3 "The Corbomite Maneuver"

(airdate: November 10, 1966)

Writer: Jerry Sohl
Director: Joseph Sargent

Lt. Dave Bailey: Anthony Call
Voice of Balok's puppet (uncredited): Ted Cassidy

Balok: Clint Howard
Voice of Balok (uncredited): Walker Edmiston

Stardate: 1512.2

Captain's Log: The Enterprise encounters a strange glowing cube that they cannot escape from. They are therefore forced to destroy it. Shortly after, a massive spherical ship from the First Federation comes along and disables the Enterprise, informing the crew that their ship will be destroyed and refusing to listen to Kirk's attempts to explain their actions. Kirk therefore bluffs the commander of the other ship, Balok, by describing a substance called corbomite that, when the Enterprise is destroyed, will destroy the attacking ship as well. Balok stands down but still intends to capture the Enterprise and tows it toward one of the First Federation's planets. The Enterprise is able to break free, but Balok's ship is damaged in the process and sends out a distress signal. The Enterprise responds to the signal with aid, whereupon Balok reveals that this was all in fact a test, to judge the aggression of the Enterprise and humanity - a test that they have just passed.

Whoops!: As with "Mudd's Women", Uhura is dressed in command gold rather than her usual operations red, with a sciences emblem. The clock is shown counting down; when it reaches two minutes, Sulu announces they have one minute left. This might be because the minute digit changes when the seconds hit 00, rather than 59, so it could be construed as Sulu misreading the clock - except the rest of the script assumes that Sulu was correct, and that the clock was a minute slow. [The remastered version fixes this.] Right after this, Sulu remarks "I knew he would" in response to nothing. [Perhaps Balok was meant to have a line inserted here.]
     So, this First Federation warning buoy. It's not a very effective warning, is it, if no one can work out what its purpose is and it's not actually broadcasting any sort of warning. [Maybe the color patterns are the First Federation's version of "No Trepassing"?] And then when the Enterprise tries to escape, the buoy follows them, and in fact threatens to crash into the ship, if the radiation doesn't kill them first. Then Balok has the nerve to complain about the Enterprise destroying his cube.
     The Enterprise is making star maps by literally taking photographs. Is there really no passive (or even active) recording system that can do that for them?
     Contrary to what some have said elsewhere, Jonathan Goldsmith (the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" actor) is not in this nor any other episode of Star Trek. (The confusion seems to stem from the Star Trek Concordance, which misread a sheet listing him as an actor being considered for the part of Lt. Bailey as meaning he actually appeared in the episode.)

Classic Lines: Bailey: "Raising my voice back there doesn't mean I was scared or couldn't do my job. It means I happen to have a human thing called an adrenaline gland." Spock: "It does sound most inconvenient, however; have you considered having it removed?"
     Sulu: "You try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time."
     Spock: "Has it occurred to you that there's a certain... inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you've already made up your mind about?" Kirk: "It gives me emotional security."

Cringe Lines: Kirk: "When I find the headquarters genius that assigned me a female yeoman..."

