The Tholian Web

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"The Tholian Web"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
STTholian Web.jpg
The Tholians spin an energy web around the Enterprise.
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 9
Directed by
Written by
Featured music Fred Steiner
Cinematography by Al Francis
Production code 064
Original air date November 15, 1968 (1968-11-15)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"The Tholian Web" is the ninth episode of the third season of the original American science fiction television series, Star Trek. It is episode #64, production #64, first broadcast on November 15, 1968, and repeated August 19, 1969. It was written by Judy Burns and Chet Richards and directed by Herb Wallerstein.

Set in the 23rd century, the series follows the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Federation starship Enterprise. In this episode, Captain Kirk is caught between dimensions while the crew of the Enterprise works to retrieve him. All the while, the Tholians demand that the Enterprise leave their space.


The Federation starship USS Enterprise enters an uncharted region of space while searching for its sister ship, the USS Defiant, which disappeared three weeks prior. Their sensors detect dimensional fractures in the area of space, which are drawing power from all systems. They find the Defiant adrift, and Captain James T. Kirk, First Officer Spock, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, and Navigator Ensign Chekov transport across, using environmental suits for protection. There, they find the crew of the Defiant all dead apparently from killing each other, and that the ship is slowly disintegrating as it is about to enter an interdimensional rift. With limited transporter functionality, Kirk orders the other three to return to Enterprise first; when they try to lock onto him, the Defiant disappears along with Kirk's signal. Spock studies their sensors and believes that, because they had locked onto him before disappearing, Kirk will reappear within a few hours when the rift experiences a spacial interphase, though notes that this will stress the oxygen supply in Kirk's suit. While they wait, Chekov starts to go mad, a symptom that Dr. McCoy claims is from their proximity to the rift and what happened to the Defiant crew. McCoy urges Spock to move the Enterprise to safety but Spock refuses, believing that movement will disrupt the interphase.

A view of the Tholian aliens

With two hours to go, the Enterprise is approached by a small, unfamiliar ship. Its captain, Commander Loskene of the Tholian Assembly, asserts that the Enterprise has violated Tholian space and must left. Spock negotiates to give them the two hours until Kirk reappears and then promises they will leave; the Tholian moves away. When the two hours are up, they find Kirk does not appear with the interphase. Spock determines that the Tholain ship disrupted the interphase, and that Kirk may still be alive but in a different location, but McCoy again urges him to leave, believing that Kirk is dead. Before they can argue further, they are attacked by Loskene, and Spock orders them the fire back, disabling the ship. Chief Engineer Scott warns that the damage from the Tholians in addition to the power loss is causing the Enterprise to drift towards the rift, and he cannot assure them he can hold their position. A second Tholian ship joins the first, and the two begin to create a energy filament that cages the Enterprise. Spock determines if the cage is completed, the energy field will destroy the Enterprise, but he insists on remaining to track down Kirk's position.

Amid further reports of crewmen going mad, they hold a ceremony for Kirk. Spock and McCoy then open orders left by Kirk on event of his death, which asks the two of them to work together for the benefit of the ship. Elsewhere on the ship, the crew report seeing ghostly images of Kirk, and eventually this appears to the bridge crew. Spock sees that Kirk is still in the environmental suit and appears to be telling them to leave, but now that he knows that Kirk is appearing on the ship, devices a plan to use a tractor beam to lock onto him on his next appearance and rescue him.

With the Tholian energy field nearly complete, Spock and McCoy work to identify Kirk's next appearance. They successfully lock a tractor beam to Kirk's presence, and then Spock, taking a risk, orders the ship into the rift. They end up several parsecs away, well outside of Tholian space. Kirk is still locked onto by the Enterprise and they are able to successfully rematerialize him aboard, just as the last of his oxygen supply runs out. Kirk recovers quickly as the Enterprise returns to known space.


The completed Tholian web around the alternate universe ISS Enterprise (NX-01) from Star Trek: Enterprise.

A two-part episode set of Star Trek: Enterprise called "In a Mirror, Darkly", followed up the story and revealed what happened to the Defiant after it disappeared: it materialized in the past of the Mirror Universe (before Mirror Kirk's time) and was stolen by the Tholians of the mirror universe, only for the Terran Empire to then steal it from the Tholians. The dissolution and disappearance the ship experienced were apparently the process of its phasing through the anomaly it encountered. For the sequel, the Defiant bridge (as seen in this episode) was recreated in precise detail; even the positions of the dead crewmen were identical.

Cultural impact[edit]

In 1997 it became known that United States Customs investigators had used the name "Tholian Web" for a technique for embroiling kiddie-porn enthusiasts in internet conversations to trick them into illegal activity.[2][3] By 1997 it had triggered hundreds of prosecutions.

In 2010 Gerry W. Beyer, of the Texas Tech University School of Law, cited a video recording introduced in this episode, which Captain Kirk, the Captain of the starship Enterprise, had left for his two most senior officers, for them to play in the event of his death, urging them to overcome their personal animosity.[4] Beyer described this fictional recording as one of the first recorded instances of what he called a "video-will".

Political Scientists have compared the metaphor of the entrapment in this episode with the deep challenges politicians and administrators feel when confronted with competing factions and lobby groups.[5][6][7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ DM Hughes (1999). "Pimps and Predators on the Internet" (PDF). Women's International Network News. p. 30. Retrieved 2015-07-14. In a joint investigation and sting, known as the “Tholian Web,” agents of the US Customs Service and the New York State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco’s office spent eighteen months tracking and gathering evidence on child pornography traffickers in the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Great Britain. By the end of 1997 the operation had resulted in 120 prosecution referrals and 32 convictions across the United States. 
  3. ^ Nancy Garland (1997-09-18). "Child-porn trial focuses on internet". Bangor, Maine: Bangor Daily News. p. 2, 12, 16, B6. Retrieved 2015-07-14. Named for a device used to ensnare spaceships in a "Star Trek" television show episode, the earthbound Tholian Web has resulted in hundreds of prosecution. 
  4. ^ Gerry W. Beyer (2010-04-01). "Video-Recording the Will Execution Ceremony". Texas Tech University School of Law. Retrieved 2015-07-14. From Star Trek’s Captain Kirk leaving a video to be watched upon his death in his attempt to get Spock and McCoy to work together in an emergency situation to Rodrigo Rosenberg making an 18-minute video to be viewed upon his disappearance in May 2009, which allegedly named his murderer, people have wanted to “speak from the great beyond” to their family and friends. 
  5. ^ Chad R. Miller (2006-05-04). "THE THOLIAN WEB: THE POLITICAL/INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT OF REGIONAL CLUSTER-BASED ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT" (PDF). Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-14. Going back to the metaphor of Captain Kirk and the Tholian web that started off this story, this dissertation was not meant to be about “high” public administration theory and network governance, but it could be the basis for research in that area. 
  6. ^ Chris Hergesheimer, Emily Huddart Kennedy (2010). "Farmers Markets, Local Food Systems and the Social Economy: A Thematic Literature Review" (PDF). Athabasca University. p. 64. Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  7. ^ Ward Ooms, Miranda Ebbekink (2015-06-15). "Buddies or foes: the importance of personal proximity and personal '(dis)clicks' to cluster governance" (PDF). Rome, Italy: Druid Society. p. 36. Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  8. ^ Miranda Ebbekink (April 2015). "Eindproduct Leewarden" (PDF) (in Dutch). Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. p. 29. Retrieved 2015-07-15. 

External links[edit]