In one of the weirdest story combos ever, the Enterprise happens upon a sleeper ship containing three humans who’ve been frozen since the late-1980s. Meanwhile, the Enterprise must head to the Neutral Zone to discover if the loss of several outposts was caused by the Romulans, who (ahem) have been unseen for several decades. Most of the episode is spent explaining the 24th century to the three humans while en route to the Neutral Zone. There, a Romulan warbird appears — apparently, as part of an investigation into what happened to the outposts on their side of the zone, which met the same fate. As neither side has committed a transgression, the Romulans turn around and go home — but not before telling Picard and Co. that their absence is over. “I think all of our lives just got more complicated,” Picard says. Meanwhile, the three 20th-century humans are sent on a slow ship back to Earth, in search of low-mileage pit woofies.
Why it’s important
Well, this is the first look at the Romulans since way back in “The Enterprise Incident”, other than a stray ambassador and appearance of blue ale in the movies. Their intentions to re-emerge change the math in a major way for the Federation, and started the Ferengi (clearly, the creators’ initial bad guys when TNG launched) on a glide path to comic fodder. Oh, and this is the first time in Star Trek where an actual date is attached to the “current” timeline. Data tells the 20th-century humans that it’s 2364 — even though, back in “Encounter at Farpoint”, he told Riker he graduated in the “class of ’78”. So, either Data is really, really old (he’s not) or the creators flubbed.
What doesn’t hold up
The destruction of the outposts appears to have stemmed from a Borg attack. This is stated pretty clearly next season in “Q Who?” — in which the Enterprise finds planets with the same patterns of destruction, in a distant part of the galaxy. How the Borg were around the Neutral Zone and why we didn’t see them again (in Federation territory) until “The Best of Both Worlds” was never really explained.
Stranger still, the Romulans’ long absence sure seems at odds with what we learn later — and even some of what we’ve seen in the first season. Allegedly, the Enterprise was off to face some Romulan battle cruisers at the end of “Angel One.” Of course, we never learned what happened with that. But we know that the Klingons (who likely would have shared intelligence with Starfleet) had somewhat recent dealings with the Romulans, based on Worf’s dialog in “Heart of Glory”. In that episode, we learn that the Romulans attacked and destroyed Worf’s home colony (Khitomer) about 20 years earlier. We learn later that the Romulans and Klingons were allies prior to the attack. There are plenty of other things we learn in TNG, DS9 and Voyager that make this episode fall short (the Romulans’ attack at Narendra III, Picard’s statement that the Romulans have been working to destroy the Federation/Klingon alliance for 20 years, etc.) that don’t work at all with what we see in “The Neutral Zone”.
The real problem is that the creators decided to up the stakes in this episode by making the Romulans more mysterious than they really should have been (if only based on first-season mentions). This actually harks back to the introduction of the Romulans in TOS (“Balance of Terror”) when no one in the Federation had ever seen a Romulan. That didn’t make a ton of sense, either, because it relied on the premise that visual communication wasn’t possible in the 22nd century (when we know there was such communication in “Star Trek: Enterprise”). But at least in “Balance of Terror”, the idea that the Romulans hadn’t been around for a century held up.
This is really a sloppy episode. The 20th-century human shtick actually isn’t awful — it gives Troi something to do and the interactions between Data and one of the humans is somewhat entertaining. But to mash that story up with something as big and important as the re-emergence of one of the Federation’s most notorious enemies? Who thought that was a good idea? I suppose it sort of works because the episode didn’t appear willing to have the Romulans actually do anything — except some saber-rattling — and something needed to fill the rest of the hour.
And, really, the Romulans’ re-emergence doesn’t amount to much for at least a year, as they only appear in one second-season episode (“Contagion”). Granted, what happens in the galaxy isn’t limited to what happens to the Enterprise, but we don’t really see much of the Romulans again until the third season. So, as far as being “back” …
Coming next week …
We already know Data’s fully functional. But is he a toaster?
