Though this episode comes a little way into the first season, The Corbomite Maneuver was actually the first episode filmed after the series was picked up, placing it directly after Where No Man Has Gone Before in a true chronology. We bring this up because, as we discussed in our review of The Man Trap, it’s an interesting contrast to a lot of 1960s television that was popular at the time. And considering Gene Roddenberry himself likened Star Trek to a space Western (a la “Wagon Train to the stars”), the first episode filmed after the pilot was accepted was far from an action-packed shoot-em-up.
For one thing, Kirk only ordered the Enterprise to fire phasers one time, and then only at the last possible second when it was that or be killed. And despite Kirk’s reputation for “cowboy diplomacy” (as it was later referred to in Star Trek: Generations), he maintains actual peaceful diplomacy throughout this episode, and even only loses his cool one time – and that not at Bailey’s moment of panicked insubordination, but rather with less than 5 minutes to live, his frustration at not being able to find a solution, while being pestered by Dr. McCoy giving him grief over Bailey.
That also brings another lovely bit of character development to light. During the early scenes of the episode, the viewers don’t know why this Bailey guy is so loose with his comments in what appears to be a somewhat military environment. It’s not until McCoy is chiding Kirk that we find out Bailey was promoted very young. It is likely that during the crises in this episode, it’s the first time in Bailey’s life he’s ever stared death in the face, especially not from the front seat of the bridge. It’s not that he’s really insubordinate, he’s literally scared out of his mind. And after a few minutes calming down, and realizing he will probably die in just a few more minutes, he calmly returns to the bridge and politely requests to return to his post, obviously intending to live out his last few minutes with as much dignity as he can muster.
And the most telling thing of all is that McCoy points out that Bailey is reminiscent of a young Kirk – a fact which bothers the captain, but that he does not deny. And in fact, after Kirk passes Balok’s test, Bailey is the one that gets to embark on the exciting adventure of cultural cross-pollination.
As a final side note, we get some great lines from Dr. McCoy (including a precursor to the famous “I’m a doctor, not a…”), and some attention being given to more than just the main trinity of Kirk-Spock-McCoy: Scotty, Sulu and Uhura also have a chunk of screen time.
All in all, this episode lays down some good groundwork for the series, and stands as a great bit of drama.