On September 8th, a scant 5 days ago, Star Trek celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but Star Trek’s first episode premiered on NBC on September 8th, 1966. Since then we’ve seen been treated to 13 movies and 5 different television series, producing hundreds of hours of some of the best science fiction television ever made.
We’ve got to admit, we’re pretty big fans of Star Trek here at 8 Bit Soul and we’ve literally watched every episode of every series to date. Yes, that includes the Animated Series as well. It would be fair to say that we’ve seen many episodes multiple times. We’ve become so familiar with some we can recite them line for line.So while watching a recent Original Series marathon we thought we’d rank the top ten Star Trek episodes that have ever aired. We went through and looked at each series and picked our favorites.
So here is 8 Bit Soul’s list of the Top 10 episodes ever to air across all Star Trek series. These episodes are the show’s high-water marks, the best of the best. The episodes that made us laugh and made us cry.
Year of Hell
#10: Year of Hell
Season 4, Episodes 8 & 9
Original Air Date: November 5, 1997
Year of Hell is where Voyager started taking risks. The story was broken into two episodes and it introduced us to a new way of telling stories on Voyager. It was as if there was an awakening, a new beginning, a willingness to push things beyond Voyager’s often by the book episodes. It was almost Deep Space 9-esque in that it wasn’t afraid of tackling a dark story. Year of Hell focused on the crew of Voyager coming across an alien race that had the power to re-write history. They went from a species barely able to scratch Voyagers hull to one that was ripping it to shreds, instantaneously. The episodes brought the crew to the brink of destruction, it had Captain Janeway doing anything she could to save her crew from annihilation, even if that meant abandoning everything she was taught. The episodes took risks with the story and acting that we hadn’t seen at that point. It’s a shame the new way of story telling didn’t last long, peaking in season 5.
#9: Yesterday’s Enterprise
ST: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 15
Original Air Date: February 19, 1990
Time travel is a common theme in Star Trek, some episodes do it better than others and Yesterday’s Enterprise is one of the best. It encapsulates the ethic of sacrificing oneself for the greater good. Picard and his crew come upon a rift in the space-time continuum, and out comes a damaged Enterprise-C. It seems that the ship has come from decades earlier. Just then reality shifts radically, The Enterprise-D becomes a warship, and the space around them is filled with battle.
For the crew nothing has changed, this is what they have always known, but Guinan intuits that something is different. She helps Picard to realize that they are in an alternate present, where the Federation is on the losing side of a massive war. Picard talks to the Enterprise-C’s captain about her team needing to traverse the rift again in order to set the future on a more peaceful course. At first she disagrees, and both parties take huge losses. Eventually she becomes aware of the the inevitable and her team returns through the rift to an earlier time and a perilous yet heroic destiny. Time is reset and the Enterprise-D returns to normal.
#8: Mirror, Mirror
Season 2, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 6, 1967
The original series episode that introduced fans to the Mirror Universe, a place of alternate realities, goatees and sashes. First explored during its second season, the Mirror Universe is a sci-fi staple used across many of the various Star Trek series, but also other sic-fi shows still to this day.
Easily one of the most memorable episodes of Star Trek, Mirror Mirror finds some of the Enterprise crew the victims of an ion storm and sent to an alternate reality where the Federation has been replaced by the Imperial Empire. Kirk, Uhura, Bones and Scotty assume the roles of their doppelgängers, while their evil counterparts occupy the brig back in the regular universe until Spock can figure out how to remedy the situation. The I.S.S. Enterprise is a warship, home to a very Ming-looking Spock who figures out that the returning crew aren’t the ones he knows. Mirror Kirk was very close to being on the receiving end of a mutiny, but in the end Mirror Spock helps Kirk restore the balance, while Kirk shows Mirror Spock that just because he is a soldier doesn’t mean he has lost his logical, ethical core. It was an exploration of a characters different selves, one the peaceful star faring self and the other the war mongering self that would do anything to rise up the ranks. It quickly became a fan favorite, and the Mirror-verse was revised in Deep Space 9 and Enterprise.
Trials and Tribble-ations
#7: Trials and Tribble-ations
ST: Deep Space 9
Season 5, Episode 6
Original Air Date: November 4, 1996
With Star Trek’s 30th-anniversary right around the corner, the show runners of Deep Space 9 wanted to do a special episode to pay homage to the original series. The decided to do a callback to The Trouble With Tribbles and the crew set to work using cutting-edge effects to digitally insert characters into footage from the original episode. It went off without a hitch, garnering the best ratings of the season, getting three Emmy nods, and entering into Star Trek history as one of the fans most favorite episodes.
Captain Sisko and his crew are transporting a Bajorian Orb along with a hitchhiker named Barry Waddle when they are sent back one-hundred years in the past. There, they find they are in the orbit of the original USS Enterprise and Deep Space Station K-7 at the same time the episode The Trouble With Tribbles was occurring. The crew discovers that Waddle was actually Arne Darvin, a character from TOS episode and he’s escaped the Defiant. Sisko decides to board Kirk’s ship and the space station in order to apprehend Darvin. Disguised in period uniforms, the crew wanders the ship and station coming in contact with many of TOS characters. It’s a fun-filled episode that captures the essence of the original series perfectly.
