Star Trek: The Original Series

“The Corbomite Maneuver”

2.5 stars.

Air date: 11/10/1966
Written by Jerry Sohl
Directed by Joseph Sargent

Review Text

Traveling into uncharted space, the Enterprise encounters a mysterious alien probe. When the probe poses a threat, Kirk is forced to destroy it, much to the ire of the apparently superior alien race that created it. The alien commander, Balok, subsequently sentences the Enterprise to destruction for trespassing in their space.

Every element is in place to make "Corbomite" a big winner: The mysterious alien ship is intimidating through its immensity and its implacable commander; watching Kirk under such a high-pressure situation gives us the chance to learn a great deal about his poker-game tactics; and crewman Bailey (Anthony Hall) cracking under pressure is certainly a relevant story piece. Unfortunately, it all goes on just a little too long. Under Joseph Sargent's uneven direction, the initial suspense gives way to repetition until the whole crisis runs out of steam. The games with the tractor beam just can't sustain the energy level that the initial countdown to annihilation promised.

The ending, where it turns out Commander Balok (a 7-year-old Clint Howard) was testing the Enterprise crew, is still a neat twist—but it can't quite make up for the pedestrian execution in the latter passages of the plot.

Previous episode: Dagger of the Mind
Next episode: The Menagerie

Like this site? Support it by buying Jammer a coffee.

◄ Season Index

Comment Section

67 comments on this post

    I have to disagree here, this is one of my favorite episodes. Not quite 4 star, but at least a strong 3. I think it manages to maintain its steam throughout, and the plot twist / ending sequence was very good. And of course seeing Kirk under pressure and coming up with the "corbomite" trick, nicely paralleling Balok's own tricks. Very well done.

    Sure some parts fall into the cliche category (It Was All A Test and Countdown to Doom, for instance), but they're *good*, well-executed cliches, which are different from bad clichés.

    This is one of my favorite episodes as well. The only real weakness I see is the last sequence with Baby Balok (although Clint Howard is always a treat).

    I've read reviews commenting that the pace was too slow, but "slow" is a pretty relative term. There's not a lot of action in it, but there's a lot of tension, and a decent amount of humor. In addition, there are many excellent Kirk-Spock-McCoy moments, and those are ultimately why I watch so obsessively.

    And I like to see Kirk being bold and taking chances, even counterintuitive ones. I always feel like Spock is watching and learning and with every move Kirk is solidifying the love and trust the crew has for him. Compare the reactions of Bailey and Sulu in this episode, for example. Sulu demonstrates complete trust in Kirk, while Bailey doesn't have the experience to know that he can count on Kirk's leadership.

    And I bet that Spock would be the world's best poker player.

    This episode really made me notice the trend in this series of providing gratuitous closeups of actors faces to show their response to a given situation. I don't know if this was unique to star trek or common to other shows of the era, but by today's standards it seems a bit silly.


    While the crew is trying to break free of Balok's tractor beam near the end of the show, increasing the engine power to dangerous levels, we get a closeup of Kirk's face, then of Scotty's face, then of Spock's face, then of Bailey's face, then of McCoy's face, then back to Kirk. . . etc. During this series of closeups, nothing is really happening or changing in the plot. We are just staring at a series of intense faces looking at the view screen. This happens a lot in Star Trek, and seems to be time-filler or an attempt to build tension. But I find it annoying. And the later Star Trek spinoffs didn't really do this.

    "This episode really made me notice the trend in this series of providing gratuitous closeups of actors faces"

    It wasnt actually common in the era, but still, the editing was very much a product of its time.

    Part of the pleasure of The Original Series, though, is the over-the-top melodrama. It didn't really go for realism.

    Sorry, just had to get that out of my system :P The music in this episode was really, really irritating. And the tension was rather exaggerated. Oh no, a spinning cube!!! Condition: Alert!!! Music to full drama power!!!

    Poor Bailey. Everyone basically picked on him and treated him relentlessly like an idiot until he cracked under the pressure of their judgement and made mistakes, thus seeming to prove them right, and feeding his sense of self-doubt into itself. I know how he feels, I've been suffering that myself with my manager at work; though oddly, recognising it may have helped me there.

    I find it interesting how "purely Trek" this is, where rather than firing everything they've got, they sit and think, and don't even resort to it in last second desperation (if you're gonna die anyway..), instead just keeping calm. A couple of hundred years later with Janeway or Sisko, they probably would've blown that sphere thing to millions of tiny pieces the moment it showed the slightest hint of aggression. Makes you think.

    "Sorry, just had to get that out of my system :P"

    My first line was:


    but I used pointy brackets, and the comments form seems to interpret HTML literally. Tut tut.

    To me this episode feels like the true pilot for Star Trek. I get the sense that the crew are only a few days into their five year mission. The crew seems like regular, relatable, and professional people instead of highly evolved human incapable of normal human impulses. The big reveal at the end does give it a Twilight Zone feel. If Twilight Zone had a sense of mystery than Star Trek had a sense of adventure while Next Generation was more of a drama.

    My favorite scene was the Bailey freak out. It's not often you see something like that on Trek. He is kind of like Lt Barclay. I did enjoy the whole cast, but Doctor McCoy, Spock, and Kirk are the break out stars in this episode.

    Only the second episode of the series and it didn't take them long to move most of the pieces in the right place like changing the communication officer to a woman, moving Sulu to helm, and making the Doctor younger. I love the international flavor of the crew. I'm glad they were able to remaster the special effects, but it's a shame they couldn't show more alien crewmembers. Despite the fact they were able to produce a few episodes with many different alien races in one that is one of the few things Star Wars had over Trek that made it endearing.

    Yeah, I agree with your review.

    I loved watching Kirk bluff his way to a flop, but the end of the hand came far too slowly.

    It was interesting seeing Clint Howard appear at the end. I recently saw the Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance, in which a very young Ron Howard appeared.

    What happens with Baily after the Enterprise leaves, I wonder? How long does he stay? Will he rise to power in the First Federation? Kill Balok and run the mothership to Earth? Better yet: Bailey is Borg-Alpha. Explains the cubes...

