Exploring a distant region of space, the Enterprise is threatened by Balok, commander of a starship from the First Federation.
The Enterprise is exploring a region of space previously unexplored by the Federation and making star maps of the region. As Spock conducts the star mapping, the navigator, Dave Bailey, comments on how long Enterprise has been here and wonders out loud if she really is the first starship to explore this area of space. As Spock confirms that Enterprise is the first ship to explore this far, Lieutenant Sulu announces contact with an object. In response, Spock orders the deflectors at maximum intensity. According to Lieutenant Sulu the object is moving at the speed of light and directly on a collision course with the Enterprise. As she performs evasive maneuvers, the object changes course, too, and keeps coming at her. Spock sounds the alarm, but quickly countermands that order as the object slows down, and he orders full stop just as visual contact is achieved.
Slowly the mysterious object becomes bigger as the bridge crew watches before Spock orders Sulu to plot a slow course around it. Sulu does so, but seconds later the object comes back into view. Spock orders another full stop and another alert. Sulu announces the red alert and calls Captain Kirk to the bridge.
- "Captain's Log, Stardate 1512.2. On our third day of star mapping, an unexplained cubical object blocked our vessel's path. On the bridge, Mr. Spock immediately ordered general alert. My location: sickbay. Quarterly physical check."
In sickbay, Captain Kirk is busy with his physical. After Doctor McCoy stops him, he notices the flashing red alert and contacts the bridge from a terminal, and Spock shows him the cube. Captain Kirk makes his way to the bridge as the alert sounds throughout the ship. McCoy also comments "What am I? A doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?". Then Kirk decides to return to his cabin to change after Spock reports that the object doesn't seem to be a threat.
On the bridge, Lieutenant Bailey is getting annoyed at Spock for hovering over his shoulder.
In his cabin Kirk turns on his desk terminal and orders the department heads to meet him on the bridge. Upset over a lack of action, Bailey wants to attack it, something Captain Kirk is not ready to do just yet.
- "Captain's log, Stardate 1513.8. Star maps reveal no indication of habitable planets nearby. Origin and purpose of the cube still unknown. We've been here, held motionless, for eighteen hours."
All the department heads are assembled in the debriefing room eighteen hours later when Spock suggests two possibilities. Either it's some kind of "buoy", or it is "flypaper". Upon that announcement, Captain Kirk decides it's time for action, which Bailey takes as an order for the phaser crews to arm their stations. But what Kirk meant was for Bailey to plot a spiral course away from the cube.
Back on the bridge, the course is plotted and laid in, but the cube continues to block Enterprise. Captain Kirk then decides to see if the cube will move out of Enterprise's way. On the view screen the cube appears to drift to one side before going right back in front of Enterprise. Seconds after it does, Spock reports radiation starting in the low end of the spectrum and increasing. Quickly Captain Kirk orders a full stop, but still the cube continues closer to Enterprise, approaching 190 meters, and the radiation increases. Captain Kirk has Enterprise go into reverse and the cube keeps coming and the radiation nears the safety level. Captain Kirk orders full reverse speed. As the cube approaches 125 meters, Captain Kirk orders warp speed; as they reach warp two the radiation levels exceed the safety limit and when they hit warp three the amount of radiation hits the lethal level. Finally Captain Kirk reports for the phaser crew to stand ready, and when the crew can only take a few more seconds of the radiation, Kirk orders phaser lock twice after Bailey freezes up. The phasers fire at point blank range.
- "Captain's Log, Stardate, 1514.0. The cube has been destroyed. Ship's damage minor, but my next decision major. Probe on ahead or turn back?"
While Kirk paces around the bridge, Spock reports nothing in any direction, and Kirk asks him whether or not he thinks that the makers of the cube have intelligence different or superior from their own. Kirk then decides to not do the logical thing and press on ahead. He orders Sulu and Bailey to create simulation exercises for the phaser crews and engineering, since he wasn't satisfied with their performance against the cube.
In the turbolift, Kirk and McCoy discuss Bailey's performance, with the doctor believing Kirk promoted Bailey too fast.
In the captain's quarters their drink is interrupted by Spock's report on the exercise evaluation, and again when Kirk's yeoman, Janice Rand insists he have something to eat. After she leaves, Kirk displays a little discomfort about having a female yeoman assigned to him. The second training exercise is interrupted when another object, this one spherical, appears.
