Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 14

Balance of Terror

Aired Unknown Dec 15, 1966 on NBC
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Kirk pits the Enterprise against an invisible spaceship testing the Federation's defenses.

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  • In a game of interstellar cat and mouse, the Enterprise squares off against a Romulan ship.

    Inspired by the idea of submarine warfare (and borrowing liberally from The Enemy Below, a 1957 film set in World War II), this battle episode invents Star Trek's first recurring enemy aliens, the Romulans, with Mark Lenard giving a standout performance as a Romulan Commander locked a battle of wits with Captain Kirk.

    To create a sci fi version of a submarine versus surface ship, writer Paul Schneider gives the Romulans a cloaking device, which allows the Romulans to hide themselves and play an interstellar cat and mouse game with the Enterprise. Like the Corbomite Manuever, this leads to a lot of bridge scenes with plenty of ensemble chatter, with Kirk in the middle of it all making the decisions and trying to outthink his enemy. But with major issues like life, death, marriage, and prejudice woven into the script, Schneider's story spills off the corners of the screen and gives Star Trek a bigger than life feel its often lacking up this point. In fact, the episode is especially notable for taking us away from the Enterprise onto the Romulan ship, where we get to know its crew and learn more about the Romulans' pespective. Thoughtful and diverse (and obviously inspired by the Roman Empire), the "enemies" provide the episode with much more drama than simple, mustache twirling heavies could. (The plain truth is that Mark Lenard's war-weary Romulan Captain is downright likeable, likely a reason the actor returns later to play Spock's father).

    But while it's a lot of fun to see Star Trek finding its rhythm and see bits of Star Trek lore fall into place, there are times the episode tries too hard to channel submarine warfare, sacrificing common sense in the process. Why would the Romulan ship rely upon a periscope as a viewscreen? Why is it neccesary for the ships to run silent and to have everyone whisper when sound doesn't travel in space? In future episodes of Star Trek, they learn how to use inspiration and metaphor without going overboard.

    But with so much good, it's easy to overlook the bad. "Balance" is a classic first season episode and, in some ways, the template for the most popular Star Trek film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It is sad to me, however, that this episode marks the last appearance of Yeoman Rand until the Star Trek movies.

    Remastered Version:

    Serving as the guinea pig for CBS Digital, Balance of Terror was the first episode to be remastered. While the team's work would improve in the future, their work here is fine, with new shots of the Enterprise and the Romulan ship that at first are similar to the original shots (some of the best model work in the series) before becoming a little more creative later on. They also redo the weapons and a comet, though they leave a map of the neutral zone alone.

  • An alien race known as the Romulans have attacked and destroyed several Federation outposts along an area known as The Neutral Zone. Kirk sends Enterprise into battle against this cunning and dangerous enemy to stop further attacks.moreless

    The Romulans are introduced with a vengeance in this classic episode of Star Trek. The excitement never lets up for a second in this gripping episode. Though he is best known in Star Trek as Vulcan Ambassador Sarek, the late Mark Leonard gives a terrific performance as the Romulan commander in his first ever appearance on the show. What's especially good is watching how Kirk and the Romulan Commander strategize throughout the battle. Their individual scenes are very well done and entertaining. What's also very well done is the brief history of the Romulans as told by Spock. Excellent episode.moreless
  • A wonderful episode when it first aired and today (remastered)

    I watched the first airing of "Balance of Terror" in 1966 and found it exciting and informative. At the age of 9, I soaked in the future Earth's history (according to the show), about bigots/acceptance, and submarine techniques. I believe I’m accepting of people today because of my Mother and Star Trek. Bigotry has no place in the Federation (or our real life future). Hanging on with every plot turn, the episode had me hanging onto my seat and thinking about the episode for days. Even today watching the re-mastered version, it is exciting and gives one food for thought.

    One could say the show has continuity issues with Star Trek: Enterprise. I prefer to say Star Trek: Enterprise has continuity issues with Star Trek. Nah! Yes, the two shows differ on Federation history, but one should take the original in its own context.

    Actually, Paramount has an opportunity here for another Star Trek show and to match the original show’s history line with the other shows. They could re-do Star Trek (the original) based upon the history as we know it. The franchise needs a "space cowboy" show again. (What does one do about the original storyline and history? Maybe these episodes are from a parallel universe. The first couple of “new” Star Treks could point this out.) Another thought would be picking up the original Star Trek and finishing out its five year mission, though the fans are doing an outstanding job. Stepping on their work would be inappropriate.

    On the issue of bigots and acceptance, Gene Rodenberry was willing to show a future where people accepted each other. In 1966 there were race riots, civil rights fights, churches and conservatives against change. Paramount should take up the banner and continue fighting for acceptance based upon the bigot values of today's society.moreless
  • A submarine battle in space, with the Trek Message

    Perhpas the biggest aspect of this espisode is that it deals with bigotry and stereotypes.

