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A Fistful of Romulans

A Fistful of Romulans

In recent years we’ve learned a lot about the Federations old enemy. First appearing on screens in 1966, the Romulans have had a lot of focus in the Star Trek universe through stories of political deception and intrigue. But in the past few years we’ve had the door to their mysterious and secretive empire open to explore new versions of the old enemy. Thanks in large part to the efforts of original series character, Spock.

Despite irking some (or the many?), JJ Abhrams 2009 alternate universe movie had it’s roots in the ‘prime’# timeline when the Romulan Empire faced the destruction of it’s homeworld thanks to exploding star; a moment that’s since become a key point in two recent Star Trek series. For Picard, we got to see flashbacks of his failed efforts to help Romulus as well as the fallout of a shattered empire. Writer Michael Chabon also saw opportunity to explore, not just more espionage or how far Romulus had fallen into a culture of extreme secrecy, but the spiritual side of what was developing as a multi-faceted species.

For Discovery, we’d see the end result of Spock’s life long ambition from The Next Generation; the unification of Romulus and Vulcan showing that the turmoil seen in the first season of Picard would eventually lead to the Romulans finding a new home with their old ancestrial cousins, the Vulcans, renaming their new combined home to Ni’Var – linking back to Picard by showcasing the peaceful order of the Qowat Milat.

A month from now we’ll start a new adventure that kicks off when Captain Burnham and the Discovery bump into the Romulans again, just not the Romulans from their era of unity, but by the looks of the trailer, from an era of Trek many fans grew up with.

So hunting through the archives we’re taking a look at a firstful of classic Romulan episodes that helped shape the late 24th and 32nd century series…

The Enemy
The Next Generation (Season 3, Episode 7)
Answering a distress call, the crew of the Enterprise head to a planet close to the Neutral Zone that suffers severe radiologic storms. While trying to rescue the survivors of a crashed Romulan ship, Geordie has a whoopsie, falls into an underground cavern and gets lost in action as the rest of the away team are forced to head back to the ship.

Lost and alone, Geordie has to let go of his mistrust of one of two survivors and learn to work with the Romulan, dropping all suspicion and fear to find a way to escape together. On board the Enterprise, Crusher struggles to save the life of the only other survivor who’s suffered neurological damage from the storms. And if that wasn’t bad enough, our friendly neighbourhood Tomalok – played by the late Andreas Katsulas – pops by to settle the intergalactic incident; claiming they only entered their space by navigational accident and offering to take who he suspects to be the only survivor home.

The episode is a standout for the show, coming in the third season where the cracks of the first two preceding began to be patched up with more serious and less campy storytelling. It’s also one that see’s the crew show a split in their mistrust of the Romulans. Geordie’s side of the story is fairly straight forward. The two enemies bond, learn from each others strengths and find a way to survive together for their own safety. A kinship is born, they escape and all is well.

When it comes to the shipboard action, the opposite happens. The other survivor needs a donor to save his life. Worf is the only match. In contrast to Geordie’s story of understanding and learning, Worf cannot grow beyond his prejudice. Romulans are the natural enemy of the Klingons, and were responsible for his parents death. Regardless of what’s said to him, he refuses to break his personal code of honour and aid an enemy, preferring to let them die. A sentiment the patient shares deeply.

It’s not only one of The Next Generations best Romulan episodes, it’s one of the first markers of what The Next Generation could achieve. Not because of the main plot of learning to break down barriers and find mutual understanding, but the choices made by Worf to stick by his beliefs and bis bias. A fact highlighted by his captain knowing that he can order Worf to help save the Romulan, but himself refuses to compromise his officers belief system.

The Enemy is often viewed for it’s feelgood factor and how Geordie and his new friend beam back to the Enterprise as a team. But underneath the A story, it’s a heavy episode with a lot to ponder, making it one of the deeper Romulan entries to the franchise.

The Enterprise Incident
Original Series (Episode 3, Episode 2)
After going a little bit Section 8, Kirk intentionally violates the treaty with the Romulans by intentionally taking the Enterprise through the Neutral Zone into enemy territory. Furious at the intrusion, the Romulans surround the Enterprise, refusing to let them leave without the execution of it’s captain.

