It seems unlikely that readers of Den of Geek need to be introduced to Star Trek. Five live-action TV series (soon to be six), one animated series, 13 movies and countless other books, computer games, board games, comic books and other forms of media, all adding up to fifty years of one of the biggest franchises in science fiction history.
Here we’ve collected 25 episodes from across the various Star Trek TV shows that might help you to celebrate Star Trek’s fiftieth birthday. A combination of all-time classics, episodes that sum up the ethos of the series, episodes that celebrate Star Trek itself and episodes that are just plain fun, this selection should have you happily toasting to the next fifty years of this venerable sci-fi institution.
This is not a ‘best of’ list; we have tried to select episodes that are good and worth watching, of course, and some of the all-time greats have been included as examples of Star Trek at its best, but this is more about summing up what Star Trek, in all its many incarnations, really is, rather than cherry-picking the best hours alone.
(Please note, this list is for TV episodes, not the movies, which is a separate list! Spoilers have been kept to a minimum, but you may encounter some along the way).
1. Star Trek The Original Series: The City On The Edge Of Forever
Season One, Episode 28
What better place to start than one of the most popular episodes in the entire franchise? This classic instalment has it all – time travel, noble sacrifice (technically of other people rather than self-sacrifice, but Kirk was very upset about it), a story focused on the central trio of Kirk, Spock and Bones and a perfect example of our heroes putting the future of the Federation ahead of all other considerations. It’s also the episode the gang watched during that one episode of Men Behaving Badly, where Debs describes Bones jumping through the doughnut thing.
2. Star Trek The Original Series: Amok Time
Season Two, Episode 1
Star Trek has introduced us to many alien races over the years, but two stand out above all the others as having gained a place in popular culture awareness more generally – the Vulcans and the Klingons. This episode introduces us to Vulcan, but it also gives us the best Kirk/Spock moment in Star Trek history (“Jim!!”) and a typically Kirk-like cheating solution to an apparently unsolvable dilemma.
3. Star Trek The Original Series: Mirror, Mirror
Season Two, Episode 4
Star Trek has dominated the depiction of many classic science fiction tropes over the years. This is the episode that gave us the Mirror Universe, where most characters are evil and Spock (despite being slightly less evil) has an Evil Goatee. A genre-defining example of the ‘evil universe’ trope.
4. Star Trek The Original Series: The Trouble With Tribbles
Season Two, Episode 15
We make no apology for including all the episodes that focus on Tribbles in this list. They are ridiculous, they are scientifically implausible, they are cheap, they are silly, they are hilarious. An ermine violin would not be nearly so much fun.
5. Star Trek The Animated Series: Yesteryear
Season One, Episode 2
The Animated Series is not actually part of the Star Trek canon, but it introduced so many ideas that would later be re-used or re-told in other offshoots of the franchise, it seems wrong not to include it. Also, it’s the only version of Star Trek in which the aliens can look really, really alien. In this, one of its best episodes, we learn more about Vulcan.
6. Star Trek The Animated Series: More Tribbles, More Troubles
Season One, Episode 5
More tribbles, more fun.
7. Star Trek The Next Generation: Yesterday’s Enterprise
Season Three, Episode 15
One of the best episodes of Star Trek ever made – dramatic, tragic and compelling. This episode also fills in some gaps in the history of the Enterprise (being the only story to feature the Enterprise-C), brings back the rather snazzy red uniforms from the movies, and gives a beloved character a rather more satisfying send-off then she originally had.
8. Star Trek The Next Generation: The Best Of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2
Season Three, Episode 26 and Season Four, Episode 1
Season Two’s Q Who may have been the episode that introduced the Borg, but this two-parter was the story that cemented their position as one of Star Trek’s all-time great adversaries. One of The Next Generation’s most beloved stories, it also features one of the best cliffhangers in TV history.
9. Star Trek The Next Generation: Darmok
Season Five, Episode 2
This episode perfectly encapsulates what Star Trek: The Next Generation was all about. While The Original Series was a Western in space, all high adventure on the frontier, The Next Generation was much more concerned with the politics and diplomacy involved in getting out there and making contact with the universe. In no other episode are the problems of trying to understand an alien race better explored than in this one.
