Balance of Terror

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"Balance of Terror"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 14
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Written by Paul Schneider
Featured music Fred Steiner
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 009
Original air date December 15, 1966 (1966-12-15)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Conscience of the King"
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"Shore Leave"
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Balance of Terror", written by Paul Schneider and directed by Vincent McEveety, is the fifteenth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series, Star Trek, that first aired on December 15, 1966. It was repeated on August 3, 1967. The episode is a science-fiction version of a submarine film; Schneider drew on the film The Enemy Below, casting the Enterprise as the American destroyer and the Romulan vessel as the U-boat.[1]

The episode introduces the Romulans. Mark Lenard, playing the Romulan commander, makes his first "Star Trek" appearance.

On September 16, 2006, "Balance of Terror" became the first digitally remastered Star Trek episode, featuring enhanced and new visual effects and high definition format, to be broadcast.


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

Addressing the crew, Commander 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 if necessary 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 weapons crew, and Hanson is suffering from terrible burns. As they speak, the enemy ship reappears. Hanson 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 that appear identical to 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 Romulan 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 Vulcan's 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. At one point, the Romulan commander refers to Kirk as a "sorcerer" who "reads the thoughts in my brain!" In his turn Captain Kirk regards the Romulan captain as canny, clever, and extremely dangerous.

The Romulans, almost beaten, plant a nuclear weapon amidst jettisoned debris in the hope that the Enterprise will come near enough to the weapon 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 Romulan 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 incapacitates Stiles and Tomlinson, who are manning the phaser room. Spock rescues Stiles and fires the phasers in time to mortally wound the Romulan ship.

Kirk hails the crippled vessel 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, with "just one more duty to perform," the commander triggers his ship's self-destruct system.

In the finale, 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]


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. 

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