    Strength: Showing the crew coherence among the prime bridge staff as it attempts to keep things together in the face od certain doom. (well, it wasn't, but they didn't know that.)
    Weakness (and one for me that is especially galling in that it mars the strength, above) -- scene-stealing and line-counting.
    I mean, one of the underlying tasks throughout this situation is to establish and maintain contact with Balok's ship. And every time Kirk gives an order that logically would have Uhura proving spectacularly that she's more, much more, than the Enterprise's Ernestine, Spock jumps in. Excuse me. Mr. Science, don't you have some sciencing to do? At your science console? Let the lady do her job. In my head, those scenes makes much more sense when Uhura speaks some of the lines that go to Spock, and I wonder if it was, in fact, that way in the first drafts ...

    I liked the character building moments early on between Kirk and Spock and Kirk and Bones.

    The crew members in the corridor when Kirk addressed them were walking around way too calmly.

    Bones bringing up his plans to enter a complaint about Bailey in his medical logs when they had three minutes left was bizarre. Same with Scotty smiling at two minutes left, and Yeoman Rand bringing coffee. Bailey was right: everyone was way too calm and casual.

    What were those belts for, that they put on just before transporting over?

    Some cool directorial/camera effects in this episode.

    Yes, a hit, I do not like giving stars but I enjoyed this very much. This is the Star trek that I remember from my childhood. Unless that I then, at the age of 8th, was not so fascinated of Yeoman Rand's and Lt Uhura's spare-some uniforms. It was funny, it showed daily aspects, the teamwork, that violence, also when proper selected according to the situation, may not solve your problem, list and cunning will do and that compassion gave the success.

    Agree with most people here, a good solid episode. Although I am confused how the ten minutes until destruction plan fitted with the test. How would that reveal their intentions? What would he do if they just standed there and didn't do anything? Would that mean to him they are not hostile? What if they just took their chances? Because defending yourself against unjustified agressor in the face of a certain death (as far as they knew) is wrong?

    Maybe it's just me, but Bailey's freakout definitely explains why would Kirk see himself in him, because that's some quality Shatnering.


    "Sulu demonstrates complete trust in Kirk[.]"

    I didn't get that, actually. Near the end, when they're trying to pull away from the scout ship, Kirk says something like "Now, Mr. Sulu. Impulse drive too" and Sulu turns around and gives him a look like "Seriously?" before he carries out the order.

    It was a good episode but I agree with Cloudane in that the music was irritating. I watch this series with headphones and had to turn down the volume when the music raised.

    Still, the plot was fine but a bit too stretched out, as Jammer said. The face close ups are pure padding shots, they remind me of Dragon Ball Z scenes. In that anime, every single time somebody did anything of significance you had reaction shots of every...single...character remotely related to the plot, going as far as showing characters half a continent apart.

    But I digress, in general I liked this episode. The final revelation works well for me and Spock and Kirk has some nice scenes together.

    Spock: "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?"

    Kirk: "It gives me emotional security."

    Well, I liked it. I know a lot of people complain that the tension is just a bunch of closeups of faces and all, but I think it still worked overall. This isn't TNG, where it is expected that the crew will find some odd problem in the universe and have to puzzle their way through to solve it. This was really the first true obstacle the ship had. Sure, you had the disease in Miri and other random issues, but this is the first real threat to the Enterprise itself I think. And because of that, I was able to accept what was going on, even if others found it cheesy at times.

    I can understand Jammer's complaint that the rest of the obstacles the Enterprise encounters after the famous bluff can be seen as a let-down compared to the tension there. It certainly makes sense for that part to be the climax. Not only does it show the crew at their most stressed (people sniping at Sulu for his countdown, Kirk losing his cool momentarily), but it also seems to be the most dangerous element of the episode (countdown to doom) and definitely the most gripping part. But in the end, it is revealed that Bartok is testing the crew's reactions, rather than being a true showdown. Thus, from that perspective, Kirk showing mercy is the climax of the story, and needs to be at the end to tie this whole episode together. So while the ending may not have been as tense, it still was needed I thought. Besides, it drove the point home that one great bluff isn't all you need. Kirk and the Enterprise were tested to their breaking point, and that includes throwing more calamities at them even after they barely escaped the big one.

    (It occurs to me that this episode is pretty similar to TNG's Where Silence Has Lease, both in the sense of a new species testing the Enterprise and the use of a big bluff. So if you want the bluff to be the climax of an episode, you can watch that one.)

    One thing I don't get, though, is Bailey serving as mankind's ambassador to the First Federation. Or even why he was brought over there in the first place. The sub-plot of him cracking under pressure on the bridge and then asking to take his station again, to at least meet death with dignity, was fine. And I guess if Kirk was really grooming him for command it makes sense to bring him on this away mission, and possibly leaving him with Bartok makes sense too. But then, I thought the point was that Kirk was pushing him too hard? So shouldn't he have eased off on Bailey and not pushed a first contact mission on him? Furthermore, Bailey's breakdown had nothing to do with fear of aliens or anything of that sort, so his redemption by becoming best friends with Bartok also seems out of the blue. It doesn't ruin the episode for me or anything, but it does feel somewhat muddled unfortunately.

    While this is an enjoyable episode to watch for a variety of reasons, it occurs to me that the twist at the end fundamentally ruins the whole plot: it reveals that Balok has lied about everything up to that point, which shows bad faith, but Kirk and Co fail to ask the obvious follow-up question, namely, what if they had failed the test Balok set?

    If there was never any intention to destroy the ship, the whole exercise becomes embarrassingly pointless, and Balok is basically a cosmic prankster. If he DID intend to destroy the ship for failing the test, he's an amoral killer no better than Dr Mengele. Rather than share a drink and a laugh with the guy, Kirk should make one of his trademark speeches about the value of human dignity and storm off in high dudgeon.

