When scholars gather to discuss which Star Trek episode is the worst, the 1996 episode "Threshold"
is sure to come up. 

"Threshold" is about the crew's quest to reach Warp 10, a speed that they describe as "infinite velocity." With that kind of speed, they could reach home instantly (this is Star Trek: Voyager, where getting home is their whole deal). But as they discuss, it's also a lot weirder than that. Infinite velocity is more than just teleportation. It would mean that someone who moves at Warp 10 occupies every single point in the universe simultaneously. Wow, what amazing things will happen to someone who experiences that?

Lieutenant Tom Paris gets to experience it, and what happens is he ... turns into a lizard. They come up with some kind of explanation (time hit him weird, so he went through millions of years of evolution), but it doesn't play out much differently from him catching some spooky virus from an alien planet. So, kind of a waste of a premise right there.

Star Trek Threshold


In TV shows, this is also known as the ol' "turning into a zombie" plot.

Much of the episode is body horror, as Tom finds himself changing and bits of his body fall off. At one point he pulls his tongue out of his mouth, which seems a very significant part of his transformation into inhuman. Only, he talks just fine and with a tongue in the scenes after that, so guess that wasn't his tongue after all, or we just agreed to forget that scene ever happened.

Later, Tom turns evil, kidnaps Captain Janeway, and takes her to Warp 10. The rest of the gang chase them through space and discover them on a swamp planet, now both totally transformed into salamanders and even with salamander children. Oh no, what are they going to do now?!

Star Trek Threshold


Save a lot of money on cast salaries going forward?

Turns out there's no need to worry about that, because in the very next scene, we see them both fully restored to their normal forms. The crew healed them offscreen, using the cure they'd previously prepared. Okay, then just what was the point of that climax then? It's so Tom and Janeway can now joke about how they mated, though they don't remember it ("maybe I initiated it," says Janeway, ha ha). Based on everyone's talk, it sounds like they could have turned their children into humans using the same cure, but everyone figured it was best to leave them as salamanders in the swamp.

So, that was "Threshold," a story that's still recapped in retrospective articles, in conventions ... and in the American Research Journal of Biosciences. Because in 2018, a scientist calling himself Lewis Zimmerman submitted a paper about the episode, titling it "Rapid Genetic and Developmental Morphological Change Following Extreme Celerity."

This paper was not some kind of exploration of real-world science through the lens of Star Trek—if it sounds like "Threshold" used any real-world science, we did a bad job recapping it. Instead, Zimmerman claimed to have forced two actual research subjects into Warp 10, resulting in the "spontaneous exfoliation of skin cells," "internal morphological differences," and "measurement of heart number increasing two-fold" (i.e., each subject grew a second heart, like Tom did in Star Trek). Zimmerman also claimed, just like in the episode, to have let the research subjects breed, resulting in "three viable, motile progeny." 

Star Trek Threshold


He didn't include the baby salamander pic above, or this heart diagram, but he could have. 

Why did this journal print this nonsense? Because this journal, like several others, publishes whatever people submit without reviewing it, asking just for a fee. Zimmerman's goal here was to expose the fraudulent scientific publishing industry. It's a wide problem, one we've talked about before. Zimmerman (whose true name remains undisclosed, for his own protection), joins the ranks of several other crusading trolls, such as the guy who successfully managed to publish a paper on the power of midi-chlorians.

Get the Saturday Morning Cracked Newsletter!

Your weekly round-up of Cracked deeps dives, delivered every Saturday and perfect over a nice bowl of cereal. Subscribe now!


Forgot Password?