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Star Trek TOS - Season 3 - Episode 09

Star Trek TOS - 3x09 - The Tholian Web

Originally Aired: 1968-11-15

Kirk is trapped in interphase, while the Enterprise is trapped by a powerful energy web. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 7

Fan Rating Average - 5.83

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Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 38 0 3 24 13 10 16 34 43 27 27

Filler Quotient: 1, partial filler, but has important continuity. I recommend against skipping this one.
- This episode (along with Mirror Mirror) is the core premise to Ent: In A Mirror, Darkly. The Tholians are also curiously referenced repeatedly in later Star Trek series.


- This episode establishes that there has never been a mutiny on a starship before, or at least no record of one.

Remarkable Scenes
- Chekov freaking out.
- Spock's discussion with the Tholian.
- Spock battling both the Tholians and McCoy at the same time.
- Kirk's recording for Spock and McCoy.
- Uhura pleading with McCoy about having seen the captain and McCoy not really believing her.
- McCoy discovering the antidote.
- McCoy and Spock lying about having heard heard Kirk's last orders.

My Review
The Tholian Web is a cleverly written story which makes prominent use of an unusually large set of characters and multiple plot threads. While the Enterprise is engaging in an already dangerous rescue mission and investigating what befell the crew of the Defiant, an aggressive alien race called the Tholians attacks them for trespassing into what they claim is their territory. Interestingly, neither of these two events seem related to one another, which is a nice surprise. Whatever happened to the Defiant is clearly implied to be the result of a natural phenomenon. The intolerant Tholians are just an inconveniently timed distraction.

But while battling the Tholians Spock must also battle McCoy whose characteristic and predictably endless criticisms of Spock's command decisions rear their ugly head once again. Toward the end of their bickering McCoy crossed the line several times by claiming that Spock had no good reason to fight the Tholians and that Spock's only motive was to secure permanent command of the Enterprise from Starfleet. Luckily, Kirk's "last orders" recording brought some sanity back to their work relationship.

There are a few other unsavory details as well. For instance, early in the episode it's mentioned that while the crew can visually identify the Defiant, that sensors are reporting that it's not there. Once again like my complaint from Operation: Annihilate! do sensors just not measure visible light? What a silly line. Likewise, at one point McCoy uses a hypospray on Kirk through his space suit! Must be a powerful device. Finally, toward the end of the episode Uhura looks over to Chekov who is screaming like an idiot. She looks over to McCoy and asks him "will I become like Chekov?" No Uhura, you won't. Because your character is better acted!

The two biggest gaps in the story though are the fact that we never learn what exactly befell the Defiant and its crew as well as the murkiness surrounding how the Enterprise escaped the Tholian web. I was actually pretty damn annoyed with how they escaped the Tholian web. All that's said is using the ship's power somehow propelled them out of it. We see some brief visuals which might indicate they passed into the alternate dimension which claimed the Defiant, then suddenly the Enterprise is back in normal space, thrown clear of the Tholians. How convenient and vague.

All things considered though The Tholian Web was a terrific episode. The pacing was great, the judicious use of minor characters was a welcome surprise, the Tholians with their unique (if oddly slow) weapon made an intriguing enemy, and trapping Kirk off the ship during the crisis added heightened drama. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the Tholians again or seeing a followup episode that tells the story of what happened to the Defiant. All in all with a bit more polish and attention to detail, this already terrific episode could have been worth even more points.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Arianwen on 2010-08-07 at 11:29pm:
    I don't know, I find this episode very entertaining and good sci-fi. It seemed very original - no clich├ęs that I noticed, and multiple plotlines. The idea of 'space distorting' and actually causing the psychosis that killed the Defiant's crew was interesting, and a welcome surprise (after innumerable episodes infested by mysterious diseases, finding a dead crew *not* killed by disease was quite a shock). The Defiant and the Captain being dragged into a parallel universe gave the plot added depth and complexity, not allowing the crew or us to focus on the one problem.

    It would have been nice, though, to see a little more of the Tholians. They too felt original - they actually *listened* to Spock's explanation! - and it's a pity we never hear any more from them. But I mark it as a sign of a good episode that I was left with questions rather than complaints.
  • From Orion on 2011-09-05 at 2:50am:
    This episode felt like too many people were involved with the script. There's too many things going on, and their combined mass ends up hurting the storytelling.

