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 fourteenth 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; writer Paul Schneider drew on the film The Enemy Below, casting the Enterprise as the American destroyer and the Romulan vessel as the German submarine.[1]

The episode introduces the Romulans. Mark Lenard, playing the Romulan commander, makes his first Star Trek appearance. Lenard later played Spock's Vulcan father, Sarek, in several episodes and movies, and appears as the Klingon commander in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These roles made Lenard the first actor to play characters of three prominent non-human species in Star Trek.

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


The starship USS Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk is inspecting a line of manned Federation outposts, only to find they are being destroyed by an unknown enemy. While Kirk officiates at the wedding of Lieutenant Robert Tomlinson and Ensign Angela Martine, an alarm sounds and they learn that Outpost 4, near the Romulan Neutral Zone, has come under attack.

Commander Spock explains that the Neutral Zone came into being following the peace treaty that ended the Earth-Romulan War a century earlier. Because there were no visual communications, the two races have never seen each other and only communicated over subspace radio. Kirk fears the Romulans are preparing for another war.

They come into range of Outpost 4 and contact the base commander, Commander Hansen, who informs them he is the only survivor of an attack by an unknown enemy with weapons of immense power. A single shot blew out the base's shields, killed the weapons crew, and Hanson is suffering from terrible burns. As they speak, Hansen tells them the enemy ship is reappearing. He shows them the view from his sensors as the ship materializes and fires before disappearing again. That one shot destroys the outpost.

Kirk discovers that the attacker is a lone Romulan Bird of Prey equipped with a cloaking device. The cloak is not perfect; the Enterprise can track the ship, which is returning home to report on weaknesses in the Federation's defenses. The Enterprise taps into the Romulans' internal security camera, revealing that the Romulans appear identical to Vulcans. Lieutenant Stiles, the navigator, scion of a service family that lost several officers including a captain in the Earth-Romulan War, begins to suspect the Vulcan Mr. Spock of treason.

During a briefing on the Romulan ship's capabilities, Stiles suggests that the Enterprise attack the Romulan vessel before it can reach the Neutral Zone. Even Spock agrees with Stiles's suggestion, believing the Romulans are likely an offshoot of the Vulcans from their age of savage warfare before the discipline of logic took hold. Spock reasons that if the Romulans retained Vulcan's pre-Surak martial philosophy, they would surely infer weakness in a lack of response from the Federation and launch a full-scale war.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues, with each ship having its strengths and weaknesses. The Enterprise is faster and more maneuverable, while the Bird of Prey has its cloaking device and an arsenal of immensely destructive plasma torpedoes. However the plasma torpedoes' range is limited, and to fire a torpedo requires so much power that the ship must decloak before it can launch.

The two commanders are soon locked in a battle of wits. At one point, the Romulan commander, referring to Kirk, says, "He's a sorcerer, that one! He reads the thoughts in my brain!" In his turn Captain Kirk regards the Romulan captain as canny, clever, and extremely dangerous.

In an act of desperation the Romulans, almost beaten, jettison a nuclear weapon along with other 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" amongst the debris, 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 individual 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 member of the command crew with connections to the Romulan praetor convinces his commander to finish off the seemingly helpless Enterprise. When the Bird of Prey decloaks to launch a torpedo, Kirk tries to spring his trap, but a coolant failure puts the phasers off-line and incapacitates Mr. Stiles, who had volunteered to help Lt. Tomlinson with the phaser controls. Spock rescues Stiles and fires the phasers in time for the Enterprise 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 our 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, preventing his crew and Romulan cloaking and weapons technology from falling into Federation hands.

In the episode's downbeat finale, it is revealed that the Enterprise 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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