10. Star Trek The Next Generation: Relics
Season Six, Episode 4
There are numerous crossovers within the Star Trek universe, including several episodes of The Next Generation that feature guest appearances from the stars of The Original Series. However, while Bones makes an un-named cameo and Spock, thanks to his Vulcan lifespan, plays an active role in the politics of the twenty-fourth century, this episode, featuring Scotty, is a beautiful rumination on time and age and a poignant toast to the classic series – and, therefore, a perfect episode to celebrate Star Trek’s 50-year legacy. When Scotty asks for a holodeck recreation of his own Enterprise, you’ll get chills up your spine.
11. Star Trek The Next Generation: Chain of Command, Parts 1 & 2
Season Six, Episodes 10 & 11
While Gene Roddenberry was alive, the main characters in Star Trek tended to be paragons of virtue who never put a foot wrong. After he died, the series started to explore more shades of grey in its heroes. In this two-parter, Captain Picard is able to be the hero we want him to be – but at great personal cost and, as he reveals to Counsellor Troi, it was a close-run thing. The episode also explores what it is to serve on a militaristic starship under different commanders, with a new and very different Captain who is highly unpopular, but who, on occasion, does have a point (it is an unspeakable relief to see Troi finally wearing a proper uniform).
12. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Crossover
Season Two, Episode 23
Deep Space Nine is, in some ways, a very different show to the others in the franchise, but it still knew it was Star Trek, and at times it really let loose with some classic Trek tropes. One of the elements of The Original Series that Deep Space Nine ran away with and made its own was the concept of the Mirror Universe; this first episode featuring it establishes the tone nicely.
13. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Visitor
Season Four, Episode 3
One of Deep Space Nine’s finest hours, a moving episode focusing on the relationship between Captain Sisko – the only series regular Captain to have a family – and his son. It also highlights what Deep Space Nine in particular did best, focusing on character studies and relationships.
14. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Trials and Tribble-ations
Season Five, Episode 6
Twenty years ago, both Deep Space Nine and Voyager produced special episodes focusing on Original Series characters, to celebrate Star Trek’s 30th anniversary. While Voyager’s is not necessarily as bad as its reputation suggests, it is Deep Space Nine’s hilarious contribution that has become an all-time classic. This also completes Star Trek’s Tribble Trilogy.
15. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond The Stars
Season Six, Episode 13
If you’re looking for an episode that encapsulates Star Trek’s values, you can’t go far wrong with this lovingly produced parable. There are no direct references to earlier Star Trek series, but this dream of a better future, cruelly dashed for science fiction writer Benny in the 1950s but lived out by Sisko in the twenty-fourth century, places Star Trek itself, with its then-ground-breaking casting of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in 1966, within its own story.
16. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: In The Pale Moonlight
Season Six, Episode 19
Following the increasing drive to depict more morally grey aspects of its heroes, this is one of a few later episodes of Star Trek in which we see Starfleet captains carry out actions that could be considered morally wrong, but which they feel are necessary. It is, perhaps, the best of these hours, Sisko openly uncomfortable with his choices but unable to see another path, demonstrating what it can do to a captain when Star Trek’s ideals become impossible to live up to and they truly seem to have encountered what Captain Kirk never believed in, a no-win scenario.
17. Star Trek Voyager: Caretaker Parts 1 & 2
Season One, Episodes 1 & 2
Voyager’s pilot offers a different type of no-win scenario, in which Captain Janeway willingly strands her ship and crew (along with Chakotay’s ship and crew) years away from home in order to uphold her own morals. Voyager’s pilot episode, in addition to being one of the better Star Trek pilots, takes a story we have seen several times – the ship thrown an impossible distance away by some alien being – but actually follows through on the consequences, leaving our heroes genuinely stranded and making the frontier new again, returning Star Trek to its initial premise of exploration on the edges of the known world.
18. Star Trek Voyager: Year Of Hell, Parts 1 & 2
Season Four, Episodes 8 & 9
Voyager’s finest hours, this dramatic two-parter also upholds another of Star Trek’s core values, as Chakotay insists that not just any civilization, but “a single life is significant”. Star Trek is often criticised for constantly pressing the reset button after each story, but this episode includes surely the most satisfying, in-story pressing of the reset button we’ve ever seen.
