Star Trek’s Shining Lights

Today at the time of writing (September 8) is the 55th anniversary of one of the most enduring franchise behemoths ever, Star Trek. I will for sure be watching a selection of episodes and maybe films, but quite frankly to any newcomer it will seem a gargantuan task to pick just one episode from each of the shows. There are right now 9 series (with more either in the pipeline or in the case of Strange New Worlds, sitting on a hard drive just waiting for broadcast), 13 films (14 if you include Galaxy Quest) and roughly 29 billion novels (give or take).



Fortunately, your fearless scribe is here to give you a handy list of choice cuts for those wishing to sink their teeth into the large meal that is Star Trek. For this list, as Star Trek has recently gone from a largely linear timeline to a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey, wimey stuff, I’ll list everything in order of first broadcast. Bear in mind, I’m a huge Trekkie and Star Trek will literally be on me after I die (see the photo) so I had a very hard time making practically each pick.


The Original Series - City On The Edge Of Forever


Kirk and Spock go back in time, they must make Joan Collins into a fender to defeat World War 2.


There’s a couple of excellent episodes of The Original Series, trouble is there’s also about 75 bad ones too. But this one has a story with a certain timeless quality. Also the writer seemingly hated show creator Gene Roddenberry. I will leave it to you to decide if that is justified, but it is certainly interesting, especially when official Star Trek media bores us by never missing a chance to gush over Gene Roddenberry.


Interesting is the comic adaptation of this episode which strays from the broadcast episode and sticks to the original script like a Limpet. Definitely worth a read as I got through it while waiting for a delayed train. If it made that painless, it can’t be bad.


The Animated Series - Yesteryear


A poorly drawn and voiced kid’s animation effectively teaches us about showing mercy to pets.


If I had to rank the shows, TAS would unfortunately be dead last. It fails in so many areas for sure but this episode is one of it’s seldom seen shining lights. And shine it does extremely well. Frankly, I fully understand (or at least, think I do) why my parents were happy for me to see this when I was young and is very likely why I have been a pet owner all my life.

The Next Generation - Chain of Command Parts 1 and 2


Captain Picard denies the existence of a light to the guy from Titanic.


Star Trek since its inception in 1966 has (Chris Jericho voice) never, eeeeeeveerrrrrr shied away from social commentary. So a two parter which can be boiled down to ‘Amnesty International and the importance of being adaptable in space’ is no great surprise from Trek.


The writing is excellent, possibly the greatest it is in the show’s run and the acting is equally so in a pair of episodes which could easily be subsumed under their large ensemble of guest actors. Arguably not as iconic as the Borg focused ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ two parter, but at this time TNG was in the middle of a white hot run. Almost any episode after season three begins is a slice of excellence, but my God these episodes are so good, you will honestly forget you are looking at a naked Sir Patrick Stewart for most of it.


Deep Space Nine - In The Pale Moonlight


Captain Sisko talks to himself while giving us a toast with the glass from Blade Runner.


An episode I revisited entirely by chance when watching random episodes at university. Star Trek very rarely does out and out wars. But when it does, oh sweet child of mine, it really pays off.


The subtle intrigue and inner monologue which wraps around this story are just so sublime and without risk of hyperbole, Star Trek at its very best. Any appearance by Andrew G Robinson’s Garak is an indicator of a great episode with a very multi faceted character and like each and every aspect of the episode, but I’d bet all the slips, bars and bricks of Gold Pressed Latinum possessed by the Blessed Exchequer that these have never and possibly will never be beaten.


That is definitively not to say any episode after ‘In A Mirror Darkly’ is of lesser quality.


A huge special mention has also to go to ‘Trials and Tribble - Ations’. It does not take any great deductive leap that to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a still running show, it would pay to mix the cast of your current series with an all time classic of television (in this instance, the TOS classic ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ but with special effects in the mid 1990s aging like they have, its a bit of a small mercy that in perusing this avenue, they didn’t use contemporary CGI.


Instead, through a mix of green screen super imposition, archive footage and the Director of Photography going to great lengths to use the original cameras and film stock as used during TOS, the result is an episode which pays homage to The Original Series and is also a great instalment of Deep Space Nine in addition,


Voyager - Year of Hell Parts 1 and 2


Voyager spends a year tearing itself apart, the guy from Robocop emotes


If there is one very valid criticism of Star Trek Voyager, it is that it all too often hits the reset button after an episode and the changes the preceding adventure brought to the fore then have the right to play no part in the future. This negatively affects how interesting they can be.


Basically, these episodes do hit the reset button but not before giving us the version of Star Trek Voyager many of us feel we were promised when it was first flung 70 000 light years across the Galaxy in early 1995. The result is a painful trip as the ship and characters slowly fracture and buckle in a loose re - telling of Mobey Dick. Something Star Trek does with something of regularity every handful of years.


Here it is well acted, directed, written, the sets are heavily damaged, but everything still feels as fresh here as it was upon its first broadcast in 1998.


Enterprise - Through A Mirror, Darkly Parts 1 and 2 (emphasis on part 2)


The NX - 01 crew steal TOS sets but it is still totally cool.


Filmed simultaneously with the bad news that Star Trek Enterprise would not be getting renewed for a fifth season, this is the exemplar of how to react to bad news with nothing but your best. This could have very easily been fan service with the return of TOS era sets for the then modern cast. It also could have been hampered with noticeably lesser quality acting from a cast and crew reeling from the awful news that the then nearly 18 year run of Trek will soon come to an end.