Kirk and Co., three months from retirement, are assigned to escort Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for historic peace negotiations between the Federation and its long-time nemesis. The talks are spurred by Spock after the destruction of a Klingon moon — witnessed months earlier by the U.S.S. Excelsior under the command of Hikaru Sulu. Kirk, still hating the Klingons especially for the death of his son, blasts Spock for going behind his back to volunteer the ship. Later, the Enterprise meets up with Gorkon’s ship and has a rather tense dinner with the chancellor and his staff. Afterward, the Enterprise apparently fires on the Klingons without anyone giving the order. Kirk and McCoy beam over to help any wounded, but McCoy is unable to save Gorkon, shot by two unidentified men wearing Starfleet uniforms immediately after the attack. Kirk and McCoy are arrested and after a trial, sent to the penal colony, Rura Penthe. Spock, meanwhile, does his “Matlock” thing and conducts an investigation, piecing together some details of what happened with the help of his new protege, Vulcan Lieutenant Valeris (Kim Cattrall). After the Enterprise crosses the Klingon border and rescues Kirk and McCoy, Kirk realizes that Valeris was part of the conspiracy. Spock forcibly melds with her and learns she was working with Gorkon’s chief of staff, General Chang (Christopher Plummer), a Romulan ambassador, Starfleet Admiral Cartwright (Brock Peters) and a Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked (which attacked Gorkon’s ship from beneath the Enterprise). With the peace talks back on at a neutral location, the Enterprise and the Excelsior head there, figuring they’ll need to stop another assassination. After a fierce battle with Chang and the Bird of Prey — where Spock and McCoy hone in on the invisible ship’s tailpipe to target a torpedo — the Enterprise and Excelsior save the day by stopping the assassin and revealing the conspiracy. Then, Kirk and Co. ride off into the sunset.
Why it’s important
Well, “The Undiscovered Country” is the first example of a TOS production that provides background in what’s been established in TNG (this wasn’t done in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” the only other film released after TNG debuted). This film was released during TNG’s fifth season — where it’s been clear for years that the Klingons are allies. To what extent “Star Trek VI” advanced that storyline is pretty murky, but it’s clear that the eventual alliance started when all hostilities ended here. And in the Star Trek universe, that’s a big, big deal — a message this movie rightly conveys. It’s also kind of crazy that the events of this film synced up so well with the fall of the Soviet Union, which, of course, was often the inspiration for the Klingons (and the Romulans, at times, too).
The film also ties up threads from the second, third and fourth movies — the Klingons announcing that there would be no peace if Kirk lived, the death of David Marcus, etc. — though it essentially ignores a lot of “Star Trek V,” the red-headed stepchild of the Trek movies (which has no relevant long-term impact on the Trek universe and won’t be reviewed on this site). Gene Roddenberry allegedly considered elements of that film apocryphal, though the mutual dislike between Kirk and the Klingons certainly was on display (if done in a comic-book manner). As for the greater Star Trek timeline, the only part of “Star Trek V” that is flatly disregarded here surrounds cooperation between the Klingons and the Enterprise at the end of the previous film. The tension around the Enterprise meeting Gorkon’s ship in “Star Trek VI” — “Never been this close” — and the fact the dinner was a momentous thing pretty much ignores the last 15 minutes of the previous film.
Of course, the decommissioning of the Enterprise-A at the end of this movie sets up the launch of the Enterprise-B in the “Star Trek: Generations”. More on that below.
What doesn’t hold up
This movie gets a lot right — and might even be up there with “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” as far as the number of great moments. But it also gets a lot wrong. There are logical problems all over the place. We try not to go all nitpicker in these reviews, but “The Undiscovered Country” has so many misfires …
There are a bevy of small things, like the fact that McCoy doesn’t seem to know that Sulu has been captain of the Excelsior for three years or that Starfleet apparently now has galleys and cooks. There’s also the matter of why the Enterprise and Gorkon’s ship were (essentially) stationary (or moving slowly) after they met up. Shouldn’t they have been heading to Earth at warp speed — and wouldn’t that have essentially prevented the attack? Later, how was Klingon security so bad that the Enterprise could get past its borders and fool its patrols with the WORST use of Klingon language ever (and why was the universal translator not sufficient)? Why wasn’t the very noticeable tracking device Spock put on Kirk noticed by anyone? Why is Klingon blood pink in this movie — and only in this movie? And on and on …
Oh, and why were there no ships in orbit of Camp Khitomer during the battle scene? How did all the dignitaries get to the planet? Shouldn’t a ship or two that brought the dignitaries have stayed to return them — and been there to investigate why two Federation starships were getting absolutely pummeled within visual range? We discussed this larger issue in Star Trek in last week’s review.
