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Episode 14 – TOS 1×14: “Balance of Terror”

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In this episode, the Enterprise is sent to investigate a spate of sudden mysterious radio silence from the asteroid-based outposts along the Romulan Neutral Zone. What’s the Neutral Zone? Well apart from the inspiration for the title of this podcast, it’s the neutral boundary between Federation territory and the Romulan Star Empire.

That’s right. ROMULANS. IT’S TIME.

We here at NSMTNZ HQ love the Romulans, and we were pretty excited about their TOS debut. We get a little mini-history lesson about the century-ago Romulan War, which took place in an era where human space travel was relatively primitive; if you got shot down in space, that was it. No survivors. No prisoners. Oh, and no video communication, so not only do we know very little about the Romulans (except that they’re apparently “warlike”), we don’t even know what they look like.

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spoiler: it’s like this, basically

What we do know is that it looks like a Bird of Prey (which at this point in TOS history is actually painted like a real-life bird of prey in bright, cheerful colours) has been buzzing the Federation edge of the Neutral Zone, destroying outposts as a kind of test to see whether the Romulan Star Empire could take the Federation this time around. This is obviously a violation of the existing treaty, so the Enterprise immediately goes on the defensive to hunt down the aggressor, even witnessing the destruction of one of the outposts while basically on the phone with them. Harsh.

A huge majority of this episode is an amazing back-and-forth balancing act of captainly strategy (both Kirk’s and the Romulan commander’s) as the two ships continually outmaneuver each other, a lovely slice-of-life subplot about an onboard wedding interrupted by the growing crisis (poor Ensign Martine), and underpinning it all, a strong, classic Trek theme of how it’s our similarities, rather than our differences, that matter; while the encounter ultimately ends in tragedy and disaster for the Romulan ship, it’s with a strangely soft and hopeful moment between Kirk and the Romulan commander. In another life, says the commander to Kirk, maybe we could have been friends.

Balance of Terror also contains my personal favourite piece of dialogue in all of Star Trek, which I’m going to drop in at the bottom for your benefit because you can’t stop me.

“In this galaxy, there’s a mathematical probability of three million earth-type planets… and in all the universe, three million million galaxies like this one. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us.” —Leonard Horatio McCoy, Balance of Terror

 

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