Star Trek has been captivating audiences since 1966 with its vision of a hopeful future, compelling characters, thoughtful storytelling, and commentary on relevant social issues. With over 700 episodes spanning 6 TV series, there’s certainly no shortage of great Trek to appreciate. Let’s take a look at some of the very best episodes from each Star Trek series:
Star Trek: The Original Series: “The City on the Edge of Forever”
This 1967 episode is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest Star Trek episodes of all time.
When Dr. McCoy accidentally alters history by traveling back to 1930s Earth via a time portal called the Guardian of Forever, Kirk and Spock must also go back in time to undo the damage.
In a heartbreaking twist, Kirk falls in love with a woman named Edith Keeler but realizes she must die to restore the proper timeline. This narrative device allows us to witness a side of Kirk we’ve rarely seen – a man torn between duty and love.
The thought-provoking story by legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison examines the moral dilemmas around changing history.
The emotional performances and philosophical questions raised make this an unforgettable high point for the series.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – “The Inner Light”
“The Inner Light” is a deeply moving episode that sees Captain Picard struck by an alien probe that forces him to live out an entire lifetime on a long-extinct planet. This narrative device allows us to witness a side of Picard we’ve never seen before – a family man, a community leader, and ultimately, a man grappling with loss and the passage of time.
What sets “The Inner Light” apart is its profound exploration of the human experience. It delves into themes of love, loss, and the fleeting nature of existence, offering a poignant reflection on the value of every moment.
This exploration of life’s ephemeral beauty is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant, making it a standout in the Star Trek canon.
Deep Space Nine: “In the Pale Moonlight“
“In the Pale Moonlight” is a departure from the traditional Star Trek narrative. It delves into the murky waters of moral ambiguity, presenting a story where the ends justify the means.
Captain Sisko, in a desperate bid to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War, orchestrates a deception that leads to loss of life. This narrative choice challenges the viewer’s perception of right and wrong.
It presents a stark contrast to the idealistic vision of the Federation, showing that even the best of us can be pushed to extreme measures in desperate times. This exploration of moral compromise under the weight of war is both thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.
The episode offers an exceptional showcase for Avery Brooks’ acting prowess. His portrayal of Sisko’s internal struggle and eventual acceptance of his actions is nothing short of phenomenal. The episode’s final scene, where Sisko admits he can live with his actions, is a powerful testament to Brooks’ performance and the episode’s narrative strength.
This episode beautifully encapsulates the show’s darker, morally complex nature, setting it apart from other Star Trek series while offering an introspective journey that leaves audiences reeling.
Star Trek: Voyager – “Blink of an Eye”
“Blink of an Eye” presents a fascinating premise: Voyager becomes trapped in the gravitational pull of a planet where time moves at an accelerated pace. This allows us to witness the evolution of an entire civilization, from primitive beginnings to advanced technology, all within a single episode.
What sets “Blink of an Eye” apart is its profound exploration of time and its impact on civilization. The episode beautifully illustrates the concept of relativity, showing how a moment for Voyager can be a lifetime for the inhabitants of the planet.
Moreover, “Blink of an Eye” showcases Voyager’s crew at their best. We see their curiosity, compassion, and respect for other cultures as they grapple with the ethical implications of their unintentional influence on the planet’s development.
The episode also offers a poignant exploration of loneliness through The Doctor’s brief, yet impactful, relationship with the planet’s inhabitants.
“Blink of an Eye” is a testament to Star Trek: Voyager’s ability to combine high-concept science fiction with deep philosophical inquiry. It offers a compelling narrative, rich character moments, and a thought-provoking exploration of time and civilization.
Star Trek: Enterprise – “Twilight”
“Twilight” is a masterclass in storytelling, offering a unique, alternate timeline where Captain Archer suffers from a temporal affliction that prevents him from forming new memories.
This narrative device allows us to explore a dystopian future where the Xindi have decimated Earth, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. The stakes have never been higher, and the tension is palpable throughout the episode.
What sets “Twilight” apart is its emotional depth. We witness a vulnerable and dependent Archer, a stark contrast to his usual decisive and confident persona.
This vulnerability brings out a new side of T’Pol, who becomes his caretaker and confidante. Their relationship, usually marked by professional distance, evolves into a poignant and intimate bond that tugs at the heartstrings.
Moreover, “Twilight” encapsulates the essence of Star Trek – the exploration of the human condition under extraordinary circumstances.
It delves into themes of loss, sacrifice, and the relentless pursuit of hope against all odds. The episode’s conclusion, where Archer must sacrifice his existence for humanity’s survival, is a powerful testament to his character and the ethos of Star Trek.
Star Trek: Discovery: “If Memory Serves”
This season 2 episode from 2019 is a nostalgic highlight for Discovery.
With the appearance of the original Star Trek’s Spock, we finally get insights into his complicated relationship with foster sister Michael Burnham.
Seeing Mount’s Pike also interact with the iconic character he was created to replace is meaningful Trek history.
Flashbacks to young Spock and Michael illustrate their bonds. While advancing Disco’s story, it respects and embraces Trek’s past.
From time travel paradoxes to gripping Borg battles, tense wartime drama to lighthearted comedy, these episodes demonstrate why Star Trek remains a trailblazing, award-winning franchise more than 50 years later.
Each series builds on the legacy of the one before while bringing something fresh and unique to the table. Here’s to many more years of seeking out new worlds and new civilizations with Starfleet’s finest. Engage!