Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 9

The Tholian Web

Aired Unknown Nov 15, 1968 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (8)

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out of 10
168 votes
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 episodes

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Spock and McCoy giggle and snicker as they watch Kirk's armature home made video

    This one's in my top ten. Although the actual web that the Tholian's are weaving is a bit peculiar, I love the rest of the script and the McCoy-Spock struggle flourishes here. And I thought they did a wonderful job of carrying the show in Kirk's absence. I get spooked out every time I watch this when they are on the Defiant. That is the sign of a great show. My girl Uhura, who I am totally in love with, gets a nice part too.
  • Spock and McCoy nearly come to blows

    From Star Trek III:
    Kirk- You're suffering from a Vulcan Mind-Meld doctor.
    McCoy- That green-blooded sonofab****! It's his revenge for all those arguments he lost.

    Kirk and Spock's friendship is legendary and well defined. But when it comes to Spock and McCoy, things aren't always as crystal clear. This episode helps to define it a bit.

    Spock and McCoy go from friends (as much as a friendship can exist between a human and Vulcan) to rivals to nearly enemies and back to friends.

    At issue is the safety of the Enterprise and the choices Spock makes while in command. McCoy becomes almost belligerent as he berates Spock, accusing him of wanting Kirk dead so he could command the Enterprise. Spock reminds the doctor that he has no desire for a command of his own and that Kirk's safety and that of the crew are his primary concern.

    Toward the end of the episode, one of the most poignant moments of the series occurs as McCoy apologies to the stoic, unfeeling Vulcan. Spock, obviously feeling a great deal, paraphrases his captain by saying "Forget it, Bones."

    Great character study, great story. A few plot holes. Moments of really awful acting. But overall, more than worth a look.

    While elements of "The Tholian Web" are comically hyperbolic (such as Chekov's over-the-top fish-eye POV shot of Spock, and some of Shatner's floating)-- which is typical of the entire Original Series -- this remains one of the top five Trek episodes, mainly due to the excellent character writing between Spock and McCoy and the great performances by Nimoy and Kelley. The plot -- Kirk being thrown into his own private universe and the subsequent miliatry and emotional crises that result on board the "Enterprise" after he disappears -- is prime sci-fi and classic "Trek" writing. "The Tholian Web" is definitely the best episode of the third season (which isn't saying much considering how bad the third season is), one of the best of the Original Series and of the entire Star Trek franchise.