What makes a great episode of Star Trek: The Original Series? From a bold premise to capitalizing on crew interactions, the best episodes of the original series always wound up leading to the crew discussing events through a philosophical lens but always maintaining a sense of brevity and wit about itself. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a more optimistic future is hailed as serious science fiction but it conjoined genuine science fiction philosophies with the utmost entertaining approach. Here are six episodes that capture the wonders of The Original Series.
Season 1 Episode 3: Where No Man Has Gone Before
Also known as, The One Where the Crew of the Enterprise Fight God. When the crew of the Enterprise discover a recording from the 200 year old SS Valiant, the ship’s crew stumble towards the edge of the galaxy when a space barrier causes the deaths of several crewmen, along with knocking helmsman Gary Mitchell and psychiatrist Elizabeth Dehmer unconscious. When Mitchell awakens, Captain Kirk and company discover he has godlike powers. His power continues expanding along with his ego, leaving a debate between Kirk and Spock on whether or not Mitchell should be terminated before it’s too late.
Fun fact: After failing to please with the initial pilot production of “The Man Trap” this episode was eventually reworked into a second pilot with support from none other than Lucille Ball.
Season 2 Episode 6: The Doomsday Machine
In one of the more intense episodes of the series, the Enterprise goes up against an unintentional Death Star prototype. An enormous weapon capable of destroying planets to consume the debris, Commodore Matt Decker of the now abandoned USS Constellation is traumatized from his previous encounter with the machine.
Star Trek was never known for blockbuster storytelling but this is about as close as the original series got to such recognition. The ticking time bomb of a weapon designed only to destroy and feast should feel pretty empty considering more of the political discussions often held within the series, but Marc Daniels (who also directed “Mirror, Mirror”) is able to capture a propulsive energy on par with high quality action films.
Season 1 Episode 22: Space Seed
Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan is absolutely one of the defining science fiction films but we would not have it if not for the phenomenal “Space Seed.” Enterprise discovers a 200 year old ship filled with crew of superhuman criminals in cryo freeze. Their leader, Khan Noonien Singh, seduces crewmember Lt. Marla McGivers and begins a plot to rule over the Enterprise and eventually all mankind. Back in the 1990s, Khan and his superhuman ruled over one third of Earth and took part in the last great Earth war, The Eugenics Wars. This is all true, by the way. Only ’90s eugenics remember.
Khan Noonien Singh is a landmark villain in pop culture, not only because the late Ricardo Montalban got fucking shredded for the film, but for the most dangerous villain in Star Trek canon to be person of color. Unfortunately it would have been better had he been an actual Indian actor but Rodenberry’s initial casting decisions were adamant about not allowing race to be a factor when casting their guest stars. So, half-yay?
The episode ends with Kirk leaving Khan, McGivers, and the superhuman of Botany Bay on Ceti Alpha 5 as Spock wonders what will become of the planet in 100 years. The two crews would catch up 15 years later. It didn’t work out well for anybody involved.
Season 1 Episode 4: Mirror, Mirror
The evil version of oneself is a recurring thread in storytelling. It’s cute in something like Community and when used properly in something like Star Trek, it reiterates established character traits of heroic protagonists. During an ion storm Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, and McCoy are mistakenly transported to a parallel universe filled with evil versions of themselves (yes, the one with evil goatee Spock). Back on the original Enterprise, the evil versions of the aforementioned crew are beamed onto the ship.
Where Starfleet is an honorable entity based on spreading knowledge and promoting unity throughout the galaxy, the mirror world Starfleet has an “every man for themselves” mentality. Watching Kirk and company outmaneuver the polar opposites of their ideals is entertaining but the real kicker is when Kirk confronts evil goatee Spock. The two men discuss the fallacies of the Empire and how it’s destined to implode. It’s a bit grim but evil goatee Spock sets out to find a more peaceful solution to their universe as it is the logical answer.
Season 2 Episode 15: The Trouble with Tribbles
A trader sells Uhura tribal, lovable alien pets that coo and purr to the delight of the Enterprise crew. Bonus: the tribbles make non-delightful noises when Klingons are nearby. With the help of the over-whelming new population of tribbles, the crew confronts a Klingon plot.
When someone says, “Star Trek is supposed to be serious!” please show them this episode. There’s no doubt Star Trek is serious when it needs to be. This is also an episode devoted to sentient balls of fur, so make of that what you will.
One of the most thoroughly giggle-worthy entries, “The Trouble with Tribbles” is a hoot and a half. The episode ends with Montgomery Scott saying there won’t be any “tribble.” It’s just a fun time with over 1,500 (this is the actual number of trebles made for this episode) fluffy alien life forms. Just watch and be entertained.
Season 1 Episode 28: City on the Edge of Forever
Written by Harlan Ellison, the literal genius behind I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, Star Trek reaches peak science fiction with this one.
Bones accidentally overdoses himself with cordrazine after the ship is rocked by a distortion. The distortion was caused by The Guardian of Forever, an ancient doorway capable of sending someone to any time and place. The delusional Bones rushes through the Guardian and Kirk discovers a minor change impacted the Federation: It no longer exists (this is the short version). Kirk and Spock travel back in time to the 1930s amidst the Great Depression to stop Bones from changing the past. Along the way, Kirk and Spock meet Edith Keeler, a humanitarian. Kirk and Spock work for her while they wait for the delayed arrival of Bones. In that time, Kirk and Edith fall in love. The gut punch: Edith must die to repair the damage done to the timeline.
The scenario is a short story representing the ultimate statement: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Kirk finds love in the past. Not only can he not stay with her, he must let her die for the sake of humanity.
The episode ends with Kirk and Spock returning along with a healed Bones to the fixed future. Kirk informs the Enterprise of their status before ending the episode with “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Featured Image: CBS