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Retro Review: The Terratin Incident

Posted by Michelle - 24/06/11 at 02:06 pm


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Star Trek: The Animated Series

Season: 01 Episode: 11 (s01e11)

Original US airdate: 11/17/1973

Everyone on the Enterprise begins to shrink after being hit by a mysterious energy surge that shatters the ship’s dilithium crystals.

Plot Summary: While mapping the remains of a supernova, the Enterprise picks up a faint signal in an old code, repeating the word “terratin” twice. The Enterprise follows the source to the Cepheus system, where a power source on the only planet sends a burst of energy that destroys the ship’s dilithium crystals and momentarily paralyzes the crew. Immediately afterward, all organic material on the ship begins to shrink, including the crew. Spock estimates that everyone on board will soon be less than a centimeter tall. Seeking answers, Kirk beams down to the surface, where the transporter restores him to normal height. He discovers a miniature city, but the transporter’s automatic cycle beams him back up in the midst of a volcanic eruption before he can make contact. Back on the Enterprise, Kirk finds that the remaining crewmembers are ant-sized but that his bridge crew has been abducted to the miniature city. He threatens to destroy the inhabitants if his officers are not returned, but the crew reports that the seeming attack was a desperate gesture to get the Enterprise’s attention. The city’s inhabitants, the Terratins, are mutated humans from a lost colony called Terra Ten, but the planet’s increasing volcanic activity is threatening to destroy them all. Using the transporter to restore his crew to normal height and demanding that they bring up dilithium from the disintegrating planet, Kirk rescues the entire Terratin city to be relocated to a stable planet.

Analysis: “The Terratin Incident” feels very much like Star Trek for kids, which isn’t unreasonable given that this is the animated series, but it’s not nearly as well done as “Yesteryear” and seems like an odd fit with the decidedly adult-themed “Mudd’s Passion” which immediately preceded it when it aired. “The Terratin Incident” has adorable Lilliputian crewmembers and an adorable Lilliputian city, yet there’s no hint of parallel social commentary or even scientific interest. In the hands of a more sophisticated writer, there might have been a connection between the turbulence on the planet and the lives of the Terratins, some cause and effect concerning what is essentially an invasive species colonizing Cepheus, some warning of the dangers of making such radical changes to human biology, or at the very least some more solid scientific explanation for how human evolution so quickly permitted people to begin breeding in miniature.

Instead it’s all played for amusement, more like Horton Hears a Who than Gulliver’s Travels. The cleverest device in the entire thing is the explanation for why the organic-based uniforms shrink right along with the crew, though one would think there must be other ship’s systems based on algae or other plant material that would have been similarly affected. For that matter, the food in the dining hall should be shrinking on the plates…though I believe the plates are replicated just like the food, so mightn’t they contain recyclable organic matter as well? Sure, it’s amusing to watch a team of crewmembers pulling ropes (presumably plant-based) to work the transporter controls, but if Scotty manages to program the device to beam Kirk back automatically even after his communicator is destroyed, can’t he figure out a way to rig it for voice commands? Then there’s the scene in which Chapel falls into the experimental fish tank in sickbay and keeps shouting “Help!” – no efforts to shout suggestions or communicate anything useful – while Kirk ends up threading a needle and tossing it to her so he can pull her out. And Spock and Kirk measure in both centimeters and inches, something I’d expect to be standard on a 23rd century starship. The crew is definitely not at its sharpest dealing with this emergency.

My favorite moment in the episode comes when Kirk, now restored to full size, warns the crew to go to the far bulkhead so he doesn’t accidentally step on anyone while crossing the bridge. But he then behaves rather uncharacteristically, threatening to blow up the miniature city and giving a demonstration of the Enterprise’s phasers before he’s bothered to ask what’s going on down there or whether there’s a peaceful solution to be negotiated. Once Kirk realizes the Terratins mean no harm, the crew finds a planet on which to dump the Terratin city, but it’s all rather rushed…how does the crew know that in this new environment, the Terratins won’t start growing instead of shrinking? Had the animated series lasted a bit longer, the Enterprise could have returned and found a Brobdingnagian human culture to whom they would appear like ants.

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