Bigger picture, there are a lot of things that don’t hold up with what we see in second-generation Trek. There are really two huge ones: How bad was the Klingon homeworld affected by the destruction of the moon Praxis, and what, exactly, was agreed to in this film (and in its immediate aftermath).
As for the homeworld, dialog in this movie indicates that Kronos was to be evacuated, as the destruction of Praxis was making the planet uninhabitable. This is a big part of the movie, in that it makes the Klingon position more vulnerable (beyond the economic issues facing the Empire after Praxis exploded). But, there’s no indication in TNG, DS9 or Voyager that the Klingons moved to another planet — and here and in DS9 and Voyager, the Klingon homeworld is called Kronos (it’s usually called “the Klingon homeworld” in TNG). So, did Federation scientists help the Klingons save their planet? Keep in mind that this isn’t a small point. Remember how big a deal it was when Vulcan was destroyed in the rebooted “Star Trek” in 2009?
There’s also the bigger question as to why an empire that’s such a threat to the Federation would be so crippled by the destruction of one moon and the problems it caused on one planet. But, oh, well.
Meanwhile, there’s some confusion about what actually was agreed to during the peace negotiations. It seems like Spock and Gorkon were pushing for an “end to all hostilities” — while some later Trek seems to indicate that the alliance between the Federation and the Klingons was forged here. TNG mostly stays with the ending-of-hostilities point, making assertions that the alliance is about 20 years old in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Samaritan Snare”, among other vaguer instances. More on that when we get to TNG in our reviews.
But, in DS9, (notably in “By Inferno’s Light”) we hear about the Khitomer Accords in reference to the alliance, presumably a nod to the work negotiated in this movie and immediately after at Camp Khitomer. Also in DS9, Bashir explicit says that there have been “two decades of peace with the Klingons” prior to the events of “The Way of the Warrior”.
Now, you could argue that the peace treaty was negotiated at Khitomer in the 2290s and that it was the site for another set of negotiations that ended some other hostilities in the 2340s or 2350s, presumably after the attack on that planet by the Romulans when Worf lived there in the 2340s. Unfortunately, the Voyager episode “Alliances” has Tuvok tell Janeway about an alliance between the Federations and the Klingons that was spurred by a “visionary” named Spock, when Tuvok was a young man. That’s clearly an allusion to the events of “Star Trek VI” (see more below). Once again, Voyager ruins everything. 😉
The rift causes some issues in early TNG, when we see Klingons (“Heart of Glory”, “A Matter of Honor”) who are clearly not that comfortable with the alliance. That’s harder to swallow if 80 years had passed, but less so if the alliance was only about 20 years old. In the second scenario, Klingons in their warrior primes would have been old enough to remember a time when the Federation was still, sort of, an enemy — or, at least, not an ally.
It should be noted that the issues with the alliance timeline and the Klingon homeworld aren’t really the fault of this movie — we have been to the Klingon homeworld, though not necessarily Kronos, in TNG, before this film (DS9 and Voyager had not premiered when the movie was released in 1991). But they made the most sense to bring up here.
Last thing: The events here take place six or seven years after the events of “Star Trek V.” I’m guessing that was done in part to explain the aging of the characters, as the second, third, fourth and fifth films all apparently took place within about six months of each other in the Star Trek universe when seven years actually passed (and two more had, by the time “Star Trek: VI” was released). However, it’s odd that we know nothing of what happened since the last film (other than Sulu’s promotion). It’s not that big of a problem, but it would have been nice to know what happened since the Enterprise-A was commissioned other than the weird adventure with Sybok. It’s also odd that Kirk and other crew members returned to the Enterprise-A at the beginning of the film, apparently, after some time away, based on dialog. That works if the characters are channeling the actors, but wouldn’t Kirk be all about getting in some exploring before he’s set out to pasture? Were Kirk and Co. just chilling on Earth, waiting for V’Ger, a 20th-century superman or some whale-lovin’ probe to call them back into service?