Admitting that Kirk has lost his marbles, Spock sides with the Romulans Commander, has his captain disposed of and restores order for the sake of restoring peace. Impressed with Spocks loyalty to the uniform, the Commander offers praise as a subtle romance blossoms between the two…

….of course, this is all a ruse. Kirk wasn’t as dead as Spock claimed. Or as mad. While Spock romanced the Commander, Kirk awoke in Sickbay with some heavy plastic surgery and some pretty eyeliner so he could pass as a Romulan. With his pointed ears he sneaks aboard the Commanders ship on a super secret mission worthy of Section 31’s cunning. Starfleet knows the threat and advantage of the Romuan cloaking device, so Kirk’s created the whole scenario so he can steal one, letting the Federation reverse engineer the technology for themselves.

Resembling some of the best spy stories from the era, and to be honest not far off some of the twists and turns of modern spy drama’s like Homeland, The Enterprise Incident lets us take a peek beyond the mission to explore strange new worlds and instead engage in some military espionage against an old enemy whom the Federation don’t trust to stay on their side of the fence.

In writing the episode DC Fontana was inspired by an incident involving a US Navy vessel , the USS Pueblo, that was captured by North Korea on the charge of espionage. While the real-world story turned out to be a lot worse for the Pueblo’s crew, it gave Fontana the idea of Starfleet engaging in similar espionage against their enemies; and one in which the Enterprise would escape, unlike the Pueblo which to this day still remains in North Korean custody.

Suspenseful and thrilling, the Enterprise Incident is one of the few highlights of the rocky third and final season of the original series and a stark contrast to the episode it proceeded – the iconic for all the wrong reasons, Spocks Brain. Delivering a tense and compelling script, as well as some of the finest performances from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, it frames the relationship between the Romulans and the Federation quite nicely while still offering us a peek at the sympathetic, and incredibly likeable Romulan lead in Joanne Linville’s Commander.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges
Deep Space Nine (Season 7, Episode 16)
This one gets through on a technicality. Deep Space Nine rarely had the Romulans in the spotlight, and when they were given the chance to shine it was always as part of a bigger story.

The best example of that is the highly praised In the Pale Moonlight, the story of how Sisko brought the Romulans into the war, but the Romulans are fairly background as we focus on Sisko breaking all the rules alongside a cheery Garak. Similarly, The Die is Cast saw the Romulan intelligence service, the Tal Shiar, join forces with the Cardassian Obsidian Order for a mission to wipe out the Founders. But even then their involvement was secondary to Garak and his relationship with Enabrin Tain.

In much the same way, Inter Arma isn’t actually about the Romulans deep down. The episode focuses on Doctor Bashir while he’s ferried to Romulus by Admiral Ross to take part in a medical conference. However, as Section 31 considers Bashir to be one of their assets, they see an opportunity ahead of them.

There’s an empty seat on the Romulan Senate, and all eyes are on the hear of the Tal Shiar, Koval, to take the position. Operating under the cover of a civilian, Sloan appears on Ross’ ship to convince Bashir to use his medical experience to assess if Koval has, as rumours say, a degenerative disease that would stop him from serving the Senate. Koval isn’t a big fan of the temporary alliance with the Federation and Section 31 hopes to find a way to keep him out of the powerful position, preferring the friendlier former liaison to DS9, Cretak.

Of course, this all being a Section 31 assignment, things weren’t that simple for Bashir as it turned out his mission was a lie all along and he was simply a pawn for Section 31 to impant another of their assets in the Senate.

Despite the plot focusing on Section 31 and Bashir, this was one of the few times Star Trek had travelled to Romulus and given an insight into their political culture within their world; as well as showing that, despite their reputation, Romulus and the Tal Shiar weren’t as infallible as they’d have you believe.

The Defector
The Next Generation (Season 3, Episode 10)
Intercepting a scout ship fleeing from Romulan space, Picard comes face to face with a Romulan officer, Sub-Lieutenant Setal. Setal claims what while working as a low level clerk, he’d accidentally found out about a hidden top secret outpost within the Neutral Zone – a territory barred form hosting any military activity.

Fearing that Setal has been sent to lure the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone, Picard isn’t quite willing to believe his claims, especially without any evidence to back him up. Picards intuition was half way right. The Romulan wasn’t Setal, but a high ranking Admiral Jarok, someone who had led several vicious campaigns against Federation outposts nearby. To calm Picards scepticism, Jarok tells the captain everything he know about the secret Nelvana III outpost; enough for the good captain to put down his tea and take a look at this facility for himself.

Of course, if you haven’t figured out by now, nothings ever that straight forward with the Romulans and this is once again all a ploy by the pointy eared mischievous makers! Jarok was telling the truth, at least as far as he was aware. He’d risked exile and shame in order to tell the Federation about the secret facility and warn them that his people were ready to start a fresh new war. Unfortunately, that facility didn’t exist.

