|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.10 “The Corbomite Maneuver” – (Original air date: Thursday, November 10, 1966)


Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

  • Since TOS is kind of like a time capsule all on its own, I thought I’d begin to include an “on this day in history” portion of the show notes. On this exact day, not a whole lot of real interest. But. . .on the previous Sunday, November 6, 1966, the television network NBC televised the first-ever entire lineup in color. Star Trek was definitely a part of that lineup, and was certainly a colorful show. If you ever wondered why there were so many bright primary colors in TOS, just remember that color TV was in its infancy.
  • Even if I remembered watching this episode when it aired, it wouldn’t have been in color for me. I don’t think my family owned a color television until the 1970s. I do remember watching the syndicated series in color after school, though.
  • Even though this episode was the tenth one to air, it was the third produced. Which, after the two filmed “pilots” makes this the first regular series episode. When you watch them in release date order, it immediately feels different than the episodes immediately preceding it.
  • It occurs to me that I’ve wanted a large wall-mounted flatscreen TV—just like the one the U.S.S. Enterprise bridge crew is looking at in every episode—since I first watched these Trek episodes on my family’s floor-model analog console television while lying on the living room floor.
  • The bridge viewscreen is some sort of monitor, right? I mean, it’s not a window. When Kirk is talking to various alien types, they always project the image on the viewscreen. On the latest Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, it seems like the forward screen is actually a window. Of course, they communicate a lot through holograms on that show. Just like they do in the Star Wars universe.
  • Some of the camera angles in this opening scene seem strange. Also, Uhura looks odd in the gold uniform. Isn’t she usually in red? There’s someone different at the navigator’s position as well. I don’t know his name yet, but he’s not John Farrell. Sulu is at helm, though, so at least that’s correct. He’s not off playing with plants or astrophysics or something.
  • A large glowing cube keeps blocking the ship’s path. We know they are in a previously uncharted region of space because Spock and New Navigator Guy were just saying they’ve been out there for three days mapping the area and that they are the first ship to reach this far.
  • The navigator is named Bailey. Spock uses his name when he tells “Mister Bailey” that it’s unnecessary to raise his voice over his cube-induced excitement. Sulu broadcasts a “condition alert” to all decks. And that’s the end of a fairly weak teaser.
  • Opening credits and Shatner monologue. Boldly going and all that stuff.
  • While Spock is in charge of the bridge, Captain James T. Kirk is in sick bay getting his quarterly physical from Dr. Leonard McCoy. This is another of our early “shirtless Kirk” scenes, and William Shatner is in good physical shape.
  • Kirk learns about the cube. Spock says it’s more of a device of some sort, instead of a vessel. Kirk is unconcerned enough that he’s going to change clothes before coming to the bridge.
  • The ship’s corridor that Kirk walks down on his way to his quarters is one of the most crowded we’ve seen in a while. Kirk still hasn’t put on a shirt. It’s wrapped around his neck, and it looks like the green uniform tunic that I hate.
  • Back on the bridge, Mister Bailey seems to be getting more lines than any other character besides Spock. Maybe he was meant to be a regular. The actor playing Bailey resembles the Professor from Gilligan’s Island. I know it’s not him, but he does resemble him.
  • When Kirk puts on his shirt, it looks like the gold one. Yay! I celebrate all victories, large and small.
  • When Kirk comes onto the bridge, the cube is still there, rotating like a big screensaver on a computer terminal. Each side measures 107 meters, roughly the length of an American football field, including the end zones. So, not exactly small.
  • In case you’re wondering, as I did, this is approximately one-thirtieth the size of the known Borg cube dimensions. So, not exactly large either.
  • Scotty has no idea how the cube moves. Kirk says he’ll buy speculation. Scotty quips that he’d sell it if he had any. Everyone’s a smartass today.
  • Bailey points out that they have phaser weapons and he votes that they blast the cube. Kirk says he’ll keep that in mind when this becomes a democracy. See? Everyone.
  • Okay, I know that Bailey isn’t coming across as a likeable character. He’s overly cocky, for starters, and seems inexperienced. But, so far, all the senior officers seem to be busting his balls. Spock recommended that he have his adrenal gland removed. Kirk reminds him now, none too gently, that he doesn’t get a vote here. Kind of harsh. Like a hazing.
