Balance of Terror

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"Balance of Terror"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 14
Directed byVincent McEveety
Written byPaul Schneider
Featured musicFred Steiner
Cinematography byJerry Finnerman
Production code009
Original air dateDecember 15, 1966 (1966-12-15)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Conscience of the King"
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Star Trek: The Original Series (season 1)
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Balance of Terror" is the fourteenth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series, Star Trek. Written by Paul Schneider and directed by Vincent McEveety, it first aired on December 15, 1966, and a repeat broadcast was aired on August 3, 1967.

In the episode, the Enterprise battles a Romulan ship after investigating an unidentified assailant who methodically destroys the Federation's outposts at the Neutral Zone.

The episode introduces the cloaking device and the Romulans. Mark Lenard, playing the Romulan commander, makes his first of many Star Trek appearances.

The episode featured the final appearance of Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand) before her return in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.


The USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Kirk, is investigating a loss of communication with a line of Earth outposts near the Romulan Neutral Zone, formed under the terms of the peace treaty that ended the Earth–Romulan War a century earlier. Because there were no visual communications at that time, the two races have never seen each other. While Kirk officiates at the wedding of Lieutenant Tomlinson and Ensign Martine, Outpost 4 comes under attack. The Enterprise comes to Outpost 4's aid and contacts the base commander, Hansen, who reveals he is the only survivor of an attack by an unknown enemy with weapons of immense power. A single shot destroyed the base's shields and killed the phaser crew. As they speak, the enemy ship reappears. The ship fires before disappearing again. The shot destroys the outpost and kills Hansen.

The ship's sensors locate the attacker, which remains invisible. Kirk surmises that the attacker is equipped with a cloaking device. A coded message from the intruder provides a view through one of its internal cameras, revealing humanoids with an appearance like Vulcans. Lieutenant Stiles, the navigator, son of a service family that lost several members in the Earth–Romulan War, begins to question the loyalty of the Enterprise's half-Vulcan first officer, Mr. Spock.

During a discussion of the Romulan ship's capabilities, Stiles suggests the Enterprise attack the vessel before it can reach the Neutral Zone. Spock agrees; he reasons that if the Romulans are in fact an offshoot of the Vulcan species and have retained the martial philosophy of the Vulcans' ancient past, they would surely take advantage of any perceived weakness.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues. The Enterprise is faster and more maneuverable, while the Romulan ship has a cloaking device and immensely destructive plasma torpedoes. However, the range of these torpedoes is limited, and firing one requires so much power that the ship must decloak first. When the Romulan heads towards the tail of a comet, Kirk tries to head it off, hoping to target it as its wake through the comet's tail reveals its location. However, the Romulan commander correctly guesses Kirk's plan, and takes evasive maneuvers. Kirk, seeing nothing, realizes the Romulan has spotted his tactic and orders phasers to be fired blindly before the Romulans can counterattack.

The Romulans, almost beaten, plant a nuclear weapon amidst jettisoned debris. When Spock detects a "metal-cased object", Kirk orders a point-blank phaser shot that detonates the device. The Enterprise is shaken by the blast and much of the phaser crew are incapacitated, requiring Stiles to act as backup. Kirk orders operations to work at minimal power to exaggerate the apparent damage and lure the Romulans in for a kill shot. Although the Romulan commander suspects Kirk's trap, Decius, a politically well-connected member of the command crew pressures him to attack the Enterprise. When the Romulan ship decloaks to launch a torpedo, Kirk tries to spring his trap, but a coolant leak in the phaser control room incapacitates Stiles and Tomlinson. Spock rescues Stiles and fires the phasers in time to mortally wound the Romulan ship.

Kirk hails the Romulans and at last communicates directly with his opponent, offering to beam aboard survivors. The Romulan commander tells Kirk that he regrets having met him in combat, that "You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend." He declines Kirk's offer to take off his crew, telling the Captain that it is not the Romulan way to be taken prisoner. The Commander then triggers his ship's self-destruct system.

