Balance of Terror is widely considered one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS for short). The 14th episode of the series, Balance of Terror aired on December 15th, 1966, involving a game of cat-and-mouse between the USS Enterprise and a Romulan Bird of Prey. The episode was the first to feature a large scale battle between two Starships; all the preceding episodes involved face-to-face encounters with aliens, viruses, and not one, but two “Evil Captain Kirks” (a robot Kirk in What Are Little Girls Made Of? and a Kirk split into good and evil halves in The Enemy Within). This space battle defined the style of engagement between the Enterprise and enemy ships, influencing everything from the finale of Wrath of Khan to 2009’s Star Trek.
Balance of Terror is set to define the future of Star Trek on TV in 2017, so let’s take a look at 5 GROOVY facts from 1966!
A New ThreatThe Romulans are a staple of the Star Trek universe, serving as the Federation’s most formidable and well-known alien race, behind only the infamous Klingons, in the 23rd Century. Balance of Terror is the 1st time the audience and the human race have ever seen a Romulan (though it may have been retconned since). During the Earth-Romulan War, a century before the events of TOS, there was no visual communication between the Federation and the Romulan Empire.
Today, even youngsters who have only seen the new films kick-started by J.J. Abrams can point out a Romulan. In 2009’s Star Trek, the Enterprise and her crew faced Nero (Eric Bana) and his crew, who both killed Kirk’s father and destroyed Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. Though their design has been updated many times since December 1966, Romulans remain a mainstay of the Star Trek universe.
Lend Me Your Ears!Romulans and Vulcans share a common ancestry, so the make-up department used the same ear prosthetic to create Romulans that was applied to Leonard Nemoy to play Mr. Spock. Did you know that due to budget and time constraints, not all the actors playing Romulans were given the distinctive pointy ears? The less prominent Romulans were given helmets instead; re-purposed Roman Helmet props from the studio’s biblical movies on the 1950s. Who says you can’t just redress an old prop designed to look two centuries into one that is meant to be used 2,000 years in the future?
Good Romulans Make For Better VulcansEveryone knows actor Max Lenard went from playing the Romulan Commander in Balance of Terror to playing not just any Vulcan, but Spock’s own father Sarek in the episode Journey to Babel in 1967 (Everyone knows this)! Yet, Lenard was not the only actor from Balance of Terror to go from Romulan to Vulcan… Lawrence Montaigne also went on to play a Vulcan with a personal relation to Spock; his rival Stonn in 1967’s Amok Time. Fascinating. “Common Ancestry” indeed!
Max Lenard also had the chance to take it a step further, playing a Klingon Captain in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, making him the 1st actor to play all three of TOS‘s primary alien species. Vulcans and Klingons were not as fulfilling to Lenard, who said, “The Romulan Commander was one of the best roles I ever had on TV…In many ways, I did enjoy that role [Sarek], but I think the more demanding role and the better acting role was the Romulan Commander”.
The Enemy BelowBalance of Terror is based on the plot of the 1957 film, The Enemy Below. Set during World War II, the film focuses on a deadly game of “cat-and-mouse” (sound familiar?) between an American Destroyer and a German U-Boat. The Enterprise obviously played the role of the American Destroyer, with the U-Boat subbed out for the Romulan Bird of Prey; both enemy vessels able to avoid detection, whether it be submerging under the ocean having a cloaking device. As in The Enemy Below, both captains are evenly matched, with the hero having to overcome his opponent through his superior strategy.
A “Touchstone” for Star Trek: Discovery
In 2017 a new series set a decade before TOS, Star Trek: Discovery (or STD… which is unfortunate), is set to air. We know little about the show besides the aforementioned time period, the fact it will be more serialized with a more connected season structure, will feature the USS Discovery, and be the 1st series told from the perspective of a female First Officer instead of the ship’s Captain.
Showrunner Bryan Fuller did Tweet this interesting piece of information back in September:
A FAVORITE TOS EPISODE “BALANCE OF TERROR” IS A TOUCHSTONE FOR THE #STARTREKDISCOVERY STORY ARC#STARTREK50 #LLAP50
See? I told you Balance of Terror is a fan favorite!
What exactly Fuller is referring to remains a bit of a mystery. Some think this means the new show will feature the Earth-Romulan War, though this is unlikely as said conflict took place a century before the events of STD and TOS. Though Balance of Terror establishes that Romulans and Humans haven’t made contact in 100 years, my hope is the show explores events similar to the beloved episode, with the Romulans attacking Federation outposts surrounding Earth as a prelude to a planned Earth-Romulan War II that the crew of the Discovery must prevent. Just throw in some mumbo-jumbo about the Federation covering it up as to not cause panic. Retcon!Others believe “Touchstone,” in this case, implies that Fuller and his team are simply shooting to replicate the quality of Balance of Terror. Or maybe they’ll just borrow the plot involving cat-and-mouse space warfare, this time drawn out over a season. Fuller has also said that the show will feature an event we’ve “heard referred to but have never seen.” Unless the time-period we’ve been given for STD is wrong, we won’t be seeing the Earth-Romulan War, but either way hopefully we get plenty of Romulans!
Such a strong alien opponent’s existence should not be limited to simply 1966’s Balance of Terror through 2009’s Star Trek. Romulans will hopefully be terrorizing us for decades to come!