Following up from part 1 six months ago here is part 2 of my Best of Trek series. In this series I hope to highlight the important Star Trek episodes of each series. I outline the plotlines in rough detail and explain why the episode is important. This time I’m covering The Original Series, Voyager, and Enterprise. These three series aren’t nearly as profound as The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine but still contain great episodes.
The Original Series
The Original Series (TOS) is where it all began. The first pilot for Star Trek was shot without William Shatner and the rest of the iconic crew save for Mr. Spock. Star Trek was groundbreaking at the time for the social statements it portrayed. A Japanese pilot, a black communications officer, and later, a Russian operations officer. Star Trek also overtly tackled issues of the day such as freedom and inequality, war, and the progress of the human race.
5. Assignment: Earth – 1968, this episode aired in 1968, the 1960s were definitely one of the most dangerous time periods in the Cold War. In this episode the Enterprise is conducting research on the time period attempting to figure out just how we survived. The episode is an interesting one to watch as it overtly shows one of the pillars that Star Trek has always tried to emphasize, humans can live in peace, let’s show the viewer what this might look like.
4. The Tholian Web – This episode also satisfies one of the tenets of of Star Trek, to seek out new lifeforms. The Tholians create a picture of what an alien could ultimately look like, crystalline creatures that can only survive in the extreme heat, nothing like us. The Tholian Web also illustrates the potential of long running story arcs in Star Trek. The events that take place in this episode were ultimately rectified in a 2005 episode of Enterprise.
3. The City of the Edge of Forever – A story based on the rogue actions of Doctor McCoy. This episode shows how most Star Trek episodes that tinker with timelines ultimately fix the temporal anomalies they create. It might be common place elsewhere to change time for the benefit of ones self or others but in Star Trek the preservation of the timeline is key. We see the disastrous effects of a seemingly insignificant change made and the huge ripple effects it causes.
2. Space Seed – The prequel to what is generally accepted as the best Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. This episode is critical viewing for anyone who wants more backstory on just who exactly Khan is. It also delves into a dark period of Earth’s history in the late 20th century called the Eugenics Wars, a series of conflicts where genetically modified soldiers slaughtered millions.
1. The Trouble with Tribbles – Tribbles, that is all. The Star Trek universe is graced (or burdened) with cute furry creatures whose sole purpose is to reproduce.
Star Trek Voyager goes back to the episodic nature of Star Trek as in The Next Generation. Very early on in the first episode Voyager is thrown to the far edges of the Delta Quadrant. This means that under normal conditions the ship would take 75 years to return home. Voyager is a smaller ship than the Enterprise and carried a small 150 crew compliment. Voyager also focused more on character driven story than the other series.
5. Future’s End – This episode marks another trip to our present in the Star Trek franchise. By accident Voyager ends up in 1996, even better they’re delivered exactly where they want to be, back home. Voyager must deal with an egotistical man from 1996 obsessed with using future technology to enhance the lives of those living in 1996. This of course pollutes the time line and it’s up to Voyager (from the 24th century whom can’t time travel without help) to clean up the timeline. We also get to see the reactions of those from the 24th to that of what is normal for us in the late 20th century.
4. Distant Origin – Star Trek has always tackled issues that are controversial in an elegant way. This episode does just that dealing with the issue of evolution vs. religion or in this case, doctrine. What if the dinosaurs had actually been intelligent and had developed a civilization, a space faring civilization at that? This episode explores that idea while giving viewers in the modern age parallel of the debate that often goes on between creationism and evolution.
3. Scorpion – Until this episode the Borg (cybernetic collective that assimilates entire species) had been the subject of a few episode throughout TNG and Voyager. This episode changes all that with the introduction of Seven of Nine as a regular crew member. She is a human who was assimilated by the Borg at a very young age. The majority of season 4 sees her readjusting to human life. This episode also shows us the benefits and drawbacks of making an alliance with a mortal enemy.
