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20 Can’t-Miss Episodes Of Star Trek

Netflix has acquired streaming rights for all the Star Trek television series, and plans to roll them out toward the end of the year. Good news for fans, definitely, but what if you’ve never seen any of the five shows and your time is limited? Don’t worry: We’ll tell you the 20 episodes you should make room in your schedule to see.

Star Trek
The original – and, I’d argue, still the best — of all Star Trek series, Trek ran just three seasons, from 1966 through 1969, but nonetheless set the tone for everything that came afterward … well, almost. For one thing, Trek is funnier than every other series in the franchise, and also more willing to let its heroes be idiots when the situation demands. Here are four episodes that pretty much sum up what this series has to offer:

Where No Man Has Gone Before
The second pilot for the series, after the original was deemed “too cerebral,” this episode lays out the Trek worldview pretty clearly, with the idea of man coming face to face with powers and beings beyond his understanding — only to get into a fistfight with them — being central to the episode, and the show. But as well as the science fiction and two-fisted action, there’s a tragic side as well, and somewhere in the combination of all three is where Trek really exists.

The City on The Edge of Forever
One of the best episodes of any science-fiction television series, the time-traveling “City” again brings the tragedy — history can’t be changed, even for love! — and also gives Trek the chance to do what it enjoyed doing every now and again … Namely, play dress-up. Seeing Spock, Bones and Kirk in Depression-era New York manages to reinvigorate the characters, while reinforcing the point of view that makes the series so great.

Mirror, Mirror
Parallel universes (and the origin of the evil-twin-has-a-goatee meme)! Political science (well, after a fashion)! The universal power of logic! This one really does have it all, true believers. A really spectacular hour of television.

Turnabout Intruder
I mention this, I admit, not because it’s one of the best episodes of the show — it is, actually, the last episode aired during the show’s original run, and features a fun-but-not-groundbreaking plot about Kirk’s consciousness being swapped with a woman intent on killing him — but because, for a remarkable number of people I know, this was the first episode of the show they ever saw, and they were immediately hooked. I don’t know why, but I can attest to its power: This was my first Trek, and I had to see more once it was over.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Cut to almost 20 years after the cancellation of the first series, and The Next Generation was introduced, thanks to Trek‘s continuing success as a movie franchise. After a couple of rough early years — seriously, that second year is appalling — the show found its feet by Season 3, and fans loved it, even if I don’t think it’s aged so well. Anyway: Four episodes!

Yesterday’s Enterprise
The show plays with a similar conceit to the original series’ “City On The Edge of Forever,” but this time it’s something from the past entering the present that changes everything — and we get to see all the changes for ourselves. With an altered timeline offering dramatic possibilities an ongoing series wouldn’t, there’s something incredibly satisfying in seeing the show go for broke knowing that it wouldn’t necessarily have to pick up the pieces afterward.

The Best Of Both Worlds
Yes, I know this is technically cheating as it’s one story split across two episodes, but this season-ending cliffhanger and its conclusion managed to successfully up the stakes for its duration, keeping everyone on their toes about whether everyone would survive, and even if they did, how an unbeatable foe could be defeated. For a show that could at times become too talky and self-referential, this is a ridiculously exciting story.

Conundrum
Taking all of your characters’ memories away in one fell swoop doesn’t just allow for some rare humor in this series — it delivers on that front ably, though — but it also offers up a great mystery as the viewers and cast have to work out how it happened, and why. The pay-off is surprisingly worth it.

All Good Things
It’s rare for a show that runs for seven years to have a finale that pretty much perfectly sums up what the show was about and what made it work. However, “All Good Things” is that rare thing, an almost-perfect finale that calls back to the very first episode and everything in between without feeling too self-conscious, self-aware or sentimental. Never mind Generations, this should have been the cast’s first movie.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
I’ll admit, this is probably my favorite Trek series outside of the original, and that’s in large part because it’s such a break from the routine. Setting it on a stationary location — a space station in the middle of politically disputed territory — and with a hero who isn’t sure he is a hero seemed like revolutionary behavior back in the day, and I think science-fiction television is all the better for it. So, four episodes from DS9, then:

Emissary
The first episode, and pretty much necessary for anyone who wants to try and understand what the series is about, mixing politics, religion and all things Star Trek to come up with … well, something that makes you believe that Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame worked on this show for some years, really.

Duet
World War II allusions abound as a visiting alien is suspected as a war criminal, and one of the space station’s crew decides she will expose him. However, the subject is treated with a surprising lightness of touch, even if the finale goes a little bit toward the unsubtle moral-of-the-week side.

