(airdate: November 17, 1973)
Writer: Paul Schneider
Director: Hal Sutherland
Mendant: James Doohan
Captain's Log: While investigating a supernova, the Enterprise picks up a strange signal from a nearby star system. Upon arrival, the crew discover that all the organic matter aboard the ship is shrinking, due to a spiroid compression wave from a nearby planet. Unless something can be done, the crew members will soon be too small to operate the ship. In an act of desperation, Kirk beams down to the center of the wave's source on the planet, where he learns that the transporter will reverse the effect, and that the wave is being caused by a tiny colony called Terratin: the colonists had been shrunk by the wave, and now had no way to escape when the planet was dying, so they lured the Enterprise to them. With the crew restored, the Enterprise rescues the colonists, transporting their entire city to a new planet.
Whoops!: The bit where Chapel falls into the fish tank is blatant padding/a desperate attempt to inject some action into this episode (delete according to preference).
Let's set aside for now all the problems related to shrinking people down, such as the need of increased food intake, that are common to just about all examples of this subgenre and focus on the ones specific to this episode. So everyone on board is shrinking because their DNA is getting wound up tighter and tighter, which means that the space between molecules is being reduced. This ignores the facts that a) the DNA in your body is already coiled extremely tightly, and b) an awful lot of the human body isn't actually made up of organic compounds and doesn't in fact have DNA (such as all the water in your body), and so therefore shouldn't be affected by the shrink wave. Even if we ignore that, it's still something of a leap to go from "DNA coiling more tightly" to "less space between molecules". At the very least, since their mass remains the same everyone should be getting much denser, placing increasing pressure on a decreasing surface area and thus making the possibility of breaking through the floor more and more likely, and (if the space between molecules really is going down, without everything else also decreasing in size) they should probably start worrying about the prospect of nuclear fusion beginning in their own bodies.
If dilithium crystals are affected by the spiroid epsilon waves, and the waves are a natural phenomena on Terra 10, shouldn't all the dilithium on the planet be unusable?
At 2 minutes 30 seconds in, Uhura, seated behind McCoy, is superimposed over him.
Cringe Lines: "In the name of the Terratin people, I forbid you to destroy us, Captain Kirk."
Technobabble: Spiroid epsilon waves cause material with spiriform patterns like DNA to shrink, as the spirals get tighter and tighter.
Library Computer: The star Cepheus was a star with a single satellite which was listed as class M. At least two centuries ago [based on Uhura's comments about intersat code], Earth colonists arrived, naming the satellite Terra 10 [implying their group was the ninth one to set out from Earth]. Terra 10 [or at least the parts we see] was a white planet with a molten core and an entirely crystalline mantle and crust. The surface had many large crystalline deposits (including dilithium) and, recently, several active volcanoes.
One thing that the colonists didn't realize was that Terra 10 had naturally-occurring spiroid epsilon waves, which caused spiral molecules such as DNA to wind tightly, causing compression and essentially making any organic material shrink. This reduced all the colonists to roughly one-sixteenth of an inch tall. They adapted to this height, with it eventually becoming a genetic characteristic. However, the recent volcanic activity threatened their colony, with lava flows cracking the crystalline surface and a great deal of ash and smoke suspended in the atmosphere. The Terratins (a corruption of "Terra Ten"), led by their leader the Mendant, attempted to contact the Enterprise, but their main antenna was buried at some point, and so only a very faint signal could be transmitted. [It's not clear when the antenna was buried; it could be recent, as the result of a volcanic eruption, or it could be a long time ago - Uhura notes that no radio transmissions have been received from the Cepheus area prior to stardate 5577.3.] Thus they needed to use their invasion defense system, which involved large radio dishes directing the spiroid epsilon waves toward hostile space vessels and using an area roughly one-sixth the surface area of the planet, in order to attract attention. This was successful, and the Enterprise was able to beam up the Terratins' entire city, transplanting it [we presume; the episode ends before that part] on the planet Verdanis - a planet much like Earth, ten days away [though no speed is given to know what the distance is, unless it's 10 light-days?] from Terra 10.
Spiroid epsilon waves work only on matter that has a spiral component, such as the DNA in organic material or the spiral molecules in dilithium. These waves cause the spirals to coil together more compactly, creating a compression effect that reduces the space between molecules. In the case of organic matter, this causes the affected matter to shrink until the DNA can't wind any more tightly, while in the case of dilithium crystals, it causes them to fracture, making them look like they're unpeeling like an orange rind. This makes the dilithium unusable. Deflector shields cannot stop a spiroid epsilon wave bombardment, and Spock had never seen a wave so complex before - a full analysis of the wave by the Enterprise computers would take eight years. The transporter can reverse the effects of the wave on organic matter, however.
Arachna is a burned out supernova [so a nebula], white in color and round. [It may be spherical, but we never get an angle to confirm that.] It is a gas cloud that entered its cycle of strongest emissions around stardate 5577.3. It was expanding, and the Enterprise had been sent to map its expansion and radiation. Arachna was located near Cepheus.
Starbase 23 appears to be the closest starbase to both Arachna and Cepheus.
Starfleet uniforms are made of algae-based xenylon. Meanwhile, one of the Enterprise crewmen can be seen wearing glasses. [For more on corrective eyewear, see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.]
Sickbay has pale, see-through mice called gossamer mice and a glowing orange fish called a halo fish, which are sensitive to outside effects - halo fish in face lose all color at the slightest environmental change (but not, it seems, when shrinking). They also have a bone-knitting laser and a microscope laser that's designed to heal the middle ear.
Nurse Chapel has an arm bracelet made for her by the titanium smiths of Libra.
The Enterprise has a macroscope, which actually just seems to be a large, powerful microscope.
Crewmembers less than approximately one centimeter tall can't control the Enterprise [in case you wondered].
Dilithium molecules are the hardest, most rigid [molecules known to the Federation].
Intersat code has been out of use for two centuries, according to Uhura.
Final Analysis: "An equally good possibility is that ship's personnel have contracted, and may be continuing to shrink." Another episode that's easier to realize with animation than live-action, "The Terratin Incident" is a competent but unexciting take on the "shrinking people" idea. There's nothing here that will make you cringe, but there's also little to make this stand out in any meaningful way. But at least Paul Schneider was happy with how it turned out.
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Page originally created: July 8, 2016
Page last updated: June 20, 2018