What Trek Meant to Me: “The Tholian Web”

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Join Featured Writer Keith Parker as he treks back in time and space to talk Trek!

I’m starting to wonder whether I felt trapped as a child. This is my second article about growing up with Star Trek and I feel compelled to check my health insurance for coverage clauses; after all, the first article dealt with “The Cage” while this one examines “The Tholian Web”.  I mean, holy-holding-cell, Batman, I better pay the receptionist on my way out.

“The Tholian Web” is about what happens to the U.S.S. Enterprise while on an operation to locate the U.S.S. Defiant; it does, and gets entangled with the intractable Tholians (and their web). However, the goal of this blog is to convey the impact the show had on my childhood, not to synopsize or critique the episodes. That said, today’s episode contains four elements that were just the bee’s knees:

  • Shipboard adventures
  • Other ships in Star Fleet
  • Characters going batty
  • Ye olde parallel universes

Shipboard adventures: The U.S.S. Enterprise wowed me, and I craved every chance to peek into its inner workings. Is there more than one transporter room? What does a photon torpedo look like? Where’s the bowling alley? And what’re those Jeffries Tubes all about? How about the characters? Throughout TOS, the characters had more depth when not on a planet. We see this when a skeptical, combative McCoy takes Spock to task about his (Spock’s) decisions regarding the Tholians; then, McCoy and Spock are bitch-slapped by a recording of Kirk. How humiliating is that?

Other ships in Star Fleet: NCC-branded vessels wowed me, which is odd since all of those starships were identical, but, like the two boys mesmerized by their giant television in the Roadrunner cartoon (“I want to be a puh-psychiatrist.”), I was mesmerized by episodes where other vessels from Star Fleet appeared. In “The Tholian Web,” seeing the away team in spacesuits on a slowly disintegrating Defiant evoked a sense of wonder in me, which is what science fiction is all about.

Characters going batty: As spacetime around the Enterprise begins to crack up, so do the characters. I love the fisheye lens effect as Chekhov goes bat-shit crazy on the bridge. That was just too cool for school, and Chekhov’s sudden and inexplicable madness is what led me to become a fan of Lovecraft.

Ye olde parallel universes: Sure, they’re a staple of sci-fi now, but in the 60s? Oh, wait. The appeal of “The Tholian Web” goes back to the situation I was in as a kid. I was homebound during childhood, caring for my father. It wasn’t a terrible existence, but it was a cloistered one, and Star Trek became an escape for Dad and me. My father was a disabled World War II vet with a ninth grade education, and yet he could philosophize about warp drive, transporters and the reproduction habits of Tribbles. He just couldn’t cook supper. Like interphase (or growing up in The South) my childhood was a mass of contradictions and incongruities.

Spock: The fabric of space is very weak here. If we disturb it there will be no chance of retrieving the captain alive.
Chekhov: I don’t understand what’s so special about this region of space.
Spock: Picture it this way, Mr. Chekhov. We exist in a universe which coexists with a multitude of others in the same physical space. For certain brief periods of time an area of their space overlaps an area of ours. That is the period of interphase….

Mr. Chekhov goes insane with anger.

While the Tholians and their web were cool to watch, the scene that I quoted above was singularly comforting. There is another universe occupying the same physical space as this one. Say I’m sitting in a recliner, quaffing a lager while editing this article. A parallel universe means there’s another me (let’s call me Joe) who’s kicked back with his (my?) own brew (say an IPA) while going all-OCD over this text. While it’s profoundly weird to contemplate such a mind-frack, the concept did allow me, as a kid, to drift into my own parallel universe, one where Dad was never injured, and where I got to play football and attend concerts. It gave me comfort. I was never able to enjoy all the extracurricular junk that my friends did, but maybe there was an alternate me who did. Here’s to you, Joe.

So, what’s the diagnosis, Doctor? Was I trapped? Was my imagination running amok? Or, perhaps, did I actually prefer it that way? I don’t know, and neither does Joe, but this series of articles for JustUsGeeks.com is giving us a chance to find out. Next time, back to Season One. As always, thanks for reading.

Until then, Pax vobiscum,

Keith

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About author

Keith Parker

Keith Parker is a traditionally published science fiction and fantasy writer, history geek, college football fan, and long-time collector of games and shiny objects. You can find him at NASA unless he has transmogrified himself into an elephant.

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