The Animated Series’ “The Slaver Weapon” in Review
Before this episode, the Kzinti were referenced in “The Infinite Vulcan” and a member of the species briefly appeared as part of the Elysian Ruling Council in “The Time Trap”. Here, we get basically an entire episode about them. Will this installment enslave your attention? Is watching it a disarming experience?
With Spock in command, the Enterprise shuttlecraft Copernicus is heading to Starbase 25, carrying an ancient Slaver stasis box discovered on the planet Kzin. Aboard the shuttlecraft with Spock are Uhura and Sulu. The boxes freeze time inside them for up to a billion years. Upon passing Beta Lyrae, a second stasis box is detected. While the Copernicus flies towards it, Spock highlights the significance of the stasis boxes, mentioning discoveries like a flying belt and a disruptor bomb in other boxes.
The Copernicus lands on an ice planet. Wearing life-support belts on the planet’s surface, Spock, Sulu and Uhura are stunned and captured by hostile Kzinti.
Aboard the Kzinti spacecraft — which is hidden in a cave — the group find themselves stuck to a police web on the floor. The Kzinti are led by Chuft-Captain and their ship is the privateer Traitor’s Claw, aboard which they possess an empty stasis box that they baited the newcomers with. Since the Kzinti seek a weapon to defeat the Humans, Sulu realises that Chuft-Captain and his crew are working for the Kzinti government. Inside the loaded stasis box, they find a picture of a Slaver, fresh meat, and a powerful weapon.
Back on the planet’s surface, the Kzinti test the weapon’s settings, consecutively turning it into a telescope, a laser, a personal rocket motor, and an energy absorber. The latter disables the police web, so Spock, Sulu and Uhura attempt to escape to the Copernicus, with Spock managing to dropkick Chuft-Captain and seize the weapon. However, Uhura is recaptured. Launching the Traitor’s Claw, Chuft-Captain demands the weapon in exchange for Uhura’s life.
Sulu and Spock, attempting to decipher the weapon’s other capabilities, unleash a colossal explosion, showcasing the weapon’s unprecedented power — total matter-to-energy conversion at a distance. The Kzinti regain control of the weapon, finding a mode that acts as a reasoning computer, which demands code words. Endeavouring to prevent vital information from falling into enemy hands, the AI decides to self-destruct, eliminating both the weapon and the Kzinti.
The surviving Starfleet trio reflect on the artifact. The Copernicus resumes its journey, leaving behind averted catastrophe. Amused, Uhura suggests the Kzinti might forever be wary of superstitions.
This episode decidely does things a bit “outside the box.” The log entry at the start — by Spock, not Kirk — immediately signifies that this is refreshingly different from the usual installment of Star Trek: The Animated Series.
The shuttlecraft Copernicus is named after the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. This is similar to how the astronomer Galileo Galilei provided the namesake for shuttlecraft Galileo from the TOS episode “The Galileo Seven”, which this episode has some parallels with. Both involve Spock leading a stranded shuttlecraft crew on a strange new world and encountering hostile, furry aliens.
As Copernicus traverses the Beta Lyrae system, the art looks exceptional. As with the previous episode — “The Ambergris Element” — it’s great to see the life-support belts return. The look of the iceworld is also fantastic, clearly lacking an environment. The planet’s caves are convincing, both in concept and appearance.
Anatomically, the Kzinti look extremely alien and vicious, a sort of ferocious version of M’Ress’ feline species. Although they’re not technically the same (M’Ress’ species is Caitian), they do look alike. Featuring M’Ress in the away team would have been fascinating. As it stands, the pink costuming and spacecraft of the Kzinti look ridiculous, negating their menace. On the other hand, the characterisations of the Kzinti are interestingly multifaceted. The Slaver weapon, whose modes are just as varied, meanwhile looks like a merchandising opportunity in disguise.
The Kzinti code of ethics coincidentally seems very Klingon. In fact, the risk that the Kzinti might possess the superpowerful Slaver weapon is very much like the danger, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, that the Klingons could seize the superpowerful Genesis Device. Spock even mentions, in this episode, that both species may have tried to take control of the Slaver weapon.
Sulu says that being in the police web will make their movements impossible when what he really means is that they’re unable to move their feet. The Traitor’s Claw obviously fits well with the fact that the Kzinti have claws. However, the episode leaves it unclear why the Kzinti seem to each have a different title and why no Kzinti names are established. This could theoretically be because they didn’t want to reveal their personal identities due to being on a covert mission for the Kzinti government.
Star Trek: The Animated Series was privileged to have a science fiction author, Larry Niven, write this particular episode. Using his Known Space universe as a basis, this is a well-developed episode with great worldbuilding and a small but diverse mix of characters, mostly voiced well. That said, precisely why Spock, Uhura and Sulu were selected to take us through an entire episode is puzzling, as is the Enterprise’s whereabouts. Though increased involvement for Sulu and Uhura is appreciated, Spock is simply less entertaining without Kirk. This is also an extremely dialogue-heavy episode that has more ideas than it knows what to do with. Though it’s unfortunate that the episode has so much exposition, the stasis box and the Slaver weapon are, as Spock might say, fascinating. However, the episode also has an abrupt conclusion that fails to satisfy. Perhaps the mediocre narrative told here and the silly-looking Kzinti pinks are partly why the species took so long to reappear after this, until Taylor in Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.