I grew up watching Star Trek. No, not Next Generation. Captain Picard is great but he isn’t my Captain. Not Voyager or Deep Space Nine, either. These shows all had their moments but they aren’t Star Trek, at least to me. I spent countless weekends watching the original Star Trek episodes on rerun. As I got older, I found some episodes on VHS. Then I finally got the entire series on DVD, watched them repeatedly, and kept them in my memory. Sure, sometimes it was cheesy or cheap feeling but there was something inherently fun and exciting about Star Trek. Captain Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scottie, Uhura… They’re all like old friends, familiar and likable. The reboot universe movies bring some of these ideas back but they lose a little something in the translation. They lose their… Trek-ness.
Ah, alas, if you haven’t seen the original series you must! Here are my top 7 episodes. They’re a great place to start, just don’t stop there.
JOURNEY TO BABEL (Season 2, Episode 10)
Essentially the Enterprise has to transport a bunch of political persons from multiple species, leading to tons of tension and misunderstandings. Oh, there’s also an assassin on board. Oh, and Sarek, Spock’s father, makes his first appearance. It’s a fun, tight story about politics and terrorism before the word terrorism was really a thing. As a bonus, you can see many of the classic aliens species that became crucial to the mythology.
THE THOLIAN WEB (Season 3, Episode 9)
The Enterprise is tracking down a ship that disappeared in uncharted space. Because this is Star Trek, there’s always a ship disappearing in uncharted space. Here, the crew of the Defiant apparently killed each other. Kirk and the ship disappear, strange aliens begin to box in the Enterprise with a giant web, and tensions run high. It’s fun and works well as a psychological thriller.
MIRROR, MIRROR (Season 2, Episode 4)
This may be the weakest episode on the list as far as the writing is concerned, but the absolutely fun of seeing evil versions of the crew and the prolonged cultural impact are immeasurable. In a parallel universe, the crew of the Enterprise is evil. How do we know they’re evil? Spock has a goatee. Yes, this is the origin of the evil twin with a goatee meme. Sit back, enjoy the fun, and wonder whether your goodness or evilness is inherent or malleable.
SPACE SEED (Season 1, Episode 22)
This is the episode that introduced the world to the villainous Khan Noonian Singh, genetically engineered superhuman who once conquered part of the world. Ricardo Montalban is wonderful as the superhuman Khan, bent not on death, but rather on the life of his people. The biggest fun change is that the original script had a classic white uber-mensch character but was changed into a Sikh. Khan was such a perfect foil for Kirk that he showed back up, angrier than ever, in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Oh, and a less-than-amazing movie called Star Trek Into Darkness. KHAN!
THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES (Season 2, Episode 15)
This episode is a blast. It has Tribbles. It has Klingons. It has Kirk being exasperated. Captain Koloth is a great Klingon foil for Kirk, and his plot is delightfully evil. Luckily the ridiculous Tribbles accidentally save the day with their cute overload and need to do only one thing: reproduce. Koloth was planned to be a reappearing villain but that didn’t pan out. He and Tribbles both showed back up for Deep Space Nine, though.
AMOK TIME (Season 2, Episode 1)
Spock must return to Vulcan to fulfill his commitment to T’Ping in the ancient right of pon farr. Spock many die if he doesn’t fulfill his pon farr mating ritual… Not so fast! T’Ping loves another, so Spock and Kirk end up in a battle of life or death as per Vulcan rituals. Perhaps the most interesting ideas from the Original Series of Star Trek were the various alien races and how well fleshed out they were. The Vulcans become a real people, with real culture, in this episode and history is better for it.
THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER (Season 1, Episode 28)
Much has been written about the tumultuous journey of this episode from the pen of famed sci-fi author Harlan Ellison to the screen. Needless to say, his original screenplay was severely altered and he was absolutely livid about it. Luckily, the result is still the best episode of the original series dealing with time travel and personal choices. A delusional McCoy ends up going through a device, managed by the Guardian of Forever, which is a doorway to any time or place. The past ends up severely altered, so Kirk and Spock have to go back in time to fix the mistake. The final result of the time traveling is a heartbreaking decision.
Not everyone loves Star Trek. It can get a little preachy at times and at other times – see the horrendous episode Spock’s Brain – absolutely ridiculous. But, hey, it’s still a brilliant and fun show that continues to spawn new movies, TV shows, books, comics, games, and toys. The best captain is Kirk. The best doctor is McCoy. The best bad guy is Khan. The best alien is Spock. Start here, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the well-written, intellectual sci-fi mixed with over the top campiness that is the real Star Trek.