When most people think of a Star Trek villain, they think of the Klingons. Perhaps it was because they were featured in the films so prominently, and thanks to the presence of Mr. Worf on the bridge of the Enterprise-D. And due to this, most people believe that it must have been the Klingons who were the original Trek villains. They would be wrong. It was the offshoot of the Vulcan race; their passionate and hateful cousins — the Romulans. And it was this episode, “Balance of Terror,” which introduced us to them.

STARDATE: 1709.2

Our story begins as Captain Kirk is set to marry two of his crewmembers, Mr. Robert Tomlinson and Ms. Angela Martine. He had been getting regular updates on the mysterious silence from outposts on the Neutral Zone. Before the ceremony was complete, a red alert sounded, and all scrambled to their battle stations.

When Kirk arrived on the bridge, he learned that the ship was just eight minutes from outpost four, which had been attacked. The outpost, like the others, was established on asteroids on the edge of the Neutral Zone.

A Romulan Warbird
A Romulan Warbird | Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

This space was established after the Romulan-Earth War. That conflict was waged a century earlier with more simple space vessels and nuclear weapons. Back then, there was no visual communication between Earth ships and those from Romulus. No human had ever seen a Romulan. Entry into the Neutral Zone would be considered an act of war, and the treaty has held for over 100 Earth years.

Kirk informed the crew that his orders, when concerning the Neutral Zone were unambiguous. They were not to start a conflict but can defend themselves if necessary.

The navigator onboard Enterprise, Mr. Stiles, had family who served in the old Romulan conflict and still carried their grudges with him. Styles (Paul Comi) told Kirk of all of the men who died while in the Space Service during that time. Kirk reminded him that was “their war, not ours.”

As the Enterprise approached Outposts 2 and 3, Spock reported that the outposts were gone and the asteroids they were constructed on were pulverized. Kirk ordered that personnel report to battle stations and all weapons would be at full power.

Uhura was able to raise Outpost 4 via audio. Hansen at the outpost told Kirk that Outposts 2, 3, and 8 had all been destroyed by an enemy and an unknown weapon. Hansen said because that they had warning of the attack; they were able to raise deflector shields. Those shields held during the first attack, but he feared that they would not withstand another attack.

Kirk asked for the type of ship, which attacked the base, but Hansen reported that they only caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared.

Hansen switched to screen to communicate. The crew watched as he spoke while the outpost burned. He said that they were hit by some high energy plasma weapon of “fantastic power.”

Just then, Hansen told that they were under attack again, and he was able to see the vessel this time. Uhura tied the Enterprise screen in with Outpost 4’s, so the crew could see what Hansen saw as well. As the ship approached, it unleashed a huge, red ball of plasma at the station… which ended all communications.

Spock reported that Outpost 4 had been disintegrated. He noted that the intruder disappeared right after the weapon was used. Kirk thought that perhaps the ship could not be invisible while attacking.

romulan bridge
The “bridge” of the Romulan Warbird | Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

Spock reported a blip on the scanners, which might be the intruder. It was not visible on screen, but Spock was able to detect its movements. Kirk figured that due to the massive power consumption required by the “invisibility screen,” the intruder’s ship might not be capable of much else.

The blip on the scanners changed course again, this time on a path through the Neutral Zone and back to Romulan space. Kirk ordered that Stiles and Sulu match the direction and speed of the intruder and shadow it as it headed back. Kirk ordered that the ship stand down.

Styles looked visibly agitated with these new instructions. He “respectfully” reminded the captain how the outpost was attacked on the Federation side of the Neutral Zone, and how many people were killed. He said that there could be Romulan spies onboard, and Sulu agreed. They recommended that all decks remain on security alert. Kirk agreed.

Uhura announced that she detected a code transmitting from the intruder. Spock was able to put the enemy ship on screen. And there they were — the bridge of the Romulan ship, draped in purple, with four Romulans huddled around some command/computer interface, and another giving orders. Those in the cluster wore golden helmets and stiff and squarish uniforms. Their leader turned slowly toward the monitor to reveal his pointy ears.

Styles stood up from his station. He looked at the screen, and then at Mr. Spock, as did the rest of the bridge crew.

If the Romulans ACT the way their Vulcan brothers did so many years ago, then showing any weakness would be a mistake.

Kirk asked Uhura if they had the entire code from the message, and she said that the cryptography team was working on it.

“Give it to Spock,” Styles said sarcastically. Kirk turned to him and asked what he meant. Stiles noted that Mr. Spock would probably be able to translate the code. Kirk asked if Stiles was complimenting Spock on his ability to decode. Stiles said that he was not sure if that’s what he meant.

