Star Trek has always been a part of my life, but that’s ok, I never expected to have much sex anyway.
An abiding memory I will always have of Star Trek is also a rather strange one. It was on the very surreal Sunday that we all woke up to the news Princess Diana had died, that television channels began racing to alter their scheduling. Any films or shows that were strongly connected to death, or had scenes of car accidents were hastily replaced. Yet satellite channel Sky One went even further, they junked their entire day’s programming, removed all advertisements and showed nothing but back to back Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager episodes.
I’ve always suspected that this lineup was ready made emergency programming, just as I know some radio stations have a playlist all ready to go in the event of the Queen’s death. Obviously I’m not saying Sky were thinking that a time of national crisis, what the British people really needed to get them through this was Patrick Stewart dressed as a Borg. My guess is Star Trek was a good choice as there was little chance they’d be any uncomfortable references that could mirror the days events.
Yet this impromptu marathon, particularly for a fan like me, was a pleasing distraction, offering a mix of familiarity and sheer escapism. Similarly I’ve found in the last week with the ongoing situation, that I’ve been passing some of my stay at home time by indulging in a bit of Star Trek binge watching. It’s had the desired effect of filling the wormhole size void from not having any sport to watch or cinema to go to.
Which is my not so concise way of saying, “here are my ten favourite TOS Star Trek Episodes. I’m planning to do the same for Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and perhaps Voyager if I can find ten episodes of that show I like enough.
Rather than rank in order of my favourites, I’m presenting the ten in their episode order.
- Balance of Terror (Season one: Episode 14
The episode that introduced us to the Romulans, is often celebrated for the tense cat and mouse duel between the Enterprise and a rampaging Romulan Bird of Prey. The submarine style space battle is indeed epic, as is the battle of wits between the two captains, but the conflict is built on many more emotional levels.
Spock experiencing prejudice and paranoia from the rest of his crew when it’s discovered Romulans may be of the same race as Vulcans, Kirk’s doubts and fear the wrong action may start a war, and allowing us to in lower ranked crew members who may not make it out of the episode. However it’s the empathy we feel towards the rival Romulan crew that stands out, in particular the captain (played by Mark Lenard who would make his mark on Trek lore as Spock’s father Savik) who is conflicted and burdened by his duty to his Empire.
It’s a suspenseful story with a intriguing subtext of demonising an enemy.
2. The Galilieo Seven (Season One: Episode Sixteen)
An rare episode that puts Kirk to one side of the story, giving Spock a chance to be the focus as he commands an shuttle expedition that ends up crash landing on a hostile planet. Spock clashes with his crew as his use of cold logic to get the shuttle repaired (such as denying a funeral for the dead crew members) and return home comes across as inhuman.
It’s interesting character piece, with Spock finding his inflexible pursuit of efficiency wanting when it comes to gaining the respect of command. It also takes the crew out of their comfort zone as their technology fails them they’re forced to rely on old school ingenuity.
3. Arena (Season One: Episode Eighteen)
As dated as the Gorn may look, this alien’s hand to hand battle with Kirk has become one of the most iconic scenes in all of Trek lore. It’s a action packed episode, with the Enterprise pursuing an aggressive alien race that has destroyed a colony. It’s a chase that leads into the territory of another powerful race who force the captains of each ship to solves their dispute with a battle to the death.
There are moments of cheese and the old Star Trek tropes of God like beings and Kirk being forced into gladiatorial combat. But it’s so much fun, and despite the obvious rubber suit the Gorn is one of the most memorable creations of the original series. We also see Kirk going all Captain Ahab in his pursuit of the Gorn and leading to cross words with Spock who seem’s perturbed by his friend’s seemingly lust for vengeance at the cost of his crew’s safety.
4. Space Seed (Season One: Episode Twenty Two)
Little could the writers of Space Seed have realised that this episode would be revisited some fifteen years later, changing and maybe even saving the Star Trek franchise. It’s hard not to have affection for Space Seed purely because it gave us the astonishingly good Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. But that wouldn’t give the episode it’s proper due, as it’s a damn fine episode in it’s own right.
The Enterprise comes across a derelict spacecraft, with a crew who have been in suspended animation since the the 20th Century. Their leader the superior enhanced dictator Khan is revived and proceeds to attempt a coup and steal the Enterprise. The build to this is brilliantly paced with growing unease from Kirk about who it is they have released, with Khan subtly manipulative and scheming.
Space Seed excels from the flamboyance and arrogance of Montalban’s portrayal of Khan, exuding charm and a seething danger. His mental jousting with Kirk, even before his attempt to kill him and take over the ship, shows a natural rivalry that cuts the air at every tense scene the two are in. It’s clear that both mentally and physically Space Seed provides Kirk his ultimate match.
The final scene where the crew ponder on what the future holds for Khan and Spock musing what Kirk may have sown by allowing him to start his own colony is so spookily apt you’d swear it was down deliberately.
