Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 14

Balance of Terror

Aired Unknown Dec 15, 1966 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (16)

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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.


    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.

  • 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.
  • 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 episode
  • 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.
  • Best original star trek episode

    its alot like deep space nine's "for the uniform" which has sisko hunting down michael eddingten former starfleet security officer now renegade maquis "balance of terror" it packs a punch.the acting, story, screenplay, directing and just about everything is perfect.just like "for the uniform" i have no problems with it at all and thats why both episodes are so simillar.both episodes show that star trek is the king of television.its sad that star treks popularity has dimenished but maybe someday it will get back kids will want to see picard and the borg,or the dominon war again and just maybe star trek will boom again.
  • In a different reality, I could have called you 'friend'

    What is often heralded as a Star Trek classic and a fine piece of writing, doesn't really hold up all that well with me. Although one cannot deny the importance of such an episode, one also cannot deny the script's obvious lack of any real substance or moral fibre that gives most classic Trek episodes their appeal. So while I appreciate this is indeed a great episode, I also propose that it is still nowhere near the standard of the finest episodes that the series crafted.

    So why is the episode important? Well it establishes many pieces of Trek history that go on to exist and be used in many future Trek productions, mostly involving the –previously unknown- Romulans. Before we delve right into that however, it must be noted that marriage is also something that is cemented right here in 'Balance of Terror'. Not only is marriage still a custom, but we see that it is actually accepted between crew members working together on a Starship. It's an interesting idea, but nonetheless underdeveloped.

    Anyway, back to those pesky Romulans. Indeed, the very unveiling of the aliens themselves is expertly built up in preceding scenes, setting up the history between them and the humans, helping establish some sort of threat before we even see them. Then the curtain is raised and we see what appears to be –at least to those unfamiliar- as Vulcans. This very similarity is what creates possibly the most interesting and only real sense of direction that the episode has: Spock undoubtedly is now seen as a suspicious member of the crew by certain other less trusting and bigoted officers. This helps show that a) these people who serve on Enterprise aren't as clean as they look b) even though it may exist, the blatant form racism is not accepted by Kirk and c) it gives Spock a very rare moment of vulnerability. That is not to say that he begins acting on the other's suspicions, and he certainly doesn't cower away and hide. But you can certainly tell that there is a certain discomfort, a distinct amount of tension each time there is interaction or mention of Spock.

    The Romulans themselves are given plenty of characterisation that even the regular Kingons of the original series didn't get in their numerous episodes. Specifically, the commander of the ship is given more character development than even half of the recurring crew had received in the previous thirteen episodes. Lenard fulfils his role fantastically here, giving a performance that is both highly memorable and completely authentic. Particularly what I loved most about the various cuts to the Romulan ship was seeing the gradual decline of the commander, despite the continuing and unforgiving nature of his crew. Simply put, it serves as a brilliant study of character and gives an insightful view into the Romulan psyche: something that will prove important in future encounters.

    The direction of 'Balance of Terror' is more less one of warfare. It seeks to show what battle could be like in space, and it more often than not does a good job. The problem with science fiction warfare however is that it usually doesn't make good TV. Thankfully, we've had a lot of episodes to get to know these characters, and so that helps with the rather dry drama. Essentially, this is 'The Corbomite Manoeuvre' with less character, more scope and a better battle scene. Both share the same crutches, suffering from a terribly slow pace and too much focus on techno-tactic-talk and action scenes that often gets in the way of engaging the viewer with what the characters are going through.

    Thankfully, there is a brief five minutes or so near the closing stages of the show that take a little time to ask Kirk how he feels. This results in a rather touching and introspective look at the captain and gives a good sense of what's a stake here. Along the same lines is the final scene with the Romulan commander, conversing with Kirk over their differences and similarities. Now where were moments like this when we were in the meeting room discussing molecules and torpedoes? A lot of people agree, the original Star Trek was about its crew, about its characters. Who remembers Trek for its meetings on whether or not to engage in war? That's the problem with 'Balance of Terror', there's too much focus on outer conflict, that isn't balanced enough with the crew's inner conflict. In my opinion, the best Star Trek episodes are the ones that get this balance close to 50/50. Unfortunately, this outing falls a little short and doesn't quite make the cut for me.