Kirk grabbed Stiles’ seat and turned it toward him. You can “leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge. Do I make myself clear?”

Stiles said that he did.

Sulu spied something visual ahead. It was the intruder, and they adjusted course to match. The Romulans noticed, and the ship’s commander said that was precisely what he would do if he were chasing an enemy — follow them and learn their weaknesses.

On the Enterprise, Spock reported that the Romulan ship was on its way back to the Neutral Zone. Stiles said they were just an hour away from reaching the barrier. Mr. Scott was able to gather some debris from Outpost 4. They found that the cast Rodinium, which was the most durable substance known to date, was reduced to a flimsy, breakable sheet.

Kirk asked for comments in a staff meeting in his briefing room. Spock said that the Romulans had superior weapons and a practical “invisibility screen.” McCoy exploded, meaning that millions of lives now depended on the next moves by the Enterprise. Scotty said that they only had simple impulse engines.

Kirk grabbed Stiles’ seat and turned it toward him. You can “leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge. Do I make myself clear?”

Styles said that the Romulans must be attacked immediately, and since they were on the Federation’s side of the barrier, there would be no doubt on who broke the treaty. Sulu questioned how to fight a vessel that could not be seen. Styles said that the Enterprise needed to attack because if the Romulans were allowed to escape, they would be back with everything soon. He then turned to Spock.

“You know that, mister science officer. You’re the expert in these people, but you’ve always left out that one point,” said Styles. “I am very interested in why!”

Spock agreed with Styles to attack. Spock said that if the Romulans are indeed an offshoot of his Vulcan blood, then the attack is imperative. McCoy said that war was never essential. Spock said that for the Romulans, it was.

He explained that during Vulcans’ colonial era, they acted savagely. If the Romulans act the way their Vulcan brothers did so many years ago, then showing any weakness would be a mistake.

Spock reported that both the intruder and their vessel were headed toward the comet, Icarus-4. Kirk supposed that when the Romulans passed through the comet’s tail, they would leave a visible trail. Kirk ordered the crew to battle stations.

The captain ordered that as soon as the Romulans entered the comet’s tail, the Enterprise would swing around the other side and destroy them.

On the intruder’s ship, they changed course once they noticed that their “shadow” was no longer following. Kirk ordered a phaser pattern to try to catch the Romulans. The sporadic phaser blasts must have hit the enemy a few times, but in their moment of triumph, the phaser circuits burned out. Spock said that it would take time to repair the problem.

marc lenard and romulans
The Romulans as they deal with the threat of the Enterprise. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

Just then, the Romulan ship emerged from cloak and fired its huge plasma weapon. Kirk ordered emergency warp to escape the blast. If they had phasers, the Enterprise would have been able to destroy the plasma. Instead, they had to flee. As the moment came when the ship was about to be overtaken, the blast began to dissipate. The impact on the Enterprise was minor.

Spock fixed the phasers, and they went back after the Romulans.

On the intruder ship, they saw the Enterprise was after them again. They deployed their cloak again. Kirk ordered his ship to jump to warp to catch the Romulans before they entered the Neutral Zone. The Enterprise again let loose a barrage of phaser fire.

Stiles said that they were just 20 seconds away from a treaty violation. Kirk ordered that they continue to fire. The Romulan commander ordered all debris into disposal tubes, including the body of a senior officer.

Spock detected the debris but said that it was a trick. There was not enough mass in the waste to match the mass of a ship. They lost track of the Romulans.

Kirk decided to lay and wait. They shut down as much as they could on board and stayed in one place and silence. After nearly 10 hours of waiting, Spock accidentally set off an alarm, which the Romulans detected.

Kirk brought the ship about as the warbird approached, and even under cloak, the Enterprise sprayed enough phaser blasts to hit them. Knowing this was their last chance to win, the Romulans loaded a nuclear bomb into their disposal chutes with some other debris. Spock detected the weapon, and Kirk ordered more phasers. The Enterprise appeared to be adrift.

sulu in balance of terror
The iconic Mr. Sulu , as portrayed by George Takei | Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

Instead, the phasers did strike the Romulans’ nuclear device just 100 meters from the ship’s hull. This caused a considerable energy wave and radiation, which injured some of the crew. The Romulans thought they crippled the Enterprise, but they were wrong. Mr. Scott reported that the phasers were now being operated by Mr. Tomlinson alone. Styles requested to assist Tomlinson, and Kirk agreed. Uhura took over at navigation. Kirk ordered them to “play dead.”

The Romulans decided to attack the Enterprise, even though their ship was severely damaged.

In weapons control, Spock went into the check on Stiles and Tomlinson. Spock asked if he required any assistance.