    You got Tholians, but not much explanation about who they are

    You got an energy web, but almost no talk about what it actually does

    You got McCoy being belligerent toward Spock, with no real resolution to the conflict

    You got crew member turning hostile

    You got the captain floating around like a ghost

    Instead of having so many plotlines, they should have saved some of them for another episode. The plot about Kirk floating around the ship should have had the most playtime since it was the most creepy, but instead it takes a backseat to all the other stuff. All in all, I think Tholian Web was a missed opportunity.
  • From Andrew Wiltz on 2012-04-08 at 3:15am:
    In episode 2 of season 3 of TOS, "The Enterprise Incident," it is established that Vulcans cannot lie.

    However, Spock rather blatantly lied directly to the captain in this episode. Spock is half human, so perhaps this rule (which may not even be a rule) doesn't apply to him.
  • From Rick on 2014-04-01 at 5:09am:
    To the reviewer: yes of course the enterprise can measure visible light, its called the view screen (which is presumably fed by external cameras). I think when spock references "sensors" he is not including the view screen because obviously they are looking right at it.
  • From Kethinov on 2014-04-01 at 5:46am:
    Rick, the point was it's pretty ridiculous to assume that the sensors can't measure visible light.
  • From jd_juggler on 2015-04-19 at 6:46am:
    This is a typical low-budget third season episode. Not horrible, but well below average. Rather convenient, isn't it, that McCoy's hand passes through a man's body, and a table, but nobody's feet pass through the floor? Also, neither Uhura not Scotty mentioned that they could see through the captain, a rather important detail, I would think. It is also curious that Kirk's oxygen was running out - yet in TNG we learn that Scotty was trapped for decades in a "pattern buffer", apparently without needing oxygen at all. Also, just before Uhura saw the "ghost" captain, she was doubled over in pain - a symptom she appararently never discussed with the doctor. She seemed physically fine when she ran into McCoy in the hall, and aside from an apparent hallucination, she was nothing like checkov, the lab technician who attacked McCoy, and the crewman who flipped out in engineering, all of whom were completely out if their minds. So why was Uhura admitted to sick bay?
  • From thaibites on 2015-07-30 at 7:03pm:
    This episode fails for me because of Bones. His treatment of Spock is absolutely ludicrous. He's just over the top, and Spock should've beaten the living crap out of him. But that's the whole problem with Bones always needling Spock - he knows Spock won't kick his ass. Bones takes advantage of this because he is a bully and a gutless coward.

    I grew up with TOS and remember not liking Bones' miserable, whining, bitch-boy attitude, and this episode makes me dislike him even more. Bones and Pulaski can both sod off!
  • From Rick on 2017-02-17 at 3:05am:
    Kethinov: Yes, I get that. I just think when conversing on the bridge where time is of the essence, Spock need not tell Kirk that "every sensor other than the visible light which you can clearly see in the viewscreen cannot detect what is out there." I think we all understood what was going on.

    Hate to say it, but I think you missed this one again. The crew of the Defiant fell prey to the same space sickness that the crew of the Enterprise began to experience. We dont know why they stayed in that space for so long for the effects to happen, but it is a safe bet that it was to investigate the strange dimensional phenomena.
  • From Chris on 2018-03-25 at 7:34pm:
    I'm in complete agreement with thaibites on McCoy. Bones should've been thrown in the brig for insubordination. Then Kirk should've kicked his ass once he was saved...

    Shatner gives another emotional speech similar though not as stirring as his in 'Return to Tomorrow'. I really liked the speech and one would expect that Bones would've followed his beloved hero's orders and obeyed Spock without question! Instead, he goes back to his whiny needling and should have been phasered into that other universe!!!

    Other than my gripes about McCoy the episode is great! He really ruined it though and makes it hard to sit through...
  • From Michael Plunkett on 2019-10-21 at 3:25am:
    Spock lied to Kirk at end of episode????
    Spock was not human enough to lie and to lie to the captain would be a violation of his personal moral code and Star Flight regulation.
    How can Spock lie to Capitan Kirk????

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