Last, last thing: Isn’t it kind of odd that the Enterprise-A, which isn’t more than seven years old, gets decommissioned at the end of this film? We see in other Trek that Starfleet vessels can be around for decades (with refits, at times) including the previous Enterprise. I’ve wondered if the Enterprise-A was actually renamed after this movie, to set up Starfleet for releasing the new Excelsior-class Enterprise-B just a year later (which we see in “Star Trek: Generations”). More likely, the creators just figured it would be dramatic if the Enterprise-A and the crew were sent out to pasture at the same time, and didn’t care about anything else. Of course, if that were the one and ONLY conceit this movie required, I’d definitely grant it.
Clearly, I’m kind of ripping this movie. But, there are parts of it that work extremely well. The battle scene with Chang (who is performed with great gusto by Plummer) is truly awesome, the courtroom scene on Kronos is great, it was cool to see Sulu in command (albeit briefly) and the final scene on the Enterprise bridge was a nice sendoff to the original crew.
But beyond the continuity, there are other problems.
Shatner, for whatever reason, really didn’t put in his best performance. It’s a shame, too, because he was so good in the middle Trek films and he had a lot to work with here. He’s especially bad in the briefing room scene early in the movie. Maybe Shatner was still smarting from the bad experience in “Star Trek V”? Or, maybe, he decided a flatter tone was the better way to go during the argument with Spock?
Meanwhile, the insertion of Valeris just doesn’t work that well. Originally, the role was for Saavik, which would have been VERY interesting given the David stuff from “Star Trek: III”. But Kirstie Alley apparently wasn’t available and Robin Curtis (I guess?) wasn’t wanted. So, they rewrote the character. Not knowing why Valeris distrusts the Klingons seriously undercuts the film — whereas Saavik’s past dealings and implied feelings for David could have worked wonders. Valeris comes across as a plot element — and a mostly well-acted one — but nothing more. Could you have imagined a scene where Saavik would have called out Kirk for belittling his son’s memory? Speaking of which, why does Kirk say that the new Klingon chancellor has reaffirmed David’s faith at the end of the film? David never gave any indication that he was all that interested in galactic politics. It’s a glib line that doesn’t, actually, reaffirm David’s faith (unless a lot happened off screen).
It’s not the fault of this film, but later Trek seriously messes with the timeline of “Star Trek VI.” In Voyager’s second season (“Flashback”) we see events as they took place on the Excelsior, through a series of flashbacks brought on by an illness to Tuvok (this sort of ties into the reference above, which comes later in Voyager’s second season, where Tuvok talks about the events of this film when he was a young man). Tuvok was on the Excelsior and witness to much of what happened when and after Praxis exploded. It was meant as a nice tribute, as George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney (who played Janice Rand in TOS and is present on the Excelsior in this film) reprise their roles, as do other actors from the movie.
But the Voyager creators clearly didn’t pay a lot of attention to this film’s story, as they move up the assassination and everything that happening on Kirk’s ship to just DAYS after Praxis exploded. This cuts out a big part of the film’s backstory, in which Spock (on his own and at the request of his father) began a dialog with Gorkon that LED to the peace negotiations weeks, perhaps months, later. As Voyager would have you believe, Praxis exploded and the Klingons immediately asked for a meeting on Earth, like the next day. Note that this flub — which didn’t need to happen, as accelerating the timeline didn’t improve “Flashback” story — isn’t the fault of “Star Trek: VI”, but we don’t have any plans to review “Flashback,” as it’s not important to the general Trek Tapestry and it’s a dumb episode anyway as Tuvok’s illness is caused by some weird parasite that has nothing to do with the events of the movie.
Back to the movie, the most disappointing scene, hands down, is dinner on the Enterprise before the attack on Gorkon’s vessel. It’s hard to explain why — but it really, really doesn’t work. I actually think the direction is the problem, as a lot of the shots are boring and seemed crowded. But it’s possible the writing was too blame. It’s too bad, because that scene could have really rocked — like, it could have been one of Trek’s most famous scenes — but it never quite gets there.