Trials and Tribble-ations
Broad comedy to celebrate the franchise’s 30th anniversary, as the cast go back in time to the original series, and finds itself cut into an actual episode of the original series, offering snark and Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-style commentary on the action.

Far Beyond The Stars
I’m not the greatest fan of episodes that excitedly ask “What if everything you’ve seen before has only been someone’s dream?” but this one does so remarkably well, and with a particularly poignancy, casting Captain Sisko back to the 1950s, where he may (or may not) have been a successful science fiction writer dreaming everything up.

Star Trek: Voyager
By now, the franchise was beginning to run out of steam, and this “lost in space” series seemed less sure of itself for its entire run, especially when it tried to reboot itself halfway through with the introduction of Jeri Ryan in tight, tight outfits. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Here are four episodes to prove it:

Deadlock
Voyager liked to mess with viewers’ heads a lot: Characters would become mutated by traveling at speeds beyond imagination, merged by teleportation accidents or, in this episode, somehow cloned and facing themselves with neither knowing which is the “real” crew.

Year of Hell
Talking of messing with heads, this two-part episode pretty much put the entire cast — and the audience — through the ringer before coming up with a fun solution on how to fix things that has to be seen to be believed.

Live Fast and Prosper
For once, the franchise really addresses the idea that its heroes are heroes by having con men impersonate them and leave behind a trail of disaster for the real crew to deal with. Funny, if self-referential, and a nice break from the melodrama that the show would eventually become.

Endgame
Another final episode that actually fits with the rest of the series, this one isn’t as perfect as “All Good Things,” but at least manages to continue with the temporal screwiness by centering around an attempt by a future version of the Captain to change her past by bringing her crew home early. Voyager: A series that never wanted to settle for reality the way it was.

Star Trek: Enterprise
I think it’s fair to say that Enterprise may have been well-intentioned, but the execution was more than a little … not-so-good. It’s also the only series in the franchise to get canceled, as opposed to end on the creators’ own terms, outside of the original. But, still, that final season wasn’t too shabby …

Similitude
Moral questions over cloning are addressed in this episode where a clone is created for spare parts to help heal an injured crewman, but not everyone is on board with killing the clone to harvest those parts. Torn from the headlines — if not exactly treated with the greatest amount of realism.

Vanishing Point
Thanks to a transporter accident, one of the crew starts turning invisible and everyone else thinks she’s dead. One for paranoid fans especially, it’s one of the more subtle episodes from the show’s earlier seasons, and enjoyably tense.

Bound
Fan service never felt so guilty as it did here, in an episode constructed pretty much to take advantage of the fan love for a minor character, the green-skinned Orion slave girl, from the original series. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, but … it’s also kind of fun, in a terrible way.

In A Mirror, Darkly
Yes, it’s pretty much just a retread of the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek, but again, the fan service is enough to make this one of the best stories (again, it’s a two-part episode) of the series. If nothing else, seeing the crew in the colorful costumes of the original series is kind of awesome.

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Comments

  • Coy_dog0

    Turnabout Intruder was MY first full episode too. Strange.
    Now I have a reason to get Netflix!

  • Lieutenant_non

    ‘menagerie 1 & 2′ over ‘turnabout’

  • http://profiles.google.com/avanta72 Adam Avant

    Not sure if your comment about Ron Moore working on Deep Space Nine is supposed to be sarcastic…

    But Ron Moore actually did serve as one of the executive producers/head writers on DS9, alongside Ira Steven Behr. However, Moore had nothing to do with “Emissary;” Moore came aboard with the first episode of Season 3 and stuck around until the Season 7 finale.

    Moore admits on the DS9 DVDs that it is his favorite Trek, and he has actually called the reimagined Battlestar Galactica a spiritual successor to DS9. In fact, most DS9 fans can easily see the influence it had on Moore’s BSG (i.e., the enemy among us, the large-scale space battles, the gray shades of morality, the flawed characters, etc).

    Like you, DS9 is my favorite right after the original Star Trek.

    My little brother and I usually go back and forth on this one… But despite our hazy memories, the FIRST Trek episode we ever saw was either “Shore Leave” or “Journey to Babel” in syndication in the early 80s.

  • Bass Guitar Hero

    I actually agree with this list. Sure, I probably would have added a few of my own personal favorites, but if I did an abridged version, this would be it.

  • Michael P

    No “The Measure of a Man?” No “Darmok?” No “In the Pale Moonlight?”

  • http://www.comicbookresources.com/ Jonah Weiland

    I’m surprised you could only limit yourself to four episodes of DS9 — as the series went on, it got better. While “Far Beyond The Stars” is a close second best IMO, mostly for a phenomenal performance by Avery Brooks, my favorite has to be “In The Pale Moonlight,” the most Un-Star Trekish episode I’ve ever seen. Brilliant moral and ethical debate that ends up in a major turning point in the war against the Dominion.

