It's been 12 years since the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise aired, the last TV entry in the legendary sci-fi franchise, and following the reinvention of Kirk's voyages on the silver screen by J.J. Abrams, fans have been left wanting more. Those who grew up on (or later fell in love with) the classic entries wanted the more thoughtful tone of the series to make a comeback. While 2009's Star Trek was a brilliant cinematic experience, it was not quite in line with the intelligent science fiction originally created by Gene Roddenberry way back in 1966.
I didn't grow up with Star Trek, it was my dad who introduced me, first through Voyager as it aired as repeats on British TV, and later The Next Generation. Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy since I was a small child, I was instantly hooked by the world of wondrous inventions and exploration of the universe.
This will be the first time a new series of #StarTrek has aired and I am old enough to appreciate it, so Star Trek: Discovery is a big deal for me. It will also be many people's first dalliance with the franchise other than the modern movies. Bearing this in mind, where should new fans start? If they want to catch up on some classic Trek before Discovery arrives, what should they go for?
Star Trek: The Original Series
This is where it all began. Kirk and Spock's incredible journey all started with this revolutionary show from 1966. Innocently beginning with a mission for a medical checkup on an archaeologist, there spanned three seasons and six movies following a truly legendary crew on its adventures.
Being the first outing of Trek, especially as one made in the '60s, it's quite cheesy and its attitudes are very much indicative of its time, but it's still a fine example of science fiction. Kirk's adventures are probably best left until later — to see where it all began — though it's worth noting that some of the films, especially The Wrath of Khan, are absolutely worth seeing! This early version of a televised science-fiction series was an important milestone for the genre, and that makes it essential viewing.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
This is undeniably the finest interpretation of Gene Roddenberry's vision yet. While not flawless by any standards, this series nevertheless presented audiences with engaging characters, exciting plot lines and some wonderful commentary on humanity and its troubles. We see discussion of religion, justice, even of what it means to be "alive" in The Next Generation, and it's fascinating because of it. I've shown episodes of this to complete newbies and they've been instantly hooked by its deep, philosophical nature.
Captained by Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard, the USS Enterprise D's mission covered seven seasons and four films, set 100 years after Kirk's five-year mission to explore the galaxy. While there are a few bad episodes, mostly let down by cringeworthy dialogue or just strange plots, The Next Generation is strong from start to finish, and is the perfect place to start if you're looking to get in to Trek. Despite its somewhat dated exterior, this is science fiction exactly as it should be, and a must watch. Unfortunately, its eighth season never got made, robbing us of many hours spent with this amazing cast of characters.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine is unique among the the Trek series. Rather than being set on a starship, most of the action in this series takes place on a space station, hardly leaving at all until later seasons. The show features multiple story arcs at once, more in keeping with a primetime soap opera than typical Star Trek.
The legendary character Worf and the well-liked (but minor) O'Brien from The Next Generation both returned for DS9, which helped fans retain a connection to the far more popular previous series. It follows the Federation crew of a space station who end up on the front line of the Dominion War in the later seasons, turning an originally sedentary series into a war drama. If you want excitement, DS9 is a great place to go once you're done with The Next Generation.
Star Trek: Voyager
One of the more divisive of the shows, Voyager is harshly criticized by many fans of Star Trek. After the golden years of The Next Generation, and the devotion Picard and the Enterprise inspired, it was a radical shift in direction.
With a new captain, played by Kate Mulgrew (now of Orange is the New Black fame), Voyager told the story of a minor vessel on a relatively minor mission becoming stranded far away in the Delta Quadrant, decades of travel away from Earth. It took a starship out of its comfort zone, leaving it struggling for survival in hostile space.
It's not the classic that is The Next Generation, but I found Voyager's concept engaging and its crew almost as fascinating as Picard's. Maybe not the most essential, but definitely look up Janeway's voyage through deep space if you're looking for a different take on the Star Trek formula. Not to mention, Voyager has a lot of really good Borg content!
Star Trek: Enterprise
Enterprise is the most recent serialized Trek, set 100 years before the events of The Original Series. This spin-off managed to somehow be even more polarizing than Voyager. After the latter's ratings had begun to wane in later seasons, this was an attempt to reinvigorate Star Trek. While this iteration started strong, it began to dip very quickly, ultimately being cancelled in 2005 after just four seasons.
The show takes a much darker angle than its predecessors from Season 3, perhaps echoing the post 9/11 sentiment, and tended towards a much more encompassing attitude to cinematography and sets from the start, bringing the audience closer to the action. This was a hugely different direction and, once combined with its comparably primitive setting, it harshly divided audiences.
Enterprise is set before the Federation, when United Earth was only just becoming a major player in intergalactic politics. There were no replicators, no phasers, no transporters and certainly no holographic doctors. To some, this wasn't Star Trek, but in my view, different interpretations of the universe should be welcome, though I won't argue that Enterprise was perfect.
Being the only series set before the divergence into the alternate realities for the 2009 Star Trek film, Enterprise is canon for the continuity in both iterations! If you're looking for an extremely different version of the Star Trek universe, and want to see what the galaxy was like before Kirk, dip your toe into Enterprise. If nothing else, at least you'll be able to join one side of the debate on its quality.
Which series of Star Trek will you go for first?
Every series of Star Trek is currently available on Netflix worldwide! Discovery will be available on CBS All Access in North America and Netflix everywhere else from September 25!