As the object becomes visual, Kirk orders speed be cut down to warp two. As Sulu complies, a tractor beam shakes the Enterprise. As the sphere grows larger, the engines come to a full stop and the forward phaser crew gets ready. Kirk orders the magnification decreased, forcing Sulu to do it when Bailey doesn't hear him. At Kirk's request, Uhura opens up hailing frequencies, but no response is given except for on Bailey's navigation beam. The message identifies the sphere as Fesarius, the flagship of the First Federation, and the speaker as her commanding officer, Balok. Balok accuses Enterprise and her crew of not being of a peaceful intent since they destroyed a warning buoy, and considers the destruction of Enterprise. When Captain Kirk tries to explain to Balok what happened, extremely powerful sensor probes invade the Enterprise in all systems and Balok threatens to destroy Enterprise if she makes any move. When she dispatches a recorder marker, Balok destroys it and gives the crew ten minutes to make death preparations. When he realizes that Balok's message was heard all over the ship, Captain Kirk addresses the entire crew and attempt another communication with Fesarius; in response all engine and weapon power is drained and Spock gets a visual of Balok.
Balok informs them they have only eight minutes left. Then Bailey loses control and lets loose with a tirade before the captain relieves him and has Doctor McCoy escort him to his quarters. He then opens up another communication to Balok and explains to it again, but instead of a response, Balok reminds them they have seven minutes left.
Spock mentions chess; when you're checkmated, the game is over. In a side argument with Dr. McCoy, Kirk uses the word "bluff". This immediately gives him another idea: poker. He tells Balok that a substance aboard all Federation vessels called corbomite, undocumented in the Enterprise records, will destroy any attacking ship. Kirk then dares Balok to attack, saying the Fesarius will be destroyed by the corbomite. While they're waiting to see if the bluff will pay off, a calm Bailey returns to the bridge, apologizes to Kirk and asks to return to his post. The captain agrees.
At ten minutes, nothing happens. Balok tells them that the Enterprise's destruction was "delayed" until the First Federation can verify the existence of corbomite. He demands proof, but Kirk refuses. Balok announces that a small ship will tow them to a nearby First Federation planet where their ship will be destroyed and the crew interned. Under tow, Kirk has the Enterprise gradually resist. Just as the Enterprise engines are about to explode from the strain, it breaks free. The alien's ship is heavily damaged and Uhura concludes that its crew is not likely to be rescued. But instead of destroying Balok's ship or simply leaving, Kirk decides to rescue him. He knows it could be a trick, but their mission to explore demands risks.
Kirk, McCoy and Bailey transport to the escort ship where they encounter a fearsome-looking dummy head that they had thought was Balok. They meet the real, child-like Balok. He heartily welcomes them and offers tranya, a drink. He explains that everything was a test to determine their true intentions. Balok then suggests a cultural exchange, and Bailey offers to remain to learn more about them.
- "Captain's log, Stardate 1514.1. The Enterprise is in tow; to this point no resistance has been offered. My plan: a show of resignation. Balok's tractor beam has to be a heavy drain of power on a small ship. Question: Will he grow careless?"
- - McCoy after Kirk leaves sickbay, uttering a variant of his famous catchphrase for the first time
"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."
"It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?"
- - Bailey and Spock
"You try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time."
- - Sulu, to Bailey
"Beats me what makes it go."
"I'll buy speculation."
"I'd sell it if I had any."
- - Scott and Kirk, on Balok's cube
"We've got phaser weapons. I vote we blast it!"
"I'll keep that in mind, Mister Bailey, when this becomes a democracy."
- - Bailey and Kirk, on what to do with the cube
"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?"
"It gives me emotional security."
- - Spock and Kirk, after the cube's destruction
"Aren't you the one that always says a little suffering is good for the soul?"
"I never say that."
- - Kirk and McCoy
"Dr. McCoy, I've heard you say that man is ultimately superior to any mechanical device."
"No, I never say that, either."
"I could have sworn I heard you say that."
- - Kirk and McCoy
"I've already got a female to worry about. Her name's the Enterprise."
- - Kirk to McCoy, on Rand
"Hailing frequencies open, sir."
- - Uhura, uttering her signature catchphrase for the first time
"What are you, robots?! Wound-up toy soldiers?! Don't you know when you're dying?!"
- - Bailey, before being relieved of duty
"You have an annoying fascination for timepieces, Mister Sulu."
- - Scott, as Sulu keeps track of the countdown to destruction
"I have no time for you, your theories, your quaint philosophies."
- - Kirk, to McCoy
"Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker."
- - Kirk, to Spock
"Death has little meaning to us. If it has none to you, then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness."
- - Kirk, to Balok
(Spock shakes his head admiringly)
"However, it was well played."