    Otherwise a fine episode. :)

    Not a huge fan of this episode as I found it dragged on, very slow paced. All the bluffing etc. is an interesting plot that shows another side of Kirk's command abilities. Yes, it's good to see the intent and actions of Kirk as he shows his peaceful nature when Bailey is more inclined to jump to aggressive action.
    Bailey is a central figure here and adds a needed human element to the countdown to destruction. It's fine if Kirk wants to let him return to his position given that he sees the situation as hopeless (before his bluff).
    I haven't seen this episode since I was a kid in the 80's - somehow I don't think I feel differently now about it than I did then.
    Just as a comparison, "Balance of Terror" later in Season 1 does a better job of the tension.
    If Balok is actually looking for some type of interaction with another species, he does go about it in an odd way. He could have announced peaceful intentions at first, but then we wouldn't have an episode.
    For me, 2/4 stars.

    I thought it was funny to hear Spock smugly telling Bailey it was unnecessary for him to raise his voice at the site of the big spinny cube thingy, when Spock has spent the first several episodes shouting on the bridge for no particular reason.

    I always thought this episode had a certain charm. It is somewhat hokey and dated, but everybody knows this is a story from the 1960s, so I just give a pass to the cheesiness of the props and sets, the overly-dramatic musical score, and the histrionics and over-acting at times by the cast. I thought Bailey was an incompetent moron, and was surprised that he got the plum assignment to stay on Balok's ship and learn about the culture...but at least we got rid of him that way. Three stars.

    Did anyone but me want to shout, "you people get out of that hallway!" as they were thrown back and forth? Pretty funny "special effects"!

    stallion:{ To me this episode feels like the true pilot for Star Trek }

    Well, it is the last of the four episodes that could be called the "first" one.
    The Cage - rejected pilot
    Where No Man Has Gone Before - accepted pilot
    The Man Trap - first episode ever aired
    The Corbomite Manuever - first episode created after show was greenlit

    A terrible review - this is one of the best episodes. Obviously the reviewer prefers the transformers' franchise.

    This episode introduced much of the daily living aboard a starship, the relationships in the crew, (both humorous and testy), the fact that alien life was a scary concept, and that real alien life might differ dramatically from our previous "martian-like" images. (real Baalok vs. the puppet he used to be "scary"). It also furthered our understanding of how weapons and the transporter system on the Enterprise would work. I think Jammer's review is limited by his youthful age and does not take into consideration how early in the series this was. It really is classic, and the episode which made me completely buy in to Star Trek as a teenager when it first aired. Yes, the episode is slow, but TV shows and movies were much slower back then. The current pace of action adventure in TV and movies is a recent development.

    Star Trek's first shipboard tactical adventure remains a visually involving and fairly tense story. Directed by four-time Emmy winner Joseph Sargent, the lighting and camerawork in this one is particularly interesting, and the plot is classic Star Trek. Indeed, there's a real sense of probing out into the unknown to encounter alien life in this one that distinguishes it form the "rubber mask of the week" aliens on later Trek series, and the well-scripted characterizations make this a good ensemble piece for the main cast. I give it 3 or 3 1/2 stars.

    There's a fairly realistic sense of shipboard life on a deep-space mission in this one. We see the cast struggling with fatigue, confusion, and fear as they work together to face a problem that quickly escalates from an annoying obstacle into a Kobayshi Mary "no-win scenario." Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Rand all get little personality moments here, and some of their interactions build the characterizations in key ways -- Kirk's patience in exhausting every peaceful option before being forced to bluff, Spock's early inability (which will soften over the course of the franchise) to go beyond the strict logic that tells him they are doomed, McCoy's concern for the welfare of the crew, Scotty's earthy practicality, the cool professionalism of Uhura and Sulu, Yeoman Rand's ongoing tension with Kirk, etc. And with all of these developing characterizations we still get room for the deftly woven subplot of guest navigator Bailey, whom Kirk has promoted too fast and whose freakout brings a welcome sense of emotional honesty (i.e. regarding Sulu: "He's starting a countdown!") to what everyone else on the bridge is holding in. Kirk's command style emerges vindicated in this episode as he cheats death (good foreshadowing for Wrath of Khan) and eventually finds a better use for Bailey than bridge crew, giving him a chance to develop and mature as an ambassador to gain some confidence. There's a lot of character stuff happening in this deceptively simple space showdown plot, but all of it feels effortlessly earned through cast chemistry.

    While the scenes of the Enterprise facing off against the little cube and later negotiating with the enormous sphere start to feel repetitive and go on perhaps a bit too long as buildup to the titular bluff, knocking this one down a peg for me because of the uneven pacing that peaks early, the ending reveal of Clint Howard remains one of the most memorable and creative endings to a Star Trek episode of any series. Not only do we get adventure and the curiosity of facing the unknown in this episode, but an unusual first contact that results in both sides growing closer together through a "game recognizes game" scenario where they respect each other's ability to bluff in facing the threats of the galaxy's unknown. It's intriguing how the Enterprise crew never succumbs to the temptation to judge Balok negatively or lash out at him in fear even at the moments when he's threatening them or appears vulnerable to counter-attack; they seem to hold out hope of finding a peaceful solution to the misunderstanding even when things seem bleakest. And it all ends with them drinking Tranya with the tiny little alien in his tiny little ship. It's not one of my absolute favorites, but this is classic Trek idealism at its best.

    Those with bad memories of this episode might want to visit the remastered version of it. Updated with slick CGI visuals, this remains - even for modern viewers IMO - a tense and fast based episode, which showcases life on the ship, Kirk's unconventional "poker tactics", and features a neat twist, albeit one (Godlike aliens testing humans) which would quickly become a cliche. Best of all, are the gratuitous shots of a sweaty, muscular, topless Kirk, walking about with his shirt over his shoulder. Shatner was hilariously macho.

