Star Trek’s Romulans Hid A Dark Secret In Plain Sight For Over Half A Century

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

balance of terror feature

Though they have been a mainstay of Star Trek since The Original Series, the Romulans remain one of the most mysterious races in the entire franchise. With that being said, I didn’t think there were too many surprises left for fans to discover in their debut episode “Balance of Terror.” However, the original script for this episode implies that the famous Romulan Bird of Prey was based on stolen Federation technology, a revelation that could dramatically change almost everything we know about these secretive aliens.

Balance Of Terror

star trek romulans

To really understand what we’re talking about, we need to briefly review the Star Trek episode that introduced us to the Romulans. “Balance of Terror” was an episode heavily based on the classic film Enemy Below, and it featured a galactic version of that film’s memorable struggle between an American destroyer and a German submarine. In this case, it was Captain Kirk’s Enterprise that was largely at the mercy of a cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey, but the famous captain was able to outwit his foe and head off what we now know (thanks to Strange New Worlds) could have been a full-on Romulan invasion.

Stolen Starfleet Tech

star trek romulans

At the time this Star Trek episode aired, fans rightly assumed that the Romulans had simply developed their own starship technology, including their famous cloaking device. However, the original script for the episode claimed that this original Bird of Prey looked like the saucer section of the Enterprise attached to a pair of warp nacelles. This would imply that at some point, the Romulans actually stole Starfleet technology and used it to augment their own starship development.

Final Words Confirm It

By itself, this Star Trek script note about the Romulans could be easily dismissed as something that Gene Roddenberry or another higher-up decided to change at the last minute. However, there is also a cut line of dialogue from Commander Hansen (who we saw blown up by the Romulans in both The Original Series episode “Balance of Terror” and the Strange New Worlds episode “A Quality of Mercy”) identifying the Romulans as having a “Starship design.” This is a reference to the Enterprise originally being designated as “Starship Class,” and Hansen even claims that Romulans must have used espionage along with human traitors to steal Federation tech.

Even The Famous Anti-Romulan Racist Confirms It

In that same deleted scene from this iconic Star Trek: The Original Series episode, Stiles (the guy who has beef with the Romulans due to old family history) notes that the aliens are attacking in a “vessel remarkably similar to ours.” Based on all this, it seems clear there was going to be a major plot about the Romulans stealing Federation technology, but this plot was later dropped altogether. 

The Enterprise Incident

star trek romulans

Interestingly, if this plot had remained, it would have made the later episode “The Enterprise Incident” make more sense–that episode featured Kirk and Spock pulling off a convoluted scheme in order to steal a Romulan cloaking device, a plot point that never had any real ramifications (and no, that one part of the old Star Trek: Legacy game doesn’t count).

Romulans And Stolen Tech Don’t Mix Well

star trek romulans

Given how the writers of Star Trek: Picard made several changes to Romulan lore, I doubt that the franchise is eager to retcon Romulans as thieves of Starfleet technology anytime soon. Certainly, that idea wouldn’t really mesh with the Picard notion that Romulans hate the kinds of advanced computers that Starfleet relies on. Strangely enough, such a retcon would gel well with the Kelvinerse–as Star Trek (2009) proves, nothing is quite as dangerous as stolen technology in the hands of a crazy Romulan.

Star Trek Newsletter

Subscribe For Bold

Star Trek News

Expect a confirmation email if you "Engage!"