- - Spock, on Kirk's corbomite bluff
"I regret not having learned more about this Balok. In some manner he was reminiscent of my father."
"Then may heaven have helped your mother."
"Quite the contrary. She considered herself a very fortunate Earth woman."
- - Spock and Scott
"A very interesting game, this poker."
"It does have advantages over chess."
"Love to teach it to you."
- - Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, after Kirk's successful bluff
"Let him sweat for a change."
- - Kirk, on Balok's request for proof of the corbomite device
"You represent Earth's best, then?"
"No, sir, I'm not. I'll make plenty of mistakes."
"But you'd find out more about us that way. And I'd get a better officer in return."
- - Balok, Bailey and Kirk, inside Balok's ship
"We're very much alike, Captain. Both proud of our ships."
- - Balok, giving Kirk, McCoy and Bailey a guided tour of his vessel
- First draft script: 21 April 1966
- Final draft script: 3 May 1966
- Second revised final script: 20 May 1966
- Filming begins 24 May 1966
Even the final draft of this script, dated 3 May 1966, is quite different than the aired version:
- The character of Uhura is not present. Dave Bailey is the communications officer, and he does not "flip out" as he does in the aired episode.
- Lieutenant Ken Easton is the navigator.
- Many bits of character-building are also absent. There are no flypaper, chess or poker analogies – Kirk simply decides to bluff Balok out of the blue.
- The planet where Balok intends to imprison the Enterprise crew is named Carpi.
- There is also no reference in this draft to:
- Kirk's salad
- Curiosity on Spock's part as to what Balok looks like – Balok initiates visual contact with the Enterprise
- Spock's opinion that Balok reminds him of his father or Scotty's retort
Story and script
- A line from Balok warning the crew they had one minute left was not recorded, leaving Sulu to comment, "I knew he would" in response to nothing. (The Star Trek Compendium) The preview has an unused cut of Balok saying, "We grant you one minute" that could be modified and dubbed into the episode.
- Spock confesses an ignorance of poker, and he probably wouldn't enjoy the game since he said in "The Doomsday Machine" that Vulcans do not bluff.
- Part of engineering's location is referred to in this episode. Kirk orders Bailey to coordinate drills with engineering, and Bailey says on two distinct occasions "On the double, Deck 5, give me the green light!" and also "Engineering Deck 5, report! Come on phaser crews, let's get with it!". He could either be referring to an engine room in the saucer on deck 5 or a separate "engineering deck 5" that exists in lower levels (where some of engineering is referenced to be in episodes like "The Enemy Within", "The Conscience of the King", and "Day of the Dove").
- This is one of the few episodes of the original which places a time stamp on the events. It is placed two centuries after mankind's early space explorations, or roughly the late 22nd century. It would later be established in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that these adventures took place in the late 23rd century. Also, in the Star Trek Chronology by Michael Okuda, Okuda states that Gene Roddenberry made a request for a Star Trek timeline while producing The Next Generation, unaware Okuda was already working on such a time line. This chronology was used to firmly establish the calendar date of TNG (2364) and ALL Star Trek dates, including The Original Series, were established using this date. Therefore, it was retroactively established that the original series took place 300 years after its broadcast date, placing this episode in 2266. Obviously, when the Original Series was being filmed the exact time line had yet to be established, but one way to reconcile the dialogue "mistake" is to assume that Kirk was referring not to the Moon landing, but to Zefram Cochrane's warp flight of 2063 – which would put this episode 203 years after that event.) It is also possible that this statement was only part of the bluff.
- When addressing the Fesarius, Kirk identifies his ship as the United Earth Ship Enterprise, nomenclature which was never used again.
- Balok displays a knowledge of Earth popular culture. When discussing the "false" Balok, he referred to it as "the Mr. Hyde to my Dr. Jekyll". However, the methods that Balok employed in this episode actually bore much more similarity to The Wizard of Oz.
Cast and characters
- Leonard McCoy, Janice Rand, and Uhura debut here.
- Sulu has transferred to the command division from the sciences division following his premiere in "Where No Man Has Gone Before". This the first episode in which he occupies his familiar seat at the helm.
- The "tranya" served by Balok was actually grapefruit juice. Clint Howard, who was a little kid at the time, had to pretend very hard to like the drink, which he found distasteful. (TOS Season 1 DVD special features)
- James Doohan's wartime injury to his right hand is briefly visible in the conference room scene when he passes a coffee thermos. Generally this was carefully hidden off-camera, but it can also be seen when he's holding a phaser in "Catspaw" and very briefly in freeze-frame when he's reaching into the box to restrain the evil dog in "The Enemy Within".
