RED ALERT!! BEWARE SPOILERS ABOUND!!!!
After every episode is listed, there is a mini-essay. To somewhat justify each pick. To avoid spoilers, the essays can be ignored and just the episode names utilised.
Last Star Trek Day (September 8th 2021 - the 55th Anniversary), I marked the occasion with a handy list of choice cuts of one or two episodes of each entry into the series.
Well, in the time since, Star Trek has gifted us an extra 5 seasons and 2 new shows, plus there are around 850 entries (and those are just the episodes, there are films, games, books and even non - cannon fan projects) and Star Trek is a very rich gold mine. Let’s take a second dive, shall we?
If you are new to this, welcome, welcome welcome, you might want to see the first instalment in this series here and if not, also welcome, welcome, welcome. Star Trek has 12 shows, a movie series with thirteen entries to date, over a half-century of books and dozens of games. This will be a long article, but I aim to (like last year) give you a menu of the choice cuts of Star Trek to help with your journey into the franchise. With each of the televised shows, I’ll mention them in air date. As if I do it on the in-universe date, Star Trek will look like it goes in dramatic ups and down in production quality.
Also, I’ll include the production details. I bet many will be needed for Pub Quizzes.
The Original Series
Ballance of Terror
Original Airdate: 15th December 1966 (remastered airdate 16th September 2006 - the day before I moved to my first Uni), Directed by Vincent McEveety Written by Paul Schneider
OK, I was not too fond of this one when looked upon in micro detail, the shot where the Romulan threat is made abundantly clear being followed by William Shatner’s Kirk just grabbing Yeoman Janice Rand is there to convey how he wants to be supported for all of his crew sure, but wow it ages like milk. Also, this is a widely remembered episode, but owes a substantial amount to an also well-crafted submarine film from the decade that is not remembered as well, namely ‘Run Silent, Run Deep’.
However, taken on its own merits, this is a fine episode to be sure. The story, though scientifically making no sense (space really can’t carry sound waves) is quite well presented and even if you aren’t exactly into submarine pursuit stories, the acting is superb. Particularly from Mark Leonard as the Romulan Commander, his portrayal is masterful and will leave you unquestioning about why he would go on to portray Spock, Sybok and Michael Burnham’s father, Sarek.
Additionally, this episode gave us the following quote from Captain Kirk to Stiles:
“Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the Bridge.”
If Star Trek as a behemoth franchise could be distilled to a single line, I think that line would be overly simplistic, but there is a good and strong case for this being the result. Starfleet is very much an exploratory force, but will fight for tolerance and unconditional love to be the order of the day.
The Animated Series
The Practical Joker
Original Airdate: 21st September 1974 Directed by Bill Reed Written by Chuck Menville
The Animated Series is often the overlooked one of the … 12. Yes, the animation quality with Filmation was not exactly an early Disney feature but … yeah. Anyway, while the maligned reaction to this series is arguably deserved, it really should. Not to be overlooked.
For instance, this episode is pivotal to the history of the Star Trek franchise these past 48 years. This has the first instance of a full Holodeck in the Trek franchise, a stalwart of nearly every spin-off show since.
If you want a laugh, please note how extrapolating how V.R. Is now, it is not exactly a stretch to imagine we will have Holodecks (or something like it). When Star Trek Discovery used a holographic shooting gallery in the 2250s, people were up in rage.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Original release date 1986 Directed by Leonard Nimoy Written by Herve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy
A genuinely rare example of humorous Star Trek which genuinely works throughout. This final instalment in the unofficial Star Trek trilogy makes a marked tonal shift from all those before and since. The comedy genuinely works here but that is not to say that the actual plot is out of place, quite the contrary.
The very environmental and animal welfare plot is sadly as (if not more so) relevant today as it was upon the film’s premiere in 1986. It is often said that this is the only Trek film without a villain. I feel the villain is ever present, it is our own short-sightedness in our love for resources.
On a happier note, one thing is it is basically Star Trek IV: William Shatner learns how to swear in the 1980s. That last sentence is a rare instance of absolute perfection.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Measure of a Man
Original Airdate: February 13, 1989, Directed by: Robert Scheerer Written by: Melinda Snodgrass
The first two seasons of The Next Generation are quite often criticised as being so low in quality that the seminal documentary Chaos On The Bridge! Can be summarised as 90 minutes of writers such as Ronald D. Moore repeatedly saying sorry that these arguably lesser episodes exist.
