Star Trek: The Original Series episode 10 review

Our look at The Original Series in high definition moves onto a favourite episode: The Corbomite Maneuver...

Episode: 10Title: The Corbomite ManeuverStar Date: 1512.2Writer: Jerry SohlFirst Shown: 10th November 1966

The stardate on The Corbomite Maneuver (or even Manoeuvre) would actually make this one of the Enterprise’s earliest adventures, and this was the first regular series production after the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Quite why they held this back until later in the season, I’ve no idea, because it’s an absolute cracker that attempts to explain the dangers that face deep space explorers, while offering political comment on the stalemate that America and the USSR had perpetuated since the end of the second world war.

It was written by science fiction scriptwriter Jerry Sohl, who also produced some excellent work for The Invaders, The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. He’d go on to write This Side Of Paradise in season one, and then Whom Gods Destroy in the third and final season.

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The story is a deceptively simple one. The Enterprise encounters a space marker, which when they try to go past it refuses to move out of the way. At first this seems amusing, but soon they realise the device is actually dangerous in addition to being plain irritating.

But that’s not the only problem Kirk has. He’s also got a complete idiot in the right hand console position, Lieutenant Bailey. He gets annoyed at Spock, wants to fire phasers at anything they meet and needs orders repeating at least twice.

Eventually, when all else fails and the probe starts to irradiate them, Kirk finally decides to shoot it. But that then triggers the appearance of a huge ship, the Fesarius, flagship of the First Federation. Clearly overmatched, the commander of the ship informs the crew of the Enterprise that they’ve got 10 minutes to make peace with whatever deity they follow before they’re destroyed. The sense of impending doom is enhanced by the image of alien commander Balok which Spock manages to retrieve.

This in Trek terms is a Kobayashi Maru, or no-win situation. But Kirk doesn’t actually believe in that possibility and decides instead to tell Balok that the Enterprise is equipped with Corbomite, a technology that redirects any attacking energy back onto those using it. The bluff partially works, and the aliens dispatch a much smaller vehicle to tow the Enterprise to a distant planet to be imprisoned.

Sensing an opportunity, they nearly blow up the engines of the Enterprise breaking away from the tractor beam, damaging the smaller ship in the process. They beam over to the vessel to provide assistance only to discover that it’s piloted by a single child-sized alien who offers them a drink of ‘Tranya’ and chat. After they’ve got over the surprise of finding Balok is, in fact, Clint Howard, younger brother of Ron Howard, they decide to organise a cultural exchange. And to the relief of Kirk, and probably everyone else on the Enterprise, Lieutenant Bailey volunteers. Unsurprisingly, he’s never heard from again in Trek history.

This is a fun story with an exceptionally neat twist, which confronts the audience’s expectations about an enemy they can’t see or understand. In terms of representing the Russian and American relationship of the time, the parallels of threat and counter-threat, misinformation and deception aren’t subtle, but the underlying message about how stupid conflict is was succinctly put.

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The director here, Joseph Sargent was probably one of the most experienced TV and film professionals that worked on the original series. He’d been a writer and director of the Lassie TV series in the early 60s and an actor before that. In the 70s he went more into film work, and directed the superbly paced The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. This was his only Trek story, and he delivered his usually high standards of storytelling here.

In the Blu-ray remastered release this is the most impressive one I’ve seen so far, as the story is quite effects heavy and they’ve done some wonderful work in making them substantially more impressive. In the original version the Fesarius looks like a badly wired ball of light bulbs (which it probably was), while in the new effects we get so see a much more impressive structure and appreciate its massive scale. If you wanted to show someone some of the excellent work done in remastering TOS, then this is the one to show them.

Next is the one and only double episode of the original series, The Menagerie. This clever reworking of the failed Cage pilot creates something rather special, in addition to saving the show tons of money.