    This is the perfect “get to know you” episode. Spock provides initial family history and steps short of saying “I’m sorry” (ooh, that pesky human half!). McCoy/Kirk banter reveals close friendship. Kirk/Rand tension is introduced. Background chatter speaks of a busy and crowded ship. Kirk’s resourcefulness first showcased with the poker gambit. Scotty’s unflagging honesty first seen (“Beats me what makes it go”). For anyone unfamiliar with the show (is that possible?), this episode is the best primer.

    corbomite is a charming episode of TOS. i hesitate to use the more jaded descriptions that first popped to mind when i sat to write (standard/middling/average) because they really aren’t fair--i’ve just watched too much trek to feel as excited by this one as i was in my youth.

    but i think charming is a really fair description coming from an old spacefart like me, because even though the episode drags a bit for me now, i do recognize that it is in some ways a perfect template-story from way early in production that informs many many later installments of trek. it’s pretty solid on every front even though it fails transcendence and there is something to be said for that--especially when you think about how little trek there was in existence at the time. where the writing fails at pacing and wild creativity in certain areas, it picks up slack in character work, wit, growing the ensemble etc (for the most part anyway, round of apologies to golduhura--thanks for sticking out that meeting and the first few eps. we see you girl. you’re there). sometimes it’s okay for trek’s quality to flag in one area and long as it flares in another and corbomite has a lot going for it when i take off my trekcynic detractor hat and put on my reading glasses.

    no doubt that corbomite’s use of humor in character building is its crowning glory because the zingers here are tight, sharp and pass the test of time. spock suggesting bailey get his ‘adrenaline gland’ removed is a classic establishment of his acerbic wit, jims solicitation of ‘emotional support’ from him is a joke i’ve been laughing at for years and am currently chuckling at. i mean, seriously tho, getting too critical of this episode for being slow is failing to appreciate how QUICK it is amiright. points for just how much good banter this show spreads across the ensemble. the kirk/mccoy scene that starts in the lift is a wonderful expansion of bone’s brusque, trenchant moodiness (‘i never said that’) as well as his intuitiveness. kirk’s amused ribbing is playful and piquant and what it shows about their dynamic in a few short moments is a nicely knit piece of scenework that gets real mileage for how short it is (negpoints for yeoman rand jokes though, not cuz sexism cuz quality). points for spock/scotty exchange about spock’s mother.

    i also give points to the episode for being interested in strategic thinking and emphasizing kirk’s tactical prowess (though it succeeds in this better dramatically than narratively). shanter really sells the whole matching-of-wits scenario better than the writing writes it. the episode lacks the nuts and bolts of a real move/countermove exchange and relies on spock’s exposition (this balok seems like my father) to establish baloks cleverness more than actually supplying it. still, we’re in the ballpark, going through the right motions to explore a psychological-game-as-first-contact scenario. i just think the ‘game' itself is ill-defined when it doesn’t have to be--but then kirk says POKER! and i guess that gets the point across well enough dramatically so maybe it’s a nitpick to wish there was more substance to the actual back and forth leading up to it. the bluff he comes up with is clever enough for the plot here even if it’s not as clever in point-of-fact as its name. shanter’s pokerface(voice) is on point enough to get a ‘well-played’ from spock though, so points for delivery too.

    A lot of the drag in this episode really comes down to the editing’s slavish mirroring of background music/sound effects in the dramatic sequences, presumably an attempt to signal import and heighten intensity. im pretty sure the numerous reaction shots are a purposeful byproduct of this choice (rather than just for the sake of themselves) and felt artistic at the time rather than plodding and onerous, but switching to a different close-up in (literal) time with every change in the two oscillating motifs of the main piece makes every sequence with this gimmick feel long and over-directed. the music selections themselves aren’t terrible selections for the action, but the tethered editing detracts from both the pieces and the ensemble rather than enhancing either. some good ensemble writing is served poorly here by the close-ups too because the viewer loses the wider context of everyone’s reaction to new information and each other when the action must be stretched out to fit the musical phrasing.

    the final revelation is classic twilight zone and plays as such--but this early on aspiring to TZ is not only forgivable for ST, it’s a smart move (again, works better dramatically than narratively) and the payoff of a twist-ending that dashes human expectations of alienness is cheesy but cheeky too. from the time i was quite a young trek fan, it has always been kirk’s (dareisay heroic?) decision to return at balok’s distress signal and render aid to his adversary (of moments before) that i have remembered most about this episode between viewings--and i guess if that’s what sticks with me, corbomite is basically star trek doing its job.

    What I like about this one is that it shows that the sense of danger of the unknown is not limited to those subject to their "adrenal gland." Everyone, including Kirk, Spock, and Bailey, are subject to the intense threat posed by Balok's ship, despite the fact that the reality of what Balok is like is another story altogether. And I don't want to be unclear: he was a threat, but not of the motive they may have thought. The ending creates a playful and sharp contrast between perception from a place of ignorance, and realization after learning something. All of the tense scenes where the Enterprise faced danger give us a fixed perspective: a POV from those who don't understand what they're facing. Narratively the threat level and danger are greatly amplified, which on screen shows as "sci fi menace" but in terms of character shows just how on edge anyone with a lick of sense would be when faced with a gigantic unknown. Even Spock, who's reaction isn't emotional, still recognizes the immense potential danger, and so this isn't merely a trick of the brain found in skittish folk. The unknown really is a clear and present danger.

    Transitioning at the end from this tense tactical situation to a borderline cute one, with a cute alien with a cute sense of humor, is an incredibly deflating experience. It's good in that way, because it shows how much of the tension was fueled by the almighty question mark, but weird also because it tempts us to discount that there really was an danger before. I don't think the takeaway should be "It was all a joke" or "all a misunderstanding" or something. It wasn't: the unknown danger really did threaten them, as Spock would attest to logically. So it seems to me that the episode really highlights just how hazardous it is to face the unknown, and yet how beneficial it is to meet new things and learn about them. That's a pretty core Trek message to me, but instead of batting you on the head with it as a moral message, it's shown instead through the simple arcs or the story tension. Very nice. Even as a kid I found the ending uplifting.

