Tholian ships were small starships of characteristic shape, utilized by the Tholian Assembly during the 23rd century. These vessels were armed with plasma torpedo-like weaponry. But their most powerful weapon was the so-called "Tholian web". This web was "woven" by two or more Tholian vessels around an enemy ship. This web could be used as a high power immobilization field/tractor beam to pull captured starships back to Tholian territory. (TOS: "The Tholian Web")
In 2268, a Tholian ship intercepted the USS Enterprise, demanding that it leave Tholian territory. At the request of First Officer Spock, Tholian Commander Loskene allowed the Enterprise additional time before they were required to withdraw to allow the Enterprise to rescue James T. Kirk from the interphased USS Defiant. The Enterprise crew was unable to rescue Kirk within the Tholians' time limit and the Tholians opened fire, damaging the Enterprise. The Enterprise returned fire, inflicting damage on the Tholian ship.
Soon after, a second Tholian ship appeared, and the two ships began constructing a web in an attempt to trap the Enterprise. The Enterprise crew, fortunately, was able to recover Kirk and escape before they fell victim to the Tholian's web. (TOS: "The Tholian Web")
Ships of the class
In the final draft script of "The Tholian Web", the Tholian ship was described as "a tetrahedron shaped ship, about one quarter the size of a starship. The ship is crystaline in appearance and of blue green coloration. A soft light seems to pulsate from within. It travels with darting movements."
Due to restrictive finances, Walter M. Jefferies designed the Tholian ship to be simple and inexpensive to build. Two studio models of the vessel were built, constructed almost entirely from wood except for the addition of reflective inserts embedded near the tails. (Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection issue 26, p. 11) The materials used were balsawood and plastic. The miniature was adorned with the same stick-on reflective metal fabric as was used to decorate many of the hand props seen on Star Trek: The Original Series. (The Best of Trek, p. 204) At least one of the two miniatures, specifically the actual working model of the Tholian ship, was constructed in part by Denis Russell. As he later demonstrated at the Las Vegas Star Trek convention Vegas Con, this model was so tiny that Russell could keep it in his pocket.
For the making of "The Tholian Web", the Tholian ships were filmed against black velvet. (Starlog, issue 25, p. 61) Mike Minor recalled, "We shot the models, which had been produced elsewhere, on a little stage at a place down on La Brea and these elements were shot against black so that we could flop the images and have a ship going right or left, from the bottom right to top corner. Or the image of one ship moving diagonally across the screen could be positived with the image of a smaller ship moving diagonally left to right, right to left, up and down [....] But for plot simplicity in getting the job done we simply had them moving in parallel movements, left to right and right to left. We never pulled back wide, which I wanted to do, and show the whole ship being dragged through space with this spherical dome of energy about it." (Enterprise Incidents, issue #14, pp. 44 & 45) The filming made use of some multi-colored lighting which was employed to help accentuate the strange, alien nature of the Tholians. (Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection issue 26, pp. 11 & 13)
To represent the interior of the Tholian ship, a background of tin foil was used, which was then altered with special photographic effects. Methods involved a negative image of the background and then throwing more color onto its highlights, enhancing and saturating the footage. (Enterprise Incidents, issue #14, p. 45)
The visual effect of the Tholian ships spinning their web around the Enterprise in "The Tholian Web", which was nominated for an Emmy Award in recognition of its special effects, definitely made an impression on the television audiences of the 1960s and the Tholian ship was certainly not forgotten. However, illustrator John Eaves – who modified the Tholian ship for appearances on Star Trek: Enterprise (in the episodes "Future Tense" and "In a Mirror, Darkly") – was slightly critical of the original design. "I felt the profile view was a little stark and harsh in The Original Series," he said. (Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection issue 26, pp. 11 & 12) On the other hand, reviewer Sue Uram described the Tholian craft as "a rather nice touch from the effects department." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 11/12, p. 97) Also, Richard Van Trueran characterized the miniature of the Tholian ship as "clever." (The Best of Trek, p. 204)
This model was the last new original design created for the series, and was subsequently redressed to represent the Aurora in "The Way to Eden". In fact, according to Star Trek Maps, due to the similarity, it was believed by Starfleet that the Tholians were using modified Federation space cruisers as their starships.
At one point, a screen-used model of the Tholian ship was scheduled to be auctioned at the Profiles in History auction in late 2001. It was in December 2005 when Denis Russell demonstrated a working model of the craft at Vegas Con.
For the 2006 remastered edition of "The Tholian Web", the Tholian vessels appeared much different from their initial appearance. Now more closely resembling the Tholian ships from Star Trek: Enterprise, the TOS-R version featured an altered structure and lighted interior.