However, a complete exception to this could be argued as ‘The Measure of A Man’. The courtroom drama would certainly become no stranger to the future of the Star Trek franchise (and even some before it too- notably The Original Series’ ‘Court Martial’ and ‘The Menagerie’) but the performances here, from all concerned, are simply breathtaking and are something Star Trek frequently does incredibly well in asking philosophical questions where we possibly take the answers for granted
In this case, whether an artificial creation such as Lieutenant Commander Data has the same rights and sentience as flesh and blood creatures who frequent Starfleet. Jonathan Frakes’ performance when he finds a convincing argument against Data being declared a true sentient and seemingly regrets it immediately is a small performance moment, but it is so often overlooked. Also Patrick. Stewart’s performance over the episode entirely is an enduring highlight.
Original Airdate: April 29, 1991, Directed by: Jonathan Frakes Written by: Jeri Taylor
This episode continues ‘The Measure of A Man’s legal drama. Not about whether Lt. Commander Data should have equal rights with other sentient creatures, but this legal drama follows more closely to prejudice and how while it is good to place trust in our leaders and those who dispense justice, it should never be without scrutiny. This we forget as a society often and so this episode should be repeatedly screened for many. Quite often.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Original Airdate: June 13th 1993 Directed by James L. Conway Written by Peter Allen Fields
The fact that my favourite film of all time has been Schindler’s List since my 16th birthday probably informs this pick quite a lot. Even this early in the first season of Deep Space Nine, it is well established that Major Kira hates the seeming monolith of Cardassian Central Command. It is also well established the broad parallels to the Holocaust and how history is tragically positively replete with examples of responses to national discrimination.
This episode beautifully establishes a central theme of Deep Space Nine’s seven-year run, namely that even in cases where things look like they could not possibly be more cut and dry, shades of grey are always present, even if not as readily apparent as possible.
‘For The Uniform’
Original Airdate February 3rd 1997 Directed By Victor Lobl Written by Peter Allan Fields
While last year, I did nominate ‘In The Pale Moonlight’. I think, no I know. I will forever be citing that episode as the best of the entire franchise unless something very special comes about. And as this article and the first one hopefully show, this is a franchise positively full of excellence.
In summary, this is possibly Captain Benjamin Sisko (my personal favourite Captain) at his most badass. My God, were it needed, he is established here as Starfleet through and through. This episode is why he is the right person to lead Starfleet (and by extension, arguably the entire Federation) during the years-long war arc.
Additionally, the soliloquy at the end from Michael Eddington is just beyond powerful. I personally have never read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, but the sheer parallels are obvious. Though the original epic novel can be described as thick enough to defend your home with, this episode (particularly the aforementioned soliloquy) is reason enough to correct this vast wrong.
Star Trek: Voyager
Equinox Parts 1 and 2
Original Airdates 26 May 1999 and 22nd September 1999 Directed by David Livingstone Written by: Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky
In my childhood, an abiding memory is not knowing that the first of the Equinox duology was a Part One and that it would necessarily end unresolved and there would be a cliffhanger for an ending. One which would not be resolved until the release of Part Two on VHS many months later. Months to child me might as well have been years.
It is sorta difficult for me to understand that it took Voyager the best part of six years to surprise encounter another Starfleet vessel. This is roughly Voyager’s equivalent to Deep Space Nine’s ‘For The Uniform’ outlined above. Captain Janeway herself also becomes very extreme in her pursuit of the Rogue Captain, Rudy Ransom and the betrayal of his uniform. The scene of her literally torturing the captured Equinox crewman Noah Lessing is both near disturbing to watch and an extremely rare time when it is unequivocally a good thing that Commander Chakotay is present.
Star Trek: Enterprise
Original Airdate 13th February 2002 Directed by David Livingston Written by Rick Berman and Branon Braga
Like much of Star Trek, especially in the Berman and Braga era, the first season can be glossed over for the most part. This is usually because the actors and writers have not quite got a full handle on the characters yet and what we get are little more than broad pen sketches of the characters.
On their podcast, this episode’s main duo of Dominic Keating and Connor Trineer had extensively rehearsed this episode and it shows so very well. The acting performances are sublime and so good that for the last 21 years, I have had this as one of my go-to episodes for Star Trek Enterprise. Also, even though I earn a small amount and the charge was significant, I felt getting the chance to meet these two in 2019 was worth at least twice the asking price.
Star Trek Discovery
Original Airdate March 17th 2022 Directed By Olatunde Osunsanmi Written By Michelle Paradise
I will not waste anyone’s time in claiming the 4th season of Star Trek Discovery is an all-time classic. As is perfectly evident in my own contributions to the Trek This Out podcast (cheap pop but I’m a huge wrestling fan, cheap pops are second nature to me thanks to Commissioner Mick Foley). However, as I have argued in this article, that is not to say that at times and even for entire episodes such as this one, there is the strength that one would associate with a team of Oxen.