    Another question the episode poses is how one should go about meeting the unknown. The temptation when facing such dangers is to flee, or to resort to barbarism (which Spock comments on); but the Trek message is that it takes a combination of desire, pure logic, discipline, and yes - simple guts and courage, to be out there facing that threat and stand up to it. The titular maneuver is a "trick", yes, although I wonder whether Balok ever really believed it. Could it be that there's something inherently respectable about a species that's willing to stand up to a superior force and puff out its feathers? That kind of guts may just earn respect on its own. People often seem to admire videos of a tiny animal taking no shit from a large threatening one. And I do think that facing what we don't know requires a kind of guts, because we have to be willing to give up what we thought was true to make room for new knowledge, which is a scary prospect for anyone. The bluff itself encapsulates this aspect of learning: You go in willing to risk it all on a gamble that you'll come out how you went in, being ok with either result. Now *that* is the attitude necessary for learning to take place. It fits right in with the "risk is our business" motto, which again I feel like TOS got right much more so than the other franchise series.

    Peter G

    completely agree. i had a little trouble figuring out how i wanted to talk about this one because i think of it quite fondly and couldn't quite put my finger on why i felt more disengaged this watchthru when i never remember feeling that before, but i like the angle you found for discussing it. much better fare than what i brought to the table. your small animal with puffed up feathers image lit me up. seeing balok as respecting this plucky little monkey with the nerve to bluff him is a great. wonderful metaphor.

    “Corbomite” is at best a middling episode — if I can borrow Peter G.'s term! But I think it is noteworthy for a couple of things -- that almost make me want to give it a bit of a mulligan. I think it needs to be acknowledged how primordial it is to Trek. It was just the 3rd TOS episode produced; it aired 10th, which I find mystifying since it is about something so fundamental to Trek: first contact.

    It does have its charm as JTIBERIUS suggests, but that’s something that becomes clear only at the end. It ends on a nice, (and maybe too) hopeful of a note, which is also the usual Trek. Quite the contrast with “Dagger of the Mind”!

    Kirk’s bluff is the only thing he’s left with — the Enterprise is powerless against Balok’s Fesarius. But given that Balok is actually interested in making contact, I think he allows himself to get bluffed. Would he really have destroyed the Enterprise at the end of the countdown? I think not. But it was a test for Kirk & co. and facing an unknown alien, they definitely have to believe their lives are about to be ended. But Balok wants to set up first contact on his terms — the Enterprise is in no position to dictate, until they cause some grief to the pilot vessel tractoring them.

    Bailey’s role is that of the wildcard here. But he’s used in the familiar transition — going from the outhouse to the penthouse, so to speak. He is being tested as well — he fails, but is given another chance and is ultimately “rewarded”. This is another common theme in fiction, not isolated to Trek, but one that is also quite primordial.

    So I think “Corbomite” really establishes a few fundamental Trek themes and it should have aired among the first 3 episodes.


    you're absolutely right about the production order--i didn't go back to check specifically but it's obvious from golduhura alone. watching it 10th definitely does not do it any favors--i routinely try to watch naked time a few eps later in personal viewing already, maybe i'll think about just switching the two from now on. i bet id like both better that way. plus, as you and Peter G both kind of say 'first contact' is part of the business of trek, so the earlier the better honestly.

    also, per you're comment from dagger thread re: bailey. basically the whole time watching this i was thinking how you'd never see that good a young character actor guest starring on a 90s trek.

    Good review Jammer. Some scenes are excessively long, but then again, the episode is almost 50 minutes long so it needs some of them to drag out considering that the main narrative does not advance until the very end. My first time seeing this in a couple of decades at least, probably third time total. My thoughts never change upon seeing it.

    Great point by JohnC above with regard to Spock's comment to Bailey about keeping his voice down :))

    Yeoman bringing coffee 2 minutes from destruction is so off the wall.

    And what on earth was that crew member wearing in the foreground in those corridor scenes where they were being swung from wall to wall? LOL.

    Blalok never intended to destroy the Enterprise during the “countdown. “. Kirk’s bluff was unnecessary as Blalok would have taken the ship in tow anyway and allow the Enterprise to break free and see what it would do if Blalok suddenly became “disabled. “
    Blalok was in complete control of the situation. The episode is more of an early introduction character study of the crew.

    I agree with Jammer on the fact that this episode drags a bit, but I still enjoyed it!

    I also wrote a short review here, if you want to have a look:

    Watching and commenting:

    --The Enterprise is mapping new areas when they run into a colorful spinning space bouy.

    --The cube keeps moving to block the Enterprise's progress. They destroy it.

    --Very, very little going on. Rand makes an appearance so she can be referred to as a possible object of sexual desire. So the required sexy-sexy part is over, I think, with Rand serving as the usual fallback female when no there are no sultry-siren guest stars.

    --Now, they've run into a sphere. Lt Bailey getting freaked out. The sphere plans to destroy the Enterprise in ten minutes, generously giving them time to prepare themselves to meet their maker.

    --Jim has a weird, forced, nonsensical exchange about bluffing with the Doc, plainly giving us a clue about how this will be resolved.

    --The ever brash Kirk fakes out the enemy with a big ol' classic Kirky bluff.

    --The small ship dragging around the Enterprise reminds me of when I tried to tow a little trailer with my Honda. I sure hope the ship won't have to go uphill, 'cause that's not gonna work

    --Eons go by as we watch the small ship out front. Eons and more eons. Finally the Space-Honda has to give up, and the Enterprise goes to help the now disabled Civic.

    --OMG, little Clint Howard is driving the ship. Oh, my, my.  He does a good job.

    --Moral of the story: Size doesn't matter. Ok, Roddenberry, whatever you say.

    Slow moving, not great.

    Lt. Bailey would later return to Earth's past to infamously interrogate secret prostitute Karen Wolek during Victoria Riley's murder trial.

    The only thing I liked in this episode was Bailey freaking out and yelling “he’s doing a countdown!” Otherwise snoozy. It really is too slow, and Balock is supposed to be cute and charming but instead is creepy and uncanny. I’m surprised how warm the reviews are!

    Brilliant episode that really plays out the Trek ethos. There’s a nice scene right in the beginning where McCoy ignores the red alert signal emphasizing that danger shouldn’t always be met with panic and fear. I really like the idea that both sides wanted to get to know each other, but the two peoples were so different that First Contact came down to a series of bluffs and upping the ante. One doesn’t need to think too hard to allegorize this story to many conflicts and wars in human history.

