Category Archives: 1966

“Balance of Terror”

“I can’t figure out why there’s a camera right here. Guess I’ll call tech support …”

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!

“Just a second, Enterprise. I need to make sure you get video from me even after my outpost is destroyed.”

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 Enterprise should be able to outrun the Romulan vessel several times over.

“My bigotry is too big for my quarters. Sir.”

Final thoughts

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.

“The Corbomite Maneuver”

“I hope you relish my very weird upcoming acting career as much as I.”

On a routine mapping mission (stand by to photograph!) a strange cube blocks the Enterprise’s path. Forced to destroy the cube, the Enterprise continues on, until it encounters a massive ship and its hostile commander, Balok. Unable to convince him that they’re on a peaceful mission and with the crew facing destruction, Kirk bluffs Balok into thinking the Enterprise has within it a substance called “corbomite,” which would create an equal reaction to any force used against the Enterprise. Balok falls for it and rather than blowing up the Enterprise sends a smaller ship to tow it to a base. But the Enterprise’s engines overpower the smaller ship, leaving it helpless. Kirk tells his surprised crew he plans to render aid to Balok — in one of the benchmark moments of the series, if not the franchise — and encounters an alien no bigger than a small child (Clint Howard). The Balok the Enterprise had seen was a puppet and the whole encounter a test. Balok then welcomes Kirk aboard in a moment of true Trek diplomacy. I hope you relished it as much as I.

“Did you hear the joke I made earlier about being a doctor and not being a moon-shuttle conductor, Jim? It’s this running gag I’m trying to get going.”

Why it’s important

I consider “The Corbomite Maneuver” the third pilot, as it really gets to the core message of Star Trek more than “The Cage” or “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Kirk, after facing apparent death at the hands of Balok, offers him assistance — after making speeches about how the Enterprise is in space to explore and meet new lifeforms. This episode is the pure ethos of Star Trek and why mankind builds starships. Good stuff.

Of course, we also meet Bones (DeForest Kelley) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in this episode and the uniforms and set take on the look we see for most of the next three seasons (though Uhura is wearing a gold uniform, for some reason). We also see the ship’s phasers fire for the first time and Sulu at the helm. Other than the absence of Chekov (who shows up in season 2) what we see here is pretty much what TOS was for the next three years.

"I'd really like to get out of this whole First Federation thing and settle down somewhere. Maybe make a little extra cash by showing up in the second-season credits. You know, a cushy retirement gig."
“I’d really like to get out of this whole First Federation thing and settle down somewhere. Maybe make a little extra cash by showing up in the second-season credits. You know, a cushy retirement gig.”

What doesn’t hold up well

Spock’s still not quite right, though the evolution of the character is starting. It’s also odd that we never hear of Balok or his First Federation again. Of course, this episode was during the era when the Enterprise was pretty clearly an Earth vessel and not a Federation ship. The United Federation of Planets wouldn’t be introduced for several more episodes.

Oh, and it’s kind of odd that Kirk leaves Bailey (Anthony D. Call) — his navigator who cracks up during the encounter with Balok — behind on Balok’s ship without really knowing more about Balok. What if Bailey couldn’t eat the foods Balok could provide? Can Bailey live on Tranya alone?

Final thoughts

This isn’t a perfect episode, as the shipboard action gets repetitive and there are some clear editing mistakes. But it is necessary viewing, as it really explains what the hell humans are doing out in space in the first place. It’s really too bad that this episode wasn’t shown in the original broadcast order until much later in the original run.

Even if the Star Trek ethos can be gleaned from other episodes — Kirk tries to render similar assistance to fallen enemies in “Balance of Terror” and even in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” — the introduction of Kelley as McCoy is hugely important. A big part of the popularity of the original series has to do with the Big Three of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. It’s interesting that Shatner and Kelley both were so comfortable in their roles so early in their time on Star Trek. The scene in Kirk’s quarters where they discuss Bailey hardly seems like something that occurred in their first episode together.

We do see some shipboard action in “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” But both of those episodes could have worked (more or less) just as well in more generic science fiction. “The Corbomite Maneuver” is vintage Star Trek, as we learn a lot about what humans (or, at least the humans we see) are all about in Star Trek.

“The Corbomite Maneuver” is the show’s philosophical pilot, rounding out “The Cage” as Star Trek’s aesthetic pilot, and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” as the adventure pilot. Hence the decision to release the reviews of all three on the launch of this site.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”

“Accuracy when it comes to middle initials is for men, not gods.”

The Enterprise, under the command of James Kirk (William Shatner) attempts to cross the barrier between galaxies with disastrous results. The ship is badly damaged and Kirk’s old friend and navigator Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) starts displaying weird powers (silver eyes, increased reading abilities, telekinesis, love of bad poetry) and a dangerous god complex. Kirk and Spock hatch a plan to cannibalize parts to repair the Enterprise from a nearby unmanned lithium-cracking station and to maroon Mitchell there. With the ship repaired, Mitchell escapes imprisonment on the planet and takes with him Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman), who was affected in a similar way to Mitchell but took longer to show symptoms. Kirk follows them and defeats and kills Mitchell, thanks to help from Dehner, who dies after the struggle. Kirk returns to the Enterprise and sets course for the ship’s next assignment.

