I have eagerly reviewed all of the episodes of Star Trek franchise video products. I have reviewed every episode available of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and am almost through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In addition, I've reviewed all of the Star Trek films and I even wrote an attempt at the next Star Trek film (check out the proposal here!). Yes, I may be a Beta in many other ways, but I am a proud Alpha Geek.
So, it seemed about time I present a list of the Top Ten episodes of the original Star Trek. Like many of my "best of" lists, I tend to diverge from my colleagues some and as a result, this is very truly, my list of the best ten episodes of Star Trek.
The differences, though, come down to the standards. For years, many people have looked at the "Top Ten" Best episodes of Star Trek as a sacrosanct list; whenever leading publications like StarLog did the lists, there was seldom any movement even decade to decade. This, I find, is folly. My Top Ten Star Trek episodes have two things in common: first, they look at what makes Star Trek truly great, which is Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future for one important thing and two they replay better than most episodes.
As a result, there are two omissions that most people are likely to gripe about that did not make my cut: "The City On The Edge Of Forever" and "The Trouble With Tribbles." The first is a much-beloved time-travel episode and one that usually tops lists like this one (take THAT convention!), but viewed objectively, it is exceptionally plot heavy, the dialogue is dragged down with so much exposition and the "love" story is so forced that it almost is tacked on as an afterthought. Similarly, "The Trouble With Tribbles" may be beloved and the conspiracy aspect of it is genuinely clever, but the humor holds up poorly as the one "furballs are cute" joke gets beaten into the ground pretty quickly.
So, with that in mind . . . I present, the Top Ten Star Trek episodes:
10. "The Cage" - reviewed here! - Each and every one of my listing reviews like this has a cheat and here I get it out of the way at number 10. In this case, in my individual reviews of episodes, there were about seven episodes that scored at or higher than "The Cage" in my objective standards (including "The City On The Edge Of Forever"). I bumped it up onto this list because it is essential Star Trek: it is cerebral, thought-provoking and illustrates a community filled with diversity. Yes, it has "pilot" errors and the acting is not up to the standards of other episodes, but this is the pilot that started it all and Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike makes for a couple of great hours of television that deserve to be seen and understood to fully fathom what Star Trek is intended to be,
9. "Requiem For Methuselah" - reviewed here! - Arguably the most controversial episode on this list (it has never, to my knowledge, ever made anyone else's Top Ten list for Star Trek episodes) this episode tells the story of Kirk, Spock and McCoy stranded on an alien planet. Far from Earth, they are there to get a medicine for the ship before crewmembers start dying and there they discover a treasure trove of artistic works. There, Kirk falls in love with a young woman named Rayna . . . with disastrous results. The idea of Flint is far more original than that of the Nazis winning World War II and the love story between Kirk and Rayna is actually developed better than the one Kirk had with Edith Keeler. And in this episode, Spock's passion for science and the arts has a real sense of importance and consequence,
8. "The Enterprise Incident" - reviewed here! - A political thriller, this episode has some of William Shatner's best and most appropriate over-the-top acting. Kirk, crazed, sends the ship into the Romulan Neutral Zone, where Spock assumes command, begins consorting with the Romulan Commander and inadvertently kills Captain Kirk! This could be a ridiculously plot-heavy episode, but it becomes both a great acting exercise and the characters move it beautifully,
7. "Obsession" - reviewed here! - Sometimes, there is an episode that it so universal, it hardly needs to be set in a fictional universe. "Obsession" would be a great episode of television even if it weren't on Star Trek, the themes are so universal and so well-executed. When the Enterprise encounters a vampiric cloud, Kirk's sense of guilt over an incident he was involved with as a junior officer resurfaces. Feeling the death of one of his previous crews on his hands, he becomes obsessed with killing the cloud entity before it can hurt anyone else. Tense and compelling, "Obsession" explores that basic human emotion perfectly and in a way that still makes the viewer able to watch and respect Captain Kirk afterwards,