    If you watch Star Trek for the battle scenes, establishment of lore, special effects and submarine tactics in space, then you will more than likely love 'Balance of Terror'. If however you need just a little more than that, if you need in-depth characterisation, relevant dialogue and engaging drama, you'll probably still enjoy this episode, but not as much as others.
  • Surprisingly good as a first attempt at showing conflict between well-matched 23rd century opponents.

    Kirk must balance the consequences of war when he matches tactics and strength with a ship from the Romulan Star Empire.

    Oh, if only so many entries in the "Star Trek" mythos followed the formula of this one -- one that sets up a realistic scenario of what intergalactic war might be like in an age of space travel. This story is notable as being the first Star Trek "conflict" episode, but its also well thought-out, the consequences of war are weighed and the concept of a "neutral zone" is an excellent touch. There's a nice use of a history here, with accounts of old conflicts being laid-out in a believable fashion. The action sequences do have a lot of resemblance to the naval movie "The Enemy Below" but are certainly not as extreme as those of the movie "The Wrath of Khan." Lots of interesting details, the Romulan's superiority in weapons and cloaking, the Federation's in propulsion. And the mutual respect between the ship's commanders renders this tale all the more "human" in scope -- even the opposing but experienced Romulan commander knows full-well the real implications of a struggle for power. The loss of Tomlinson also makes a much more tragic conclusion than any references to future engagements would.

    Certainly not an end-all-be-all story in terms of sci-fi imagination, but a fun exploration of the meaning of war, especially in the context of the time it was written.
  • First visual contact with the Romulans!

    The episode is so critical to all Star Trek episodes and movies following it, because it lays out the history between the Romulans and humans when they first battled 100 years prior. After a fierce battle over a century ago, with no visual contact with their opponents, the Federation set up outposts on asteroids along an area of space called the Neutral Zone. In a treaty agreed upon through subspace communication only, neither species was allowed to pass through the zone. Any violation of this rule would be considered an act of war.

    At the beginning of this episode, the outposts along the Neutral Zone report being under attack. The Enterprise arrives and finds it is the work of the Romulans who have cloaking technology and a superior weapon of enormous destructive energy. Their weakness, however, is their maximum speed being limited to impulse only.

    After intercepting communication from the Romulan ship, the crew of the Enterprise get their first view of the enemy and, to everyone's surprise, they find Romulans look remarkably similar to Vulcans. (Note: The actor who plays the Romulan commander, Mark Lenard, went on to play Spock's father Sarek)

    After a great strategic game of cat and mouse(Kirk rules!), the Romulan ship is on the brink of destruction. Kirk offers to beam the wounded over, but the Romulan commander says it's not their way. He self-destructs the ship, and the Enterprise crew lives on to fight another day.
  • Romulans invade earth outposts lead by a guy who looks strikingly like Spock's father

    This is one of the episodes I am right in line with as far as the rest of the people and how they rated this episode. Simply fabulous! In fact it is in my top ten. What a great script. Everything made sense. And we all know that sometimes Star Trek scripts have quite a few holes in them. This one did not. Great side stories with the wedding as well as Stiles and his prejudice. The Romulan commander had tons of great lines. "Danger and I are old companions" Oh wow, can I borrow that line, Paul Schneider?
  • A new enemy arrives, the Romulans!