    Lt. Baley had a great arc going from being a green officer we might associate with the military of our time, while Kirk and company sharply contrasted that by being the military (or non-military) of the future. This reminds me much of TNG’s “Darmok” with Riker being the naively aggressive officer and Picard navigating real cross-cultural alien understanding. I think I’ll go 4 stars.

    4 stars for Clint Howard alone. :D

    This is somewhat fascinating. The episode is basically us watching strange objects for 45 minutes. Strangely enough I was never bored. But there is the very boring side plot about Bailey. That guy was 26 during filming but looks 40 and the Make up department really has buy some powder. Oh and I hope Uhura threw those earrings into a bottomless pit.

    There are several funny little scenes in the episode. Kirk remembering several quotes which Bones flat out denies to ever have said, the yeoman shooting coffee with a phaser, Kirk eating healthy.

    Good stuff wrapped around pure nothingness.

    Glad you're liking some of these, Booming. I haven't watched many of them in awhile and I probably missed a couple way back when, but most of them are entertaining and fairly ahead of their time. I can't wait until you watch Assignment: Earth which is hands down the most quintessential Star Trek episode ever made, especially considering how common talking cats are in modern Trek. :-)

    I’m guessing Bailey ended up on desk duty somewhere after his bridge flip. We never heard from him again lol.

    I think TOS was sloppy with its stardates. Not sure how much weight one can put in them as far as a chronological order of the Enterprise's mission under Kirk -- especially in the early part of Season 1.

    In Kirk's first log entry for this episode, he says stardate 1512.2. The second time he mentions a stardate, it's 1513.8. What's odd is the stardate for "The Man Trap" is 1513.1.

    We know the order of the episodes to air was not the order in which they were produced but what else is odd is you have 2 episodes with stardates in the 1300s ("Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "Mudd's Women") and then nothing in the 1400s. Then you have some episodes in the 1500s. Haven't looked up how stardates correspond to the regular calendar, but it would seem Kirk's Enterprise went a long period of time without anything worthy of an episode. And it would do so again when stardates jump in to the 2700s for 3 episodes starting with "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

    Maybe I was in a bad mood or something when I watched this one, but I don't understand all the glowing reviews about this episode. This is the first episode that I can honestly say that I didn't enjoy. Don't get me wrong, there were some positive aspects to it, it wasn't all bad. I that Kirk's poker gamble was extremely gutsy and well-played. But, this episode just dragged on too long. Trying to extend a limited plot for 50 mins just didn't work. There should have been a subplot alongside it to keep the pace going.

    And that ending was cringe-worthy lol. Sorry, but it was.

    This episode is a total hoot - easily 3 stars!

    I agree with @JTIBERIUS, the banter is top notch. Love the give and take between Jim and Bones in the Captain's quarters:

    MCCOY: What are you going to do with that six percent when they give it to you, Jim?

    KIRK: I'm going to take it, and I'm going to [???shove it up your ass???]


    There are so many fun lines, but the other that really got me literally laughing out loud was pointed out by @Mertov above,

    MCCOY: I thought the power was off in the galley.

    RAND: I used a hand phaser, and zap. Hot coffee.


    Although I guess the internal sensors were also off at the time:

    And then of course Lt. Bailey, the 1960's version of silly-Tilly/pts-Detmer. Fun times.

    @Chrome, brilliant point about Bones allowing the red alert to go on while he finished his medical examination of Kirk. Really sets the calm, professional tone of this crew. And it puts Lt. Bailey's breakdown into even more of a context. This is really a push-you-to-the-edge type of situation.

    The big difference with Where Silence Has Lease, @Skeptical, is that in that TNG episode, it was no bluff. But the foreboding atmosphere was so similar, and of course the crew was equally professional. These days, Michael, like Han, would have shot first.

    What's the deal with Kirk identifying himself as captain of the United *Earth* Ship Enterprise?

    KIRK: This is the United Earth ship Enterprise.

    And Clint Howard is from the Federation?

    BALOK: This is Balok, Commander of the flagship Fesarius of the First Federation.

    I wonder if Gene had originally thought Earth would stumble upon a galactic federation and join up as part of the ongoing Star Trek plot? Sort of like Andromeda - where Earth had joined a Commonwealth long after it was founded by the Vedrans.

    Anyone know the backstory there?

    I remember watching this as a kid. The alien on the screen was so scary to me! I think the shimmer waves are what made it so especially.

    I like how Kirk bluffs and how we see the crew act in a tough situation

    I also like how Balok is really a harmless person. **I thought he was a midget-I didn't realise it was a kid! That was VERY good acting for a 7 year old! But then again, he's Ron Howard's little brother! And Bryce Dallas' uncle!**

    Has anyone read the Shatnerverse books? In that, the mirror universe Kirk tortured and killed the mirror universe Balok. (Off-screen, but still ghastly stuff!)

    "**I thought he was a midget-I didn't realise it was a kid! That was VERY good acting for a 7 year old! But then again, he's Ron Howard's little brother! And Bryce Dallas' uncle!**

    I always assumed it was a little person too. Neat!

    I think the rest of Trek missed an opportunity this episode offered: Spock playing poker.

    I also disagree with the main review. - I think this is the best of the early episodes. There are some superb dialogue moments between Kirk and Spock, and Kirk and McCoy, which underpin a tense and ultimately believable story. Yes, perhaps “Baby Balok “ was a bit silly, but on the other hand that was an unexpected surprise at the end of the episode.

    Kirk and poker? That established a theme that would recur several times in Classic Trek.

    I agree with many here that it’s a great idea and pretty decent episode, but could be helped greatly if some of the repetitive “object spinning on the viewscreen with loud music” was cut by about half.

    Still, I really really like how the early S1 episodes make a point to show all the little details of how the Enterprise is it’s own little world. There are more crewmembers walking the halls, more meetings with “department heads”, even just McCoy sharing some brandy while getting Kirk to eat a salad. The seemed to have the bridge full with extras all the time here (like that over-the-shoulder shot where Kirk first gets onto the bridge; very rarely seen).

