The Animated Series’ “The Terratin Incident” in Review
The fact this episode was written by Paul Schneider, who previously wrote such key TOS episodes as “Balance of Terror” and “The Squire of Gothos”, raises expectations for this installment. Does it live up to the quality and scale of those previous episodes?
The USS Enterprise is approaching the remains of a burned-out supernova, Arachna, which the starship’s crew plans to survey. Spock detects strong emissions from Arachna and Kirk orders a mapping mission. However, they receive a mysterious signal from the vicinity of the star Cepheus. The signal contains a message, using ancient intersat code and repeatedly mentioning the word “terratin.” McCoy objects about abandoning the mapping mission to investigate the signal.
Upon reaching Cepheus, the Enterprise discovers a crystalline planet experiencing volcanic activity. A strange phenomenon renders no casualties but damages the ship’s dilithium crystals and causes the crew to begin shrinking at an alarming rate. With the ship reduced to impulse speeds, the crew tries to escape the planet’s gravity.
The attempt fails; due to some strange wave bombardment from the planet, the crew continues to be faced with shrinking conditions and the imminent loss of control over their ship. Desperation sets in as the crew’s size decreases rapidly. All organic matter aboard the ship, including plant and animal life, is contracting too. Spock calculates that they will all continue shrinking unless a solution is found. The crew’s accidental difficulties include Sulu breaking one of his legs and Nurse Chapel subsequently falling into a fish tank. Captain Kirk comes to the rescue of both of them, then decides to beam down to the planet.
Despite their tininess, Scotty and a team of engineers manage to operate the transporter’s slider controls. Kirk, upon beaming down to the planet, is restored to full size, realising that the crew can counteract the shrinking by using the transporter to manipulate their molecular structure. Beset by volcanic activity on the planet’s surface, he discovers a miniature city.
Kirk is abruptly beamed back to the Enterprise and finds that the bridge crew have been transferred down to the planet. The Terratin natives — threatened by the tectonic activity on their adoptive planet — are desperate for the Enterprise‘s help. Spock explains that the Terratins are descendants of a lost Earth colony who designated the planet “Terra Ten”. The colonists went missing when they started to be affected by natural spiroid epsilon waves, which shrank and mutated them. Their desperation for assistance led them to shrink the Enterprise crew and abduct the ship’s bridge staff in a last-ditch attempt to communicate their plight.
The Terratins have dilithium to repair the Enterprise, which — in a diplomatic resolution — the crew beam up to the ship, simultaneously reverting themselves to their original size. Deciding to help, Kirk beams the miniature Terratin city aboard the ship and plans to relocate the Terratins to a new home in a stable and beautiful environment on the planet Verdanis. The Terratins declare the Enterprise crew as honorary Terratins. In his captain’s log, Kirk notes that the relocation will conclude the Terratin Incident.
The name of the supernova Arachna piques interest as to whether spiders (aka “arachnids”) will play a part in this story or if the supernova is perhaps named after the Arachnid Nebula. The latter is ultimately the only plausible option, given that spiders are not involved in the plot.
The backstory of intersat code adds technological intrigue. Lab animals aboard the Enterprise are interesting too and are fairly realistic, providing a canon basis for the later-portrayed but chronologically earlier menagerie owned by Doctor Phlox on Enterprise. Other fairly interesting facets are a statement that Starfleet uniforms are made from algae-based xenylon and the history of the human colonists who established the Terratin colony.
The crew is portrayed severely out of character in this episode, including Kirk, who exhibits some poor judgement. For instance, it’s entirely unclear as to why he would beam down to the planet alone. He later bizarrely threatens to fire on the Terratin city… even though doing so would endanger his own bridge staff!
Nichelle Nichols and James Doohan sound too obvious as Mess Officer Breil and the Terratin Mendant respectively. Also, Majel Barrett voicing Nurse Chapel’s repeated cries for help, while Chapel is at risk of drowning in the fish tank, are extremely irritating.
Sulu surviving a gigantic fall, damaging only one of his legs, is not very believable and him panicking about the crew’s rapid shrinking is wildly out of character. Not to mention that his injured leg suddenly changes from right to left.
Yet another oddity is that all the female members of the Terratin colonists who appear are wearing pink and all the males are wearing green and yellow. Kirk likens them to the Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels, which is particularly interesting since the same novel originally proved inspirational to the concept of Star Trek’s moralising. Here, the theme of mutual understanding and cooperation is admirable despite reusing the “misunderstood antagonist” trope that is overused in Star Trek: The Animated Series.
This episode benefits from being bookended by log entries recorded by Captain Kirk. In fact, this installment is a rare one by ending with a log entry.
Although somewhat thought-provoking, the dialogue is overly technical, foreshadowing the reams of technobabble which later bogged down Star Trek: The Next Generation. This episode consequently appeals on an intellectual level, though much of the story doesn’t make sense. The episode is also lacking emotionally, even though Scotty provides some much-needed comic relief, as do some of the other crew members once they start shrinking. Watching the episode if it had been produced in live-action instead of animation would have been far more enjoyable. The likes of the Doctor Who 1964 serial Planet of Giants and the 1998 DS9 episode “One Little Ship” do much better with the shrunken-characters trope. As for this episode, mileage may vary, depending how silly you like your Star Trek.
Webmaster 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 coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.