5. A Taste of Armageddon (Season One: Episode Twenty Three)
To me, this one had a Ray Bradbury short story vibe to it with a 60’s sci fi concept. The Enterprise arrives on a planet that has been at war with a neighbour for over 500 years, and to avoid the devastation the battles are fought on a computer simulation. Except anyone who is judged to have been killed in the “attacks” has to report for disintegration.
Kirk of course ain’t gonna let this culture carry on with their stupid customs and way of life (Prime Directive? never heard of it!) especially when the Enterprise and crew are considered to have been caught in the crossfire and thus sentenced to disintegration. A balmy concept to be sure, but the kind that works so well in a single story episode.
6. Devil in the Dark (Season One: Episode Twenty-Five)
This one has stuck in my memory for years, mainly because it scared the hell out of me as a little kid , with a hideous creature that sent me scurrying to safety behind the sofa. In it, the Enterprise is called to investigate a mining colony where a creature has been killing workers and destroying equipment.
But what starts as a monster story has a wonderful moving twist, as to why the creature is being so hostile which in turn has an environmental theme. It’s also about fearing the unknown and the tendency to want to destroy what we don’t understand. There are also genuine moving scenes involving Spock mind melding with the creature.
7. City on the Edge of Forever (Season One: Episode Twenty Eight)
Maybe the most famous Star Trek episode and one of the more controversial due to the behind the scenes fall out due to Roddenberry’s rewrite of Ralph Ellison’s original script (which is a very simplified version of a very long, bitter story).
Mccoy causes all sorts of hassle when he gets accidentally drugged up and goes into a time portal where he does something to change history so the Nazi’s win the war. Kirk and Spock go back in time to stop Mccoy and meet a young Joan Collins, who Kirk obviously gets the hots for (which reminds me of when I saw her in The Stud when I was about Fourteen).
Arguments will forever reigned over who’s vision for the episode was the best (Incidentally Scotty was never written as a drug dealer), but City on the Edge of Forever provides one of the most kick in the guts, emotional moments in any Trek story.
8. Mirror, Mirror (Season Two: Episode Four)
Nowadays it’s a common trope in TV to where possible show an alternative reality, where a darker, evil version exists of our well known regulars. In the 60’s it would have been groundbreaking and shocking to see an evil Federation, with brutal violent versions of Spock, Sulu and Chekov. Not to mention our Kirk having to pretend to be his own doppelganger, one who regularly committed atrocities (including killing Captain Pike to be promoted).
These type of alternate version stories are always fun, and it’s a real blast to see this “what if?” version of Star Trek, with George Takei in particular seeming to be revealing in playing an evil, slimy Sulu. Of all the TOS shows, this is the one that seems to have caught the imagination of fans and future writers as this Universe has been visited in novels and regularly in episodes of DS9, Enterprise and Discovery.
9. A Piece of the Action (Season Two: Episode Seventeen)
The Enterprise coming across a planet where the population had modelled it’s way of life on a period of Earth’s history is a theme visited numerous times (no doubt so they could borrow the costumes from another show). Of them all it was never done with more fun than here, when Kirk and Spock find themselves in a society based on 1920’s Chicago gangsters.
Decidedly silly and deliberately so, there’s a lot of entertaining banter with Kirk and in particular Spock being the fishes out of water interacting with the sterotypical 60’s portrayal of mobsters. Kirk explaining the rules of the card game Fizzbin, is one of the most barmy moments in Trek history.
While the premise is extremely wacky and done for laughs, you can’t help but think there is a sly dig at organised religion when it’s discovered the planets belief system and culture is based on a book (“Chicago Mobs of the 20’s”) left behind by a previous ship’s visit.
10. Day of the Dove (Season Three: Episode Seven)
While the third and final season of the original series saw a decline in quality, there was still this fun little story of Starfleet vs Klingons and for once we got a whole crew of the original series’s greatest villains (often we’d have to settle for a single Klingon). Here the Enterprise crew find an entire settlement destroyed and blame immediately falls on a group of Klingons who in turn accuse the Enterprise of firing on them and disabling their ship.
With the Klingons taken prisoner weird things start to happen. A malfunction cuts off most of Enterprise ship, leaving the exact amount of Klingons and Starfleet together, while all the weapons turn into various varieties of swords which favour the Klingons. As a mini war breaks out, some of the crew start start showing uncharacteristically xenophobic attitudes to the enemy.
As a kid this was my favourite Star Trek episode, probably because it’s full of action and has some cracking sword fight battles. I still find it a massively fun episode, with a great Klingon character in their leader Kang (who would later appear in the updated Klingon look in episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager), although I can’t help but think the two sides having to work together a little more against a common enemy may have opened up interesting story possibilities.
So there you have my ten favourite Star Trek episodes, although it was a tough decision on ultimately leaving out “Trouble with Tribbles” and “Let this be our Last Battlefield.”
Next time, (and let’s face it with nothing else to do it’s probably going to be in a couple of days) I’ll be listing my ten favourite Next Generation episodes….as if it really matters. If you’d like to comment on my choices, or list your own please find me on twitter as @dazzalovesmovie
Live long and stay inside.