  • Deep Beam

    Personally I’m shocked that “The Inner Light” didn’t make the list. I remember that one packing an emotional punch from the moment it first aired. I know it’s pretty popular with fans, and as much as I liked “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, that episode didn’t have the same strength as an episode.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    I missed all of these.

  • stealthwise

    Man, Enterprise was terrible, although at least it led to the new rebooted films.

  • Scud

    Weird to see you not complaining about something. You did a bit here but it was justified at least. I think I’ve entered a parallel universe. Keep it up dude.

  • http://twitter.com/BigAl6ft6 Al D.

    Here’s an alt pick for each one (not that I disagree, this article did pick some good ones)

    Star Trek
    Space Seed: Khhhaaaaannnnnn!!! Required viewing to add that extra bit of omph to watching “Wrath”

    TNG
    Frame of Mind: Great performance by Frakes in an uber-twisty plot as Riker completely loses his mind, not knowing if he’s on a starship or in the crazyhouse.

    DS9
    Waltz: Sisko and Dukat play “trapped on a deserted planet” and give both of these thespians some chance to chew scenery in a really entertaining way

    Voyager
    Bride of Chatoica: Written by Bryan Fuller who went one to write some beloved TV series and one of the best “Heroes” episodes ever (“Company Man”), photontic-aliens take over Paris’ 50s serial Buck Rogers-esque holoprogam and much wackiness ensues.

    Enterprise
    Regeneration: the Borg end up in a time where they shouldn’t be and basically assimilate the hell out of anyone in sight while making a beeline for the Delta Quadrant, it takes a villain that had been overused and makes them scary again. Great music too by Bryan Tyler who would go on to be a film composer.

  • demoncat_4

    nice list for most of those would also be my picks for a star trek list. all but enterprise for never watched it.

  • Anonymous

    While I enjoy virtually anything Star Trek, my favorite incarnations were Voyager and Enterprise. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Voyager episodes “Course: Oblivian” (a replicated Voyager crew fights for survival; great ending), “Relativity” (Capt. Braxton v Janeway… again), or “Blink of an Eye” (A world evolves before Voyager’s eyes). I didn’t think Enterprise was all that bad… it turned out better than I thought it would when I first heard of the series premise. I thought they were just hitting their stride when they were cancelled. I know the J.J. Abrahms movies are the priority now, but I hope Star Trek returns to television soon.

  • ookerdookers

    Yesterday’s Enterprise is a fine, fine episode, but it simply does not work as an introduction to TNG. Its impact lies in the premise that the viewer is already well aware of all the principal characters and themes of the show, and that the viewer is at least casually familiar with *ahem* certain events from the first season.

  • Jon

    Space Seed!!!

  • Rogers6166

    I remember watching ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ and being so excited that I went to school wanting to talk about it. That’s when the show finally arrived for me.

  • Eric Sean

    “Turnabout Intruder”? Really?!!

    Are you high?

  • Shortdawg68

    The DS9 where Sisko vanishes into negative space only to appear to Jake every 20 years or something for, like, 2 minutes, and so Jake devotes the rest of his life into bringing his dad back and the exclusion of all else, only finishing when he’s old and bitter and near death while his dad hasn’t aged.

  • DaveH

    it likely doesn’t belong on this list but A Piece of the Action has always been one of my favorite TOS episodes just because of the premise alone

  • The Crazed Spruce

    I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure that “Turnabout Intruder” was my first episode, too. One of ‘em, for sure.

    DS9 is my favourite, too, but I’ve always thought that Voyager got a bit of a bum rap. Sure, it was no Next Generation, but it had some pretty damn good episodes.

    Gotta say, I agree with pretty much all of your choices. And, like pretty much everyone else here, I can think of a few more to add. F’r instance….

    Original Trek: The Enemy Within. Completely redefined the “good half vs. evil half” trope.

    Next Generation: Cause and Effect. The Enterprise gets stuck in a time loop, and blows up, like, half a dozen times. Made for a helluva cold open, that’s for sure.

    Deep Space Nine: Necessary Evil. We get a glimse into Odo’s past on the station while he tries to solve a cold-case murder.

    Voyager: One. Seven of Nine is forced to steer the ship alone through a harsh region of space, and it starts messing with her head. Great character study.

    Enterprise: Carbon Creek. A flashback to T’Pol’s first encounter with human beings… in the 1950’s.

