Star Trek 50th Anniversary: The Top Ten Episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series.

Its the 50th Anniversary of either my wife or mistress depending on what day it is. Star Trek came to me after Star Wars. So, I am not sure which one is my true love franchise and which one is the franchise I cheat on it with. Star Wars is probably my true love, but its difficult when Star Trek gave me a lot in my life. Star Trek allowed me to have a life outside of high school with a group of other Trekkers in a town over. Those interesting people probably saved me from the utter horror that is teenage prison. Ok, high school wasn’t that bad and every one should want an education, but it was not exactly the best of times. Star Trek also introduce me to the world of RPG which you can see me do almost every Thursday night on Twitch TV via Guild of Fools (There is your plug, Josh). I also found other people along my way that share my love of Star Trek. Kris,my real life wife, is even a big TNG fan.

Star Trek has been and will continue to be an important part of my life. So in honor of the 50th Anniversary, I have come up with a list of episodes, movies and other parts of the fandom. I will go over the good, the bad and its importance.

  1. The Cage

Overview: The original unaired plot that showed a weary Captain Pike investigating a distress signal from a long lost ship. There, we see a bunch of older men with one young hot woman named Vina. They turn about to be illusion except for the woman. A mysterious alien group called the Talosians capture Pike in order to mate with Vina. The crew lead by Number One and Spock try to get Pike back using the Enterprise’s weapons, but it doesn’t work. After Pike makes it through the Talosian’s illusions, they decided to kidnap Number One and another female to get Pike to mate. Pike is able to resist to the point that the Talosians relent and allow Pike to leave. Vivan stays behind to help the Talosians out after they stop viewing her as a thing.

What worked: Pike is a great character. He is tired of being in space. Something that was unheard of in sci-fi. Space is a job is such a foreign concept to any of us, yet it somehow makes perfect sense. People get bored or get frustrated by command is very interesting. The human race still has problems is cool. We get a lot of neat space stuff like the Enterprise and the Talosians. The mental warfare engaged between Pike and the Talosians is an interesting concept. The message of mercy at the end is a good one even though it seems forced. Hell is a myth in the 22nd Century. How that got by the 1960s censors, I will never know. A lot of sexual innuendo about Pike and all the women in this episode as well.. Which again, we are talking about sex in the 1960s on TV at dinner time.

What doesn’t work: Its boring. It really is boring. The episode tries to be this high minded adventure, but there is little adventure. There is one big fight with the Talosian is fairly weak.

Why its important: Its where everything started. We have a Captain, we have a Number One, we have the Enterprise and we have a Spock. This is it. The Roddenberry vision of the future is in full display as we see different races and aliens working together as an every day activity.

  1. Where No Man has Gone before:

Overview: James R Kirk. That is at least what his grave says. However, we know him as James T. Kirk. Kirk is our new young dashing captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. With a sly smile and a sometimes stern look, James Kirk became as part of Star Trek as the Enterprise. In his first adventure, he has to kill his best friend Gary Mitchell who and his now girlfriend, Dr. Danner who have become Gods. Kirk wins using the big laser from the Cage.

What Works: It is more action packed than the Cage. It has Kirk, Sulu, Spock and Scotty. There is a real sense of lose when Kirk has to kill his best friend. Even though we get a small hint at their relationship, it feels like a real conflict for Kirk.

What doesn’t Work: James R. Kirk? What the…

What its Important: Most of the major players, we all know and love are here. For many fans and particular the viewers this is Star Trek. Kirk is in the Captain’s Chair. All is right with the world.

  1. Mirror Mirror

Overview: Before a certain Superhero show made parallel universes the cornerstone to their entire show with a ton of white boards and circles, Star Trek did it first. Ok, its really Twilight Zone, but unlike Twilight Zone this universe would be seen again. Mirror is probably one of the most iconic episodes thanks to Spock’s beard. Kirk and company are sent to another world were the Federation is the bad guys. While evil Kirk is sent straight to the brig by Spock, good Kirk has to battle most of the evil crew to get home. The episode does give a bit of hope to the evil universe where bearded Spock sends Kirk home and Kirk tries to convince him to change for the better.

What Works: The episode is a nice touch of action with questions about individual morality in different worlds. Just the idea of parallel worlds is amazing to me. The actors do a great job of playing their evil versions. I am sure that Takei enjoyed being a jerk to Shatner. Kirk helping evil Spock after they beat him is a great nod that no matter what or who Spock is, Kirk will always try to save him.

What doesn’t Work: We never see the TOS Mirror Mirror universe again in film form. The universe comes back later, but I want to know see what happens when evil Kirk confronts bearded Spock. The big fight with Spock is obviously stunt people at times. The science in jumping worlds is a bit dicey.

Why its important: To a lot of sci-fi fans this is the first time, we get string theory in action form. Star Trek was instrumental in breaking down tough scientific theories into simple ideas. The idea of parallels or alternate worlds can be a bit tough understand, here we get it laid out in simple terms. Its also cool to see our heroes turn into really fun villains.