    "Earth believes the Romulans to be war-like...", says Spock, and all the while the Romulan commander expresses his disgust at war and the loss of his comrades, and questions WHY they must always fight wars.

    this was clearly a metaphor for the USSR and it's citizens... and shattered the myth that ALL Soviets were evil war mongers and there were no redeeming characteristics to be found in any of them. Gene expertly remined us that our 'enemies' are also human beings with fears, emotions, regrets, hope, etc...To me this was the greatest aspect of this episode. You felt compassion even pity for the Romulan commander, you wanted him to live at the end..perhaps to become an olive branch..alas not to be...great great episodemoreless
  • When a Romulan warbird strays into Federation territory and destroys several outposts, Kirk leads the Enterprise into a strategic battle with the warbird and its cunning commander. An excellent episode...

    After a couple of so-so episodes, the two-part 'The Menagerie' (which has its pros and cons, see separate reviews) and 'The Conscience of the King', things really bounce back with this terrific story.

    It is a key segment in the history of 'Star Trek', introducing the cunning Romulans, and outlining their history – a war with the Federation a hundred years previously, and never yet being seen in person, and introducing the Neutral Zone, which would play a notable part in later 'Trek' incarnations.

    The story works in that one respect, it is very cleverly written, with both Kirk and the Romulan commander taking turns at strategical moves; and yet on the other hand is a relatively simple story. It works perfectly on both levels.

    The episode starts out with an Enterprise wedding of two crewmembers, until the ceremony is interrupted by the warning about the Romulan warbird. I just knew one of the newlyweds-to-be would be dead by the end of the episode!

    Mark Lenard, who of course would go on to play Spocks father Sarek in future stories, is perfect as the (unnamed) Romulan commander, and really feels like a credible threat to the Enterprise.

    Then there is Lt. Stiles, who suspects Mr. Spock of being a spy due to his identical appearance to the Romulans. It did seem a bit convenient that Spock could come to Stiles rescue at the climax of the story, but that is my only real niggle with this episode.

    Although the previous episode, 'Conscience of the King', was the final episode that she recorded, this episode is Grace Lee Whitney's final on-screen appearance of Yeoman Rand. Although she wasn't often one of the central characters, I did miss her after she went.

    Normally I prefer episodes involving new planets and suchlike, but I really like this episode. It introduces some key points of 'Star Trek', and stands as a terrific story.moreless
Paul Comi

Paul Comi

Lt. Andrew Stiles

Guest Star

Lawrence Montaigne

Lawrence Montaigne


Guest Star

Stephen Mines

Stephen Mines

Lt. Robert Tomlinson

Guest Star

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

James Doohan

James Doohan

Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott

Recurring Role

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (15)

    • Lt. Uhura takes over for Stiles at the navigator's station, but at the end of the episode she opens a hailing frequency from that station, not her normal communications post.

    • When the Enterprise is hit by the Romulan weapon, the bridge and crew are thrown to the viewer's left. Except two. Kirk (who was standing next to the railing between the command level and Spock's station) should have fallen on the railing, but instead turned and fell toward the navigator. Uhura was at her post and should have been thrown into her console or maybe over closer to Spock. Instead, she got up, ran across the bridge and hit the wall next to the engineering station.

    • Trivia: Romulan Time (Cycle): A cycle is a time period similar to the Earth hour. We are told that there is no motion on the Romulan sensors for 20 cycles, Kirk
      also logs that they were motionless for 9 hours 47 minutes giving a cycle no
      more then 29.35 earth minutes. For the Romulan Day see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Unification Part II."

    • When the Romulans attack Outpost 4 a second time the outpost is sending Enterprise its sensor readings. However the screen switches back to the interior of the outpost, then back to show the ship disappearing even though the outpost is being destroyed at the same time.

    • In the briefing room while discussing what to do about the Romulan ship there is a book on the table in front of Kirk. Before the long exchange between Spock and Kirk & McCoy the book is turned so the camera sees only the binding. After this exchange the book has moved so that the camera sees the long bottom/top and part of the binding despite no one having made any motions to move it.

    • At the beginning of the episode, Kirk says "Since the days of wooden vessels, shipmasters have had one happy privilege--that of uniting two people in the bonds of matrimony." According to "The Straight Dope" columnist Cecil Adams, this is a commonly-held fallacy and sea captains in the British, Soviet, and American navies have never held such powers.

    • On the map of the area, in the Romulan Star Empire, the two planets were Romulus and Remus, but the map reads Romulus and Rom II.

    • Commander Hansen didn't have any braid on his sleeves.

    • Whenever Kirk orders the crew to fire phasers; the exterior shots show the ship firing torpedoes, and torpedo explosions flashing out in space.

