Written by Judy Burns, Chet Richards, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
When I think back to when I used to watch Star Trek in nightly reruns at 6PM, The Tholian Web is one of those episodes that stands out. I have a clear memory of the effects in this episode, and they look just as good now after being remastered.
The Enterprise is investigating the disappearance of the ship the Defiant. It seems that space is folding in on itself here, creating a junction between two universes. The Defiant keeps phasing in and out of their reality.
The Captain (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor McCoy DeForrest Kelley), and Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam over to investigate the Defiant. However, because of the phasing Scotty (James Doohan) is having trouble beaming them back. He gets Chekov, Spock, and Doctor McCoy. Captain Kirk cannot be brought back from the Defiant and when it disappears from space he is with it.
To complicate matters, the Tholians arrive and claim the Enterprise is intruding in their space. Spock, now in command of the Enterprise, negotiates that they will leave once the Defiant phases back into this universe in about 3 hours so they can rescue the Captain. However, when the time arrives, their attempt to rescue the Captain fails. They do battle with the Tholians, which cripples the Enterprise. The Tholians then start creating an energy web to encase the Enterprise. At the same time, being in this area of space begins to create a madness that is spreading through the crew of the Enterprise. It’s a race against time to rescue the Captain on the next phase-in of the Defiant and repair the Enterprise enough to get them out of there.
This is one of those memorable episodes that almost makes up for all of the weak episodes this third season. There’s a good build-up of peril with a lot of great effects, from the energy web to the Tholian ships and the Tholians themselves. For the first time, we see the landing party beam over in spacesuits, which are somewhat comical. There are hints they are built on the astronaut suits of the 1960s with brighter, metallic coloring and the crewman’s names emblazoned on the helmets.
The characters here are written very well and the actors really capture them perfectly. Particularly of note is the relationship between Spock and McCoy. Just like in For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, the deep friendship between them is on full display, despite the bickering they usually exhibit. McCoy is badgering Spock about his choices and actions throughout his command until they watch what would be Captain Kirk’s last words to them. It’s a significant moment for the characters, and I have to say they seem to be getting the best development this season, especially when Captain Kirk is not around.
Walter Koenig gets to go crazy with Chekov again. It gives him a bit of a stretch. I’d say maybe he did such a good job in Day of the Dove that they let him do it again.
The Tholian Web is one of those near-flawless episodes of the series. It still stands up very well all these years later. There’s a good balance of peril with character development and special effects. I wish we saw more of the Tholians in future series (the only series that deals with it takes place before this one).
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Plato’s Stepchildren