06 July 2015

The Chains of Command (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.14, "Balance of Terror")

The Enterprise follows a distress signal from Earth outposts monitoring the Neutral Zone between the Federation and the Romulan Empire; they've come under attack from a very powerful vessel. Kirk must lead his starship into battle to prevent a wider war.

Now, this is an episode that I've seen before on the CBS Action repeats; in fact, the first one in the televised running order that this is true for. Thus I have some memories of it, although not as many as I thought I did. There are three elements that I wish to focus on in more depth here..

Firstly, the battle sequences themselves, made better by the CGI remastering. There is a (probably intentional) major submarine versus destroyer element here, with the Federation ship taking the part of the latter. To give some examples, the Romulans have to 'surface' (i.e. de-cloak) to fire; the Enterprise lays down 'depth charges' via blind phaser fire and the bridge of the former rather resembles that of the main control room of a submarine. It allows for both captains to make move and counter-move; while I of course know what happens to Kirk's ship, I'd forgotten what happened to the latter, so the result is a bit more up in the air.

Secondly, the Romulans. This is the first appearance of one of the major races in the franchise and there's an awful lot of interesting story material woven with sometimes single lines; most notably a Romulus vs. Earth war that would later feature in prequel series Enterprise. The war clearly has major impact on some; both ships have a decidedly hostile senior officer on board. I note that the Romulans have 'Bird of Prey' style ships; these tend to be associated in my mind more with the Klingons, but my anciliary research shows that they are fully present in Star Trek Online.

Lastly, this story does an excellent job of showing the responsibilities of command in a warship with both Kirk and the Romulan Commander (played by Mark Lenard, who made also play Klingons and Vulcans in the franchise); remember that the Second World War was only just over 20 years in the past and so people, including some of those involved, would still have memories of the naval engagements of that war. Kirk knows full well that he is ultimately responsible for the welfare of all of his crew - and that at some point, to protect the former, he has to do serious harm to the welfare of someone else's crew... with as happens here,  a commander has no guarantee that everyone on his command will make it out alive.


A highly absorbing 'battle episode' that combines strong action with a thoughtful story and great performances. Does drag a little though, but that might be familiarity breeding contempt.


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