    The S2 and S3 episodes seem to drop all of these daily life details, but it makes the show so much richer.

    Someone, don't remember who, said



    And I lol'd...

    This was the first episode that was made after the show finally got sold, but it wasn't aired until much later, probably because the visual effects took a LOOOONG time to get right in the editing room. Seems like they filmed it, and got the effects shots back and said "Ah, shit, this isn't usable at all" and had to go re-do it. Or they could have just decided to air another episode for all I know, heck.

    But the cool thing about this episode is that it has everything basically established for how Star Trek would go on to be (with the exception of Chekhov). It isn't often a series starts out, just having things established that way, and I'm betting this was why the studio suits were willing to give Star Trek the chances it got; this was a strikingly original idea.

    Rather than their usual M.O. of holding a dark mirror up to humanity's foibles, they now go with a submarine mystery about confronting an elusive and bizarre enemy. I guess it's tight in places, but for a while it doesn't really go anywhere.

    They're chugging along when suddenly they're stymied by the Rubik's Cube from Hell. I'm with Bailey: Just shoot the damn thing and go on your merry way. I wanted Bailey on my crew when Kirk says, "Time for action, gentlemen," and the first thing Bailey does is send a message to arm the phasers.

    Next comes the Disco Ball from Hell. It's larger and more powerful, but it looks far less menacing than the demented cube for some reason. Cubes look more evil than spheres, I guess. There's more hand-wringing, and Bailey starts to get cabin fever after a goofy, ominous Voice from Hell threatens their destruction. Kirk is right, by the way -- "Warning Buoy," my ass. The Enterprise attempted to disengage and the Cube from Hell chased them. Then it spewed lethal radiation. So damn right he's going to point that out to the Voice from Hell, if anything to unleash some righteous indignation before he starts playing his cards. And that brings us to:

    The Giant Pulsating Alien Head from Hell. The notions of brinksmanship and poker and bluffing is introduced, which I think is the only interesting idea they went with in the entire episode--Spock analogizes this situation to Chess, and says they've been Checkmated, but Kirk decides, "No, Fuck That," what will save them is raising and bluffing----poker. As a player of both chess and poker, I understood both points perfectly and got the obvious allusions to real-world crises: sometimes it's chess, but more often it's poker.

    There are a few good lines throughout. Most of them have already been mentioned above (Janice's phaser explanation for the hot coffee was a hoot, and the banter between McCoy and Kirk was delightful); I especially liked Bones' crack about ship-wide alerts: "If I jumped every time a light came on around here, I'd end up talking to myself."

    But although I appreciate that they tried to do a quiet, simple Enterprise vs. Alien tale, and Bailey's little arc of freaking out at their predicament was slightly interesting, everything seemed muted and off this time. I think the general pacing killed it. Nothing is wrong with a slow pace, but this was a *boringly* slow pace. There was hardly any tension here, and that's pretty necessary in a submarine movie. We know the Enterprise isn't going to be destroyed, but the events leading to the ultimate resolution just weren't terribly fascinating. I thought they had me with the poker angle, but the bluffing itself was uninspired and obvious. It turns out to be nothing more than childish games, literally.

    This brings me to one last thing I have to say about the final scene when they board the ship and discover the alien's true nature:

    After all that time of getting blocked, threatened, screwed with, and jerked around...

    Had I been the captain, I'd have shot that little brat.

    Best Line:
    Spock, on the purpose of the Cube -- "Flypaper."
    Kirk -- "And you don't recommend sticking around."

    My Grade: C

    Looking back at my notes, I scored this episode 1/10. I'm surprised at the praise it has got. I would say it's worse than Spock's Brain which had a campy 60's so bad it's good thing going for it.

    PS: I always thought the alien was played by a midget.

    It's weird to say it, but to me this feels like an episode of the first season of TNG. One of those where there's lots of intrigue but ultimately no real villain.

    Plenty to nitpick, but I liked it. I'd give it 3 stars.

    Great episode. My only nitpick is that the editing is so slow. There were numerous times where it cut to a shot of the front viewer with the cube floating in front of the ship and it just stayed there for maybe 15-20 seconds. And they did that over and over. They could've cut maybe 2 or 3 minutes from the episode to tighten it up. I don't mind the face reaction shots but the repetitive shots of the cube where it lingered there for way too long really hurt the momentum of the story.

    I agree with the criticism of the slow pace. But again, with the ridiculous simplistic designs for everything they encounter. An alien probe shaped like a perfect, multicolored spinning cube, 3 year old toy designs again. I like how they wait until they are seconds from dying at lethal radiation levels before doing anything! Fire the Phasers already LOL, and go warp 7,8,9 already, stop taking your sweet ass time at warps 1,2,3 when the thing is within 150 feet of the ship! What happened after was a weird transition. An aline that sophisticated is gonna use a Halloween looking dummy to try and scare viewers who are also operating a STARSHIP for Christ Sake. Like space faring civlizations are really gonna be afraid of a cartoon looking animated carnival mannequin and thinks that's more intimidating than the mere fact that he has a mile wide ship. The whole struggling to break away from the tractor beam is interesting, but could you really tow something at Warp speed? Without a warp field of its own how could it exceed light speed just from being pulled? Wouldn't it's mass increase to the point that you'd have to have an infinite amount of towing power? Likewise would activating impulse power have an "added effect" on warp power? They are two different systems, one working by means of warping space, the other simple propulsion. Could they really be combined like that? And weird how the engine can hit 8,600 degrees without blowing up, yet they always worry about the "danger" of getting too close to a star (which may be less than that on the surface, let alone millions of miles away). Very Weak Science, I know they are focusing on storyline, but I mean it's a futuristic SCIENCE FICTION show, enough with the kids- toy-design-looking controls, excessive romance, and obvious scientific contradictions at the basic level.