- This is the first episode to include pointed sideburns on all of the male crew members.
- Many of the extras credited to the extras list were cut from the final print, including Sean Morgan, Bruce Mars and Stewart Moss.
- In the original version of the series, this was the first episode in which the forward sections of the warp engine nacelles were made to glow, though in the teaser this didn't happen because it seems to have used footage from "The Cage". In the remastered TOS, however, this is no longer true, as the nacelles of the ship are uniformly shown to glow.
- The distinctive bridge sound effects of TOS are first heard in this episode. Early episodes of The Twilight Zone (notably "Execution" from 1960), previously featured this distinctive computer sound.
- The set of Balok's room was a re-dress of the Enterprise conference room set. (Inside Star Trek) It was later recycled to create the bar in "Court Martial" (later reused in "The Trouble with Tribbles"). (The Star Trek Compendium)
- The unique phaser burst that the Enterprise fires at the warning buoy is seen only in this episode.
- The camera shot of the ship being towed by the small First Federation pilot vessel, from a perspective behind the nacelles, was re-used countless times in future episodes, with different ships or planets matted in. When it was used later, it was often slowed down, which made it much more grainy than the clear print in this episode.
- Although we never learn the specific dimensions of the Enterprise during the series, it is established visually to be bigger than the cube, which Sulu says is 107 meters on each side.
- This episode contains a number of "firsts" for the costume department. Although some of the pilots' uniforms were seen on background extras, this is the first episode in which black collars on tunics debut. Nevertheless, some of the uniforms–particularly Spock's–have higher, loose, "turtleneck" black collars than would generally appear throughout the series. In Sulu's first close-up, the zipper built into the collar is clearly visible – because he was wearing a "leftover" from the first two pilots that was retrofitted, not quite expertly, with the new black collar.
- Additionally, "The Corbomite Maneuver" saw the initial appearance of skirt uniforms, as well as "plunging neckline" collars for most women. Red operations division tunics were also seen for the first time here, as was the silk, short-sleeved "laboratory" tunic for the CMO. The system of sleeve rank insignia was also more refined in this episode than it had been in either pilot. Noticeably, Kirk first wore the insignia he would display throughout the series, and the rank stripes themselves took on a more wavy, stylized design than the simple bands they had been in the previous pilots, complete with broken bits of braid to denote the ranks of lieutenant j.g., lieutenant commander, and captain.
- Finally, beginning with this episode, the men's uniforms featured a "raglan" construction, like that found in crewneck sweaters, with the tops of the sleeves reaching all the way up to the collar. In the two previous pilots, the uniform sleeves were constructed like those in men's dress shirts, with their tops ending at the shoulder.
- Despite the introduction of the red operations division tunic in this episode, Uhura is seen in a gold command division uniform both here and in "Mudd's Women". She also incongruously wears a sciences division assignment patch, rather than the appropriate command "star".
- In addition, in the bridge scene following the destruction of Balok's cube, several crew members who are repairing the damage can be seen wearing blue uniforms without black collars that were left over from the pilots.
- When Kirk leaves sickbay, he throws his uniform shirt over his shoulders; the tunic has only two solid gold rank stripes. In the turbolift and changing in his quarters, his tunic has the 2½ stripe marking.
- When McCoy enters the bridge right after Balok announced the impending destruction of the Enterprise, he is wearing a standard sciences division uniform. But in later shots he is shown in the short-sleeved tunic, having not left the bridge or have any opportunity to change his clothing during that time. But when he takes Bailey to his quarters he's back in the standard uniform which he remains in for the rest of the episode.
Sets and props
- There are detailed close-ups of some of the engineering station read-outs in this episode.
- There are signs of this being an early production, such as a bridge chair squeaking rather loudly near the end of the episode (when Uhura is listening in on Balok's distress call), as well as hearing the ship doors, made of wood, slide on the stage floor as they open and close. Stage noises were edited out of later episodes.
- The panel seen behind Balok when Kirk, McCoy and Bailey first beam aboard the pilot ship was cannibalized from the main panel in the Enterprise engineering room.
- When Kirk reports to the bridge from the turbolift, a rare camera angle from the elevator illustrates the panel to the right of the main viewscreen, and the two bridge consoles to the left of the science station. These sections were usually rolled out (off-screen) to facilitate filming the navigation console and Spock's station. Like "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the turbolift has double doors (the inner is gray; the outer is red), like modern elevators. This feature was later eliminated, probably because it was too cumbersome to maintain.
- The "screen-saver" animation on the main bridge viewscreen from "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is just barely visible over Bailey's shoulder during the repair scene after the battle with the cube buoy.