19. Star Trek Voyager: Living Witness
Season Four, Episode 23
This episode is not just an intelligent, carefully considered rumination on the nature of history and how we tell it; it also incorporates a wonderfully realised alternative exploration of Evil Versions Of Our Crew (the Mirror Universe having already been plundered by Deep Space Nine, including appearances from some Voyager characters). Both fun and thought-provoking, with a bittersweet coda; a perfect hour of Star Trek.
20. Star Trek Voyager: Bride Of Chaotica!
Season Five, Episode 12
If it’s pure fun you’re looking for, then this is the episode for you. Voyager had already produced a number of short homages to 1950s B-movies through Tom Paris’s new favourite holodeck programme, but in this episode, what was a quick, aside joke becomes the plot, and the results are gloriously silly. A celebration of American science fiction through the years, and simply hilarious. “Intruders! Intruders from the Fifth Dimension! Intruders…”
21. Star Trek Voyager: Equinox, Parts 1 & 2
Season Five, Episode 26 and Season Six, Episode 1
When Voyager is stranded in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway, classic Roddenberry hero that she is, immediately announces her determination to stick to Starfleet’s rules, regulations and ethics, no matter what. This two-parter explores the alternative option, as we learn that the Captain of the Equinox was not quite so steadfast in his loyalty to Starfleet. Naturally, we are led to the conclusion that Janeway was right, but this is an action-packed story that neatly explores Star Trek’s outlook and values and why they matter.
22. Star Trek Enterprise: Carbon Creek
Season Two, Episode 2
Getting away with messing with Star Trek’s established timeline just a little with a nice shout-out to other areas of the franchise (“there’s a statue”), this fish-out-of-water story is a fun exploration of what might happen if you put Vulcans in the middle of 1950s America (their bafflement at the nuclear arms race is particularly nice). It’s a nice episode to celebrate Star Trek’s anniversary due to its warmth and focus on Vulcans and Vulcan culture; and as an added bonus, it also almost has the feel of an episode of Captain Archer, Scott Bakula’s, previous show, Quantum Leap. Lovely.
23. Star Trek Enterprise: Similitude
Season Three, Episode 10
Numerous episodes of Star Trek over the years have taken a basic science fiction concept and produced, essentially, a contained short story on the subject using the regular characters. It is one of the things that Star Trek does best, and the format – with a wide ensemble of characters to use and a tendency to focus on stand-alone stories, some seasons of Deep Space Nine and Enterprise notwithstanding – provides the perfect vehicle for classic science fiction story-telling. This is one of the best, and most moving.
24. Star Trek Enterprise: Affliction/Divergence
Season Four, Episodes 15 & 16
No list of episodes celebrating the history of Star Trek would be complete without a story focusing on the Klingons. There are so many classic Klingon episodes from across the franchise that we could have chosen for this list, and no doubt everyone will have a favourite or two. The beauty of this story in particular, though, is that it takes a problem no one wanted to talk about – the difference in appearance between the Klingons of The Original Series and those seen from the classic movies onwards – and created an interesting story around it, producing a reasonably satisfying explanation that could finally put all the fan theories to rest.
25. Star Trek Enterprise: In A Mirror, Darkly Parts 1 & 2
Season Four, Episodes 18 & 19
Set entirely within the Mirror Universe, this episode serves as an excuse not only to see evil versions of the Enterprise crew, but also, through various timey-wimey plot shenanigans, to bring back the classic 1960s uniforms not seen (outside of Trials and Tribble-ations) since The Original Series. Connecting with all sorts of areas of Star Trek history, from Original Series episode The Tholian Web to the movie First Contact, this two-parter is, in itself, a grand celebration of decades of Star Trek. With extra added evil.
And to finish…
While not a television episode, if you don’t want to finish your celebratory marathon in the Evil Mirror Universe, we’d suggest watching the JJ Abrams 2009 movie Star Trek, featuring the only canon iteration of Star Trek that doesn’t exist in television format. With its time-travelling plot shenanigans, it’s the perfect way to bring everything full circle so you can start all over again…
Or watch Galaxy Quest and have a good-natured laugh at the whole thing, while still celebrating its enduring legacy.