    And, of course, there are the episodes I love for all the wrong reasons….

    Original: Assignment: Earth. The Enterprise goes back to the 1960’s, hooks up with a P.I. raised by aliens and his ditzy secretary (played by Teri Garr).

    Next Gen: Starship Mine. Die Hard on the Enterprise!

    DS9: The Magnificent Ferengi. Quark puts together a ragtag group of rebel Ferengi to save his mother from the Dominion. It… doesn’t go well….

    Voyager: Threshold. Tom Paris breaks Warp 10, turns into a lizard, kidnaps Captain Janeway, turns her into a lizard, and they find a warm secluded planet to have little lizard babies together. And I wish I was kidding….

    Enterprise Affliction/Divergence. The writers bend over backwards to explain why Original Series Klingons had smooth foreheads. Yeah.

  • J_blueharvest

    While I’m sure your choices are very good (I’m only a TOS and TNG fan, gave up halfway through DS9), I’m concerned that new viewers who have never watched before might not enjoy these as much as seasoned viewers would. A lot of these episodes are fantastic because we know the characters and we know what has come before. Personally, I think it would be a huge mistake to watch Yesterday’s Enterprise and Best of Both Worlds as your 1st 2 episodes of TNG. I seriously doubt they would have any ressonance with viewers who don’t yet know Yarr, Picard and the rest of the crew. Start at the beginning and make your way through them all. It will be far more rewarding.

  • Brandon

    All fine choices…. but here are mine!

    TOS: Space Seed (“You must now ASK to stay.”)

    TNG: The Wounded (The Enterprise teams with Cardassians to capture a Starfleet captain gone rogue!)

    DS9: In the Pale Moonlight (Perfect episode)

    VOY: Tuvix (kind of dumb, but shows that Janeway puts her money where her mouth is when she says she’ll get the crew home no matter the cost)

    ENT: None (sorry, hated this one. It was a disgrace to what Trek is all about)

  • Wolveriter

    No “Trouble with Tribbles”????? You have GOT to be kidding me…the ULTIMATE humor episode of what could be a very over-the-top drama series (lots of scene-chewers in the cast, but all lovable) without episodes like this one to balance the act.

  • Anonymous

    What about the Animated Series? It was my first Trek and got me into seeing the live action show; it deserves some credit too. And it wasn’t cartoony at all, it was just like the original except they replaced Uhura with a catgirl and add a three-armed crew member. I’ve even heard that it’s supposed to be canonical, though I doubt it. Even today, just thinking about it gets that creepy background music stuck in my head again.

  • cookepuss

    No “Who Mourns for Adonis?” Tsk tsk tsk.

  • Ghobbs

    Day Of the Dove.

  • http://twitter.com/u_Bik Robert Bainbridge

    I would have picked ‘Timeless’ over ‘Endgame’ as one of the Voyager entries. And I would have included ‘Relativity’ which is a favourite of mine.

  • Zor-El of Argo

    DS9 is my favorite, too. Someday they need to do a DS9 made-for-tv movie. Or better yet, a mini-series. Something really epic involving the second coming of the Sisko. Not asking for a new series, just a reunion with a story worth reuniting for.

    Enterprise could have been a great show… if it weren’t a Star Trek. A few tweaks to avoid copyright infringement and it would have been a great stand-alone series. Attempts to keep it in line with the other shows were weak, and turned off Trek fans, while just being a Star Trek turned away those who lost interest in Trek during one of the earlier shows.

    If you liked the last season it’s only because they knew it was the last and so went balls out with tieing up loose strings from Treks past(like that pesky TOS vs. all-other-Treks-Klingon thing) and setting the stage for Kirk… in other words: fan pandering.

  • Parallax

    For Classic Trek, I’d argue Doomsady Machine. it’s a great bottle show. Guest star William Windom chewed up the scenery and we were given some great performances by the entire cast.

    “Mr. Spock, I order you to relieve Commodore Decker on my personal authority as captain of the Enterprise.”

    Decker’s son will would appear in Star Trek the Motion Picture.

    I would also put Journey to Babel up there as it introduced Spock’s parents and provided JJ Abrams with much of Spock’s backstory as seen in 2009’s Star Trek.

    *****

    For Next Gen, I echo the sentiment about The Inner Light. I would also nominate Relics (Scotty’s return) and Chain of Command. Ronnie Cox was a magnificent douche as Captain Jellico and Patrick Stewart really did see 4 lights.

  • Ken

    Great list. Like others, the original series was my favorite, followed by DS9. “In the Pale Moonlight” is not only the best DS9 episode and the best Star Trek Episode, but also the best TV episode of any series (yes, even the West Wing).