  1. The Balance of Terror

Overview: Probably my favorite episode of Star Trek. During a wedding ceremony that Kirk is proceeding over, we are told a Federation space station has been utterly destroyed. We are introduced to the Romulan Star Empire and their cloaking ship. The Romulans are the Vulcans’ dirty little secret. The Romulans are Vulcans who either decided to go out to conquer the universe or were forced to leave. Its pretty murky on the reason, the Romulans are this far out. They do have a noble Captain who is not a big fan of going to war for the glory of their leader. Kirk and the Romulan Captain play a game of cat and mouse while Kirk’s own crew grow suspicious of Spock. A crew member is completely racist to Spock, but it is Spock who saves his life instead of the life of the young groom. At the end, Kirk and the Romulan Captain have a nice moment about mutual respect before the Captain destroys himself and his ship.

What works: This is episode is the perfect balance of action and big ideas. War being something to avoid was a huge statement during the Vietnam War and even now. That would be a big enough statement, but we also get a message of intolerance. This is a cracker of an episode and the new remaster version really makes it great.

What doesn’t work: Does Spock really have to save the racist guy instead of the groom? I guess for the narrative of tolerance, he does, but it seems a bit cliche.

Why its important: This is a double layer of tolerance and respect towards one another with a great game of hide and seek between the Enterprise and the Romulan Warbird. This is probably one of the first episodes where we tackle Spock being an outsider that some members of the crew don’t trust him. McCoy is irritated by him, but he never questions his loyalty. This is also where we don’t get a happy ending. The young couple is separated by death, the noble Romulan Captain is killed and we are left wondering what was it all for. Its also the first appearance of the Romulans and discussion of their war with the Federation.

  1. Amok  Time

Overview: Spock has an issue. He needs to mate every seven years or he will literally die. Spock, our most logical and stoic hero is turned into a teenage boy. To save Spock, Kirk takes the Enterprise to Vulcan. On Vulcan, Spock can mate with his soon to be wife. However, his mysterious wife has other ideas. She didn’t want to marry Spock, since it was arraigned. She would rather marry another Vulcan and chooses Kirk to fight Spock to the death. Spock’s illness can also be cured via murdering someone. McCoy tricks everyone into thinking Spock kills Kirk. Spock returns to the Enterprise to find a very alive Kirk.

What Works: This is the episode with the big Kirk and Spock fight with the unrelenting theme music behind it. That is probably what people remember about this episode. McCoy out thinking the Vulcans is pretty great.

What doesn’t work: Spock’s pseudo wife is awful. She won’t help Spock with his illness, forces him to kill Kirk and then ends up with all of his stuff. Just an awful person and never gets any comeuppance due to her actions.

Why is it important: The big thing is Spock hugging Kirk when he sees that he is alive. Its one of the most honest moments of Spock’s life and hints at their bigger friendship. This episode defines the Kirk/Spock relationship.

  1. Devil in the Dark

A mysterious being is killing miners. Kirk and crew investigate the murders. They run into a bizarre space slug called the Horta who burns people alive if they come to close. While fighting the slug, Spock thinks something is wrong. Spock performs a mindmeld on the being. It is revealed that the slug is protecting her children. The miners and the Horta come to an agreement to help one another.

What works: In the beginning, we never see the Horta while it kills the miners. This allows for the horror movie vibe of the first half of the episode. This is the A typical Star Trek episode of Infinity Diversity through Infinity Combinations, IDIC. That we are stronger together through our unique abilities than apart. There is also the idea that the thing we fear is also as fearful of us or closer to us than further away.

What doesn’t work: The Horta even in the remastered edition looks fake. Miners 4 Trump. The miners don’t even seem to care when its revealed they are killing the Horta’s children. We find a lot of working class people in the Federation don’t seem to be that tolerant as the people in Starfleet.

Why its important: Now as it was back then, its good to remind people that sometimes our enemies are not that scary or not really our enemies. Spock mindmelding with the Horta is an iconic image for Star Trek and maybe one that best characterizes what Star Trek is about.

  1. Space Speed

Overview:The introduction of Star Trek’ most famous villain, Khan Noonien Singh. The Enterprise finds a lost ship that contains a bunch of war criminals from the 1990s. Yeah, Roddenberry had a lot more faith in the space program than NASA did. He also foresaw an era where we would genetically engineer soldiers who then turn on us to rule Earth. When they were overthrown they were banished to space. Khan maybe the worse of the lot, because he is charming. So, damn charming. He seduces a female crew member to help him restore his people from their deep sleep in order to take over the Enterprise and he does. Khan should win, but the female crew member helps Kirk and Spock escape to re-take the ship. Kirk goes one on one with Khan and with the help of an inanimate rod, he beats him. Yes, Mission Log Podcast, Kirk beats him in a physical fight. Khan and his people are banished to City Alpha Six instead of outright being killed for mutiny.