Maybe that’s the way to generally feel about this movie. It’s not a terrible disaster like the previous film or the final two TNG movies — and there are certainly great moments. But it messes up enough smaller points that it really falls short. Shame.
Coming next week …
Back to episodic Trek. A French captain? A blind helmsman? Senior officers dressed like cheerleaders?!
Kirk apparently goes all rogue and takes the Enterprise into Romulan territory without authorization. The Enterprise is quickly surrounded by Romulan ships that have Klingon design and sport new and improved cloaking devices that render ships invisible and (for the first time) hidden from tracking sensors. Kirk and Spock beam over to one of the Romulan ships to face the music and Spock reveals that Kirk has gone nuts and then apparently kills Kirk in a struggle. But it’s all a ploy to get a cloaking device and neutralize the new Romulan threat, and Kirk (alive and well) poses as a Romulan and steals the cloaking device while Spock distracts the Romulan commander (Joanne Linville) by (ahem) throwing her a few curves. The Enterprise barely escapes after Scotty incorporates the cloak on the Enterprise. With the cloaking device in hand, the Federation will be able to negate any new advantage and keep the status quo between the two superpowers.
Why it’s important
It’s the first time since “Balance of Terror” where the Romulans are more than baddies taking potshots at the Enterprise (or, if you prefer, more than Voyager-style aliens of the week). We learn a lot more about the Romulans and how they’re like and unlike Vulcans. The dialog between Kirk and the Romulan commander is important in explaining the relationship between the two enemies and how the galaxy works in the 23rd century. We learn about steps that could and would be taken after territorial incursions — and just how tense the situation is.
What doesn’t hold up
Well, the conceit that Romulans use Klingon design for their vessels is pretty rich. It’s so hurriedly explained that it clearly wasn’t anything the creators wanted to get into — while the fact that the Bird of Prey first seen in “Balance of Terror” had no warp capabilities (and apparently a very small crew) could have something to do with the choice. Or the creators just really liked the new Klingon design, which was first seen in “Elaan of Troyius” and is pretty badass. There’s also a theory that the Bird of Prey model was lost or damaged, and the Klingon model reused for budgetary reasons. It’s actually kind of funny, because this episode was produced after but originally aired before “Elaan of Troyius,” meaning that the ship first debuted as a Romulan vessel, even though it was first built and filmed as a Klingon vessel.
As good as “The Enterprise Incident” is, one wonders if the Romulans wouldn’t be gearing for war after the events here. Granted, the Federation obtained knowledge of the new cloaking device, negating a tactical advantage. But the Enterprise clearly violated treaty — committing an act of war — and Kirk’s presence on the bridge at the end of the episode should have been enough evidence that Kirk didn’t go nuts/rogue. It would have called everything Spock said to push forward that con into question.
Is the thinking that the Romulans were ashamed that they’d been out-Romulanned, so they tipped their hats and walked away? Or is this just the first example of season three’s anything-goes approach — like the time Spock removes several days worth of memories to prevent Jimbo from having a sad, or the time Spock has brain surgery twice in a few days without any obvious impact on his hair?
This is one of my favorite episodes of TOS, even acknowledging the logical gaffes. The scenes with Spock and the Romulan commander are, well, fascinating. The writing is taut and the look inside the Romulan ship is, mostly, well done — even if it’s obvious that the corridors from the Enterprise were reused with different lighting.
Apparently, the Romulans started using Klingon ship design because the two powers forged some sort of a pact, perhaps an alliance. It’s never mentioned explicitly, but the sharing of any technology is odd, given how much the Klingons and Romulans are shown to hate each other in TNG and DS9. Like other episodes, it opens a can of worms on when, exactly, the Romulans and the Klingons started hating each other and when the Klingons and Federation became allies. More on the weird love triangle between the Federation, Romulans and Klingons when we review TNG’s “Heart of Glory” and “The Neutral Zone” in a few months.
