Written by Jerry Sohl and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Early in the series, when it was still trying to hash out the characters and their roles, there were many opportunities to build the cast. The Corbomite Maneuver marks the first appearance of several of the main cast when viewed in the order filmed, while also solidifying the deceptive nature of Captain Kirk’s personality that would come into play as an asset throughout the series and movies.
The Enterprise is in a previously uncharted region of space when it comes across a cube-shaped object. Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) attempts to steer the ship away from the object, but it mirrors their every move.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is summoned to the bridge. After eighteen hours of being there studying the object, Spock states that it is a buoy of some kind and that staying there will make them seem weak. They attempt to move away, but the cube holds them at bay. Finally, exasperated, Kirk orders the cube destroyed.
The ship probes onward, while drilling the crew after Kirk is concerned about the way some of them responded during the incident. During one of the drills, a second object is detected, much larger than the first. They soon find themselves imprisoned in a tractor beam.
The commander of the other ship identifies himself a Balok. He tells them they have interpreted the Enterprise‘s actions as hostile since the warning buoy was ignored and destroyed. He threatens them with immediate destruction if any other hostility is detected.
When Balok decides to destroy them, they are given ten minutes to prepare to meet their maker. Kirk must also deal with a crewmember, Lt. Bailey (portrayed by Anthony Call) who isn’t rising to the occasion and begins to “lose it”.
Kirk bluffs Balok by announcing that there is corbomite in the hull of the Enterprise and any attempt to destroy it will result in both ships being destroyed. Balok is now more cautious, attempting to ascertain the truth behind Kirk’s statements and the motive for them being there.
What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?
Of course, Kirk’s statements are a bluff. He tries to explain the concept of poker to Spock in a funny exchange. It’s a tactic Kirk uses at various times in the series and films, usually successfully. Even Spock learns from this eventually, as is evidenced by his deception in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
The story is good. Despite the fact that fans know this early in the series that there is little chance the Enterprise will be destroyed, the suspense level is good. It’s also good to watch knowing the events that took place in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan which has as a backdrop the idea of a no-win situation. Just as he admits there to having defeated the Kobayashi Maru test during his Starfleet training by cheating, he does the same in a sense here in The Corbomite Maneuver. The unknown foreshadowing is terrific and really ties the original series to the movies quite well.
There are some inconsistencies in what we know of the Trek universe. Most fans will immediately notice Lt. Uhura in a yellow uniform here, rather than the red that she normally wears. Again, a series “bible” wasn’t really present to hash out consistency in uniforms and designations. Most of the series at this time flew by the seat of their pants, counting on fans not to be so nit-picky. In a sense, that was all right, since the scripts coming out of the Star Trek camp were some of the finest on television at the time. This just happens to be one of those glaring mistakes even the most casual fan will notice.
The acting is terrific. I appreciate William Shatner so much in these early shows before he seemed to become so full of himself and feel that Kirk had to be nearly infallible. He fits nicely in the role as Kirk and doesn’t seem to be posturing at all. His rapport with his crew is good as he comes of most definitely as in command of the ship, but also possibly not having their confidence completely at times. Thinking back now on the backstory of the youngest Captain ever in Starfleet, it fits what’s happening here.
Likewise, DeForest Kelley is excellent as well. He comes off as Kirk’s friend who has known him for sometime, but that’s never stated. Rather, it’s shown in the demeanor they have with each other, including how he is reticent to tell Kirk about the alert before he finishes the physical. Kirk chides him for that, but not the same way he would chew out someone else. It’s also apparent at this point that the same bond doesn’t seem to be there between Kirk and Spock, but it’s something that grows through the series.
All in all, The Corbomite Maneuver is a terrific early episode of the series that fits quite nicely into the universe in many ways. With a little bit of updating on the effects with the remastering that was done several years ago, it looks nice as well, although the effects still aren’t up to current standards. Still, for the time, it was damn good. The strong point of this episode is the story and it’s very well written and executed.