What Works: Ricardo plays Khan as a smart, charming and devious foe. He is such a stand out that it is not surprise that he would come back. Kirk and crew taking back the ship is nice to see as well as how loyal the crew is when they offered to join Khan.

What doesn’t work: Khan is abusive as hell to the female crew woman. I am sure showing how toxic the relationship is was the point, but he smacks her around a bit. Back in the 60s that seems to be ok, now not so much. Khan and Kirk are obviously using stunt doubles.

Why its important: Khan. I mean its Khan. Besides that. Its interesting to see what Roddenberry envisioned the not so distant of the 1990s to be. He was kind of right as cloning was a big thing in that decade.

  1. City on the Edge of Forever

Overview: After accidentally injecting himself with some weird serum, McCoy jumps into a time rift known as the Guardian of Forever. Kirk and Spock must travel back in time to save McCoy after it appears there is no Federation anymore. In the past, McCoy passes out in an alley while Kirk and Spock meet a woman by the name of Edith Keeler. Miss Keeler runs a safe house for the poor during the Depression. It turns out that she is very good at giving speeches, so much so, she will make the US as pacifist state when the Nazis come to power. The Nazis win World War II and no Federation. Kirk and Edith become close even though Spock warns Kirk that Edith has to die. After a random meeting McCoy reunites with Kirk and Spock. In that moment of joy, Kirk has to make the most difficult decision to allow a car to kill Edith Keeler as she crosses the street. The crew returns home to find nothing has changed and with a bitter voice Kirk asks Scotty to return them to the Enterprise.

What works: The love story. Even though, Kirk has been known as a love them and leave them guy, you do get the feeling Kirk does care for her. Which makes the choice at the end to let her die even more difficult. The ending is also haunting.

What doesn’t work: Hmm…hmm…nothing.

Why its important: It maybe the most important episode of Star Trek. It gives Star Trek, a level of importance, it didn’t have before. Star Trek was an odd sci-fi show with silly special effects to some people, after this episode, it becomes an award winning show. A show that has depth and emotion. It is also the first time travel is used in Star Trek while asking the questions about the effects of going back in time and what consequences you are willing to live with by doing so.

  1. The Corbomite Maneuver.

Overview: The Enterprise is caught in a battle of wills with a mysterious and very large orb shaped ship. The alien aboard named Balok accuses them of trespassing. After a tight battle, The Enterprise escapes, but goes back to help Balok. Kirk and crew finds that Balok is a child with incredible intelligence and was testing the crew. One of Kirk’s crew agrees to stay behind to help Balok understand humanity better.

What Works: Thanks to remastering, Balok’s ship looks awesome. It is a magnificent looking ship thanks to the odd look. The tension of the episode is very tight and you really feel that the crew is real danger.

What doesn’t Work: The crew member who stays behind is a bit of a screw up. Parts of the episode deal with him going nuts via Space Madness!!!

Why its important: Kirk as a master strategist is on display. He bluffs his way out of the situation which becomes a Kirk staple maneuver. The idea that Kirk and crew would go back to save a wounded enemy shows how far humanity has come in the ways of mercy something that is lacking in this century

10.The Menagerie.

Overview: Captain Pike returns. Sort of. Pike is burnt and confined to a futuristic wheel chair after saving the lives of people in a fire. Spock tricks Kirk to leave the Enterprise, so he can take Pike to the Talosians. The Talosians’ planet, Talos IV, is under quarantine. A quarantine that contains the death penalty if you go. Kirk is able to reach the crew and they stop Spock. At Spock’s trial, he is helped by the Talosians by showing a re-run of the Cage. Kirk agrees to send Pike to Talos IV and Spock is exonerated of all charges.

What Works: Spock being a devious SOB. While this episode is a re-run of the Cage, there seems to be some hints of Spock being like bearded Spock from Mirror Mirror. Spock also cares for Pike and its nice to see that he will go this far for his friends.

What doesn’t Work: Its a re-run. Honestly, the second part of the two parter is just the Cage. The Cage while interesting is still boring even in cut up form as its shown here.

Why its important: Continuity, Continuity, Continuity. The thing that the cinematic Marvel universe has built a billion dollar empire on. The fact that Star Trek goes back to remember their history is somewhat unique in television in the 1960s. Now, every show has some season long story arc or constantly referring to their past. In this time, it is unique. Star Trek’s history becomes a giant thing for the franchise and this is the first building block.


Give me your top ten and reasons in the comments below. Live Long and Prosper.


4 thoughts on “Star Trek 50th Anniversary: The Top Ten Episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series.

  1. I enjoyed this post but I have to point out that the episode at number 4 is actually called Balance of Terror. The Neutral Zone is a TNG episode. Also, “Corbomite” is misspelled.

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