Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard.
It’s been a while since I last picked out ten great Star Trek episodes. Having run through all five of the shows prior to the Kelvin timeline and Discovery, I seem to have got sidetracked! It’s been over a month since I last visited this topic, so if you’d like to revisit the episodes I pulled from the other Star Trek shows, you can find them all archived on a single page by clicking or tapping here.
My first five articles looked at one Star Trek show apiece. Those shows each had at least three seasons’ worth of episodes to choose from, so it was relatively easy to pick ten great ones! The shows we’ll be looking at today have fewer episodes, and I felt it was too difficult to pick ten from each one. The Star Trek shows we’ll be looking at are: The Animated Series, the Kelvin-timeline films, Discovery, Short Treks, and Picard.
Here’s a recap on how this format works: this isn’t a “top ten” ranked list. Instead, this is merely ten episodes (okay, nine episodes and one film) that I consider to be well worth your time, and they’re listed in order of release.
Number 1: The Magicks of Megas-Tu (The Animated Series Season 1)
After Star Trek’s cancellation in 1969, it was rebroadcast and gained many new fans. As early as 1971 or 1972, parent network NBC was considering options for bringing the show back. The re-runs were more popular than the original broadcasts had been, and there was an ongoing letter-writing campaign by fans to bring Star Trek back. Ultimately, in order to keep production costs low, it was decided Star Trek should continue in an animated format. With the exception of Walter Koenig, the entire main cast returned. James Doohan would provide many additional voices for the new show, and its animated format allowed for characters like Arex – the three-legged, three-armed character – and other far more “alien” feeling characters and creatures than The Original Series’ budget and production-side technology allowed for.
The Animated Series was officially removed from the overall Star Trek canon by Gene Roddenberry and new parent company Paramount Pictures in the late 1980s, when The Next Generation was in production. However, when the series was re-released on DVD in the mid-2000s this was rescinded, and the series is – as of 2020 – a full and official part of the Star Trek canon once again.
I wanted to choose at least one episode that I feel really epitomises the different direction that The Animated Series took. Not all of these stories worked, but The Magicks of Megas-Tu has a certain charm as a very weird piece of science-fiction that I think makes it worth watching. To summarise its plot in one sentence: the Enterprise crosses over into a parallel universe where magic is real and science is not.
That premise sounds absolutely bonkers, and none of today’s science-fiction shows – including the renewed Star Trek projects – would touch a story like that with a barge pole! But this was The Animated Series trying new things, pushing the boat out, and exploring different aspects of sci-fi and fantasy in a way that The Original Series’ technical limitations would have never allowed for.
Despite its wackiness, I like The Magicks of Megas-Tu, and perhaps it’ll be a candidate for a full write-up one day. At the very least it’s an interesting glimpse at mid-century sci-fi, and an imaginative story.
Number 2: Albatross (The Animated Series Season 2)
Leaving behind the completely weird, Albatross is a story that we could see told in a Star Trek or sci-fi show in 2020. The Animated Series has this kind of strange dichotomy: some episodes, like The Magicks of Megas-Tu listed above, have totally wacky premises that could only ever work in animation. And others, like Albatross, are – for want of a better word – “normal” sci-fi.
When the Enterprise visits a planet Dr McCoy had been stationed on years previously, he’s arrested and charged with mass murder – they believe he caused a plague which ravaged their society. Star Trek has, on several other occasions, put main crew members in situations like this; accused by an alien society of something we as the audience know they could never have done. As a story, it’s exciting and tense.
McCoy is at the heart of the story, and it ultimately becomes his quest to cure the disease. Things take a turn for the worse when the crew of the Enterprise become infected as well, and McCoy must race to cure the pathogen before it’s too late. Albatross is a fairly straightforward space adventure – at least by the standards of The Animated Series!
Number 3: Star Trek Into Darkness (Kelvin-timeline film)
I consider Into Darkness to be the high-water mark of the Kelvin-timeline films. The Kelvin-timeline films have been criticised by some fans for taking a much more action-heavy approach when compared to the often peaceful exploration seen in past iterations of Star Trek. But Into Darkness based itself on The Wrath of Khan, and in that context the crossover into the action genre works much better than it had in 2009’s Star Trek.
Into Darkness stays on the right side of that invisible line which divides respectful homage from blatant rip-off, referencing The Wrath of Khan at a number of points but telling its own story in its own world at the same time. New fans of the franchise didn’t miss anything crucial in the plot for never seen The Wrath of Khan – one of the key tests of being on the right side of that line!
