up the second "window of opportunity" at all.

    • Again, by indications here there is only one person-transporter on the ship - Scotty says he can only get three frequencies working.

    • Although the guy beaming Kirk in at the end is a lieutenant, the close-up shot is the standard shot of Scotty's hands with the lt. commander braid.

    • When the Tholians attack and McCoy and Chapel throw themselves around to simulate the impact, the bottles in the background stay perfectly still.

    • When the orderly attacks McCoy he throws him across the sickbay bed but in the next close-up shot McCoy is stretched out length-wise on the bed.

    • McCoy gives Kirk an injection through the sleeve of his spacesuit - this seems a little odd. How porous are those things?

    • Spock tells the transporter officer "Ready to transport on my order" but he never gives the order. He states, "Now, Doctor" and then the redshirt operating the transporter does the deed.

    • The mirror in Spock's cabin is at knee level - even lower then the captain's!

    • You can see the stars through the back end of the Tholian ship after the Enterprise hits it with phasers. (This is fixed in the remastered edition.)

    • In the initial Tholian volley the Enterprise takes minor damage. Then Spock orders an increase to the shields and in the next volley they take substantially more damage from the same weapon - shouldn't it be the other way around?

    • Although he hedges the truth several times throughout the series, in this episode Spock quite blatantly lies to Kirk, despite the "Vulcans never lie" thing.

    • As in "Spectre of the Gun," we get the idea that Scotty is going to take a bottle of alcohol and start drinking heavily in the middle of a life-or-death crisis.

    • When Scotty calls the crew to attention at the end of Kirk's funeral, almost nobody does.

    • Although the Defiant and its crew are supposedly fading out of reality (McCoy passes his hand through a table and a crewman), the landing party has no problem walking on the floor.

  • QUOTES (12)

    • Spock: We exist in a universe which co-exists with a multitude of others in the same physical space. For certain brief periods of time, an area of their space overlaps an area of ours.

    • Spock: In critical moments men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.

    • McCoy: You must know that if you get us out of this situation, they'll pin a medal on your chest and give you command of the Enterprise.
      Spock: Doctor, I am in command of the Enterprise.
      McCoy: I would like to remedy that situation.

    • Spock: The renowned Tholian punctuality.

    • McCoy: You should've known what could've happened and done everything in your power to safeguard your crew. That is the mark of a starship captain, like Jim.
      Spock: Doctor, I hardly believe this is the time for comparisons.

    • Spock: (speaking at Kirk's memorial service) A few hours ago, the Captain elected to remain on board the Defiant so that three members of his crew would have the best chance of returning safely to the Enterprise. His concern was not only for them, but for all the members of the crew of this ship. You all know the sequence of events: We were fired upon by the Tholian ship. At that time, Captain Kirk may have been alive. I deemed it necessary to return the Tholian fire for the safety of the Enterprise. The Tholian ship has been disabled. But, as a result of the battle, we must accept the fact that Captain Kirk is no longer alive...I shall not attempt to voice the quality of respect and admiration which Captain Kirk commanded. Each of you must evaluate the loss in the privacy of your own thoughts.

    • McCoy: (to Spock) The captain's last order is top priority, and you will honor that order before you take over. He was a hero in every sense of the word yet his life was sacrificed for nothing. The one thing that would have given his death meaning is the safety of the Enterprise. Now you've made that impossible.

    • Kirk: Bones, Spock... since you are playing this tape, we will assume that I am dead, that the tactical situation is critical, and both of you are locked in mortal combat. It means, Spock, that you have control of the ship and are probably making the most difficult decisions of your career. I can offer only one small piece of advice, for whatever it's worth--use every scrap of knowledge and logic you have to save the ship. But temper your judgment with intuitive insight. I believe you have those qualities, but if you can't find them in yourself, seek out McCoy. Ask his advice. And if you find it sound, take it. Bones, you've heard what I've just told Spock. Help him if you can, but remember, he is the captain. His decisions must be followed without question. You might find that he is capable of human insight and... human error. They are most difficult to defend, but you will find that he is deserving of the same loyalty and confidence each of you have given me. Take care.

    • McCoy: I... I'm sorry.
      Spock: I understand, Doctor. I'm sure the captain would simply have said, "Forget it, Bones."

    • Scotty: You're trying to kill us all?
      Spock: If I remember correctly, it only causes fatality only when used in pure form.
      McCoy: That's right. And in this derivative mixed with alcohol, it merely deadens certain nerve inputs to the brain.
      Scotty: Ah, well, any decent brand of Scotch will do that.
      McCoy: Umm, well, one good slug of this, and you can hit a man with phaser stun and he'd never feel it or even know it.
      Scotty: Does it make a good mix with Scotch?
      McCoy: It should.
      Scotty: (grabbing a bottle) I'll let you know.

    • Kirk: I had a whole universe to myself after the Defiant was thrown out. There was absolutely no one else in it. I must say I prefer a crowded universe much better.

    • Kirk: How'd you two get along without me?
      McCoy: Oh, we managed. Mr. Spock gave the orders, and I found the answers.
      Kirk: Good. No problems between you?
      Spock: None worth reporting, Captain.
      Kirk: Try me.
      Spock: Ummm, only such minor disturbances, as are inevitable when humans are involved.
      Kirk: Which humans, Mr. Spock?
      McCoy: What he means that when humans become involved with Vulcans, Jim.
      Kirk: Ah, yes. I understand. Well, I hope my last orders were helpful in solving any problems that you don't feel worth reporting.
      Spock: Orders, Captain?
      McCoy: What orders are you referring to, Jim?
      Kirk: My last orders. The last orders that I left for both... for both of you. The last taped orders.
      McCoy: Oh, those orders. Well, there wasn't time. We never had a chance to listen to them.
      Spock: No. You see, the crisis was upon us, and then passed so quickly, Captain, that we...
      Kirk: Good. Good. Well, I hope we won't have similar opportunities to test those orders... which you never heard.

  • NOTES (5)