Why it’s important

As the second pilot, this episode introduces Kirk, Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei), but it’s foundationalness (if that’s a word) as far as events go is sort of borderline. Few concepts about Earth, the Federation, Starfleet, etc., are introduced here that aren’t in “The Cage”. Most notable is probably talk of Starfleet Academy (where we learn Kirk was an instructor) which sort of underscores the idea of Starfleet as an exploratory/military-like service (along with the dialog about crossing the galactic barrier). There’s a general sense that humans explore the galaxy, but with few specifics — other than name dropping of some random planets and random stories re: alien “rodent things” that attacked Kirk and Mitchell back in the day.

Everyone get in frame, someday some nerds are gonna need this photo for Internet!
Everyone get in frame, someday some nerds are gonna need this photo for Internet!

The episode does introduce Kirk, who is an important person in galactic history (Sulu and Scotty, as well, to a point). It’s also an interesting sort of half-step between “The Cage” and “The Corbomite Maneuver” (the first episode filmed in regular production). We see the original uniforms but the ship looks more like what we see throughout the series (the colors are MUCH less muted).

As noted in our review of “The Cage,” this episode is Trek’s adventure pilot, because it sets up Kirk as the dashing hero (much more than Pike was in “The Cage”). Apparently, that was the goal of the second pilot — to be less cerebral, and this episode does a better job of balancing the cerebral with action. Still, Kirk’s dialog with Dehner about what Mitchell hasn’t learned in his accelerated progression to godhood is interesting stuff.

What doesn’t hold up well

The biggest issue is that this episode appears to take place well into the Enterprise’s five-year mission — which runs counter to established Trek history that says this episode was at the beginning of the five years (which sort of explains the lack of McCoy and less of a buddy-buddy relationship for Kirk and Spock). Also odd is the familiarity among the crew and lines about how some of them have served together for years.

There are also lines of dialog — Mitchell saying a poem written in 1996 is from the “past couple of centuries” — which show the creators hadn’t quite figured out a timeline for Star Trek. This is a problem for a lot of TOS, which seems to take place in the late 22nd century at some points (Kirk telling Khan in “Space Seed” that he’s been asleep for two centuries) and in the late 23rd at others (Kirk’s scenes with Dr. Taylor in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”). It’s always been my theory that this stemmed from a belief, in the 1960s, that space exploration would be a lot farther along by the late 1990s than actually happened in real life — and the creators had to push back events accordingly.

Case in point: As the Enterprise gets close to the barrier, it finds the ship’s recorder from the S.S. Valiant, a vessel that apparently tried to leave the galaxy two centuries earlier (and ran into problems the Enterprise faces when it goes through the barrier). Do the math — this episode takes place in 2264 — meaning we’ll apparently have ships fast enough to get to the galactic barrier sometime in the next 86 years or so. Even if we accept the “Star Trek: First Contact” backstory, that humans travel faster than light in the 2060s, it’s just absurd to think we’d be traveling this far in the subsequent decades (and it certainly runs counter to “Star Trek: Enterprise,” in which humans don’t really leave the solar system until the 2150s).

But, as I said, the creators in 1966 probably thought we’d be a lot farther along with space exploration by now than we are — and probably never figured that, nearly 50 years later, geeks like me would be dissecting stuff at this level.

Of course, the other part of this problem stems from the issue of distance, something TOS really shrugged off most of the time with a wink and a nod. Even if you figure the Valiant somehow got to the galactic barrier in the late 21st century (wormhole, maybe?) the whole idea of the Enterprise making it there doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. This is just bad science, and we see it throughout TOS and in the movies.

Can't get enough of that lithium, baby
I’m not gonna crack! Except on Delta Vega, that’s all anyone does with lithium there.

And let’s say the Enterprise can get to the galactic barrier using conventional warp. How is there an unmanned lithium-cracking station so close — within reach on impulse — to the galactic barrier, which is, put another way, the edge of the galaxy? Are the unmanned ore ships that go there “every 20 years” according to Kirk really fast enough to get there — and for it to be worth it? Earth must really dig that lithium.

The Milky Way sure seems larger (appropriately so) in second-generation Trek.

Now, some of you — if you’re not trying to find a way to retcon this stuff — are saying I’m being too hard on a pilot. But the speed/distance problem is something that occurs throughout TOS and even in the movies (remember how absurdly easy it was to get to the center of the galaxy in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”?). I’m simply pointing it out here to note where this issue started. Heck, it sort of started in dialog in “The Cage”, but it’s far more obvious and a lot more specific here.

Of course, a lot of the characterization is off in this episode. Kirk is pretty much the same guy we see throughout the series, but Spock isn’t Spock quite yet. Besides the smiling we see here and in “The Cage”, he acts more like Worf in TNG than Spock in TOS. The cold, calculating belief that Mitchell should be killed to save the ship runs counter to the Spock we see later in the first season, when he believes killing the Horta in “Devil in the Dark” would be a crime against science. Some of the dialog from Dehner could have come from Spock later in the series. Indeed and some of the dialog from Kirk could have come from McCoy (“Can you take a moment to feel?”).

There are a few other stray items. It’s well-known that Kirk’s middle initial is “T” for “Tiberius.” But his initial appears as “R” on the tombstone Mitchell makes for him (I’ve heard it suggested that Mitchell really wasn’t that infallible). Meanwhile, Sulu’s use of pennies in his analogy for Mitchell’s evolution was odd. I know there are disputes over whether money was still used in the 23rd century, but it’s pretty clear that hard currency was no longer used, Oh, and the medical reports Spock reviews for Mitchell and Dehner look extremely antiquated.

I’d say “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the adventure pilot, while “The Cage” is Star Trek’s aesthetic pilot, and “The Corbomite Maneuver” is the philosophical pilot. Hence the decision to release the reviews of all three on the launch of this site.