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
← Previous
"The Conscience of the King"
Next →
"Shore Leave"
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.

The episode is 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]

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

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.


The Federation starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain Kirk, is investigating a loss of communication with a line of Earth outposts near the Romulan Neutral Zone. While Kirk officiates at the wedding of Lieutenant Tomlinson and Ensign Martine, an alarm sounds and they learn that Outpost 4 has come under attack.

Addressing the crew, the Enterprise's first officer, Mr. Spock, explains that the Neutral Zone came into being 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, and have little knowledge, of each other. Kirk then informs the crew that, in accordance with his orders, they and the ship will be considered expendable to prevent another war.

The Enterprise comes into range of Outpost 4 and contacts the base commander, Hansen, who reveals that he is the only survivor of an attack by an unknown enemy with weapons of immense power. A single shot has destroyed the base's shields and killed the phaser crew, and Hanson is suffering from terrible burns. As they speak, the enemy ship reappears. Hansen transmits the view from his sensors as the ship materializes and fires before disappearing again. That shot destroys the outpost.

The ship's sensors soon 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 Mr. Spock and other Vulcans. Lieutenant Stiles, the navigator, son of a service family that lost several members in the Earth-Romulan War, begins to question Spock's loyalty.

During a discussion of the Romulan ship's capabilities, Stiles suggests that the Enterprise attack the vessel before it can reach the Neutral Zone. Spock agrees, believing the Romulans are likely an offshoot of the Vulcan species. Spock reasons that if the Romulans 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, with each ship showing strengths and weaknesses. The Enterprise is faster and more maneuverable, while the Romulan ship has a cloaking device and an arsenal of 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. The two commanders are soon locked in a battle of wits.

The Romulans, almost beaten, plant a nuclear weapon amidst jettisoned debris in the hope that the Enterprise will come near enough to be destroyed. However, when Spock detects a "metal-cased object", Kirk orders a point-blank phaser shot that detonates the device. The Enterprise is badly shaken by the blast and the phaser controls are damaged; while they can still be fired from the phaser rooms, they cannot be fired from the bridge. Kirk decides to use this to his advantage, ordering operations to work at minimal power to exaggerate the apparent damage and lure the Romulans in for a kill shot.

Although the Romulan ship's fuel is running low, a well-connected member of the command crew convinces the commander to finish off the seemingly helpless Enterprise. When the Romulan ship decloaks to launch a torpedo, Kirk tries to spring his trap, but a coolant leak in the phaser room incapacitates Stiles and Tomlinson. Spock rescues Stiles and fires the phasers in time to cripple the Romulan ship.

Kirk hails the Romulans and at last communicates directly with his opponent, offering to beam aboard his survivors. The Romulan commander declines, saying that it is not their way to accept such assistance. The commander expresses regret that he and Kirk are on opposite sides, saying, "You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend." Then the commander triggers his ship's self-destruct system.

In the final scenes, it is revealed that the Enterprise has suffered just one fatality — Lt. Tomlinson. Kirk goes to the chapel to provide some comfort to a grieving Ensign Martine.


Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an 'A' rating, describing the episode as "one of TOS's strongest, introducing us to a new alien race, as well as providing us with a very important piece of Trek mythology" and noting that, "watching Kirk out-maneuver his enemy, even to the point of earning that enemy's respect, is very cool".[2]

Io9's 2014 listing of the top 100 Star Trek episodes placed "Balance of Terror" as the number one episode of all series up to that time.[3] "The Best of Both Worlds" and "The City on the Edge of Forever" came in as two and three respectively.[3]

A regional newspaper of Cleveland, Ohio in the USA ranked 25 of the greatest episodes of Star Trek prior to Star Trek: Discovery and included "Balance of Terror" as the 4th greatest.[4]

In 2016, Newsweek ranked "Balance of Terror" as one of the best episodes of the original series.[5] In 2016, IGN ranked "Balance of Terror" the 2nd best episode of the original series.[6] In 2016, CNET noted that "Balance of Terror" was rated one of the top ten episodes of all Star Trek episodes in an audience-based rating at the Star Trek 50th anniversary convention.[7]

A 2017 article in the Washington Post which ranked the greatest spacecraft captains of Star Trek, included a special mention for captain of the Romulan vessel.[8] They note the performance of actor Mark Lenard, who went on to play Spock's father, Sarek, in the franchise, for his role in his confrontation with Captain Kirk of the Enterprise, whom they rated as the best Star Trek captain overall.[8]

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.


  1. ^ Asherman, Allan (1993). The Star Trek Compendium. New York: Pocket Books. p. 40. ISBN 0-671-79612-7.
  2. ^ Handlen, Zack (February 27, 2009). ""Conscience Of The King" / "Balance Of Terror"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Anders, Charlie Jane (October 2, 2014). "The Top 100 Star Trek Episodes Of All Time!". io9. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  4. ^ Cooley, Patrick. "Before 'Discovery:' the best 25 'Star Trek' episodes of all time". Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  5. ^ EST, Newsweek Special Edition On 1/2/16 at 9:09 AM (January 2, 2016). "Newsweek's top 10 episodes from the original Star Trek series". Newsweek. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  6. ^ Staff, I. G. N. (September 5, 2016). "The Top 10 Classic Star Trek Episodes". IGN. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  7. ^ Kooser, Amanda. "10 best Star Trek episodes, according to the fans". CNET. Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Ahrens, Frank (September 22, 2017). "The ultimate ranking of the best 'Star Trek' captains". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 21, 2019.

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