Countdown: The 5 Best Episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series

By | May 14th, 2013
Posted in Columns | % Comments

This weekend the new Star Trek Into Darkness film hits theaters, continuing the film-based reboot of the original series of Trek, aka the best Trek. Other Treks are OK, but the Kirk-led crew of the Enterprise was, is and always will be the best crew to explore the final frontier.

So while the new movie is doing its own thing by pitting Chris Pine against Sherlock Holmes, lets look back at the best episodes of the original series.

5. Arena

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this episode is on here for the fight with the Gorn. Because, lets face, it is. “Arena” is such a simple episode: Kirk is marooned on an alien planet by some grand entity and forced to battle the pilot of an opposing ship. It’s like Thunderdome, but an entire planet — two men enter, one man leave. But it’s a fun episode that shows off the campy nature that makes the original series endearing, where a man in a costume (that George Lucas later stole and painted yellow for Bossk) battles Best Actor Of All Time William Shatner for their lives.

Of course, this is actually one of the most disarmingly human episodes of Trek, because for all the space faring that the crew does on the show, Kirk ultimately does spare the Gorn. That’s the trick of the episode; he’s supposed to finish him off for his own freedom, but in the end he lets the Gorn live. It’s an obvious metaphor the human condition, and not a very subtle one when Metron (the villain who put this all together) calls Kirk a savage with hope.

Star Trek would see a lot of this over the years, in which the show was used as a parable for real world events, but it never the less changed the simple fact that in the future people of all races and ethnicities were flying through the solar system together on a peaceful mission. That’s the disarming but wonderful truth about Trek: throughout all the silliness, all the alien suits and ridiculous plots, it always showed that we could get along if we tried. Sappy, but true.

But, come on, the fight with the Gorn is awesome, and it never gets old. Ever.

4. Shore Leave

I think most of the episodes I picked for this article are “obvious” picks to most Trek fans, episodes that everybody pretty much likes and talks about because they’re some of the most famous episodes. This doesn’t necessarily discredit them, I don’t think, but that’s certainly something that has to be taken into consideration with the entirety of this list.

Yet, for the most part, I would imagine that “Shore Leave” is perhaps the most singularly *me* pick. Sure, other people will like the episode — as they should! — but it’s not one that will usually pop up on most Top lists.

It should, though. It really should. The crew finds a planet that is calm and serene, only to find that all of these elements from their memories and imaginations can be found on the planet, all of which subsequently attack them. This is perhaps one of the weirdest and most singularly hilarious episodes of Trek in all of it’s various forms. Where else are you going to get Bones looking positively stoned out of his head interacting with a man in a giant rabbit suit because he thinks he’s in Wonderland? And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this:

Many of the Trek episodes on this list are defining episodes, but this episode singularly defines the times in which The Original Series was made, because you’d never catch an episode as ridiculous as this on modern television. Whether it’s Kirk fighting his ol’ buddy Finnegan or Sulu becoming a samurai, no other episode is as truly mental as this hour-long trip into the weird and confusing sci-fi world of Star Trek

3. Space Seed

Arguably the most famous episode of Star Trek, if only for that whole sequel movie business (“KKHHAAAAAAANNNNN!!!!!!”), Ricardo Montalban guest starred in this episode of Trek that introduced us to a race of super soldiers that were lost in space which the crew finds and saves, only for the superhumans to take over the ship. It doesn’t happen often (because, lets face it, Star Trek is a bit weird and dumb — and I say this as a fan!), but this is perhaps one of the most intelligent episodes of the show. Most episodes usually just pick some sort of strange villain or occurrence and run with it, but “Space Seed” is a bit different. There’s nothing particular “weird” or “zany” or campy or whatever about it; a legitimate villain is introduced, and Kirk and his crew are forced to think their way out of the situation we’ve been put in.

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Of course, this episode does have that benefit of being enhanced by the film that would come later. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is often considered the best Trek film made, and I wouldn’t really contest that, but it only truly works when you see this episode first. Otherwise it’s like you’ve walked into the story in the middle of it all, and that’s arguably less entertaining.

This is also why it is so far back in the list (if you can consider spot 3 “far back”), as well, because while “Space Seed” is good, it wouldn’t be as memorabel if it didn’t have the movie. The two go hand in hand in that way, and that’s what makes the episode one of the best. If they’d never revisited Khan in a feature, this episode would probably have been forgotten about, since it is not as grandiose or ridiculous as your traditional Trek episode.

Still, Montalban gives a great performance as Khan and it is a prelude to one of the best sci-fi films, so win/win.

2. The City on the Edge of Forever

Once again, we have an example of just how weird this show can be. The premise of the episode is simple: Bones, tripping out on a drug he accidentally injects himself, warps down onto a planet where he’s able to time travel back to 1930’s New York. Kirk and Spock follow to save him, except Kirk falls in love with a woman. The catch? If she doesn’t die, Hitler wins World War II.

Let’s just pause and think about that. In all time travel stories, they warn about the effects that changing the past can have. But in this, if Kirk doesn’t allow the woman he has just recently fallen in love with die, then her influence as a pacifist will cause the Nazis to win the war.

That’s insane. That’s pure insanity. But that’s also pure Star Trek. The original series was full of episodes that were so ludicrous in their narrative that they couldn’t help but be insanely charming, and this is the proof that. Most time travel stories we get always have some kind of air of importance about them, this idea that every action matters, but with this we’re given the most ridiculous outcome of all. It’s the type of thing that only works for Star Trek, and while it’s funny to an extent it also makes perfect sense within the narrative to the point that you can’t help but be lost in this otherwise nonsensical idea.

This episode, among the others on this list, is why I really love the original series of Star Trek. We just don’t get stories like this anymore, these paranoid late 60’s fables prevalent mostly in The Twilight Zone that warn of the dangers of this or that. Plus, it was written by Harlan Ellison, so extra points there.

1. Amok Time

I know what you’re thinking. You think I only put this on the list because it’s the first appearance of Chekov. You’d be wrong, though; “Amok Time” gets the number one spot on the list because, pure and simple, it is the best episode of Star Trek.

Everything about it is pretty much perfect. The way it explores the relationship between Spock and Kirk is uncanny, never really reached by any other episodes before or since. How it portrays Spock and elaborates on his true nature is another fantastic aspect about the episode, because for the most part Spock is a monotonus figure who just doesn’t get emotional responses; here we actually see him as a person — or, well, as much of a person as a Vulcan can be, anyway. Not only that, but you’ll have to forgive my crass expression when I note that “Amok Time” is perhaps one of the earliest examples of the ‘bro’s before ho’s’ idea in common entertainment; it’s a silly way to boil that aspect of the show down, but you’ve got to give Spock credit for doing something Kirk literally never does.

Plus, tell me you can’t hear that music playing in your head: da na NA! NA! NA! NA! NA! NANA NA! na! (duhduhduhduh duhduhduhduh) da na NA! NA! NA! NA! NA! NANA NA! na! The best.

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“Amok Time” is the pinacle of the original season of Trek in so many ways, but most importantly it’s the only episode that you can probably put on and watch for a twenty-four hour marathon and not get sick of. If ever there is an example of why the original series is better than every other series of Star Trek, it’s “Amok Time,” and if you don’t believe me, then ask yourself this: do any other Trek moments in history have Christmas ornaments that come with music? No? I didn’t think so. (Sound effects don’t count.)

And, before anyone asks? Yes, “Mirror, Mirror” is a runner-up. “Dagger of the Mind” too. Them’s the breaks when you only do 5.

“The Savage Curtain” almost made the list, because who doesn’t love space Lincoln?

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Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."


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