    This is an important episode since this is the first time we see the classic Trek villain, the Romulans. Mark Lenard, who also plays Spock's father Sarek, stars in this episode as the lead Romulan. This not only introduces the Romulans, but gives a history leason on the Romulan War that took place 100 years before Kirk's Enterprise. It was a shocker for fans the first time we saw the episode to discover that the Romulans looked so much like Vulcans. It was also interesting to find out that they are related to the Vulcans. A must see!!
  • In my view, perhaps the most underrated episode of the original series, at least on par with the highly regarded City on the Edge of Forever.

    Important to the series, in that it helps to flesh out many of the characters and their personalites, and introduce the Romulan Empire to the franchise, it stands on its own as superior television. Tightly directed by Vicent McEveety, Paul Schneider\'s script is masterful. The love story that brackets the episode is perfectly executed, and the scenes on the bridges of both ships, as the captains and their crews watch and wait, convey an amazing sense of claustrophobia and suspense. The episode\'s cinematography is wonderful, as is the original score. The closing scene, as Kirk leaves the chapel and picks up his stride on his way back to the bridge, framed by the low, traveling camera, is classic Trek. Today\'s audiences may be distracted by the economical special effects and spare Romulan bridge set but, on the whole, this episode reflects the very best of Star Trek.
  • This is pure Star Trek.

    is is pure Star Trek. This is the first time that with see the Romulans in the Trek universe and have an idea of the time of the creation of the Neutral Zone, both facts pivotal in this and subsequent series and some of the feature movies of the Star Trek. This is a really excellent episode, focusing in a battle between Enterprise and a Romulan vessel, where both captains play a crucial part in this cat and mouse game, that will lead to the victory of the Enterprise.
    For this exciting and thrilling battle of minds and technology, this is one of the best episodes of the original Star Trek series .
  • Enterprise's first encounter with an alien race ... and they're hostile!

    This is a crucially important STAR TERK episode in that it's the ship's first encounter, under Kirk's command, with an alien race and certainly the first time the audience meets a non-terrestrial group (Balok of "The Corbamite Manouver" was an individual with no proof of a race behind him).

    Interestingly, the Romulans are revealed to be a off-shoot of the Vulcan civilisation which split away before the Vulcans suppressed their violent tendancies beneath the cloak of logic. However, the Romulan Commander (Mark Lenard) is very likely a rogue, operating without the blessing of his superiors, so all-out war isn't an immediate danger.

    Still, the Romulans would go on to be a thorn in the Federation's side through several spin-off series, so the importance of this episode can't be discounted from a series history point of view.

    That said, the episode is a tightly-directed variation of the submarine warfare classic, with two equally gifted military tacticians locking horns without ever being sure where the other is. Yes, it owes a debt to "Run Silent, Run Deep" (look it up on IMDB!), but it totally works in STAR TREK terms, despite the occasional lapse in dramatic logic (Spock opening a control panel to get the phasers - which fire like Photon Torpedoes in this episode - back on line - isn't that Scotty's job?)

    One of my favourites ...
  • One of the best of the first 12-15 episodes. Tense submarine warfare kind of battle set in outer space. Almost as good as DAS BOOT.

    This one has tons of drama. The debut of the Romulans the calculating villians related to the Vulcans and enough so that it draws forth racism on the bridge of the Enterprise. Spock looks like the Romulans, so can he be trusted. This one starts with a wedding and ends with a maybe a little cliched by todays standards but I bought it when I was ten and I still buy it at almost 35. Great Episode also featuring Mark Lenard (pre-Sarek, Spock's dad) as
    the Romulan Commander. Almost perfect.
  • The Neutral Zone is a borderline between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. Outposts along the border are mysteriously being destroyed. When the Enterprise is sent to investigate, a battle is heavy on Kirks mind, and so are the chances of starting ano

    A classic for Star Trek. The first actual episode featuring the Romulans, which lead to setting the standard for sci-fi shows. There is a battle of will, and of the mind as Kirk and the Romulan Commander try to outwit one another. It also show the sort-sightedness of humans, as an officer accuses Spock of being a Romulan spy, simply because they look alike. A great show that sould but put atop a pedestal for Star Treks best.