6. "The Devil In The Dark" - reviewed here! - Arguably the best performance William Shatner ever gave as Captain James T. Kirk, I defy anyone to find the moments performed before versus after the actor found out his father had died. The consistency and professionalism of Shatner are absolutely incredible. And this episode is an emotionally tough one to wrestle with, regardless of the personal issues. Deep beneath the surface of a planet, Kirk and Spock attempt to track down an entity that has been killing miners so that the Federation's supply of pergium can continue. As Spock argues for the sanctity of life, Kirk finds he must prepare to kill whatever they find and as both officers put their life on the lines, they truly encounter a new life unlike any they had imagined,
5. "The Doomsday Machine" - reviewed here! - Star Trek's best episodes, it seems, were often thrillers and in the second season, they hit a real stride. Despite the original special effects, what makes "The Doomsday Machine" so great is the acting. Commodore Matt Decker, sole survivor of an encounter with a device that destroys entire planets, snaps, stranding Kirk and Scotty on his abandoned ship. Aboard the Enterprise, he pulls rank, assumes command and while McCoy fights him verbally for command of the ship, Decker attempts to destroy the massive killing machine. The thing is, Decker actually did virtually everything right; trying to safeguard his crew and save lives. The problem is, he did it poorly and his decisions cost a ton of people their lives. "The Doomsday Machine" is a riveting drama that creates an intriguing character that illustrates the consequences of one of our heroes making a wrong step. Moreover, it is about loyalty and it is entertaining and strong, a great combination,
4. "Balance Of Terror" - reviewed here! - In a deeply suspenseful episode, Star Trek dared to take us away from the Enterprise for a serious amount of time. Aboard a Romulan ship, a military commander attempts to return to his side of the border after a series of daring raids on the Federation. Kirk and company pursue and aboard the ship, there is tension when Spock manages to get a relay from the Romulan ship that illustrates that Romulans and Vulcans share a common physiology. As a result, racial tensions leap up and Kirk finds himself fighting a battle inside and outside. Relevant today (still), "Balance Of Terror" manages to be a tense submarine-style thriller as Kirk and the Enterprise play cat and mouse with the equally well-trained Romulan ship,
3. "Mirror, Mirror" - reviewed here! - A classic science fiction episode, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura find themselves in a brutal mirror universe where history turned out very different. In this dark reality, they must survive assassination attempts, new love interests and the truth from being exposed. As Kirk and his crewmates work to return to our universe, he tries to argue the value of freedom over oppression with the alternate Spock. The premise is clever, the episode replays remarkably well and it was so successful it was eventually followed up on in multiple books, comics and on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine! And yes, there is the cheap thrill factor of seeing the twists in the regular crew members, but . . . it's fun to see the good go so bad,
2. "Amok Time" - reviewed here! - Spock in heat, it's a great premise for an episode and this is Leonard Nimoy's acting tour de force! Arguably, too much of Spock's character is defined by what people say he usually acts like (something like every third episode has Spock acting uncharacteristic) but in this one, there is a great sensibility to it. Watching the logic get stripped from the venerable Spock is a real treat and the friendship between Spock, McCoy and Kirk is perhaps best exemplified by this episode,
and . . .
. . . .drumroll please . . .
1. "A Piece Of The Action" - reviewed here! - Yes, it is a comedic episode that works best for Star Trek! Star Trek touts a Prime Directive, a "do no harm" for space explorers and "A Piece Of The Action" illustrates perfectly why such a level of ethical development is essential before humanity becomes a spacefaring people. Kirk and crew encounter a planet that has modeled their entire civilization after the book Chicago Mobs Of The 1920s when a prior vessel simply left that book behind. Funny, filled with an actual compelling social issue, great acting, great costumes and character moments that fit all of the principle and secondary characters perfectly, this has a great, enduring concept that does what all of the best television ought to do: it tells us something about ourselves, more than just something about other people. A true television gem!
For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek review page for an organized listing of all the Star Trek franchise reviews I have written!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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