“This time, we’ll handle things without your help, Vulcan,” Stiles responded. Without missing a beat, Spock turned and left. In the moments after he did, smoke began to fill the weapons control room.

Just then, the Romulans de-cloaked and appeared at point-blank range. Kirk ordered phasers, but none came. Hearing these orders over the PA system, Spock turned back into weapons control and fired the weapon. It rocked the warbird and eventually blew it back over.

Kirk had Uhura raise communications with their enemy. They were able to see their opponent on screen and witness the destruction they caused. Kirk ordered them to prepare to abandon their ship and get the survivors ready to be beamed to the Enterprise.

The Romulan commander refused. Instead, he said that he and Kirk would have gotten along well in a different reality. He then triggered the destruction of his vessel.

Later, Kirk visited Mr. Stiles in sickbay, who praised Spock for saving his life. Spock said that he “simply saved a trained navigator so that he could return to duty.” Kirk then asked how many men he lost in the battle. McCoy said they lost only one — Tomlinson.

Kirk went to see Angela Martine, who was in the chapel. When he walked in, she embraced him. Kirk told her that there was a reason for his death, and she told him, that she was all right. He then exited the chapel and walked down the filled corridors.

TREK REPORT SUPPLEMENTAL:

WOW! What a great episode. Very exciting and with a heart as well. The legend of Kirk as a tremendous tactical mastermind was started with this episode (with the payoff all 30 years later with Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country). A lot of things happened with this episode. Here are the main items:

  • Kirk is a tactical genius when it comes to ship to ship combat
  • There is still bigotry in the 23rd Century (thanks to Stiles)
  • The Romulans are ancestors of the Vulcans
  • The Vulcans were conquered at some point
  • Earth and Romulus had a great war, fought with nuclear weapons and simple spacecraft with no shields (at some unknown point in the past). It’s a shame that this wasn’t explored in Star Trek: Enterprise, instead of the time traveling stuff
  • McCoy was the only one who argued against fighting the Romulans
  • Uhura can pilot the Enterprise
  • There are such things as “cloaking devices”

It was action-packed, no, not like Star Trek: Beyond. There was meaning and thought behind the battle and a somber ending.

I was also impressed with the music for this episode. The tension-building whining strings were not unlike the score to The Dark Knight, which came out 45 years after this aired.

RATING: 5 out of 5

NOTE

Mark Lenard, who portrayed the Romulan Commander, would go on to play Spock’s father, Sarek in the Trek films and on TNG. He also played the Klingon Commander in The Motion Picture.

CREDITS

Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: Paul Schneider
Created and Produced by: Gene Roddenberry
Associate Producers: Robert H. Justman, John D. F. Black
Script Consultant: Steven W. Carabatsos
Theme music by: Alexander Courage
Music composed and conducted by: Fred Steiner
Director of Photography: Jerry Finnerman
Art Directors: Roland M. Brooks and Walter M. Jeffries

STARRING

William Shatner as Kirk
Leonard Nimoy as Spock

ALSO STARRING

Mark Lenard as Romulan Commander

Co-Starring

Paul Comi as Stiles

Lawrence Montaigne as Decius

FEATURING

DeForest Kelley … as Dr. McCoy
Grace Lee Whitney … as Yeoman Rand

George Takei … as Sulu
James Doohan … as Scott
Nichelle Nichols … as Uhura
William Sargent … as Dr. Leighton
Stephen Mines … as Tomlinson
Barbara Baldavin … as Angela
Garry Walberg … as Hansen

and

John Warburton … as the Centurion

Film Editor … Robert L. Swanson
Assistant to the Producer … Edward K. Milkis
Assistant Director … Gregg Peters
Set Decorator … Carl F. Biddiscombe
Costumes created by … William Theiss

Post Production Executive … Bill Heath
Music Editor … Robert H. Raff
Sound Editor … Douglas H. Grindstaff
Sound Mixer … Jack F. Lilly
Photographic Effects … Film Effects of Hollywood
Script Supervisor … George A. Rutter
Music Consultant … Wilbur Hatch
Music Coordinator … Julian Davidson
Special Effects … Jim Rugg
Property Master … Irving A. Feinberg
Gaffer … George H. Merhoff
Head Grip … George Rader
Production Supervisor … Bernard A. Windin
Makeup Artist … Fred B. Phillips, S.M.A.
Hair Styles by … Virginia Darcy, C.H.S.
Wardrobe Mistress … Margaret Makau
Casting … Joseph D’Agosta
Sound … Glen Glenn Sound Co.

A DesiLu Production in association with the Norway Company

Executive in Charge of Production … Herbert F. Solow

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