2. Equinox – For 4 years Voyager thought they were the only Starfleet vessel in the Delta Quadrant, not so. Voyager encounters the USS Equinox which has had a much harder journey through the Delta Quadrant. The hardship the crew of the Equinox has been placed through has transformed this group of humans into pure survivalists willing to do anything to survive. This leads to some great ethical questions about where or if there’s a line to acceptable human behaviour. “It’s never easy, but if we turn our backs on our principles, we stop being human.” — Captain Janeway
1. Timeless – This was Voyager’s 100th episode and a magnificent one at that. After being in the Delta Quadrant for just over four years it’s decided that developing a new form of propulsion based on alien technology seen the previous year is the best bet to get home. This new technology is dangerous and requires very precise calculations to execute perfectly. The calculations initially do not work and this brings up the age old question, if you could send a message to yourself in the past, what would you say? It also deals with personal failure and being able to recover from such situations with an acceptable outcome.
The first prequel of any Star Trek series. This was set in the 2150s (yes, only 135 years from now) before the Federation was founded. Enterprise provides a great sense of exploration in that everything the Enterprise experienced was new. Enterprise ran for 4 seasons instead of the usual 7 and did raise some canonical questions in certain episodes. Enterprise took a very fulfilling turn in season 3 and season 4 with highliy serialized stories. This would later become the norm for television, it’s just too bad Enterprise was very early with this approach (i.e. pre-Netflix). Nonetheless there are still Enterprise episodes worth watching that can be extremely rewarding.
5. Shadows of P’Jem – Vulcans, the race that made first contact with human kind. Upon a visit to the Vulcan monastery at P’Jem something is not right and a hostage situation ensues. The Vulcans and Andorians have been enemies for many years and the Andorians have accused the Vulcans of spying on them. Throughout the course of this episode the natural course is to aid the Vulcans as they have been Earth’s ally for just under 100 years. This episode is an introduction to the early pre-federation dynamics that are witnessed throughout the entire series of Enterprise. It’s also a high energy episode which in itself makes it worth watching.
4. Cold Front – Time travel has always been possible on Star Trek. This episode marks the first time that any Starfleet officer had to deal with the concept of time travel. In this episode we learn of a Temporal Cold War and more importantly that the 22nd century is a front in this war. This episode is also key to many later episodes in Enterprise. Also, for being the earliest set Star Trek series it manages to somehow do the most exploration on the possibilities of time travel.
3. Future Tense – Continuing the Temporal Cold War arc this episode is very mysterious. A futuristic starship appears from some point in the future. Upon retrieving the ship the Enterprise is pursued by other factions that have a keen interest in it. This episode also marks the first appearance of the Tholians which were last seen in The Original Series. This episode is a true mystery and it’s for this reason that it is one of my favourites.
2. Storm Front – This episode also continues the Temporal Cold War arc except it takes place in the 20th century, specifically World War II United States. As a result of the Temporal Cold War going hot the Nazi’s were able to conquer all of western Europe and then moved on to the eastern United States. This episode ultimately solves the Temporal Cold War crisis and provides some interesting commentary on how World War II may have went if it reached North America.
1. Demons / Terra Prime – In the three years since the launch of the Enterprise Earth has had its galactic profile rise. This has brought many more species to visit Earth. Unfortunately, there still exists people who would prefer that Earth just sit alone and not interact with any outside civilizations for safety sake. This episode deals with Earth’s coming of age and the realization that in order for the Federation (or Coalition of Planets) to form Earth needs to be a key member. This episode deals with many themes that we encounter today in our own nation to nation diplomatic relations and lays the groundwork for the future of the Star Trek franchise.
I hope these episodes have provided you with an insight into why Star Trek is one of the greatest TV franchises ever created. These episodes are all critical to their series and the franchise as a whole. One thing that they should all seek to highlight is that Star Trek is not about blasting down doors or coming up with miraculous solutions to problems, it’s about the journey towards the solution. If anyone has any questions please do not hesitate to ask. I would love to discuss any of these episodes further.