  • The colorful rotating screensaver holds them hostage for eighteen hours. Exciting stuff.
  • Spock says the object is a space buoy of some kind, or flypaper. He doesn’t recommend sticking around. This joke falls a little flat in an era where you don’t see flypaper used that often.
  • When Kirk says it’s time for action, Mister Bailey automatically assumes this means using his idea to blow the cube up and is contacting the Phaser Gun Crew before Kirk countermands him. Kirk is short with Bailey once again, ordering him to plot a spiral course away from the cube.
  • This doesn’t work, of course. Not only can they not get away from the cube, but the cube also begins emitting radiation that quickly reaches dangerous levels. Before they can all be killed, Bailey’s idea to destroy the cube is used. This is the first time in the series that the Enterprise fires her phasers.
  • Bailey hesitated to lock phasers on the cube, so Kirk uses a harsh tone with the navigator. I’m beginning to think Bailey is going to be a major part of this episode. He’s become everyone’s favorite whipping boy.
  • Kirk orders the phaser crew and engineering to conduct drills because he was unhappy with their response time to the attack. Bailey is tasked with supervising the drills.
  • As they enter the turbolift, McCoy expresses his doubts about Bailey’s fitness as navigator. He thinks Kirk promoted him too fast because he may have seen something of himself in the young man. Bailey sounds too emotional over comms as he leads the drills as well; McCoy points this out. Kirk dismisses McCoy’s concerns.
  • As Kirk and McCoy share a drink in the captain’s quarters, Spock calls with the score on the drills: 94 percent. Kirk tells him to try for 100.
  • Yeoman Rand comes in and brings Kirk some food. Kirk objects to what Rand calls a “dietary salad.” It seems Kirk’s weight was up a couple of pounds during his physical and McCoy ordered his “dietary card” changed.
  • When Rand leaves, Kirk complains about being assigned a female yeoman. McCoy asks Kirk what’s the matter, doesn’t he trust himself with her? Kirk says he already has a female in his life, and her name is Enterprise. It feels like we’ve already been over this.
  • After Bailey orders a second drill to improve their score, Sulu interrupts and says that another, larger object is approaching the ship, and this isn’t a drill.
  • This time the object is a large disco ball that Spock estimates is a mile in diameter. The large, round object seems to be formed of many smaller, round objects. More like a popcorn ball than a disco ball, I guess.
  • The popcorn ball traps the Enterprise in a tractor beam, causing Kirk to order a full stop on the engines before they burn out.
  • Uhura tells Kirk that hailing frequencies are open, sir, for what may be the first time, and Kirk transmits this awkward message: “This is the United Earth ship Enterprise. We convey greetings and await your reply.”
  • United Earth ship? What’s up with that?
  • Bailey, who has one of those stainless steel honey spoons in his ear, picks up the message from the popcorn ball before our communications person Uhura. He says the message is coming across his navigation beam.
  • The voice on the message is Ted Cassidy’s, who was Lurch on The Addams Family (as well as Thing), and most recently was the giant robot Ruk in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”
  • The message coming over Bailey’s navigation beam identifies the speaker as Balok, Commander of the flagship Fesarius of the First Federation. Balok is upset because the Enterprise destroyed the warning buoy deployed by the First Federation, and now they were going to decide the disposition of the ship and the life forms on board.
  • You’re forgiven if you find yourself confused by all this “First Federation” talk. It would have been less confusing in 1966, because the concept of the United Federation of Planets wasn’t introduced until the twenty-third episode of the season, in “A Taste of Armageddon.” In this episode, I guess the ship and crew are representatives of United Earth. A spacefaring United Nations, I suppose.
  • Kirk attempts to smooth-talk his way out of this jam, but Commander Balok isn’t having any of it. He says no further communication will be accepted and, if there is the slightest hostile move, the vessel will be destroyed immediately.
  • The Fesarius is able to control the Enterprise‘s systems remotely, proving that these First Federation types are indeed a superior race. Most of the alien races encountered in these early Trek episodes seem to be.
  • Displaying an attitude that seems more defeatist than we ever see from James T. Kirk, he orders Bailey to dispatch a recorder marker so that other ships can be warned about the First Federation, to learn from their mistake.