One such is that I am what might be termed a long-lasting fan of the franchise. In one casting choice (which the actor concerned demanded to be kept secret and, I will never say who they are for spoilers) and when I saw them, my jaw dropped. What is better is that Junior Texas Senator and the human equivalent of the word ‘why’ Ted Cruz also saw it and immediately took a break from his job helping to run the United State’s most populous state to launch into a tirade on Twitter about it.
It is also a fine, if not predicted end to the season-long story and wraps up many things nicely. Although I think David Ajala’s Book suffers here as the producers are not too sure he will be available and affordable to Star Trek much longer, a possible explanation of why despite a very strong performance across his two seasons so far, he is given a comparatively weak wrap-up.
Star Trek Picard
The Star Gazer
Original Airdate March 3rd 2022 Directed by Doug Aarniokoski Written by Akita Goldsman and Terry Matalas
The much vaunted first season of Star Trek Picard came to a close in 2020. Of the many shots in the season finale, one was criticised by its inclusion of a very copy-and-paste fleet coming to the rescue. I agree, this was a rare example of Star Trek as a franchise (especially post-producer Rick Berman) lacking in creativity, but I can not understand how it makes an entire show woeful. One guy at my work was talking down to me about how he thinks it shows the writers have never even seen Star Trek before. Surprisingly, when I reminded him that Sir Patrick Stewart himself is a part of that room, he abruptly ended the conversation there. That’s me told.)
Anyway, season 2 opens and it is very evident that during the pause between seasons, they had listened and taken aboard the more legitimate critiques of the opening season.
What we have here is a very promising start to the season that is extremely welcome and the special guest stars in Whoopi Goldberg and John De Lancie positively relish their roles being reprised and it is very visible (as it is a few times on this list) that it is only to the episode’s benefit.
Also, it makes one of the very few post ‘What You Leave Behind’ episodes with a reference to personal favourite Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Three very strong ones in fact. I was in a huge state of joy when they happened.
Star Trek Lower Decks
Original Airdate August 25, 2022, Directed By Jason Zurek Written By Chris Kula
After Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I would have trouble listing an order of my favourite Star Trek shows. Not due to strength issues (although there are so many instances where Star Trek shows are home to both weaker and stronger episodes that it does legitimately complicate the issue somewhat). But if there was even an instance to challenge this, would be the loving parody Star Trek Lower Decks which unlike some, I feel is replete with instances where it goes beyond the loving parody of its surface.
Indeed there are multiple instances where Ensign Beckett Mariner knows exactly what Ensign Bradward Boimler needs to know, but rather than directly tell him, she guides him into finding it out for himself, a strong theme found reoccurring in the Star Trek franchise.
This episode does somewhat resolve the cliffhanger from the end of the previous season, it is a true indictment that the episode is merely the 21st of the show and we already care deeply about not only the main cast but the outcome of what happens to a secondary character. Extra points for how it is portrayed on screen with micro references to the rest of the 56-year-led franchise the order of the day.
The references to that film, especially using its soundtrack (which is constantly played on my Spotify and I do not feel remotely guilty) are just sheer perfection and remind me so much of how damn near perfect that film’s Soundtrack can be.
Star Trek Prodigy
All of Season One, Part One
OK, I have cheated you with this one. I do regard this spin-off very well, but not only do I really rate the show that brought back one of my favourite characters in fiction, I think because the episodes are shorter and this has much less focus on stand-alone episodes and instead, but the focus is also on the entire arc more, I feel you’d be better off watching the entire first season part one run.
I have written on it before.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The Elysian Kingdom
Original Airdate 23rd June 2022 Directed By Amanda Row Written By Akela Cooper and Ontario Johnson
The sets of the newest Star Trek show are likely made of cake if this episode is anything to judge by. The already gelled cast in this very early episode are just having fun throughout playing firmly against their regular characters. That is, apart from Dr M’Benga played by Babs Olusanmokun and Chief Engineer Hemmer portrayed by Bruce Horak. However, both have their extremely hammy moments that still work overall in the episode.
I found it impossible not to overly enjoy this episode many times over. On the aforementioned Trek This Out Podcast, it is pretty fair to say I write extensively about episodes. This episode holds the distinction of having my longest essay by far. To the point, it is nearly the length of this article (let's face it, by now it can be classed as a tome).
