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.


On stardate 5693.2, the Federation starship USS Enterprise enters an uncharted region of space to search for her sister ship, the USS Defiant, which disappeared three weeks previously. The Enterprise's warp engines begin to slowly lose power for no apparent reason and sensors detect nearby dimensional fractures in space.

They visually find the Defiant, adrift and glowing eerily, despite sensors reporting the vessel is not really there. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) assembles a boarding party consisting of himself, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Navigator Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) in environmental suits, as the life support conditions of the Defiant are unknown. They discover the entire crew dead, having apparently killed each other. What's worse, the ship appears to be dissolving as McCoy is able to put his hand through a corpse and a table.

The dematerializing of the Defiant is causing the Enterprise's transporter frequencies to be blocked; only three are working and even these are dubious. Kirk orders the landing party back while he remains. The other three barely make it back, but before Kirk himself can be beamed off, the Defiant disappears altogether, taking the Captain with it.

Spock determines that due to the Enterprise's transporter lock, Kirk has been left in the interdimensional rift when the Defiant phased out, and they can recover him again during the next period of spatial interphase. Spock notes that the Captain has just over three hours of oxygen left in his environmental suit.

Meanwhile, Chekov suddenly goes berserk and attacks the bridge personnel. McCoy surmises that the spatial interphase causes psychotic effects in the human brain, and the same murderous hostilities that affected the Defiant's crew will eventually overcome the Enterprise crew. McCoy strongly suggests that they put some distance between themselves and the Defiant but Spock refuses, believing any movement from their position could disrupt the delicate fabric of space in their region and jeopardize their chances of finding the Captain.

A view of the Tholian aliens

A small vessel of unknown configuration approaches the Enterprise. A crystalline being initiates contact and identifies itself as Commander Loskene of the Tholian Assembly, and demands that the Enterprise leave their territory immediately. Spock apologizes for their intrusion and explains their situation to Loskene (voiced by Barbara Babcock), asking they be given time to retrieve the Captain. Loskene agrees to give the Enterprise precisely the 1 hour and 53 minutes Spock had asked for until the next spatial interphase period.

The moment comes when the Defiant should phase in again, and Spock attempts to lock onto the Captain; however the ship is not where she is supposed to be. Spock believes the arrival of the Tholian vessel has somehow disturbed the Defiant's position and they have apparently lost Captain Kirk for good. Before any other action can be taken, the Tholians punctually open fire on the Enterprise and refuse any attempts at communication. Spock returns fire and disables the Tholian vessel. Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan) reports that the Enterprise's damage coupled with the lack of power means he cannot hold the Enterprise purely stationary and she might even drift through the rift herself. Meanwhile, another Tholian vessel arrives and begins to form a filament structure between itself and the other ship. This filament thread is spun by either ship around the Enterprise in a web-like pattern. Spock scans it and learns that it is an energy field that, if activated before the Enterprise is repaired, means they "will not see home again."

After Spock conducts a memorial in the ship's chapel, he and McCoy adjourn to the Captain's quarters where McCoy plays a recording Kirk made for them just if he was ever killed on a mission. The somber recording gives the officers their final orders and some words of advice for their future missions without him; especially when he exhorts them to use their constant arguments and different points of view to support and help each other.

After the message is heard, Spock orders the Enterprise to leave the area. However, in the midst of her private memorial for Kirk in her quarters, Communications Officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) notices a ghostly image of the Captain, still in his space suit, and floating inside the ship, speaking and making gestures. McCoy thinks Uhura is beginning to go mad and seeing things and confines her under restraint in Sickbay, but then Scott later reports catching a glimpse of Kirk in engineering. Wondering if they might be about to lose their Chief Engineer, Spock, McCoy and others see a similar apparition floating on the bridge and confirm that Uhura isn't going mad.

Although Kirk is trying to tell Spock to leave him and just save the ship, Spock rushes to locate the Captain, but Kirk phases out again before he can get a lock. If indeed the Captain is still alive, his pressure suit's life support would be dangerously low and his time is running out.

More reports of Kirk's "ghost" come in from around the ship and Spock tries to lock a tractor beam on him when he appears again. In the meantime, Dr. McCoy has developed a preventative/curative agent for the madness from the phasing effect by using a diluted form of the deadly Klingon nerve agent, Theragen.

As the Tholian web is nearing completion, Kirk's image is spotted once more and Spock locks onto him with the tractor beam.

Just before the Tholians were able to complete the web, Spock takes a gamble and activates the ship's engines. The Enterprise briefly drops into the rift, and is hurled 2.72 parsecs away, enabling it to escape the Tholian web. They manage to retrieve Captain Kirk from the rift using the transporter, barely in time, for his oxygen supply was exhausted.

Kirk makes a full recovery and is keen on learning what happened aboard his ship while he was "away". He was surprised to learn McCoy and Spock worked well together, and a little disappointed when McCoy claims they didn't have time to open their Captain's "last orders" and his words of wisdom had gone unheard.


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]