>Star Trek‘s third season is not fondly remembered by the fans–and rightfully so. After dodging cancellation at the end of season two (well, that depends on which kiss and tell book you read these days and what story you believe), the series was relegated to a Friday night time slot that marked the kiss of the death. Paramount sensing the writing on the wall, slashed the budget and the show suffered for it.
The show was not helped by a lot of factors, including the departure of Gene Coon in season two as producer. But that’s a whole other long post for another time.
Despite all that, Trek still managed to churn out a few gems in the third season. “The Tholian Web” is one of them.
The Enterprise is sent to look for her sister ship, the Defiant (no, not the one from DS9). They find the ship but it’s caught in an area of interphase (bascially where two universes intersect). The area of space starts to play havoc with the ship’s system but this does not stop Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Chekov from beaming over to check things out. They find the crew of the ship all dead, many at each other’s throats in some kind of mutiny.
Turns out in addition to draining the ship’s power and causing systems to run amok, this area of space will slowly drive people mad. Chekov is the first to succumb (the guy has no luck in these things). As if you couldn’t guess, the drain on ship’s power means something is wonky with the transporter (Trek cliche number 3) and only three poeple can beam back. Kirk is the man, sending McCoy, Chekov and Spock back first and figuring he’ll just beam on back in a few minutes. That is, until the Defiant vanishes out of existence with Kirk in the transporter beam.
Spock theorizes that Kirk will come back in just over two hours so the Enterprise stays in the area of space. They can’t move because movement could disturb the area of space and send Kirk heaven only knows where. All is looking good until a Tholian ship shows up, demanding to know why the Enterprise is in their area of space. Spock tells them of why and the Tholians give them two hours to see if they’re right. But the Tholians’ ship throws off things, leading to the Enterprise being in a fire-fight that cripples the ship and leads to the Tholians creating a web to take the Enterprise home with them. And Kirk may be dead, leaving Spock in command and the crew coming apart at the seams.
The crew assumes Kirk is dead, going so far as to have a memorial service for him. The highlight of the episode is Spock and McCoy viewing Kirk’s final orders to them after the service.
“The Tholian Web” is a classic bottle episode of Trek. It’s filmed all on existing sets of the Enterprise. This one features the entrire classic crew, working together in all of their glory. Yes, Kirk is gone for large chunks of the story, but his presence and leadership is still felt on the ship. It’s his ship and watching the crew rally around to try and save him, all while escaping the Tholians and not going mad is great drama. That tension really fuels the episode and makes it a fascinating story. Throw in some nice character work on the regulars and you’ve got a great outing of classic Trek.
It’s especially great to watch Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly chew the scenery as Spock and McCoy. Without the center of both emotion and logic in Kirk, the two are verbally at each other’s throats for much of the episode. McCoy berates Spock for not being the captain Kirk was and Spock keeps trying to put McCoy back in his place as ship’s doctor.
Also, the scenes of the two Tholian ships building the web around the Enterprise are great. The effects may not be cutting edge today, but they’re impressive for the time and the TV budget.
And the Tholians proved to be some of the most interesting and well-remembered aliens in all of Trek. There were rumors for years they’d make a return visit on many of the modern Treks. We finally got to see them again in Enterprise‘s final season.