There are some genuinely emotional moments which absolutely work in the film, and while it’s debatable whether Kirk and Spock’s scene in the engine room carries the same emotional weight as the comparable sequence in The Wrath of Khan, it was beautifully staged and the acting performances from Into Darkness’ two leads were pitch-perfect.
It’s sad to think that this would be Leonard Nimoy’s final role. His character of Spock makes a small cameo appearance (a far smaller role than he had in 2009’s Star Trek). It was great to see him back one final time.
Number 4: Context is for Kings (Star Trek: Discovery Season 1)
If you read my write-up of my recent re-watch of Discovery’s two-part premiere, you’ll know I didn’t like it. I wasn’t impressed with how the show started, either at the time or on a second viewing. Context is for Kings had the difficult task of beginning to salvage the season, and if it had failed we could be talking about Discovery as a whole as being one big catastrophe instead of a series I called the best of the last decade!
Fortunately, Context is for Kings is where Discovery began to turn around. In a serialised show, it can be difficult to pull out individual episodes to recommend – an issue which applies to all of Discovery’s entries on this list. However, Context is for Kings is, in some respects, almost like a second premiere. It introduces the USS Discovery for the first time, as well as most of the regular cast.
I’ve written on a number of occasions that Jason Isaacs’ performance as Captain Lorca was one of the high points of Discovery’s first season, and this fascinating, nuanced character is introduced here – in suitably mysterious fashion.
Number 5: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum (Star Trek: Discovery Season 1)
As mentioned, Discovery can be hard to pull individual episodes out of due to its serialised nature. There are ongoing storylines in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum that greatly impact the episode, but the main plot – that of an away mission to the planet Pahvo – does serve as somewhat of a standalone narrative.
This was the first episode where Saru was given a lot to do. Past Star Trek shows had always shared out the storylines between various characters; Discovery was primarily about Burnham and, to a lesser degree, Captain Lorca. However, during the course of the away mission Saru becomes incredibly important to the story.
I loved the visuals of Pahvo – both the planet itself and its non-corporeal inhabitants were beautifully designed and brought to life. Discovery’s visual effects overall have been outstanding, and Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum is another great example.
The storyline also puts Burnham and Ash Tyler together. Their romantic relationship would be a sub-plot going forward across the remainder of Season 1 and much of Season 2.
Number 6: New Eden (Star Trek: Discovery Season 2)
New Eden gave me a distinct feeling of watching an updated episode of The Original Series, in parts. Perhaps it’s the elements of religion that are incorporated into the storyline, or perhaps it’s because the crew of the USS Discovery – led by Captain Pike – encounter an unknown settlement of humans. Either way, parts of this story feel perfectly “Star Trek-y”, and would certainly be at home elsewhere in the franchise.
Anson Mount was brought in to replace the departing Jason Isaacs, and we should really talk about how much of a masterstroke that ended up being. I was initially concerned about the decision to recast Captain Pike – for the second time, as the character was also in the Kelvin-timeline films – as well as to bring in Spock and Number One. But I shouldn’t have been; Mount’s version of the character was everything fans could have wanted from a Starfleet captain, and spawned a fan campaign to bring back Pike for his own series – something which was finally confirmed to be happening a few weeks ago.
After his introduction at the beginning of the season, when the USS Enterprise malfunctions, New Eden took the new captain and gave him a starring role with plenty to do. We see the USS Discovery use its spore drive, which was great. The spore drive has felt like an underused piece of tech since its introduction; it was treated as little more than a macguffin to allow for transport to and from the Mirror Universe. I would have liked to have seen more creative uses for it, and jumping across the galaxy to New Eden was certainly nice to see.
There are storylines in New Eden which tie into later episodes in the season, but as with Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum above, the main plot of the episode is an away mission, and that side of the story is self-contained.
Number 7: If Memory Serves (Star Trek: Discovery Season 2)
Finding and helping Spock – who had been accused of murder – was a big part of the first half of Discovery’s second season. Section 31 are also intent on tracking him down, but luckily for Spock, Burnham got to him first.
If Memory Serves reintroduces the Talosians – the big-brained telepathic race from The Cage and The Menagerie. The approach to Talos IV, which the Talosians now shield using an illusion of a black hole, was fantastic, and the visual effect of the illusory black hole itself was stunning – and a shock when Burnham and Spock first saw it!
The Talosians help Spock, who had been psychologically damaged by the Red Angel vision, recover his composure and logic. We see Burnham and Spock behave in a way closer to siblings than they do at almost any other point in the season, which I think is nice to see given their background. And there are ongoing storylines involving Stamets and Dr Culber – the latter having recently been rescued from the Mycelial Network – and Ash Tyler. Tyler and Culber have a tense confrontation in Discovery’s mess hall – Tyler had, after all, “killed” Culber during Season 1. I liked the way this scene unfolded, it was gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff.
