‘Star Trek’ celebrated a huge milestone on September 8: that date was the 50th anniversary of the legendary science fiction franchise’s premiere.
One thing that has always fascinated me about Star Trek is how badly it performed when it was actually in production. It was never a top 10 hit. It faced cancellation multiple times but was saved by letter-writing campaigns by a very vocal fan base.
But for fans then, the steadfast Captain James T. Kirk, the passionate Dr. Leonard McCoy, and the logical Mr. Spock were an irresistible combination they had no intention of forgetting when the show left the air after just three seasons on NBC.
For me, the appeal of Star Trek didn’t really hit until I saw the franchise’s second film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That suddenly made me interested in the original series, a program I was never that impressed with before because the technology looked outdated to me in the 1970s.
There’s only one ‘Trek’ film I like more than that one after all these years, and it’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country because it’s a nice send-off for the original cast.
In honor of the golden anniversary of the original series, I decided to make a list of my favorite 10 episodes:
1. ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’
Parts of this episode border on the absolute silly, but it still maintains its dramatic moments. The U.S.S. Enterprise is called to a starbase for a presumed disaster. Once there, they find a diplomat full of demands who quickly becomes a target of Kirk’s disrespect and jokes. He’s then assigned to protect the diplomat’s cargo: a specialized grain that could give the Federation the upper hand in claiming a planet. Meanwhile, a traveling space salesman introduces the crew to these hairy little furballs called “Tribbles” that wind up saving the day and exposing a Klingon conspiracy.
2. ‘Amok Time’
This episode, which involved a deeply secret mating ritual on Mr. Spock’s home planet, was a testament to the bond between Kirk and Spock (as well as between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy). Kirk must first put his career on the line to save his first officer. But then it becomes clear Kirk must be willing to sacrifice much more than that before the hour is over. The final scene relieves the tension with a comedic moment from McCoy.
3. ‘The Ultimate Computer’
Half a century ago, people worried about the same thing we worry about (probably at a greater level) today: what would happen if a computer became so smart that it could take over everything…and what would happen if we then got in their way? A famed scientist creates a computer so sophisticated that it can control a starship without a crew or captain, and Kirk becomes the (un)lucky one who gets to put it to the ultimate test. But humanity wins out in this battle and in a philosophical debate between the show’s trifecta as well.
4. ‘A Taste of Armageddon’
How efficient can you make war? Two warring planets devise a complicated process to make war “clean” rather than bloody, and the Enterprise finds itself caught in the middle — and declared a casualty — of the conflict. It’s up to Kirk and company to give both planets a reality check that just might end the conflict once and for all.
5. ‘The Doomsday Machine’
A mysterious worm-like device travels through space devouring anything in its path, including whole planets. A fellow starship captain learns too late it’s impossible to defeat the machine — or so we assume — and loses his ship and crew in the process. But his obsession to defeat the enemy leads him to commandeer Kirk’s ship and turn it into a target.
6. ‘Mirror, Mirror’
Kirk, McCoy and others beam back to the ship and something goes awry: instead of their civilized universe, they arrive in a brutal alternate reality and must try to play along long enough to find a way back to their reality before the rest of the crew, including a logical-but-evil Mr. Spock, figures out what has happened and traps them forever.
7. ‘Balance of Terror’
This episode is tense because of the “cat and mouse” waiting game that builds between the Enterprise and a Romulan ship. The Hollywood Reporter says the episode was inspired by submarine warfare and it definitely has that feel. And during the waiting game, Mr. Spock finds himself the target of discrimination from a crew member, suggesting that racism, unfortunately, is still alive in the 23rd century.
8. ‘Shore Leave’
What if you could get away to a place where every dream comes true? This episode, about a kind of “amusement park” in which that very thing can happen, reminds us of the popular saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Bizarre clues turn deadly and Kirk must figure out what’s going on and why before shore leave turns fatal for his whole crew.
9. ‘The Tholian Web’
Caught in fractured space that’s claimed by an enemy race, Kirk vanishes from sight. The Enterprise must stay long enough to rescue Kirk despite warnings from the alien race that they’ll be destroyed if they remain.
10. ‘City on the Edge of Forever’
A lot of Star Trek fans rank this one much higher up their lists. I get it: it’s a well-written episode and there’s a lot to like. But time travel stories are automatically a turnoff for me because I’d rather stay in the future. In this episode, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug that leads to paranoia and confusion, and he winds up going back in time through a time portal to rewrite history. Of course, this means Kirk and Spock must then go back in time after him to right what he has unintentionally wronged and bring him back to his own time. Joan Collins guest stars as the love interest and becomes the center of a major plot point in which Kirk must make the ultimate tough decision in the spirit of keeping history on the proper path.
Those are my top picks.