This is a tour de force in a particularly strong season (one I would argue as the absolute strongest in all of the Star Treks produced since the franchise returned to the small screen - well, not that small in my case - in 2017). The cast, the crew and writers/showrunners are just firing on all cylinders throughout the entire duration. I know I said above that and in part one to this article that ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ is an episode I would strongly argue as the best the franchise has to offer and I think it is, but an easy entry into my top 5 episodes would be this absolute beauty. Endlessly enjoyable.
Released 1st October 1996 Written by Jeri Taylor
Recently, Dr Una McCormack gave us ‘The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway’. While a fine work from one of my personal favourite Star Trek writers, it left me somewhat wanting more.
This could be argued as being because it is no mean feat to sum up the incredibly complicated character of Kathryn Janeway in a single volume the size of an Airplane Book. Large swathes of this eminently labyrinthine character to fully explore are entirely summed up in a chapter or two and so, a second volume is more than called for. While we are at it, Autobiographies of Star Trek characters are quite high in number, James Tiberius Kirk, Spock, Jean Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway already have one (we shall soon see Janeway has two), it is past high time that Benjamin Sisko is given one. Although the broad reception of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as the forgotten middle child of the franchise and it only getting fleeting references in post-2017 Star Trek (I count three in Star Trek Picard and one in Star Trek Strange New Worlds) might have something to do with this.
This was an introduction to Jeri Taylor’s character’s history before Star Trek: Voyager’s premiere in January 1995 is just so well focused and is a rare case of the Star Trek literary universe being kept in canon with the surrounding show. This could well be because the show was in part created by author Jeri Taylor, and given her other prolific Star Trek credits, it is little wonder why she should be spoken of in importance to Star Trek with names such as Lucille Ball, Gene Roddenberry and Alex Kurtzman.
It is also a long-term reason (with the performances over the last twenty-seven years by Kate Mulgrew) behind my paying a large amount to meet Kate Mulgrew.
Star Trek Elite Force I
Bit of a cheat as I have written extensively about it.
But the 2003 sequel which gave us an all to brief into the world of Star Trek set after 2002’s disaster peace Star Trek Nemesis is unadulterated, more cartoony fun and a not overly challenging first-person shooter. Word of warning: do not be like young me and put this into God mode, the trick order will permanently remind you it is on as the Tricorder is forever the bulky near DustBuster one from Voyager, not the sorta cool palm pilot one from Star Trek Nemesis which 2002 idiot me thought was the cool future twenty years ago.
Trek This Out
Well, there are hundreds of podcasts out there (such as our own Recharge Wrestling and our ally, Gimme A Hull Yeah) but if you were to exclude the ones dedicated to the Star Trek franchise, well there would be around twelve left. I am biased because I am friends with the hosts and I was even guest host on an episode on the Discovery season 4 episode ‘All Out’ (which shares its name with one of my favourite wrestling promotions Pay Per Views). I would highly recommend this podcast. To the point that in April, I went to Texas and made sure I could watch the then-latest episode of Star Trek Picard and emailed them from the other side of the planet my review of the episode just to make sure to spread my review. I listen to each episode frequently and encourage you to do the same.
Star Trek Short Treks
Original Airdate 8th November 2018 Directed By Olatunde Osunsanmi Written By Michael Chabon
Finally, we reach the last entry in this article. It is last, but certainly not least. For one, I am a huge fan of the Short Treks anthology series and while I do long for a more regular-length anthology show, I do think that while it is understandable that this show is seemingly in suspended animation, for now, I would love further episodes. With the news that the next season of Star Trek Picard will be its last, I wonder if it will be picked up nice Admiral Picard leaves the slate.
‘Calypso’ I first saw just before season three of Star Trek Discovery, to but it mildly, the episode left me with questions to be resolved. To be sure, all questions are explained, or at least an explanation is surely implied.No mean feat.
Also, the acting of guest star Aldis Hodge is something of a highlight now only in the Star Trek Short Treks run, but in the whole franchise oeuvre itself.
Star Trek is definitely a vast franchise. With over 800 episodes, 13 movies, countless books and video games, I can not blame an of the uninitiated for seeing this vast quantity and uttering an immediate ‘yeah … no’.
But with that sheer quantity comes the quality that abounds in this franchise. I hope that through this article (and the preceding in this ‘Shining Lights’ series, I have given the reader food for thought on a number of very juicy treats that this franchise has to offer. I hope it attracts fans old and new, like this website, the Star Trek franchise is built upon IDIC (‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’) and whether you are a seasoned fan like me, new to the franchise, or a somewhat lapsed fan or somewhere else, I hope you enjoy what is offered here and not on the list.
Here is the spine of my Star Trek articles for Robot Republic, I encourage you to read the website as widely as possible, hopefully, this will prove helpful to you too.
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