    "Sh*t! He's doing a countdown!" That's certainly what it sounds like Bailey is saying. Character development abounds in what is a polarizing episode for fans. Those who lived through the Cold War might spot parallels, with Balok, in effect, playing Nikita Khrushchev. Trek's message: no need to raise your voice, be calm, heat some coffee, then sit down to relish some vodka, I mean tranya.

    As the first episode produced after the series was greenlit, Corbomite has the exciting but challenging task of establishing standards for the rest of TOS. In a way, Bailey represents the TOS production crew, or the viewers, or maybe both. Bailey is just getting started on this five year mission, unsure exactly what to do or how to act. He's overworked, and pushed too hard. He makes mistakes, gets banished, but even so he begs to return to sit and watch what will happen.

    This is a great episode. " Is that your best recommendation?" "Then may heaven have helped your mother." "Not chess, Spock. Poker." "Anytime you can bluff me, Dr." "What's the mission of this ship, Dr.? To seek out the unknown, and the chance to show what our high-sounding words are all about." It sets the tone for the entire series run, and abounds with classic lines.

    This is my favorite episode so far in season 1, it hits so many strong notes and really further defines that classic TOS style, I’d call it a home run.

    I will grant that most of the previous season 1 episodes have a bit more philosophical meat on their bones, and I’m not sure Bailey is the best choice to be the human liaison to the first federation given that he cracked pretty hard under pressure, like, 20 minutes before slamming some Tran-YAAA with baby Clint Howard, but virtually all the critiques I can think of here are trivial to the point of embarrassment. Corbimite is just a straight up fun adventure story, with outstanding character work and atmosphere.

    I think the slowish pace of the episode is actually a benefit, it’s essentially a poker game being played between star ships, most poker games are defined by tension rather than action sequences, so a calm pace seems appropriate.

    Super good.


    I re-watched this episode a few days ago, and I agree that it’s really good. The slow pacing has never bothered me, and I like your observation that it’s like watching a poker game: not that much action, but a lot of tension. Others have also complained that the episode spends too much time showing reaction shots of different crewmembers, but I don’t think that’s just padding: to me, sometimes, the scenes on the bridge seem like watching a chamber play, and the crew’s reactions to danger and pressure are meant to define their characters. We see that Sulu and Uhura are cool, focused professionals while Bailey lacks self-control; we learn that Scotty’s and Spock’s scientific curiosity isn’t even limited by imminent doom; McCoy is shown as a sympathetic humanitarian; and, of course, the Corbomite bluff speaks volumes about Kirk. What I’ll always love about this solution is that it’s not based on violence nor science or even logic, but rather on intuition, creativity and imagination. Very unusual, but that’s exactly what makes it great and memorable.


    I agree about the reaction shots too, they never bugged me, I found them more theatrical and, of course, campy in that particular TOS vibe.

    This episode is, as you pointed out, a total character piece. I think that makes it more a stage setter as far as TOS episodes go, so maybe it can’t be an all time classic, but I still rank it in the upper top half of episodes.

    I agree with the majority of the comments. A very excellent episode. In fact this is my favorite of the first ten. I didn’t find the pacing problematic at all. Great drama, great mystery. The dialogue here is by far the very best of the first 10. I really don’t have much to add after the review and the comments, so here’s a small selection of banter and drama!

    McCoy talking to himself:
    MCCOY: What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor? If I jumped every time a light came on around here, I'd end up talking to myself.
    Spock’s recommendation to lieutenant Bailey:
    BAILEY: 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.
    SPOCK: It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?
    Sulu to Bailey, after Spock’s recommendation:
    SULU: You try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time.
    The crew is discussing what to do about the probe blocking the Enterprise’s path:
    BAILEY: Sir, we going to just let it hold us here? We've got phaser weapons. I vote we blast it.
    KIRK: I'll keep that in mind, Mister Bailey, when this becomes a democracy.
    Spock and Kirk discussing the nature of the strange cube:
    SPOCK: I believe it adds up to either one of two possibilities. First, a space buoy of some kind.
    KIRK: Second?
    SPOCK: Flypaper.
    KIRK: And you don't recommend sticking around.
    SPOCK: Negative. It would make us appear too weak.
    Rand brings Kirk’s lunch. A salad, under doctor’s orders:
    KIRK: What the devil is this? Green leaves?
    Sulu announces how much time they have left before total destruction:
    SULU: Four minutes, thirty seconds.
    SCOTT: You have an annoying fascination for timepieces, Mister Sulu.
    Kirk and Spock discuss the situation in the last few seconds before total destruction:
    KIRK: What's the matter with them out there? They must know we mean them no harm.
    SPOCK: They're certainly aware by now that we're totally incapable of it.
    KIRK: There must be something to do, something I've overlooked.
    SPOCK: In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.
    KIRK: Is that your best recommendation?
    SPOCK: I regret that I can find no other logical alternative.
    The corbomite maneuver:
    KIRK: This is the Captain of the Enterprise. Our respect for other lifeforms requires that we give you this warning. One critical item of information that has never been incorporated into the memory banks of any Earth ship. Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them a substance known as corbomite. It is a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying the attacker! It may interest you to know that since the initial use of corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has little meaning to us. If it has none to you then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness.
    Spock talking about the alien who is about to annihilate the Enterprise and all its crew:
    SPOCK: I regret not having learned more about this Balok. In some manner he was reminiscent of my father.
    SCOTT: Then may heaven have helped your mother.
    SPOCK: Quite the contrary. She considered herself a very fortunate Earth woman.
    Kirk talks about his intentions to board Balok’s ship:
    MCCOY: Jim, don't you think
    KIRK: What's the mission of this vessel, Doctor? To seek out and contact alien life, and an opportunity to demonstrate what our high-sounding words mean. Any questions?
    Kirk and McCoy about to board Balok’s ship, Scotty is filling them in and handing them the necessary gear:
    SCOTT: Breathable. In fact, a slightly higher oxygen content than our own. Communicator, phaser weapon.
    KIRK: Thank you, Scotty. Ready, Doctor?
    MCCOY: No, but you won't let that stop you.

    Submit a comment

    ◄ Season Index