On September 8, 1966, science fiction was forever changed. On that evening, as part of a preview block, NBC aired a new show called Star Trek, produced by an Air Force veteran named Gene Roddenberry and financed by Lucille Ball’s Delsilu Productions. The episode, entitled “The Man Trap,” would not go down in history as one of the series greats — and Star Trek (now called Star Trek: The Original Series) would only last three seasons — but the series would continue to grow and find life in subsequent iterations, from several spinoff series to a lineup of motion pictures.
Star Trek was one of the very first experiences I had with science fiction, and is no small influence in my decision to write science fiction. So, in honor of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, I’d like to list my top 10 favorite Trek moments from over the years.
A disclaimer: this is not meant to be a “best of” list. There are certainly tons of those out there, and I could probably come up with one, too, if I felt like it. This is, instead, a personal favorite list. That means that some very critically acclaimed moments will not be here. For example, the Deep Space Nine episode “The Visitor,” which some argue is the best Trek episode of all time, is nowhere to be found. Same for the Star Trek: The Original Series classic “City on the Edge of Forever,” The Next Generation‘s “Chain of Command,” or Voyager‘s “Year of Hell.” All are very good, but they didn’t make my cut as personal fan moments.
A second disclaimer: There are no J.J. Abrams Star Trek moments on this list. I’m glad Trek lives on in the reboot, but I’m not a fan.
A final disclaimer: There are spoilers galore here. Just a warning.
So, without further fanfare, here we go:
10. Regeneration (Star Trek: Enterprise, 2003)
The Trek TV series Enterprise, which ran in the early 2000s, was controversial almost from start to finish, thanks to an opening theme that was nothing like Star Trek and a series finale that outraged fans. (If I ever made a “bottom 10 Trek moments list,” the last episode of Enterprise would be #1, ahead of J.J. Abrams, Star Trek V, and “Spock’s Brain.”) “Regeneration,” which ran in the series’ second season, was also controversial, thanks to the risky decision to introduce the Borg two centuries before they first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
A cynic might call it excessive fan-service. I personally loved it. Enterprise up to that point had been sort of a hit-or-miss series, with a lot of episodes that just weren’t that exciting. But when I heard they were going to draw in one of the great adversaries into the series, I was fascinated to see how it worked. And worked it did: it’s a memorable episode that not only let the Enterprise NX-01 crew show their action chops, but also helped to draw a bridge between the Borg incursion of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the events of the movie Star Trek: First Contact.
9. Unimatrix Zero (Star Trek: Voyager, 2000)
Yes, the Borg are a big part of Trek lore, and they certainly had plenty of great moments in Star Trek: Voyager, including the story arc contained in parts 1 and 2 of “The Scorpion.” But my favorite Voyager adventure was two-part cliffhanger where the crew has to infiltrate a virtual world within the Borg collective. The episodes were awesome for a lot of reasons, including the way in which they shed light on the society of the Borg and the way viewers learn more about Voyager crew member Seven of Nine. The ending of the second part, likewise, is both heart-wrenching and eminently satisfying, something Voyager episodes didn’t always achieve in the way I had hoped for (I’m looking at you, series finale).
8. Star Trek Log Series (Novels, 1974-1978)
Although I’d seen a fair amount of Star Trek in my childhood, it wasn’t until middle school when I encountered my first Star Trek on the printed page. It came in the form of the Star Trek Log Series: ten different books containing novelizations of the largely ignored Star Trek: The Animated Series. The author, Alan Dean Foster, did a great job of transferring the classic Trek stories … better, in my view, than the Animated Series did. For someone hoping to experience more of the Enterprise‘s five year mission, I got my fix.
7. Star Trek: Bridge Commander (Video Game, 2002)
I’ve played a lot of Star Trek video games over the years. Some of them were very good, like the vintage PC text-based adventure Star Trek: The Kobayashi Alternative (1985) and the vintage PC click-based adventure Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1992). Others have ranged from so-so (Star Trek Online, Star Trek: The Next Generation for SNES) to terrible (every single Star Trek game on the original Game Boy).
My very favorite Star Trek gaming experience came in the form of the PC-based Star Trek: Bridge Commander. The game admittedly was a one-trick pony: all the action took place on the bridge, with nary a single away mission in sight. But what the game did well, it did very well, with a sense of immersion that made you feel like you really were the captain of a starship. Players began in a Galaxy-class ship of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, but soon graduated to a Sovereign-class, the awesome vessel that was a fixture in the Next Generation films. With plenty of heroes and villains alike — and a well-penned storyline — this was a game that was as much fun for me to play the second time around as it was the first.
