To celebrate Star Trek Day, Phil shares his top five episodes from Gene Roddenberry’s legendary Star Trek: The Original Series.
It’s time to celebrate Star Trek Day once again. And for this year’s festivities, I thought I’d take a walk down memory lane and select my top five episodes from Gene Roddenberry’s landmark Star Trek: The Original Series. But which episodes made the cut? Grab your dilithium crystals, run a diagnostic on the warp core and scan the area for giant space hands because this is going to be fun!
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a lifelong Trekkie! Whether it’s Deep Space 9, The Next Generation, or most recently, Strange New Worlds, I adore the franchise through and through. However, only one series holds the accolade of being the best of the best. The series that brought me to the dance. Gene Roddenberry’s trailblazing franchise originator Star Trek: The Original Series.
THE ORIGINAL SERIES
Much in the same vein as Batman: The Original Series, Star Trek captured the hearts and the minds of a generation of fans. Arriving on our screens in the latter half of the sixties, the series was camp, over-the-top, and cheesy as hell. But just like the adventures of Adam West’s Caped Crusader, the series was and still is an absolute joy. Gene Roddenberry injected his series with a positive vision of the future. Racial prejudice was a thing of the past and after a cataclysmic third world war, the population of Earth came together as one and began to explore the final frontier. All the while sharing our humanity with the many species dotted throughout the galaxy. It was a recipe for success that attracted fans in the millions.
Attempting to whittle my favorite episodes down to just five has been a daunting task. And despite omitting several of the best episodes ever made, I think I’ve settled on my final five. Do bear in mind that this list is fluid and changes depending on what mood I’m in. But as the adage says; form is temporary…class is permanent.
5. THE DEVIL IN THE DARK (Season 1 Episode #25)
One of the most adored episodes of the entire series. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Doctor McCoy beam down to the mining colony on Janus VI to investigate a series of bizarre deaths. After exploring the events leading up to the sudden loss of life, Kirk and Spock discover the perpetrator of the deaths – a subterranean creature known as the Horta. After the miners penetrated the Horta’s egg chamber, the creature had no choice but to strike back and defend her children against the invaders.
What follows is a thrilling episode packed to the brim with mind melds, moving carpets, and thought-provoking drama. A true classic.
4. OPERATION ANNIHILATE (Season 1 Episode #29)
Oh, the flying eggs! This classic episode introduced us to Leonard Nimoy’s superb acting chops and demonstrated the dangers of flying alien rubber eggs. The Enterprise arrives at Deneva, the home of Kirk’s family, and discovers the population enslaved by a race of flying alien creatures. During the investigation, one of the aliens attaches itself to Spock who quickly succumbs to its mind-controlling tentacles.
What follows is a rollercoaster ride with Doctor McCoy racing to find a cure before Spock succumbs to the creature’s whims and perishes with the population of Deneva. This is a truly classic episode that forced Captain Kirk to face death on a deep and personal level. And challenges the bond between the trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Superb stuff!
3. ARENA (Season 1 Episode #18)
The franchise debut of the Gorn. In this classic episode, the Enterprise arrives at Cestus III to find the entire installation destroyed. After discovering a survivor amongst the wreckage, the landing party comes under fire whilst in orbit, the Enterprise is attacked by an unidentified vessel. However, Captain Kirk finds an equalizer amongst the wreckage of the armory and sends the invaders packing with their tails between their legs. LITERALLY!
The invaders swiftly set a course for home with the Enterprise in hot pursuit. However, both vessels soon find themselves powerless when an external force steps in and transports Kirk and the Captain of the invading vessel to a desolate planet where both can settle their differences in a fight to the death.
This is a classic episode that challenges Kirk’s outlook on the galaxy. And his role as the Captain of the Enterprise. With the Metrons stepping in to stop the violence, Kirk’s views are challenged and he quickly realizes that the confrontation was a misunderstanding with both sides validated in their actions. The result is Kirk’s humanity shining through and demonstrating why he is regarded as the definitive starship captain. Deep in empathy and a true pioneer for Starfleet Command.
2. THE BALANCE OF TERROR (Season 1 Episode #14)
The Romulans finally emerge from the Neutral Zone to cement themselves as one of the true superpowers of the galaxy in this thrilling episode. Serving as the first encounter between the Federation and the Romulans, this episode has it all. Space battles, military drama, political intrigue, bigotry, and even a failed attempt at marriage.
The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a nearby outpost and discovers a Romulan Bird of Prey unleashing a devastating attack. As soon as the Enterprise arrives on the scene, the Bird Of Prey cloaks and sets a course back to Romulus. But the intrepid crew of the Enterprise picks up the vessel’s trail and sets off on a chase across the galaxy. What follows is a good old-fashioned “submarine” themed battle between two incredible starship commanders playing the ultimate game of cat and mouse. And of course, nobody outwits James T. Kirk! Nothing stands in the way of this action-packed episode.
1. THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE (Season 2 Episode #6)
And finally, my go-to episode is revealed. I make no apologies for selecting an episode from Season 2 as my number one episode. The Doomsday Machine is the ultimate episode. It literally has everything. And its thrifty 45-minute running time has me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
The Enterprise responds to a disaster beacon from the USS Constellation. And after traversing a debris field, Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew soon find the vessel wrecked and adrift. The only survivor is Commodore Matt Decker, who is eager to regale Kirk and his officers with tales of a space monster that chops star systems into rubble. And when the creature returns, Kirk is forced to take command of the wrecked Constellation while Decker assumes command of the Enterprise and sets off on a quest for vengeance.
This episode is sheer brilliance. And it optimized everything Gene Roddenberry was creating. It set the tone for everything that followed and was instrumental in capturing the hearts of millions of fans around the world. Myself included.
The legacy of Star Trek: The Original Series cannot be understated. Boasting a sensational cast, a visionary creator, and a bold outlook on the human adventure the series was and still is an absolute triumph. The series blazed a trail for others to follow, and the success of Strange New Worlds owes a great debt to the franchise originator.
For me, there is only one definitive Star Trek series. And although The Next Generation and Strange New Worlds have both forged bold new paths for the franchise, The Original Series holds a special place in my heart. And long may it reign!
These are voyages of the Starship Enterprise!
Star Trek: The Original Series is streaming in its entirety on Paramount Plus now.
Feel the Force on Social Media.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!