Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Corbomite Maneuver

Season 1
Episode 2: The Corbomite Maneuver
Filmed: May 1966
First Air Date: November 10, 1966 (10th episode aired)

Karen: Probably best remembered now for pint-sized Commander Balok (played by Ron Howard's little brother Clint) offering Kirk and company glasses of 'tranya,' 'The Corbomite Maneuver' is surprisingly well-crafted considering it was the first episode filmed following the second pilot. It was in this episode that the  Enterprise crew we know and love would come together. DeForest Kelley was now aboard as ship's doctor Leonard McCoy, and Nichelle Nichols had been hired to play Lieutentant Uhura, the ship's Communications Officer. In the role of the Captain's Yeoman, Janice Rand, was Grace Lee Whitney. Interestingly, according to These are The Voyages by author Marc Cushman, all three were signed to limited contracts. Kelley and Whitney were guaranteed at least seven episodes each, while Nichols, who was brought in later than everyone else, received no such guarantee, but did get a rather high pay rate per episode of $1000. In comparison, Shatner received $5,000 per show, while co-star Nimoy took home $1,250 per episode, and Kelley was making  $850. As budgets became more and more strained on the show, Desilu would renegotiate with Nichols.

Karen: With the exception of Whitney, all of the supporting cast appeared in more episodes than they were originally contracted for. It became apparent quickly that the chemistry between the characters -and particularly between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy - was a key element of the show. This initial episode has a lot of nice character interactions, particularly between Kirk and McCoy. The peaceful nature of the ship's mission is borne out here, as once Balok's ship is disabled, Kirk takes McCoy and young officer Bailey over to ensure the alien is all right. The decision to have Bailey stay for a time with Balok, as a way to exchange information about their two cultures, showed hope that we could find common cause with others, and overcome our fears. That hope was one sorely needed in the 60s -and today.

Karen: Although show producer and creator Gene Roddenberry had wanted to premiere the show with this episode, the demands of post-production special effects got in the way. The first company hired to handle them, the Howard Anderson Company, found the challenge of a weekly science fiction show greater than anticipated. "The Corbomite Maneuver," with its gigantic First Federation starship and other effects, took longer than planned, and was pushed back repeatedly in the schedule, until it was finally shown as episode ten, much later than anyone had hoped. By that time, the characters and their relationships were much better established. But this episode is still a standout.

Karen: One last thing: that Balok puppet scared the crap out of me as a kid! My brother used to torment me whenever it was on screen in the end credits, and try to force me to look at it!

Late breaking Trek fun: Our pal Mike W. sent us this great snippet from the book, Star Trek 30 Years Special Collectors Edition by Lee Anne Nicholson. It seems Clint Howard was only willing to go so far for his role as Balok...Thanks again Mike!

Karen: As a special addendum to today's post, we'd like to give a shout out to our Super-Blog Team-Up team-mate, Paul O'Connor, proprietor of the Longbox Graveyard. Paul's comic story, 4 Seconds, is premiering on Mark Waid's site today. Paul won an open microphone pitch contest at San Diego Comic Con a couple of years ago, and now his comic, with art by Karl Kesel, will appear free on the site. Paul's pitch went like this:

4 Seconds is a noir thriller about a petty thief who discovers she can see four seconds into the future. That’s just enough precognition to get into trouble, but not nearly enough time to pull off the heist that will save her sister’s life.

Karen: Congratulations to Paul! Please take a look!


Rip Jagger said...

Ditto on the dummy used by Balok to scare his opponents. It was totally creepy and I still remember being unnerved by it. Saw it for the first time in those closing credits or whatever when they showed old scenes. Didn't know what it was forever.

Rip Off

Comicsfan said...

I've always like the concept of the "First Federation." It's interesting to wonder if the First Federation co-existed with, or was absorbed into, the UFP, since the FF was presumably also an alliance with other species (or perhaps one species, spreading its net widely among other systems). If the FF continued to exist separately, you would think it would have played a more pivotal role in Trek lore and the UFP's expansion.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I didn't know that little guy was Ron Howard's brother - I'm a bit slow, I only recently discovered that Pete Duel from 'Alias Smith & Jones' died in 1971. I remember reading an interview with Nichelle Nichols in which she said that she had planned to quit Star Trek but Martin Luther King persuaded her not to - "A door has been opened that absolutely must not be allowed to close" he she stayed.

Humanbelly said...

Yeah, I was in 5th grade when Pete Duel (formerly "Deuel") committed suicide, Colin. Geeze, the poor guy. It was THE tabloid shocker of the year. I'm not kidding-- girls I knew cried over it.