“The Enterprise Incident” also stands out because of all the really bad episodes that follow it in TOS’ infamous third season. And while Sulu, Chekov and Uhura are restricted to procedural scenes on the bridge, this episode is one of Trek’s better ensemble pieces. It’s worth noting that there really aren’t that many episodes where all seven of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov appear — partly because Chekov doesn’t show up at all the in the first season and probably also due to budget reasons.
The creators made an interesting choice in the remastered version of this episode, making one of the three ships that surround the Enterprise a Bird of Prey from “Balance of Terror”, replacing a third Romulan/Klingon cruiser (as you can see in the photo above). It’s a nod to continuity and almost a wink to the idea that the creators in the ’60s used the Klingon ship model (which is much cooler looking than the Bird of Prey) here.
The Romulan Star Empire — a mysterious former nemesis of Earth unheard from for a century — returns and destroys several border outposts with a mysterious and super-scary weapon. The Enterprise responds and has protracted battle sequences (think submarine warfare … in space!) before Kirk’s tactical genius bests Spock’s dad — err, the Romulan commander (Mark Lenard) — and destroys the invading ship preventing another war and cementing our boy Jimmy as, well, our boy Jimmy. He’s apparently of a kind. And a sorcerer!
Why it’s important
“Balance of Terror” introduces one of Trek’s main villains, the Romulans, and does so in a way that is amazingly consistent with what we see of them for the next 40 years — unlike, say, the Ferengi, who go from allegedly eating their enemies to caterers and bartenders in six years flat. Of course, the episode also has the big reveal that the Romulans are offshoots of the Vulcans and introduces the concept of the cloaking device to Star Trek. It’s an extremely foundational hour of the franchise. Just think if that racist dude Stiles (Paul Comi), the Enterprise’s navigator in this episode whose ancestors fought and died in the previous conflict with the Romulans, had stuck around!
What doesn’t hold up well
The previous conflict with the Romulans as stated by Spock and others, is too Earth-centric even for first-season TOS standards — and especially if you consider the events of “Star Trek: Enterprise” (but even if you don’t). Apparently, Earth’s war with the Romulans occurred after the coalition that would become the Federation was established in Enterprise’s final episode “These Are the Voyages …” but before the Federation itself was formed. Or something.
Dramatically, it’s interesting in “Balance of Terror” that the Romulans have never been seen by humans (and it sets up the Big Moment™ when Spock sees a dude who looks just like his pops on the viewscreen — even though we don’t see Mark Lenard playing Sarek until season two). But it’s hard to believe that no visual communication or prisoner taking was previously possible, based on the 22nd-century technology on “Enterprise,” to say nothing of the visual communications technology available in the real world in the 21st century. It’s too bad that Spock didn’t just say that the Romulans refused visual communication back in the day. That would have been more believable than the apparent lack of Skype on Romulus or Earth 150 years from now. Maybe the Romulans were just way into Snapchat?
“Enterprise” also later pisses all over the wonderment of the cloaking device by giving Jonathan Archer’s crew’s a clear understanding of the technology and knowledge that the Romulans (and others) use it. “Selective bending of light,” indeed, Mr. Science Officer.
Lastly, the bad science of TOS pops up by asserting that the Romulans are a real threat despite their vessel’s lack of warp drive. Maybe Romulans have warp (even though the Bird of Prey seen in this episode doesn’t) making the Romulans a threat to the Federation in a larger sense, as opposed to being on par with the goofy aliens from TNG’s “The Outrageous Okona.” But the cat-and-mouse game is undercut by the fact that the Enterpriseshould be able to outrun the Romulan vessel several times over.
Complaints aside, it’s possible that this episode set up the very idea of recurring villains in Star Trek, a huge, huge deal. Soon after, the Klingons were introduced, and the two main rivals of TOS were set (with all due respect to a certain dude in a certain rubber lizard suit and Harcourt Fenton Mudd). Beyond that, “Balance of Terror” is fascinating because it’s willing to show actual bigotry (from a 23rd-century human!) as a way to show why bigotry is wrong and something humanity was still working to move past (and mostly succeeding). It’s very effective, but it’s also unusual for Trek and would have been unheard of in TNG, when all humans were apparently beyond such things.
What if a site focused on the really important Star Trek episodes, explained how they were important and how they tied together — while tossing in a healthy dose of snark?