Throughout the 79 episode run of Star Trek there were some truly amazing episodes, some that were merely okay and then there were quite a few that made you raise Spock's inquisitive eyebrow and wonder what exactly just happened.
The voyages of the Starship Enterprise took us on a great many spectacular journeys into the unknown where we met some interesting new people, from Harry Mudd, to the ever popular Kahn Noonien Singh, to Space Abraham Lincoln. As Fifty Years in the Final Frontier continues, let's take a minute to examine (what this writer considers, at least, to be) the top ten best episodes that Gene Roddenberry's science fiction masterpiece had to offer.
10. The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2 (S1, Episodes 11 & 12)
What It Was About: While on a visit to Starbase 11, Captain Kirk and Spock learn that Christopher Pike (guest star Jeffery Hunter) – former captain of the Enterprise – has been seriously injured in a horrific accident and is now confined to a mobile chair, unable to speak. In a bizarre move, Spock seemingly kidnaps Pike and commandeers the Enterprise in an effort to take Pike back to Talos IV (the mission from the series' unaired pilot, The Cage). Upon catching up with – and reclaiming – the Enterprise, Kirk and Commodore Mendez put Spock through a court martial, wherein he can only present his motives through a video feed of the Talos IV mission.
Why It Was Great: The Menagerie was Star Trek's first ever two-parter episode, primarily because it was presenting the audience with the entire unaired pilot for the first time while also weaving in an original story with the show's main cast. Where The Cage was good but not great, The Menagerie gives you a new and much more dramatic turn of events for Christopher Pike and introduced audiences to the iconic mobile chair and "beep" communications, which would become a major point of reference for years to come in pop culture.
9. Where No Man Has Gone Before (S1, Episode 3)
What It Was About: The Enterprise attempts to penetrate a space barrier and leave the galaxy but is heavily damaged and results in Captain Kirk's best friend, Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood), gaining God-like psychic powers that threaten the crew. Kirk must decide whether he's going to maroon Gary on a distant planet or kill him before his powers reach deadly levels.
Why It Was Great: While it didn't have the refinement of later episodes, Star Trek's network accepted pilot episode was a compelling drama with one of the strongest and most threatening villains the crew had faced during its history. The friendship between Kirk and Mitchell was incredibly genuine, which added to the heartbreaking situation that they were put in.
8. Arena (S1, Episode 18)
What It Was About: After an Earth colony is destroyed by a reptilian race, known as the Gorn, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise pursue the attacking ship into an uncharted galaxy. Once there, a superior race known as the Metrons force Kirk and the Gorn captain to fight in single combat to solve their dispute. The winner will walk away and the loser will be destroyed.
Why It Was Great: This is, of course, the episode that introduced us to the Gorn and gave us the classic fight scene between the Gorn captain and Kirk (which was amazingly reenacted with William Shatner during a commercial for a recent Star Trek video game). Love it or hate, one can't deny that it's one of the most classic and iconic fight scenes in television history.
7. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (S3, Episode 15)
What It Was About: While on route to a planet in need of immediate service, the Enterprise encounters a ship that had been stolen from Starbase 4. The thief is Lokai, a being who is white on the right half and black on the left. The Enterprise is then intercepted by Bele (guest-star Frank Gorshin — also known to genre fans as The Riddler on the 1966 Batman series), a member of the same race whose black on the right and white on the left. Bele considers Lokai to be a terrorist and part of a lesser race on their world and is intent on taking him back to face justice, whether the Enterprise agrees or not.
Why It Was Great: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield directly tackled the issue of racism head on by trying to teach us that the differences that some people see are not as obvious or as threatening to others and that there is always a peaceful alternative in acceptance. While things may not have ended the way we were hoping, the message was still there and it was a powerful one.
6. The City on the Edge of Forever (S1, Episode 28)
What It Was About: Dr. McCoy is rendered temporarily insane following an accident and escapes to a mysterious planet where a superior being watches over a time portal. While playing the history of Earth for Kirk, Spock and other Enterprise crew, McCoy jumps into the portal and changes history to the point where the Enterprise disappears. Desperate the make things right, Kirk and Spock travel back to Great Depression era America to stop McCoy from altering the timeline.