6. Trials and Tribble-lations (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1996)
Many critics praise Deep Space Nine for its deep exploration of social and cultural issues — to say nothing of the Dominion War — but my very favorite episode was the pure fan-service that was this DS9 gem. In the episode, the crew of the Defiant travel back in time to stop James T. Kirk from being assassinated. The episode essentially splices Deep Space Nine characters into footage from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and it is by turns immensely enjoyable and completely hilarious. There are so many high points that it’s hard to pick one, but I loved the straight-faced discussion on Klingon forehead physiology.
5. Encounter at Farpoint (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987)
I’ll be honest: “Encounter at Farpoint” is not a great episode of Trek. I’m not even sure it would make most Star Trek: The Next Generation Top 10 lists. But it was so cool to see Star Trek back on television. I’ll not soon forget racing home one evening to watch the pilot episode of the first new Star Trek TV series in almost two decades.
Sure, it was a little weird at first, with all-new characters that ranged from a bald captain to that guy from Reading Rainbow wearing a thing over his eyes, but by the end of the episode I was hooked. The new crew was interesting, the new Enterprise was nifty, and the new special effects were light-years ahead of the 1960s. Voyaging into strange new worlds was once again on the horizon (I like the movies, but they don’t capture that same feeling) and by Season 3, this series had established itself as a worthy successor to the original. This episode was an important first step.
4. The Best of Both Worlds (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1990)
In the second season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “Q-Who,” Jean-Luc Picard and his crew are thrown into a distant location where they encounter a cybernetic species known as the Borg. The episode, like many early ones, is not very good, but it does serve as a set-piece for the season finale of Season 3.
And what a season finale it was. Not only was it a haunting episode where the Enterprise faces a seemingly unstoppable evil, but the ending ranks as one of the great cliffhangers — in any genre — in television history. I remember watching the ending of part one and shouting at the screen, “What!? Is that it!?” And I wasn’t alone; Trek fans spent the entire summer of 1990 wondering what would happen to Jean-Luc Picard after Riker gave the order to “fire.” The second part of the two-part episode, which aired in the fall of 1990, not only resolved the plotline but added a whole new layer to Picard, making him a far more complex character than he had been up to that point.
3. The Inner Light (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1992)
This is one where my own personal favorite list intersects with many critics. There are a few choice episodes of Trek that make you stop and just think long after the episode is over — several TNG and DS9 episodes come to mind — and “The Inner Light” is one such doozy. I’ll never forget the mind-blowing experience of watching Captain Picard (who was already messed up enough by his experience in item #4 above) live an entire lifetime in twenty minutes. The end of the episode, where Picard tries to reorient himself to a captaincy that was, for him, literally a lifetime ago, was one of the all-time moments for me in Trek history.
2. The Doomsday Machine, Remastered (Star Trek: The Original Series, 1967)
My all-time favorite Star Trek TV episode ever. An unstoppable menace, a ship’s commodore with a Captain Ahab complex, and a chess-game like ending where, in spite of myself, I wondered if Kirk was actually going to make it. The episode had glorious space combat, some sharp exchanges (I got chills during the verbal power struggle between Decker and Kirk), and even a bit of hand-to-hand fighting. The cherry on top was the amazing musical score, which was scored specifically for this episode … a rarity for The Original Series.
As a kid, I liked the episode enough that I was able to look through its one obvious fault: namely, the absolutely terrible and recycled special effects. But CBS remedied that problem a decade ago when they remastered Star Trek: The Original Series as part of the series’ 40th anniversary. The new effects take a good premise and make it into something much more amazing.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Movie, 1982)
Up to this point, I haven’t said much of anything about the movies, and for (I think) good reason: the majority of them just aren’t that great. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a snooze, The Search For Spock was mediocre, and The Final Frontier was just bad. (Fun fact: I read the entire novelization of The Final Frontier in one night. The book was better.) The Next Generation movies were so middling that that slightly-above-average First Contact counts as the best, and don’t even get me started on the reboots.
That leaves three movies that, I think, are above the rest: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (which admittedly doesn’t feel like a Trek film), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Of that lot, my favorite probably lines up with a lot of fans. Despite running with the smallest budget of any Trek movie ($11.2 million), the combination of clever dialogue, an amazing cast (not the least of them being the titular villain), and some really nifty space combat made The Wrath of Khan much more than the sum of its parts. And the ending was about as bittersweet as it ever gets.