The Trouble with Tribbles
#6: The Trouble with Tribbles
Season 2, Episode 15
Original Air Date: December 29, 1967
An episode loved by fans and non-fans alike, The Trouble with Tribbles is one of Star Treks most memorable episodes. It was so popular that Deep Space 9 re-visted the episode and added its own twist (see #7 of our Top 10 list). The episode starts with a bogus distress call that sends the Enterprise to protect a space station’s hold of quadrotriticale, a special grain that can be grown on Sherman’s Planet. A planet that is of special interest to the Klingons. With the Klingons appearing on the space station, Kirk reluctantly agrees keeps the peace between the Klingons and Federation crew. Meanwhile, a small fur-ball like species appears, much to the dismay of the Klingons. The Tribbles, as they’re called seem to be born pregnant and they rapidly multiply, eating everything in their path, including the grain.
We’re treated to old fashioned bar room brawls, saboteurs that turn out to be quite different than they look, and thousands of furry little Tribbles. Ultimately it’s the Tribbles that save the day, although it cost many their lives. The episode is fun filled with lots of light hearted laughs. It quickly became a fan favorite, and remains one to this day.
Balance of Terror
#5: Balance of Terror
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date: December 15, 1966
This original series episode that introduced us to the Romulan Empire. Balance of Terror had a Das Boot type of approach to space combat. Sent to investigate why outposts along the Romulan Neutral Zone have gone quiet, the Enterprise plays a game of cat and mouse with a Romulan Bird of Prey whose commander is ready to remind the quadrant why you should never turn your back on the Romulan Empire.
The episode builds up to a big reveal of the Romulans, one where it’s establish in Trek canon that Vulcans and Romulans are distant cousins. While the battle scenes are tense and aplenty, the episode stands out for how it begins and ends, with a wedding that eventually leaves the newlywed a widow during the attack. This loss hangs over Kirk’s head and his bittersweet victory, and helps make this episode one of the best ever produced.
The Inner Light
#4: The Inner Light
ST: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 25
Original Air Date: June 1, 1992
The Inner Light begins with the Enterprise exiting the Parvenium System and crossing with a mysterious probe which scans the ship and hits Captain Picard with an energy beam. He falls unconscious on the bridge and wakes up to find himself living in a village where everyone knows his name and they think he is suffering from the delusion of being a starship captain. He struggles to determine what is real and what is not and as time ticks by he begins to embrace his new life, deciding to have children and grow old with his wife. Towards the end of his life, after his wife has passed on, Picard sees the launch of a rocket. It’s the same probe from the beginning of the episode, meant to tell the story of the doomed planets inhabitants. For Picard it seems real, what feels like a lifetime for him is a matter of hours back on the Enterprise. When he recovers he’s left with memories of a family he never really had, memories that are hard to lose.
In the Pale Moonlight
#3: In the Pale Moonlight
ST: Deep Space 9
Season 6, Episode 19
Original Air Date: April 15, 1998
Deep Space 9 is remembered as Star Treks black sheep, a show set on a space station rather than a ship, but by grounding the crew they managed to create some of the very best Star Trek every made. Overall, Deep Space 9 is considered by many to be the best Star Trek series after the Original Series. It gets the black sheep label because of so many dark stories that are told throughout the seven seasons. One of the best of those is In the Pale Moonlight, a look at the dark side of Starfleet and the Federation.
it’s best encapsulated in the themes that come from this episode, where we see just how favor Captain Benjamin Sisko is willing to go to convince the Romulans to join the Federation in fighting the Dominion. Like most of the other episodes on this list, it’s an excellent character study, showing how Sisko loses his idealism in exchange for a shot at victory. It’s also an episode that keeps you guessing, with Garak’s plan unfolding in surprising ways. In the Pale Moonlight brought the Dominion War forward in terms of the scope, and the manner in which it was done was nothing to be proud of.
#2: The Visitor
ST: Deep Space 9
Season 4, Episode 2
Original Air Date: October 9, 1995
Nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1996. It’s frequently cited by the show’s cast, crew and fans as their favorite episode. The episode focuses on Jake Sisko through dealing with the loss of his father through the years, how he abandons his writing, his family, his friends, to find a way to bring back his father after a freak warp core accident aboard the Defiant which sees Captain Sisko disappear into another dimension. What seems like minutes for Captain Sisko spans a lifetime for Jake. The end hits home the hardest, where Jake makes the ultimate sacrifice to give his father and himself a second chance at life.
On a personal level the episode was my favorite of the series, and for me DS9 was the best Star Trek series. Having watched it after my father passed it really hit home for me and actually drove me to tears. It did a great job representing the father son relationship between Jake and Benjamin. While it may be a sci fi show it’s a very emotional one.
The City on the Edge of Forever
#1: The City on the Edge of Forever
Season 1, Episode 28
Original Air Date: April 6, 1967
Hailed by many as the best episode of Star Trek ever to air, The City on the Edge of Forever brought Captain Kirk and Spock to Depression-era New York where they must locate and prevent a drug-addled Dr. McCoy from changing the course of history. The focal point of this mission is Edith Keeler, played by the beautiful Joan Collins, a social worker at the 21st Street Mission whose pacifist ideals and moving speeches will one day effect the nation enough that the United States never enters World War II, allowing Nazi Germany to conquer Europe and and the world, and win the war.
With Kirk being Kirk, he falls in love with Miss Keeler, ultimately finding out that she must die in order to ensure that history rights itself. Apparently, Dr. McCoy had somehow prevented Keeler’s death and it re-wrote history. Now Kirk was posed to let his love die in order to set things right.
Written by Harlan Ellison, the final episode of the show’s first season, The City on the Edge of Forever won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.