But yeah, ol' Clint Howard. If you just listen to his voice, you can totally hear a distinct vocal similarity to brother Ron's. 'Round here we probably mostly remember him as Mark from Gentle Ben, the voice of Roo in several Disney Winnie-the-Pooh shorts, and a number of slightly-expanded bit roles in pretty much every film Ron Howard has made (which, honestly, I don't really have a problem with. It speaks very well of Ronnie's fraternal devotion, and Clint's a pro who doesn't drop the ball.) And even in this episode, although the effect with the voiceover never convinced me at all, and is jarring and kinda hard to sit through, you can still see that this little 7-year old kid is indeed inhabiting this rather smug-but-charming character of Balok. He surrenders to it convincingly, which is much to his credit.

Yeesh-- that creepy puppet/head! Since re-runs were so haphazard, I think it was years and years before I ever actually saw this episode-- it may have been into early adulthood, even. So there it ALWAYS was during the end credits. . . eerie, malevolent, menacing. . . a disturbing mystery from the show's past that MUST have been explained at some point! And then what's so great is that it ends up being practically an homage to The Great And Powerful Oz, doesn't it? I mean, that similarity cannot have been accidental (otherwise it becomes darned close to plagiarism in its execution!).

Also glad to see the uniform design in MUCH better shape than the previous episode. . .


Edo Bosnar said...

Colin, Nichols recounted that MLK story in an interview she did with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Star Talk Radio some years ago - it's really amusing (and kind of cool that MLK was something of an early Trekkie).

Corbomite Maneuver is indeed a good episode, and it's really too bad it wasn't aired first (or second), because it does a nice job of establishing some of the core characters and interactions. It's so jarring when watched 10th.
By the way, Balok never scared me that much (in fact, I vaguely recall finding Clint Howard speaking with an adult voice more unsettling), but that 'angel' in the episode And the Children Shall Lead (season 3) really scared me when I first saw him as a kid - even before he the children realized he was evil and his appearance began to change.

Garett said...

This wasn't my favorite episode-- found it a bit dull. But I appreciate the review and the links, and looking forward to more of these Karen! I think of Apollo 13 for Clint Howard.

As little kids, my friends and I would play Star Trek (would've been Cowboys and Indians in an earlier era). Most popular characters to play: Spock, Kirk, and Scotty.

J.A. Morris said...

This episode frustrated me a bit as a kid. I had the Mego Balok doll. It was labeled "The Keeper" (as in 'The Menagerie) but it looked just like Balok. That was one of the last episodes I saw. I was disappointed that they made a Mego that didn't really exist in the Star Trek universe, he was just a puppet. I still used him, but my friends were too literal and didn't want to involve him in our Mego adventures.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Edo on this one...Balok never bothered me, but that weird voice still kinda creeps me out! But I agree this is definitely better than "Where No Man Has Gone Before"; it's nice to see all the elements coming together.

Mike Wilson

Karen said...

Nichelle Nichols has recounted that story about Dr. King frequently. Obviously it has resonance. And it's a good story. I don't really want to say much more than that.

At some point someone with Mego experience should do a post on the Star Trek Mego figures. I only ever had Spock. I just never got into them. But I do recall they had some weird versions of aliens, as J.A. notes.

The real Balok IS pretty weird, come to think of it. The Star Trek make-up and wardrobe people had a lot of different ideas on how to handle him before settling on what we got. They considered using a little person too. But I think Clint Howard's performance is charming. It's offbeat without being too weird to be laughed off the screen. He and his brother Ron were always solid child actors, but it made sense, coming from an acting family.

B Smith said...

When JJ Abrams can come up with a Nu-Trek story to match this, then I'll start paying more attention to it.

Though a very early episode, this one went a long way in defining the characters. There is Jim Kirk written as a character that Chris Pine's version misses by a country mile. Someone who can be calm in tense situations. but occasional still snapping, who shows an ability to improvise solutions when the pressure's on, and yet willing to take the risk of showing compassion when it may well work against him. And willing to deal with a situation such that will benefit both a former foe/new potential friend, and skittish crew member (can you imagine the new Kirk - or any modern commander - not only admitting that his crewman will likely make mistakes, but "You'll find out more about us that way - plus I'll get a better crewman in return"?)

And this was a much better Spock than the lugubrious near-caricature he'd become in the TOS movies - reserved without being detached, concerned with overdisplaying it (the way he looks around and notes how worried his fellow crew are, so attempts to break the alarm by comparing Balok to his father).

You might get the idea that this was one of my fave TOS episodes...I would not disagree with the notion.

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