    • At the beginning, in the chapel, you could hear the red alert siren but the panel didn't light up.

    • Commander Hansen stated that "Outposts 2, 3 & 8 where destroyed" yet earlier on this episode, the map on the viewscreen had only 7 outposts.

    • When they showed the Romulan ship on the Enterprise, if you look closely, the stars are exactly the same as they were on the space station's view screen.

    • Enterprise still gets video from Outpost 4 for several seconds after it is completely obliterated.

    • Why doesn't the Enterprise dodge the plasma beam? They just keep backing up, and it just keeps coming. Move up, down, or sideways--it's called "evasive maneuvers."

    • When Spock is running to phaser control, the red alert panels aren't flashing despite the red alert noise blaring away.

  • QUOTES (15)

    • Kirk: (on shipwide intercom) All hands, prepare to attack. (to McCoy) I hope we won't need your services, Bones.
      McCoy: Amen to that. You're taking a big gamble, Jim.

    • Tomlinson: (to Angela Martine) Happy wedding day - almost.
      Angela: You don't get off my hook this easily. I'm gonna marry you, mister, battle or phaser weapons notwithstanding.
      Tomlinson: In the meantime I'm still your superior officer, so get with it, mister.

    • Romulan Commander: A message was dispatched. You've broken the Rule of Silence!
      Decius: Only in code, Commander. To inform our Praetor of this glorious mission.
      Romulan Commander: Your carelessness might have ended this "glorious mission"! You are reduced two steps in rank! Return to post!
      Centurion: (after Decius leaves) Take care, Commander. He has friends, and friends of his kind mean power, and power is often dangerous.

    • Stiles: Spock...He saved my life after I...
      Spock: I saved a trained navigator so that he could return to duty. I am capable of no other feelings in this matter.

    • Romulan Commander: First study the enemy. Seek weakness.

    • Romulan Commander: Another war...must it always be so? How many comrades have we lost in this way?... Obedience. Duty. Death, and more death...

    • Kirk: Leave any bigotry in your quarters; there's no room for it on the bridge.

    • Spock: Earth believes the Romulans to be warlike, cruel, treacherous, and only the Romulans know what they think of Earth.

    • Stiles: I doubt they'll identify themselves. They're painted like a giant bird of prey.
      Kirk: Is history your specialty?
      Stiles: Family history. A Captain Stiles was in the space service, and several officers--all lost in that war, sir.
      Kirk: Their war, Mr. Stiles. Not yours. Don't forget it.

    • Uhura: Cryptography is working on it, sir.
      Stiles: Give it to Spock.
      Kirk: I didn't quite get that, Mr. Stiles. Repeat it.
      Stiles: I was suggesting that Mr. Spock could probably translate it for you, sir.
      Kirk: I assume you're complimenting Spock's abilities.
      Stiles: I'm not sure, sir.

    • Romulan Commander: Danger and I are old companions.
      Centurion: We've seen a hundred campaigns together, and still I do not understand you!
      Romulan Commander: I think you do. No need to tell you what will happen. The Earthman will follow; he must. And when he attacks we will destroy him. Our gift to the homeland: another war.

    • Spock: If Romulans are an offshoot of my Vulcan blood, then attack becomes even more imperative.
      McCoy: War is never imperative.
      Spock: It is for them, Doctor. Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive colonizing period, savage even by Earth standards. If Romulans retain this martial philosophy, then we dare not show weakness.

    • McCoy: Something I seldom say to a customer, Jim. In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of 3 million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, 3 million million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk.

    • Romulan Commander: I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend.
      Kirk: What purpose will it serve to die?
      Romulan Commander: We are creatures of duty, Captain. I have lived my life by it. Just one more duty to perform.

    • Kirk: Since the days of wooden vessels, shipmasters have had one happy privilege--that of uniting two people in the bonds of matrimony.

  • NOTES (6)

    • When the series was remastered in the fall of 2006, this episode was chosen for the first one for "treatment" and released into syndication.

    • This episode would be referenced in the Taxi episode "Jim Saves the Network". Jim Ignatowski (played by Christopher Lloyd, who would later go on to play a Klingon Commander in the movie Star Trek III) states that his favorite show was Star Trek. The only episode he didn't like was "the episode with the Romulan Commander. "It wasn't the actor's fault, they just gave him things to say that no Romulan would ever say."

    • The Enterprise's hunt of the cloaked Romulan ship was inspired by the film The Enemy Below, where a World War II American destroyer hunted a hard-to-detect German U-boat.

    • First appearance of the Romulans, an enemy race that D.C. Fontana thought were more dynamic villians than the Klingons.

    • Last episode in which the character of Yeoman Rand appears.

    • Mark Lenard, who played the Romulan commander will later play Sarek (Spock's father). He would also play a Klingon commander in the Star Trek: The Motion Picture.