The Slaver Weapon
|"The Slaver Weapon"|
|Star Trek: The Animated Series episode|
The Kzinti Captain
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Hal Sutherland|
|Written by||Larry Niven|
|Story by||Larry Niven|
|Original air date||December 15, 1973|
"The Slaver Weapon" is the fourteenth episode of the first season of the animated science fiction television series Star Trek. It first aired in the NBC Saturday morning lineup on December 15, 1973, and was written by American science-fiction author Larry Niven, based on his original short story "The Soft Weapon".[note 1]
In this episode, while traveling by shuttlecraft, several Enterprise crewmembers are captured and have to use their individual strengths to prevent a powerful alien weapon from falling into the wrong hands.
On stardate 4187.3, the Enterprise shuttlecraft Copernicus, carrying ship's Science Officer Spock, Communications Officer Lt. Uhura, and Helmsman Lt. Sulu are en route to Starbase 25 to deliver a stasis box, a rare artifact of the Slaver culture. The now-extinct Slavers used these objects to carry weapons, valuables, scientific instruments and data. The boxes can detect each other and evidence shows that another device is located nearby.
Following the signal, the shuttle lands on an ice planet where the crew is captured by the hostile catlike Kzinti. The Kzinti had an empty stasis box of their own, and were using it to lure in passing starships. They are trying to steal stasis boxes in the hopes of finding a super weapon that will return their empire to its former greatness.
Intrigue builds on intrigue as the box passes hands several times between the Federation and Kzinti crews, until the Kzinti manage to retain control of it for a time. As they explore the device's many settings, it starts talking to the Kzinti and asks them to provide several code words. When they fail to provide them, it concludes they are enemies and self-destructs, killing them.
Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, a prolific author of Star Trek screenplays, approached Larry Niven in 1973 to see if he would write an episode for The Animated Series. At the time Niven was a major up-and-coming force in the science fiction world; in 1971 he won three major science fiction awards for his book Ringworld, the Hugo, Nebula and Locus.
Niven's first attempt to write a screenplay introduced his Known Space setting into the Star Trek universe. The story involved a group of Outsiders who were using a quantum black hole to disable passing ships drives' in order to pirate them. Fontana advised him that the original version wouldn't work as an episode, and his second attempt proved to be "too bloody."
While Niven visited Gene Roddenberry's house one afternoon, Roddenberry suggested that he use his short story "The Soft Weapon" as the basis for an episode. This story opens with a small spacecraft making a quick side-trip to view Beta Lyrae. Onboard are the human couple who crew the spacecraft, and their passenger, a Pierson's Puppeteer named Nessus. Nessus has a stasis box in his possession, and a routine scan reveals that another stasis box is located somewhere in the Beta Lyrae system, much to their surprise. When they attempt to retrieve the second box, they are captured by a group of Kzinti pirates. The Kzinti are in possession of an empty stasis box, and are using it to lure in passing starships. The three outwit the Kzinti and escape.
For the adaptation into the Star Trek universe, Niven changed the identity of the characters in the original to their analogs in Star Trek. Nessus, a highly intelligent normally pacifistic herbivore, fitted neatly onto the character of Spock. The original male and female starship crew were replaced by Sulu and Uhura, while the small spacecraft became the newly introduced long-range shuttlecraft. The characters from the Kzinti ship remained unchanged.
There were minor changes to simplify the storytelling, but only one major change. In "The Soft Weapon" the artifacts were built by the Tnuctip, a technologically advanced species that had been enslaved by the Thrint, the titular "Slavers". They had built many weapons in secret like this one as part of a long-planned revolt. This backstory is outside the scope of the "The Slaver Weapon", and in this version the box and weapon are presumed to be of Slaver origin.
"The Slaver Weapon" is regarded by some critics to be "by far one of the best and most literate of the animated episodes." It introduces the Kzinti "as a fascinating new Federation adversary and establishes Slaver boxes as part of the Star Trek mythology." While the episode's guest voice work is "surprisingly good", the animation is subpar and the director's decision to assign the fearsome and formidable Kzinti "a pink ship somewhat negates their menace."
- Niven returned to his original Known Space episode concept and greatly expanded it to produce the 1975 novelette "The Borderland of Sol".
- The Kzinti made a further Star Trek appearance in the comic strip story The Wristwatch Plantation, also written by Niven. The Wristwatch Plantation also featured the Bebebebeque from Niven's Draco Tavern series. The Kzinti were also mentioned in the Animated Series episodes "The Infinite Vulcan" and "The Time Trap", and the planet Kzin was located in a star map in the Next Generation episode "Conspiracy". They were also adapted into the Star Fleet Universe game setting as the Kzinti Hegemony.
- In 2003, Jimmy Diggs pitched an idea for a CGI film entitled Star Trek: Lions of the Night which would feature Sulu taking command of the Enterprise-B to prevent a Kzinti invasion of the Federation. The project ultimately went nowhere. However, Manny Coto liked the idea and used it as the basis of his script, "Kilkenny Cats", which would have been an episode in the fifth season of Star Trek: Enterprise, had it not been canceled after its fourth season.
- The Kzinti were depicted in pink because director Hal Sutherland was colorblind and did not know what color they had been depicted in. An apology was offered to Larry Niven for this oversight.
- The story includes some elements from Niven's Known Space mythos such as the Kzinti and the Slavers.
- This is the only Kirk era TV or movie story in which Kirk didn't appear.
- This episode has the distinction of being the only animated episode where anyone dies or is killed on-screen.
- "1971 Hugo Awards", World Science Fiction Society
- "1971 Award Winners & Nominees", Worlds Without End
- Mark Altman, Ed Gross (1998). TrekNavigator: The Ultimate guide to the entire Trek saga. Little Brown. p. 215. ISBN 0-316-03812-1.
- Bill Reed, "Draw to the Final Frontier: The making of Star Trek the Animated Series", DVD documentary
- Larry Niven, "Playgrounds of the Mind", Tor Science Fiction, 1992, ISBN 0-8125-1695-8
- "The Slaver Weapon" at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Slaver Weapon" at TV.com
- "The Slaver Weapon" at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- "The Slaver Weapon" at StarTrek.com
- "The Slaver Weapon" at Curt Danhauser's Guide to the Animated Star Trek
- "The Slaver Weapon" Full episode for viewing at StarTrek.com
- "Urban Myth: Legal Issues Behind 'The Slaver Weapon'"