While there are many examples I can cite to the original series of Star Trek not being the masterpiece some people think it was, there are many episodes that stand up to this day as great. Sadly people failed to remember who wrote and directed this episode and fed into Roddenberry’s growing ego -a result that would have disastrous repercussions later on. But that’s not what we’re talking about, were talking about the first appearance of the Romulans.
Written by Paul Schneider and directed by Vincent McEveety Balance of Terror was the first appearance in the franchise of the Romulan race. It features a tense naval battle in space between two captains that only ever communicate just before the other has died. Both captains know the ramifications of the actions of the Romulans as even the Romulan captain played by very talented Mark Lenard (so talented they brought him back to play Sarek, Spock’s father) does not relish in the success of his mission as he knows once he goes back it will be used as justification for a new war and many people being sent to their deaths, yet is still firm in his duty.
The episode thus bears resemblance to the ship battles in Wrath of Khan as it is ship on ship combat with them trying to out manoeuvre each other. Though while Wrath of Khan was played as overcoming a superior foe by taking advantage of tactics that said foe didn’t this is a full on match of equals, both trying to predict the movements of the other. The ships are both the top of their forces technology at the time but outfitted very differently. Very much does it play like a naval story of a hunt for a submarine, made all the more fitting given the Romulan craft’s cloaking device also first seen in this episode.
It’s not just the naval battle that is a major point of this episode though. Since in the back-story it’s mentioned that during the Earth Romulan war they never directly met each other, when the first image of a Romulan shows they are almost identical in appearance to Vulcans. Lieutenant Stiles, a navigator on the Enterprise has consistent suspicions of Spock. Not enough to hamper his work as he’s repeatedly told by Kirk to restrain any bigotry currently being held. The story plays the friction interestingly as Spock agrees with some of Stiles suggestions on actions against the Romulan ship as being the most logical given knowledge of his own race’s past.
This is one of the truly great episodes of the original series and easy to see while its presence helps people forget all about the many examples of god like energy beings and alternate earths that Roddenberry’s own writing was full of ( go on look it up, 2 episodes after they said such a thing was impossible there was another Earth). You have a tense naval battle between two captains each with different strengths and weaknesses as they use them to ether incite or stop a war.