Day 29, No. 29. Balok

Star Trek BalokHAIRCUT 100: Day 29, No. 29. Balok, Commander of the First Federation Flagship Fesarius and puppet, in honour of Star Trek, which was first broadcast on NBC fifty years ago today. (Didn’t really think that through – see Day 27.) The unfortunately named Balok was actually a diminutive, childlike humanoid played by Clint Howard, the younger brother of director Ron Howard. He used a sinister dummy to represent himself as more imposing in ship-to-ship communications, eerily lit and voiced by Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family). Like the equally iconic image of the green ‘Orion Slave Girl,’ the scary version of Balok is instantly familiar as the final freeze frame of the closing credits of the original series. The character appeared in tenth episode of the first season, ‘The Corbomite Maneuver,’ written by Jerry Sohl and first broadcast on November 10, 1966. This is a story that really catches the essence of Gene Roddenberry’s original high concept vision of the show as ‘Wagon Train in space,’ with Kirk essentially playing stone cold bluff poker, claiming to have a superweapon – the ‘corbomite bomb’ – capable of destroying both ships. It also demonstrates the link between space opera and naval drama, as two ship’s captains match wits during a tense stand-off, which is then subverted by the light-hearted resolution. (For a full-on ‘submarine versus destroyer’ allegory, see episode 14: ‘Balance of Terror.’) Gene Roddenberry once used the Balok puppet to prank series producer Bob Justman, arranging for it to be seated next to him on an aeroplane. This weirded out passengers and crew so much that it was removed before take-off. Clint Howard reprised his role in 2006 for the Comedy Central roast of William Shatner. ‘You are obviously the product of a primitive and savage civilization and must be destroyed.’

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