Enterprise's only fatality is Lt. Tomlinson. Kirk goes to the chapel to provide comfort to a grieving Ensign Martine.


The Star Trek Compendium stated the episode was essentially a science fiction version of the submarine film The Enemy Below, depicting a cat-and-mouse game between the Enterprise as the American destroyer against a Romulan vessel as the U-boat.[1][2] Director Vincent McEveety had seen the 1957 film The Enemy Below but only noticed the similarities between its plot and this episode later. He admitted "Obviously, it's the same story."[3]

The music played during the opening scene of the wedding ceremony is the 19th century English song "Long, Long Ago."[4]

The term photon torpedo was only invented for a later episode "Arena", but the same effect was used in this one although still called phaser.

On September 16, 2006, "Balance of Terror" became the first digitally remastered Star Trek episode, featuring enhanced and new visual effects, computer generated (CGI) spaceships, and high definition format.[5][6]


The episode is frequently praised by critics and regularly appears on lists of the best episodes of Star Trek. In 2016, The Washington Post ranked "Balance of Terror" the second-best episode of the entire Star Trek franchise, noting that it investigates the connection between wars and race, that it shows both sides of a conflict in deep space.[7] A 2017 article in The Washington Post which ranked the seven captains of Star Trek included a special mention of the captain of the Romulan vessel, calling him "The greatest alien captain".[8] In 2016, Business Insider ranked "Balance of Terror" the best episode of The Original Series.[9] In 2016, SyFy ranked guest star Mark Lenard (the Romulan captain), as the eighth-best guest star on The Original Series.[10] In 2016, Empire ranked this the 43rd-best in a top 50 ranking of the 700 plus Star Trek television episodes. Critic Ed Gross praised the episode for exploring the theme of bigotry, and as "a piece of television that manages to conjure genuine suspense as one commander attempts to outmaneuvre the other".[2]


Guest star Mark Lenard, who portrayed the Romulan commander, returned in the episode "Journey to Babel" where he played Sarek, Spock's father. Lenard has the distinction of having played a Romulan, Klingon and Vulcan over the course of the series, the only actor to have done so.[10]

Bryan Fuller called the episode a "favorite" and a "touchstone" which influenced the creation of the story arc in Star Trek: Discovery.[11][12]

Non-canon works[edit]

Comic book publisher IDW Publishing released a prequel, Star Trek Alien Spotlight: Romulans and a sequel, Star Trek Romulans: The Hollow Crown.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Asherman, Allan (1993). The Star Trek Compendium. New York: Pocket Books. p. 40. ISBN 0-671-79612-7.
  2. ^ a b Ed Gross (July 27, 2016). "The 50 best Star Trek episodes ever". Empire (film magazine). Retrieved April 10, 2021. essentially a submarine thriller in space
  3. ^ Edward Gross; Mark A. Altman (1995). Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages. pp. 34. ISBN 0316329576.
  5. ^ "Balance of Terror Star Trek Remastered". Comparisons of the new "remastered" visual effects
  6. ^ Wright, Matt (September 17, 2006). ""Balance of Terror" Screenshots – Before and After plus Video Clip! [UPDATED]".
  7. ^ Drezner, Daniel (September 13, 2016). "The top 10 'Star Trek' episodes ever". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 24, 2019.
  8. ^ Ahrens, Frank (September 22, 2017). "The ultimate ranking of the best 'Star Trek' captains". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  9. ^ Andy Kiersz; Elena Holodny (September 22, 2017). "Here are the 13 best original 'Star Trek' episodes, ranked". Business Insider Australia. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Kaye, Don (September 16, 2016). "The 17 best Star Trek: The Original Series guest stars (hero or villain)". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved April 1, 2021.
  11. ^ Britt, Ryan (January 13, 2020). "9 essential Romulan episodes to watch before Star Trek: Picard". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
  12. ^ Huw Fullerton (September 25, 2017). "14 brilliant Easter Eggs in the first episodes of Star Trek: Discovery". Radio Times.

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