Thankfully none of that happens and instead, we are treated to a pair of excellent romps I suspect most, if not all will thoroughly enjoy.


Discovery - The Hope That Is You part 1 and Far From Home


A two parter which kicks season three off with a bang roughly equivalent to the one which began the universe.


Not me, but many whinged about Star Trek Discovery’s first two seasons. Some said intriguing things like the writing is not great, but then would offer no concrete examples. The rest of the criticisms were ‘Discovery has got the franchise secretly cancelled’ or such stupidity with no merit.



This pair of episodes are basically the two sides of the best album your favourite band ever released. The first part focuses on Micheal Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) and Cleveland Booker (David Ajala - my personal preference for the next James Bond actor) and how they establish themselves in the 31st century. Conversely, Far From Home has the remaining crew of the Discovery doing the same.


For something called Far From Home, I was very disappointed by its lack of Spider - Man but that does not in any way ruin it. In fact, in a feat Star Trek has pulled before a few times and no doubt will in the future, it gives us another starting a new point for new fans to jump in on.


Picard - Et in Arcadia Ego Parts 1 and 2



A two part finale where long term TNG fans basically get fan service for two hours.


A little heavy on the exposition but it felt completely justified and serves as a very fitting finale to the first season of Star Trek: Picard. I won’t spoiler it, but the ending sequence was so beautiful that it almost brought me to tears. No doubt it is because I am a long term fan, but I would suspect it would be the same for anyone watching.


But I would say this show is currently only 10 episodes and is very light on true stand alone episodes, so it might be best if I ask you to indulge in the entire 10 episode run. A tall order yes, but a very satisfying one too.


Lower Decks: We’ll Always Have Tom Paris



In the latest animated show (right now), not only do we get a show which positively wallows in Star Trek history but we get super deep cuts to my favourite spin off, Star Trek: Voyager.


The whole Lower Decks show is new ish, but unlike Discovery or Picard, it does work to newbies to the franchise, but it is broadly a love letter to those like me which have been fans for decades now and frankly, do not care at all when alleged adults try to put you down for it. Praiseworthy indeed. A Christopher Pike Medal of Valour in a show.


Motion Pictures - First Contact


Easily the greatest TNG film. It has been a quarter century since it came out but it has yet to age a single second. Swedish tennis players abound.


In 1996, Star Trek’s 30th anniversary Trek marked it well with Deep Space Nine doing ‘Trials and Tribble - Ations’ featuring the cast of Deep Space Nine meeting the cast of TOS through the magic of green screen. Voyager did ‘Flashback’ where Janeway and Tuvok meet Captain Sulu on the Excellsior. But the crown jewel is arguably this majestic piece where the crew on TNG visit where Trek begins with the invention of warp drive in just under 42 years from now.


It is a simple story, it isnt a particularly new film but the fact is some people have their ‘rainy day’ film and usually it is something simple from their childhood like Star Wars: A New Hope, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ghostbusters. For me, it is this beauty and I implore giving it a view to anyone.


(Special mention - never ever The Motion Picture or The Final Frontier)


These two are such failures on every level - story, continuity, acting, writing, logic, costumes and effects that if I have kids and they act up, they’ll be forced to watch these awful awful excuses for movies.


Special Mention - Star Trek 2009


A reimagined Kirk and Spock take on the guy from Hulk.


There is much criticism thought I feel unfairly levelled against J.J. Abrams reboot trilogy. None is from me I promise. Hell, I will fight anyone who will deny that Chris Pine is the better Jim Kirk to William Shatner. The trilogy, especially in this first one hits me directly in the feels often. For everything in Star Trek, that is still somewhat rare, especially as it brings it during a fast paced action romp. Moreover, to me it shows times have radically changed these past 55 years, but with modifications, Star Trek is relevant as ever and those adaptions were kept.


Also Simon Pegg. So it deserves 60 portions.


Books - the Destiny Trilogy


I read in about two weeks of the pandemic as it was sold to me as Avengers: Endgame meets Star Trek. My God it lives up to that hype level. It was written just before the new slew of shows came out so there are cannon issues, but at no point does that make it three bad novels. Very much worth your time.



Special Mention - The Coda Trilogy

Coda was written after the new shows were firmly established and while it’s upcoming so I still don’t know if it will live up to that but I am more than willing to take the risk and if that is not a searing endorsement of an upcoming product, I don’t know what is.




Conclusion


Finally, soon these will be joined by Star Trek: Prodigy the child focused CGI animated show featuring Kathryn Janeway and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. That will be a TOS era prequel set on Captain Pike and Spock’s U.S.S. Enterprise NCC - 1701 around a decade before the days of James T. Kirk. Whether they are as good remains to be seen. But what doesn’t is that Star Trek’s future is as certain as its past. Now, set a course for one of a few streaming platforms, find a story above and engage.


Well, that was quite a lot wasn’t it? You now have this handy guide, although it has made the 800 plus episodes more bite sized, I’m not sure how bite sized. Especially with Deep Space Nine, it is probably better to watch later seasons in a binge as there is something of an arc and you can enjoy the promo Game of Thrones that is the late seasons of DSN.


Anyway, of late there has been good reason to indulge in binges, I think I have prescribed a decent cross section here and of course, these are my personal choices. There are a few duff episodes of each show, however I can honestly say with the vast majority of shows (apart from TOS or TAS, they largely don’t tickle my pickle) , most picks are good ones.


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