Why It Was Great: This episode was written by sci-fi legend Harlon Ellison and features one of the great sci-fi stories with little advanced technology at their disposal. It showed Star Trek fans that sometimes you just need a really good, impactful story. The episode also gave us one of Kirk's great, and most tragic, romances in the form of Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), whose life becomes the time altering apex of the mission.
5. Mirror, Mirror (S2, Episode 4)
What It Was About: When a landing party consisting of Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura try to beam up during an ion storm they are accidentally transported to a parallel Enterprise that is run by malicious, barbaric doppelgangers of themselves. In order to survive and find their way home, they must adapt to this crew's violent, deceptive and seductive ways of getting what they want.
Why It Was Great: Mirror, Mirror is just simply a very entertaining episode. One can say that it studies the dichotomy of human nature and how little things make the difference between good and evil but that would just be blowing smoke. This episode is just fun to watch. Plus you get "evil" Spock with an "evil" goatee.
4. Balance of Terror (S1, Episode 14)
What It Was About: When the Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Federation outpost on the border of the Neutral Zone they are forced into a confrontation with the mysterious Romulans and their intelligent commander (guest star Mark Lenard — who would later go on to appear as Spock's father, Sarek).
Why It Was Great: Balance of Terror introduced the Star Trek universe and its die hard fans to the Romulan Empire, which would go on to be a major force to be reckoned with in the franchise. The unnamed Romulan Commander was one of Kirk's greatest adversaries and the episode gave us the classic line, "You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend." On a personal note, this is the first episode of Star Trek that I remember seeing and really loving.
3. The Trouble With Tribbles (S2, Episode 15)
What It Was About: The Enterprise is called to an outpost for an emergency only to find that their "mission" is to protect a shipment of seed. However, things get tense when a Klingon battle cruiser arrives for shore leave and a space peddler sells a furry pet to an Enterprise crew member, which starts to multiply at an alarming rate. They end up coming in handy, though, as they detect a problem with the grain and the presence of a Klingon spy.
Why It Was Great: Setting aside the fact that this was the set-up for one of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's best episodes, it's also just a pleasantly fun and goofy episode. The Klingons are always a great threat to the Enterprise and the Tribbles became an instant fan favorite. It's an episode that counter balances the structure of the show and proves that not every great episode needed a deeper social meaning or an all powerful being to outsmart. Sometimes you just needed it to be fun. And yes, I used to have a stuffed animal Tribble.
2. Amok Time (S2, Episode 1)
What It Was About: As Spock's behavior becomes alarmingly erratic, Kirk refuses him shore leave and so Spock redirects the ship against orders to Vulcan. His purpose is to ease his Pon Farr (or Blood Fever), the time in a Vulcan's life when they must mate or die. While on the planet, Spock's mate refuses him and issues a challenge between him and her chosen suitor...Kirk.
Why It Was Great: As far as tense and action packed episodes go I have to put this one at the top of the list. It had a compelling story and another one of TV's great fight scenes between Kirk & Spock (to sound of one of Star Trek's best pieces of music). It was also one of the rare moments that Spock exhibited some emotion and really showed how good of friends him and Kirk are.
1. Space Seed (S1, Episode 22)
What It Was About: The Enterprise encounters a 20th Century space ship with a crew in suspended animation. They revive the leader, Kahn Noonien Singh (guest star Ricardo Montalban) and he studies up on the 300 years he's missed out on. Kirk learns that he's a genetically engineered superhuman but is too late and finds that Kahn has revived his crew and taken over the Enterprise.
Why It Was Great: If there was one episode of Star Trek that had the most impact on the future of the series, it was Space Seed. Kahn would go on to make his triumphant return in the film franchise's greatest installment, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. But before that film could happen (as well as Star Trek Into Darkness, for that matter) it needed Space Seed. Kahn was the strongest, smartest and most menacing villain the Enterprise ever faced. The episode is smart, gripping and incredibly entertaining. It is well worth the top honors spot.
And with that I bring this list to a close. Star Trek has had a lot of fantastic episodes. I would have loved to have brought the spotlight on Mudd's Women for its social commentary on the desire for physical beauty at all costs. The Savage Curtain is also an episode that I love and was one of the episodes that inspired the Star Trek themed Futurama episode (the other being The Menagerie). However, a Top Ten list can only have ten episodes.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) for all things rant and ravey. Fifty Years in the Final Frontier will continue with a fond look back at those we've sadly lost from Star Trek over the years.