Instead of preventing bloodshed, the Romulans knew if they fed Jarok misinformation his conscience would get the better of him and lead the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone where they’d lie in wait, ready to strike. If Starfleet entered first, or appeared to, the Romulans could blame them for the conflict they wanted. Leading the mission, Tomalok demanded the Enterprise surrender, boasting about his victory. Unfortunately for him, Picard had anticipated this very outcome and brought some friends to even the odds; Klingons. Who decloaked and evened the odds enough for the Enterprise to leave peacefully.

Underneath all the usual Romulan plotting and scheming, Jarok was an intriguing character. While the Romulan Empire was determined to double down on their campaign against the Federation, and clearly ready to manufacture an excuse to get one up on the good guys, Jarok had committed himself to change. He wanted to grow beyond the blind rage and aggression, believing that peace between the two nations could exist and that by helping to avert a war he could repent for his past sins. It’s a typically Star Trek theme, of moving beyond prejudices and find common ground. And in doing so Jarok risked everything.

Unfortunately for Jarok, an alliance wouldn’t be seen properly until the Dominion War and the seeds of peace not sown until Captain Picard and Commander Donatra would work together to defeat the self appointed Praetor Shinzon.

After the Enterprise escaped Jarok was found dead. Unable to live with the shame of exile his family would now carry for his defection, he took his own life, leaving only a letter for his family. Despite the tragic act, Picard held respect for the strength of conviction Jarok held in his desire for change.

Balance of Terror
Original Series (Season 1, Episode 14)
With fear, paranoia and a story of outmanoeuvring one another with tactical thought over fire power, Balance of Terror is where it all began.

Once upon a time the Federation and the Romulan Empire went to war. It was a brutal, bloody battle where two enemies who hadn’t even seen each other in person had raged on between the Empire and an emerging Federation. When the guns stopped firing a treaty was made and a border set. Between those borders lay the Neutral Zone. A bufer between the two regions where they agreed neither party could cross and any military action would be banished within it.

But it’s always wise to keep your eyes on the enemy and both sides had lined the edge of their border with outposts, laying in wait to make sure everyone stays on their own side of the fence. After nearly a hundred years of silence, one of those outposts is under attack….

Balance of Terror quickly established who and what the Romulans were, laying the template for everything that would follow. Throughout the episode we learned of the war, the ill feelings that still remained despite a century passing and aside from the military situation, that no one had actually seen a Romulan before. Making it all the more surprising that they looked remarkably similar to Spock.

The big plot point however was that the Outpost had been attacked by an invisible enemy. The sole survivor of Outpost 4 couldn’t track nor identify his attackers. Despite the lack of evidence, the situation was clear; The Romulans had built a cloak and were now on the attack.

Out to find the attacker, Captain Kirk begins a sow and tense hunt for the ship. But it’s not an easy battle. The Enterprise is quick and manoeuvrable, but while it has a strong arsenal to fight with, the Romulans ability to evade sensors combined with short range deadly weapons make it a near impossible enemy to defeat.

Using their strengths against one another, Kirk and his Romulan counterpart would play a cat and mouse game as they tried to outsmart their way to victory; the Romulans trying to flee back home before they run out of feul and the Enterprise lulling them into a false sense of security by pretending to be damaged beyond repair.

Playing out like a submarine warfare film, the action was slow and calculated, ramping up the tension as we see both crews perspectives play out with Romulans trying to keep their calm and Starfleet officers ensuring they kept cool under pressure. Aside from laying the foundations for the Romulans as adversaries, Balance of Terror also has the honour of being one of the first instances where Star Trek’s plotting all came down to how people thought in their tactical manoeuvrers instead of how much they could fight, or how much firepower they had.

Unsurprisingly Balance of Terror has ranked high in nearly every “best of” list Star Trek has had with it’s tone and style noted to be one of the inspirations for Star Trek Discovery’s debut season.

Our latest issue of Comms takes a look at the last year of Star Trek, sci fi, superheropes and more!! With the usual features including What If, Fistful Of Data and more, the “All Good Things” issue of Comms is available as part of SFCQ2’s free membership! To find out more visit our Comms preview or Enlist Today!

ADM JT Marczynka, DoFA
Creator of things, writer of words, caffeine addict. Director of Communications for Starfleet Command Quadrant 2.

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