Discussion in 'Star Trek - Original Series' started by Coloratura, Mar 4, 2009.
Back and forth. Kirk & Co. were doing it, as well as the Romulans.
TOS - Balance of Terror
I think Balance of Terror is an excellent early TOS episode. I just watched it again and marveled at some of the strong points. However, a number of flaws jumped out at me again, some of which have been mentioned already.
Here's my "gripe list" on this episode:
* We never really get an idea of how the Enterprise keeps on tracking the Romulan cloaked vessel. If it is invisible both visually and to sensors, all they need to do is change course from the last trajectory and the Enterprise will be sailing off on the wrong course. We see this happen in the "Enterprise Incident". Certainly that happens when they pass through the comet tail and then change course. Kirk has Sulu change course, returning to the previous heading towards the neutral zone and then fire phasers. The Romulan commander should have changed to an alternate course, still towards the Neutral Zone, but not the same as the previous heading. But they don't and then random phaser fire clips them.
* The concept of what phasers are haven't been totally ironed out by this episode. We really see them launching photon torpedoes, which have the ability to have "detonation" settings (unlike the phasers we see later, which are just uni-directional energy beams). And so they "explode" near the Romulan vessel like depth charges dropped in the ocean to hit a submarine.
* When the Romulan ship is hit, we see all kinds of dust like debris fall from the ceiling. WTF? They use plaster or particle board type panels in the ceiling?? This is a space craft. If anything, show sparks from a circuit short out, something we see happen on the bridge of the Enterprise quite often. We never see dust and debris falling from the bridge ceiling! Of course, the large conduit coming loose and killing the Centurian is believable.
* Romulan ship engines are only impulse power? This really surprised me. If the Romulan ship comes in range, the Enterprise with its warp speed capability can just run circles around it and stay out of the path of its weapon.
* Suddenly everybody on the bridge has to be "quiet", for the fear of giving away their position. Ummmmm... that's only if you broadcast a radio signal. There's no fluid in space (air or water) to provide any means of conveying sound. Rather silly... I would have liked it to be some kind of electrical activity sensing (not sound) that would give an opportunity to be sensed.
* The Romulans fire their limited range weapon at the Enterprise. So, the Enterprise goes into full reverse to try "outrunning" it. This isn't a network of roads they travel on. The Enterprise could easily go in any 3D direction. Why continue traveling in the path of the Romulan weapon? It would have been more believable if there was some kind of "heat sensing" incorporated into it, that would continue following the Enterprise no matter which course it took. Remember in the Corbomite Maneuver when the Enterprise tried to veer around the cube... a similar tactic could have been used. Just keep the weapon following and you've eliminated that "easy out".
* The phaser coolant leak. It's very obvious to Stiles. Tomlinson sees it too. And yet, moments later, they're lying on the floor unconscious due to the gas. Nobody thought to open the door, or at least sound the alarm? Heck, even grab the front of your shirt to use as a makeshift filter, but get to that phaser button and push it!
Of course, this was an early Star Trek episode. We have to give it some leeway. It is one of the better episodes at that, despite all of these glaring flaws.
This would be somewhat intuitive to those watching the episode from the "destroyer vs. submarine" standpoint. Spock is able to track the enemy whenever he makes a course correction; this is analogous to a submarine being silent and invisible when not maneuvering much, but being acoustically observable when forced to turn rapidly or to accelerate. The passive acoustic fix wouldn't give much resolution for aiming the antisub weapons, which is why our heroes would need to fire blindly and inefficiently, and our villains would stand a chance.
In essence, what the enemy cannot do is change course!
In the "destroyer vs. sub" analogy, the destroyer would be equipped with dedicated antisub weapons, such as depth charges or ASW rockets. However, the plot of this episode dictates that the hero ship carry no such weaponry - at the beginning of the episode, they don't even know that "submarines" exist! Thus, it makes dramatic sense that they have to use phasers. The plot would have lost some of its internal logic if a new weapon had been introduced here; it was possible to introduce photon torpedoes in "Arena" without dramatic implications, but doing so in "Balance of Terror" would have messed up things.
And why wouldn't a spacecraft use those materials? They're lightweight, they're great for covering annoying kinks and complex shapes in the structure (which a compact spacecraft would have aplenty), and there exists something of a requirement for covering those kinks (spacecraft air circulation has to be carefully managed, and shape-altering covers are good for that).
I guess alternate materials would exist. Whether they would be used instead is anybody's guess. Today's spacecraft would have to use even lighter structures because of the expense of having mass, but that wouldn't affect the Trek starships with their ample performance. Today's spacecraft would also be crippled by dust circulating in zero gee, but Trek starships don't have zero gee and probably don't use electronics that could be damaged by dust.