I also loved that this episode began with a recap of The Cage. They didn’t need to put that in there, but it was a nostalgic treat to see it.
Number 8: The Trouble With Edward (Short Treks Season 2)
It’s still disappointing to me that, for reasons best known to the higher-ups at ViacomCBS, Short Treks hasn’t been made available to international viewers. There is a plan to rectify that with a blu-ray release, but it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned. As I said when I reviewed the Short Treks episode Children of Mars in January, the whole point of this series was to keep Star Trek alive in the minds of viewers in between main seasons of the shows. Especially with Children of Mars, which was supposed to be a prequel or prologue to Star Trek: Picard and thus a key part of its pre-release buildup, it should have been made available internationally. But we’re off-topic.
The Trouble With Edward is really funny. Partly that’s thanks to two great performances from Rosa Salazar and H Jon Benjamin, who have great comedic chemistry together, and partly it’s due to a great premise and funny script.
Nothing in The Trouble With Edward changes or “ruins” canon, which is something it was inexplicably criticised for upon release by some of the anti-Star Trek social media groups. Instead it’s a well-told story that takes one small aspect of the tribbles – the small, furry creatures who are almost synonymous with Star Trek – and expands on it.
It’s a fun ride, and stick around after the credits for what is probably the weirdest sequence released under the Star Trek banner since The Animated Series. I missed that on first viewing, and I’m not saying anything else in case you did too!
Number 9: Ephraim and Dot (Short Treks Season 2)
Star Trek’s first animated episodes in 45 years were amazing – and very different to The Animated Series. Ephraim and Dot tells a cute story that would be at home on the Disney Channel – and I mean that as a compliment. Both Ephraim the space-dwelling tardigrade and Dot the robot are adorable, and for an episode largely free of dialogue it does an amazing job raising the emotional stakes.
I’m a sucker for cute animals in fiction, and any time they seem to be hurt or upset it gets to me in a way few other stories really manage to! Ephraim and Dot does this so well, despite its short runtime.
The story also looks at some of The Original Series’ greatest hits in a sequence where Ephraim races to follow the ship. Captain Kirk and other members of the original crew return – in animated form – in this part of the story, which was a nostalgic treat.
Number 10: Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard Season 1)
Remembrance is a stunning piece of television, and it’s up there with Emissary as one of the best Star Trek premiere episodes. I reviewed this episode when it was first broadcast, and I recommend having a read of that article for a more detailed breakdown. I also think, looking at the series three months after its first-season finale, that it’s probably either the best or second-best episode. It’s definitely the only place I could recommend you start if you want to watch Picard – it’s a wholly serialised show, as is Discovery.
Remembrance picks up Picard’s story twenty years after Star Trek: Nemesis. It connects to the Kelvin-timeline’s destruction of Romulus storyline, as Picard tried – and failed – to help the Romulans evacuate their homeworld. But this isn’t The Next Generation Season 8 – far from it. Picard’s retirement at his family vineyard is disrupted by the arrival of Dahj, the survivor of an attack by mysterious assailants.
For anyone who had qualms or reservations about Discovery, I’d really encourage them to give Picard a chance. There are so many callbacks and nods to past iterations of Star Trek, and while it’s true that the show’s serialised nature is different to The Next Generation’s largely episodic approach to television storytelling, that opens up new possibilities and opportunities – like season-long arcs and detailed character development.
Remembrance has some beautiful sequences featuring Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as a dream version of Data. It has a faithful HD depiction of the Enterprise-D, which is just stunning. And in one sequence where Picard visits his Starfleet archive, there are many props on display from his captaincy. The episode was peppered with these nostalgic elements, but none of them overwhelmed the story.
What I’m really trying to say by putting Remembrance on this list is that you should watch Star Trek: Picard Season 1 in its entirety if you haven’t already. I really think it’s worth giving the show a chance to impress you. If you do, take a look at my reviews and theories as you go along!
So that’s it. Ten great Star Trek episodes from elsewhere in the franchise. I will definitely be revisiting this subject in future, so stay tuned for “ten more great episodes” at some point!
This series of articles – the rest of which you can find by clicking or tapping here – has been a lot of fun to put together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Discovery’s third season will be released imminently, but until then I hope these articles have given you some inspiration for what to watch inside the Star Trek universe!
All episodes and films listed above are available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.