  • Bailey, who seems more shaken by their predicament than any other bridge crewmember, has to be given the order to send the recorder marker twice.
  • The Fesarius destroys the recorder marker after it is dispatched. Then Balok announces that the ship must be destroyed also. Balok says he assumes they have a deity or deities or some beliefs that comfort them (which is about as much religion as we get on Trek until DS9), so he grants the crew of the Enterprise ten Earth minutes to make their final preparations.
  • Kirk delivers a speech to the entire crew of the ship, telling everyone to remain calm. Then, to Balok, he communicates their intention to leave and return to where they came from. Balok has control of the engines, however, and the ship is going nowhere.
  • Because Spock is curious about what Balok looks like (isn’t curiosity a type of emotion?), he gets a wavy, distorted image of the First Federation commander on the viewscreen. Yes, still looks fake, as it should. None of the later CGI budget was used to improve this special effect.
  • Balok tells them that they’re wasting time and effort. They now have only eight Earth minutes left.
  • This is Bailey’s cue to fully freak out. He can’t understand why everyone’s just sitting around calmly. Kirk ends up relieving him of duty and asking McCoy to escort him to his quarters. I guess McCoy was right about Bailey.
  • We have a ticking clock established, which always ratchets up the tension. Sulu keeps announcing how much time they all have left as well.
  • Kirk is beating himself up because he thinks there’s something he can do, something he’s overlooked. Spock suggests that they are in Checkmate. In chess, when you’re outmatched, the game is over.
  • But, chess isn’t the game that inspires Kirk at the moment. A stray comment from McCoy about bluffing makes him think about poker. Trek has a long history with poker, and here is where it starts.
  • After Balok announces that they have two minutes remaining, Kirk tells the alien about the substance known as corbomite being used in all Earth vessels since the early years of space exploration. It causes any attacker using destructive energy against them to be destroyed by a reverse reaction of equal strength.
  • This is a bluff, of course. As in poker. The best hand doesn’t always win, and this is the only tactic Kirk has available to him.
  • The clock runs out, but the Enterprise hasn’t been destroyed. Commander Balok sends a smaller vessel from the giant popcorn ball. He’s going to use the tractor beam to tow the Enterprise to a habitable planet in their system.
  • Kirk drains the power from the smaller vessel by using their own engines to try to escape the pull of the tractor beam. The engines are blown on the smaller alien vessel and its life support systems aren’t operating. Balok is attempting to send a distress signal to the Fesarius, but the signal is growing weak.
  • Kirk decides to beam over to the smaller vessel with McCoy and Bailey, to save Balok’s life, in accordance with their mission statement. Why they didn’t just lock onto Balok and beam him over to the Enterprise is anyone’s guess.
  • The Balok from the viewscreen image famously turns out to have been a fake, a dummy or puppet of some kind. The real Balok is played by five-year-old Clint Howard. Howard would go on to improve human-bear relations in the series Gentle Ben, and would continue to be a working actor to this day. He’s been in literally dozens of movies, and not all of them were directed by his older brother, Ron Howard.
  • It turns out that all the threats and the countdown were just Balok testing the crew to discover their true intentions. Another bluff, you might say. Balok is actually a friendly little alien. He offers them a drink called tranya.
  • Balok has no crew and runs everything, the entire glowing popcorn ball, from his small ship. He suggests that one of Kirk’s crew could join him for a period of time, so that they can each learn about the other’s culture.
  • Of course, Bailey volunteers for this duty. He already has a reputation as a screwup on the Enterprise, so why not? To my knowledge, Bailey never comes back except maybe in some extended universe stories.

The Corbomite Maneuver” is a highly-regard episode of TOS by many Trekkies. I like it as well, even though I think it drags and there’s too little happening throughout. If this had actually been the first regular episode to air this might have been more forgiveable since we are supposed to be meeting all of these characters for the first time. The ending, and the Balok dummy, are now iconic Trek moments.

I’m feeling generous this morning, so I’ll give this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars. It doesn’t quite make my All-Time-Best Trek list, but remains watchable and entertaining.

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