And why should we think the weapon was not following them? Granted, a single line to that effect might have been helpful - but the audiences were versed in the concept of guided weapons, and could easily slip into the analogy of our heroes being hunted by a pack of hellhounds or whatever, even without verbal prompting.
To be sure, we don't know how quickly the gas incapacitates humans. The phaser crew might have seen harmless steam billowing out of a valve - and suddenly there's some coolant vapor in it, and everybody drops to the floor, paralyzed. Spock's inhuman physiology might have helped him operate in the gas, coughing and wheezing, whereas a human could do no such thing.
Reminds me of the old joke:
"How far away is the enemy?"
"Two miles, Captain."
"Two miles? Then why are we whispering?"
"I don't know about you, sir, but I've got laryngitis!"
Well, there may not have been any Romulan spies aboard the Enterprise, but we know for sure there were Romulan spies aboard the Romulan ship!
So help me, this actually happened to me.
I think when they said the Romulan ship only had "Impulse" power, they didn't mean that they didn't have Impulse Drive only and no warp otherwise the ship never would have gotten to the Neutral Zone outposts to begin with.
In this episode, I think "Impulse" was just supposed to be a term referring to an FTL power that was inferior to anti-matter. Not that they didn't have FTL but that theirs was weaker than the Feds.
That used to bother me. I'm guessing it was a script error. But in universe, maybe the power to cloak was so great, they could not travel at warp while cloaked.
But the thing is, they did travel at warp when cloaked. They ran away from Kirk's warp three attack under cloak...
Either the "their power is simple impulse"/"meaning we can outrun them" dialogue thus means that simple impulse power allows for warp speeds, or then the first part of that dialogue was simply in error.
And why shouldn't it be? Why should Scotty know anything about how a Romulan ship's engines are put together? He didn't figure out the Orion attackers in "Journey to Babel" or uncover the secrets of the Eymorg ship in "Spock's Brain", either. There are two obvious reasons why Scotty might fail to observe the presence of a warp powerplant:
a) It was too alien to him. And we know Romulans have alien powerplants, the artificial quantum singularities of TNG and DS9 fame.
b) It was turned off when Scotty had a chance to observe the Romulan ship. And Scotty saw the ship only when she was firing that plasma weapon; quite possibly the firing of the weapon is only possible when the warp drive is turned off.
That Scotty made an error would not be a big blemish in his record. Nobody would remind him of it during the action, either: everybody could see that the enemy was running away FTL, so the only point of making such a comment would be to ridicule Scotty. Which of our heroes would want to do that?
And the even simpler explanation: The writers of Trek hadn't hammered down yet that Impulse was sublight speed for a Starship, and when this episode was written it meant something else.
Quite so - but unlike the previous two explanations, this one doesn't work in the greater context of the Star Trek universe.
We might well postulate some period in the history of that universe where impulse drives were FTL, either because the technology was different, or because the terminology was. But that period shouldn't contain "Balance of Terror" or the rest of TOS, because impulse drive there was established as STL in the general sense.
Balance of Terror still holds up extremely well, despite some rather (to us Trekkers) glaring continuity issues. The script may not have been perfect, but it's still a great story that more than overcomes the flaws.
They really aren't continuity errors per se, it's just that they became errors later on.
It is a good story, still.
What flaws, and what continuity issues? The series was only a few episodes old, there wasn't a hell of a lot of continuity to follow.
Totally agree. That was kind of the point I was driving at, but didn't make it very well.
I don't tend to sweat the continuity issues in the early episodes, but... We might get a little wiggle room for Scotty if we focus on the power being impulse, rather than the propulsion. That is to say, the Romulans are generating power for their warp drive with systems (fusion?) similar to Enterprise's impulse engines, rather than the anti-matter annihilation of Enterprise's warp engines. This could mean a lower top speed overall, or an endurance problem that Enterprise could overcome in a long chase.
The real reason for the line, of course, is to preserve the tradition of the speed advantage of the destroyer over the U-boat.
Ha ha, they pinched this from the old submarine war movies.
Balance of Terror was awesome; a terrific episode that set the bar for later episodes. Being that it was set so early in the series, it's not surprising that it is a little rough around the edges. All the series went through growing pains as they struggled to define themselves. It's a shame that BOT wasn't filmed later after they had gotten the kinks out but it is what it is.
The "phasers" were definitely inconsistent with what we saw later and the requirement to fire them from a remote location from the bridge was even worse. Oh, well.
Scotty's comment about their power being simple impulse is unfortunate but easily dismissed as their power source being from fusion rather than matter/antimatter reactors. It's poor terminology but no worse than our current use of terms like, "blood relatives" instead of "gene relatives" more than half a century after the discovery of DNA.
...Hell, for all we know, "simple impulse" is a popular if mild insult in the 23rd century, rather than a technical term. Sort of like a task or an expense being "peanuts".
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