The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Corbomite Maneuver

We’re randomly back to an early episode here on the third disc of my DVD collection, and it’s poker game meets The Wizard of Oz when Kirk is confronted by Commander Balok and the mighty ship of the First Federation. Threatened with the destruction of the Enterprise, Kirk claims that his ship’s hull is laced with ‘corbomite’, a material of such destructive power that any adversary who blows up the ship will be caught in the explosion.

With the series as a whole having settled into a familiar rhythm, it’s a bit jarring to go back to a slightly rougher earlier episode – Uhura is still in command gold, Rand’s main job is to serve food and drink, and Spock is occasionally shouty. That being said, there is plenty here to enjoy – not so much the main story, which is just a massive and protracted game of poker with large alien geometric shapes, but for the character moments.

Character Development

“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.”

“It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?”

  • Spock’s wordplay remains as sharp as ever, this time aimed at one-off character Lieutenant Bailey. Bailey is one of many navigators to sit at the conn before Chekov’s time, and his role is much like of Joe Tormolen in The Naked Time – to be that guy who is allowed to get scared, raise his voice and panic at a critical moment. Of course, none of these characters can last on the Enterprise, as their constant fear and negativity would unheroic and downright wearing for the viewer, but perhaps we should remember that going out into space is a dangerous thing, and testing for those without special main character endurance.
  • Even though her role in this episode is as a waitress, Rand shows some ingenuity by using phasers to heat coffee when the power is offline. At this stage, however, Kirk is unmpressed by having a female yeoman (even though he already had one in Where No Man Has Gone Before) – women in space, fussing over you? Whatever next?
  • McCoy is classic old country doctor, even uttering his first “I’m a doctor, not a…” with “What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?” He also gets some great moments down in the sickbay – the one place where the captain cannot pull rank.

Life in space

  • Kirk (and presumably the rest of the crew, except perhaps Spock) has a diet card which is written up by McCoy. Apparently Kirk has been putting on the pounds lately, so McCoy switches him to a salad diet – much to the captain’s disgust. You’d think he’d be delighted to see green leaves in space. Where do they come from? Are they from a nearby planet? Preserved somehow in the ship’s stores? Perhaps they are grown on a hydroponics deck, or by Sulu in his by now long forgotten botany lab.
  • Balok’s ship has the tractor beam technology that was sorely needed by the Enterprise in Mudd’s Women. It’s still unclear whether the Enterprise has its own tractor beam yet.
  • There are always numerous crewmembers wandering the corridors, even in a crisis.
  • During star mapping, the crew have to manually “photograph” the surrounding area. Given that interesting objects are generally light-years apart, one assumes that many of these photos are just of distant starfields (although these may still be necessary and instructive. Mind you, I’m surprised Spock didn’t just write a python script to automatically record these images at regular spacetime intervals.
  • Apparently the Enterprise is truly on the edge of the final frontier, as no other ship has been “this far out”.
  • Also worth noting from the previous episode – we see crewmembers carrying cargo containers to the transporter pad. Why not just have a cargo transporter in the storage bay that can be used to beam them directly off the ship without all this tedious manhandling? I vaguely recall this being a thing on the Enterprise-D, but we’ll get to that in due course.

Summary – The Corbomite Maneuver: Being a good starship captain is mostly about being good at poker.

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