Library Computer: In a region of space previously unexplored by Starfleet and which was being mapped by the Enterprise is an area of space [presumably] claimed by a group calling itself the First Federation. They indicated that this region was theirs using a spinning cubical warning buoy, solid but of an unknown composition to the Enterprise. Each edge measured 107 meters, while its mass was slightly under 11,000 metric tons. Despite being called a warning buoy, no actual message appeared to emit from it, and instead it held the Enterprise in place, neither letting it advance nor retreat. Attempts to escape the cube resulted in its approaching the ship, with radiation "from the short end of the spectrum" [so gamma rays, assuming "short end" refers to wavelengths] increasing as the cube got nearer. The cube was successfully destroyed by the Enterprise's phasers.
     After destroying the cube, the Enterprise was met by an enormous spherical ship: the First Federation's flagship, the Fesarius. This ship was massive (Spock estimated it was a mile in diameter) and made of a similar metallic composition to the warning buoy, but with a significantly higher energy reading. It was a glowing, pulsing yellow, covered with smaller spheres arranged into roughly diamond-shaped patterns. The captain, Balok, appeared to the Enterprise as a long-faced, bald alien, with a long nose, an open mouth, large eyes with vertical pupils [like a cat or snake], and a rather ashen complexion. The Fesarius could communicate with the Enterprise over their navigation beam, and it had strong probes that could read all the information in the Enterprise's computer "tapes" and shut off certain systems, such as the engines. Balok said that he intended to destroy the Enterprise, as he claimed that the destruction of their warning buoy showed that humanity was a savage, destructive race, although he backed off when Kirk successfully bluffed him regarding a made-up substance called corbomite.
     Kirk claimed that the Enterprise was outfitted with a secret substance called corbomite - a substance so secret it wasn't even mentioned in the Enterprise's memory banks. When an Earth vessel is destroyed, he claimed, corbomite created an equal, opposite reaction that destroyed the attacking ship, and that in the two centuries since corbomite had been incorporated aboard Earth vessels, no attacking vessel had survived an attack. [Kirk claims corbomite has been present "since the early years of space exploration", which, combined with his two centuries comment, suggests a date around the late 22nd-early 23rd century. See "Where No Man Has Gone Before" for more on Star Trek dating.] Kirk was in fact bluffing, but Balok wasn't willing to call the bluff [well maybe; it's a bit unclear how much of this is genuine and how much is part of Balok's testing of the Enterprise], and instead decided to tow the Enterprise to a First Federation planet instead, where the crew of the Enterprise could live out the remainder of their days.
     Balok was able to detach a smaller ship from his main vessel. This vessel appeared to be comprised of five glowing yellow spheres and weighed about 2000 metric tons. It was equal to the Enterprise in terms of power, although the Enterprise was ultimately able to break free of this ship's tractor beam. This ship was crewed only by Balok, and its atmosphere had a slightly higher oxygen content than that of the Enterprise.
     Balok himself was in fact actually a small humanoid, resembling a bald seven-year-old human male, with slightly pointed ears and fuzzy orange eyebrows, dressed in flowing silver robes. Balok claimed that he was in fact testing the crew of the Enterprise, first by threatening to destroy them, then by towing them to a planet, and then sending out a fake distress signal when the Enterprise escaped Balok's tractor beam. He wanted to be certain that Kirk and his crew were in fact friendly. [It's not clear just how much of Balok's actions were part of this test; certainly the distress signal was, and there's a suggestion that Balok didn't necessarily believe that the Enterprise's memory banks were trustworthy. If he wanted to verify that their mission was peaceful, it's possible that the entire encounter with the Fesarius was designed to see how Kirk would react. That certainly seems to be the intention of the episode, although it's a bit of an odd evaluation by human standards, subjecting them to sustained psychological stress tests.] Balok enjoys showing off his ship, which he doesn't get to do often, and he misses company. Lt. Bailey volunteers to stay aboard with Balok as part of a cultural exchange. Balok loves a drink called tranya, which is an orange drink that the landing party finds delicious.
     Lt. Dave Bailey is a navigation officer on the Enterprise, dressed in command gold. He has blue eyes and sandy hair and a slightly nervous disposition. He's rather impulsive but also prone to not respond immediately to orders, and he would rather be doing something than just waiting and is willing to argue heatedly with Captain Kirk in front of the bridge crew over this. Dr. McCoy believes that Kirk promoted Bailey too quickly - possibly because Bailey reminded Kirk of himself eleven years earlier - and that Bailey's outbursts are the result of excessive stress and fatigue, rather than any inherent failures in Bailey himself. Bailey is willing to be an unofficial ambassador to the First Federation, remaining behind on Balok's ship to learn more about the First Federation and to provide information for Balok. He's humble enough to not consider himself one of Earth's best.
     Kirk doesn't like taking his quarterly physical, and McCoy is willing to hold Kirk in sickbay in order to finish it even while a general alert has been ordered. [This has to be a somewhat low alert status, as it's difficult to believe McCoy would willfully endanger the ship to finish a physical.] Kirk's two pounds overweight, so McCoy has ordered him on a special diet card that includes dietary salad, much to Kirk's displeasure.
     Spock's father is apparently somewhat reminiscent of (the stern puppet version of) Balok in attitude. Spock's mother considered herself very fortunate to be married to Spock's father. Spock is unfamiliar with poker.
     The Enterprise needs to take specific photographs for its star-mapping mission.
     Kirk dislikes having a female yeoman. [Weird; he's never brought it up before - he doesn't grumble about Yeoman Smith in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", for instance. Maybe he's just in a cranky mood.]

Final Analysis: "Not chess, Mr. Spock, poker." A nice slow-brewing conflict that nevertheless allows a chance for lots of great moments of characterization. Other than a couple visual cues, you'd never know this was the first regular (i.e., non-pilot) episode they filmed - DeForest Kelley in particular is immediately comfortable as Dr. McCoy - with a good sense of tension and generally excellent pacing. It's also lovely how Balok turns out to be friendly at the end - a nice reminder that not every alien the Enterprise encounters is automatically hostile.

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Page originally created: February 17, 2018
Page last updated: August 6, 2018

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