- The colors of the cube buoy reflect on the railings at the front of the bridge. When this perspective was later re-used as the stock view screen shot for the next three seasons, the reflecting lights still showed up on the railings. (A new stock shot of the viewscreen was made in the middle of the second season.)
- Also filmed for this episode (by associate producer Robert H. Justman) was George Takei's reaction shot in which he turned around and looked at Kirk, reused in dozens of future episodes whenever something strange appeared on the viewscreen. A similar clip was filmed of Walter Koenig during season two. (Inside Star Trek)
- This was the first regular episode of Star Trek: The Original Series produced following the two pilots.
- It was also the first episode to feature Kirk's famous "Space--the final frontier" monologue in the opening credits.
- A front-on close-up of Balok, without the rippling distortion of his image as seen on the main viewing screen, was the final shot of past episodes that was displayed in many of the series' end credits. In Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Robert Justman explained that he superimposed the credit "Executive in Charge of Production Herbert F. Solow" over Balok's image as an in-joke. Justman later secured a screen grab of the shot and kept it in his home office, in what he called the "cheapest, junkiest black frame" he could find.
- This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1967 as "Best Dramatic Presentation".
- In the 1970s, the Mego toy company used Balok's "puppet head" to create "The Keeper" action figure doll (despite Balok not being Talosian).
- At the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30, 2010, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert referred to this episode by name after riffing on the dangers of "corbomite" in bottled water; they also mentioned Uhura's incongruous uniform, as described above. 
- The remastered version of this episode premiered in syndication the weekend of 9 December 2006. New shots of the Enterprise, the pilot vessel, the Fesarius and the warning cube were rendered. As a "tip of the hat" to the original episode, the opening shot of the Enterprise for the remastered version was the same as seen on the view screen in the remastered version of "The Menagerie, Part I" and "The Menagerie, Part II" (except the CGI model was modified to match the rest of the episode, with the smaller antenna dish, the spinning nacelle domes and the lack of spires on them).
In the original version of this episode, when Sulu announces there is one minute left on the timer, the timer actually reads: "2:02...2:01...1:00 (the two-minute marker changes to one as the one-second marker changes to zero) ...1:59". In the remastered version, this apparent error is corrected by the insertion of an entirely redesigned chronometer.
- The next remastered episode to air was "Friday's Child".
Video and DVD releases
- Original US Betamax release: 1985.
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 2, catalog number VHR 2210, release date unknown.
- As part of the UK Star Trek - The Three Beginnings VHS collection: 31 January 1994.
- US VHS release: 15 April 1994.
- As part of the UK Star Trek - The Four Beginnings VHS collection: release date unknown.
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 1.1, 24 June 1996.
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 1, 17 August 1999.
- As part of the TOS Season 1 DVD collection.
- As part of the TOS Season 1 HD DVD collection.
- As part of the TOS Season 1 Blu-ray collection.
Links and references
- DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy
- Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Rand
- George Takei as Sulu
- James Doohan as Scott
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Ted Cassidy as the voice of the Balok's puppet
- Frank da Vinci as Brent
- John Fifer as Balok's puppeteer 
- Jeannie Malone as a yeoman
- Eddie Paskey as Leslie
- Walker Edmiston as the voice of Balok
- Ron Veto as Harrison
- Unknown actor as Bobby
- George Bochman as a crewman
- Gloria Calomee as a crew woman
- John Gabriel as a crewman
- Ena Hartman as a crew woman
- Mittie Lawrence as a crew woman
- Jonathan Lippe as a crewman
2255; adrenaline gland; Balok's cube; Balok's pilot vessel; chess; coffee; condition alert/general alert; Template:ShipClass; corbomite; deflectors; deity; democracy; diet card; directional beam; Earth; electromagnetic spectrum; evasive maneuvers; Fesarius; First Federation; flagship; flypaper; galley; hand phaser; intermix chamber; lettuce; life sciences; light speed; meter; metric ton; mile; moon shuttle conductor; mothership; navigation beam; oxygen; phaser gun; photograph; poker; puppet; quarterly physical; radiation; recorder marker; robot; salad; space buoy; spectrograph; star map; star mapping; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The; timepiece; toy soldier; tractor beam; tranya; warning buoy
| Previous episode produced:|
"Where No Man Has Gone Before"
| Star Trek: The Original Series|
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| Previous episode aired:|
"Dagger of the Mind"
| Next episode aired:|
"The Menagerie, Part I"
| Previous remastered episode aired:|
"The Menagerie, Part II"
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