End-of-Year Awards 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!

Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!

Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Documentary:

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill

There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.

Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.

Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.

Best Web Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling

I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.

Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.

On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Tasting History with Max Miller

There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.

I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.

Best TV Special:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!

Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!

Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.

The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!

I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.

Worst TV Series:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Rick and Morty Season 5

After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.

Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.

Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.

Best TV series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Foundation

The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.

Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.

Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.

The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.

Worst Video Game:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.

And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.

Best Video Game:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Road 96

Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.

Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.

Worst Film:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.

Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.

I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Best Film:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Raya and the Last Dragon

I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.

Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.

Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Dune

I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.

Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!

Most Exciting Announcement:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Wicked

Picture Credit:Β Wicked the Musical London.

I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!

A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!

So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!

Best Star Trek Episode:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
There Is A Tide…
Discovery Season 3

There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.

It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!

There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.

It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.

Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!

So that’s it!

We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.

As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.

So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

Rick and Morty Season 5

The Wheel of Time

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Raya and the Last Dragon

Wicked

Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Discovery 3×12 There Is A Tide…

Lower Decks 2×10 First First Contact

Five films (and TV specials) to watch this Holiday Season!

Christmas is edging closer by the day! The main event itself is now only a couple of weeks away, so we’re well and truly in the wintery grip of the Holiday Season. This time I thought it could be fun to take a look at five films and television specials that make for great festive viewing.

Although I’m not a religious person by any stretch, Christmas has always been an event I look forward to… beginning as early as September! Though not every Christmas was perfect when I was a kid, I have some pretty happy memories of this time of year, and there’s something about the juxtaposition of the cold, dark winter going on outside with the warmth and the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree inside that really makes this time of year feel special, almost magical!

Christmas is coming!

Between the lights, decorations, and festive pop hits, I think it’s fair to say I’m all about the secular, commercial side of Christmas; Santa Claus, not Jesus, stands out to me as the season’s main character! So that’s my mindset as we go into this list.

Please keep in mind, as always, that this list is wholly subjective. If you don’t like any of these Christmas films and television specials, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to pretend that these are the “all-time best ever” Christmas specials, or anything of the sort!

With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive into the list!

Number 1:
The Polar Express (2004)

The titular Polar Express.

When it was released in 2004, The Polar Express received criticism for its “creepy” CGI – but I think it’s safe to say that its semi-realistic animated style has aged pretty well. Tom Hanks stars in this modern animated classic, and takes on several different voice roles across the film. Not providing names for main characters is a risk (not to mention something you’d get a failing grade for in most creative writing classes!) but that doesn’t actually hamper The Polar Express. The nameless protagonists are arguably more relatable as a result, allowing the audience to project themselves onto the characters with ease.

There may have been a couple of Christmases when I was very young where I did, in fact, believe in Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as we call him here in the UK). But my parents didn’t do the whole “all of your gifts come from Santa” thing, and among my earliest Christmas memories I can remember writing thank-you notes to family members for the gifts they’d given me. These things vary from family to family, though, and while I wouldn’t like to speak outside of my own experience, I think a lot of you probably have some recollection of believing in Santa Claus and subsequently losing that belief. It’s a theme that many different Christmas films have tackled – but The Polar Express gets it right. The protagonist learns, over the course of his adventures, to keep believing – a metaphor, perhaps, for valuing one’s childhood and remaining youthful.

The nameless protagonists.

I’ve always liked trains, and The Polar Express shows us a beautiful CGI rendition of an old-fashioned steam locomotive. Trains – model trains in particular – have somewhat of an association with Christmas, but this method of transporting kids to the North Pole was certainly unique! It gives The Polar Express a sense of adventure that road trip films and other films about long journeys often capture so well, with scenes like running around on the train roof and the train skidding across the ice all playing into that.

The Polar Express is a film with heart, but it’s also something a little different from the typical “let’s go and meet Santa Claus” fare of many other shows and films aimed at children. There’s a sense of scale in the journey we see the protagonists undertake, and because it’s told from a child’s perspective, there’s still some of that mystery and wonder; the sense that the kids don’t really know how everything works on the train. That magic is part of what makes the holidays so special.

Number 2:
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020)

Promo image for The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline since last year, but for various reasons it got buried under too many other writing projects in the days before Christmas! Stay tuned, though, because I daresay I’ll get around to a full write-up eventually! For now, let’s hit the key points. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is hilarious, and I found it to be a great palate-cleanser after The Rise of Skywalker had been such a disappointment.

Unlike this year’s Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales, which focused solely on Poe Dameron, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special brings back all of the main characters from the sequel trilogy – then takes a wild ride through all three of Star Wars’ main eras thanks to some well-timed space magic! Star Wars fans should appreciate many, many callbacks to past iterations of the franchise – not least the notorious Holiday Special, which was released in 1978 to critical derision!

Finn, Rey, Poe, Rose, and Chewbacca.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is full to the brim with gentle jokes and parodies that poke fun at the Star Wars franchise without ever coming across as mean-spirited or laughing at fans. Some humourless fans, or those who want to lose themselves in that world, might find that offputting, but I reckon that a majority will be able to enjoy The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special for what it is: non-canon fun.

I was pleased to see that Disney+ is intent on doing more with the Star Wars brand than just serious projects like The Mandalorian, and in some respects I think we can argue that The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – and other Lego Star Wars titles too – fill a niche similar to Star Trek: Lower Decks over in another wonderful sci-fi franchise. No Star Trek holiday special yet, though… but maybe one day!

Number 3:
I Won’t Be Home For Christmas
The Simpsons Season 26 (2014)

The Simpsons’ house all decorated for the season.

The Simpsons has undeniably lost its edge in recent seasons, and it’s increasingly rare to pluck out a genuinely good episode from the ever-growing pile – something I found out when I put together a list of a few of my favourite episodes earlier this year. But every now and then The Simpsons can still produce an episode somewhat akin to those from its more successful past. I Won’t Be Home For Christmas is, in my view anyway, among them.

Perhaps it’s the holiday theme that elevates what might otherwise be a less-enjoyable episode, but I find that there’s something very relatable about I Won’t Be Home For Christmas. A few years ago, when I was suffering with undiagnosed mental health issues and in the midst of a divorce, I found myself wandering the dark, empty streets on Christmas Eve – trying to clear my head. The sequences in which Homer does something similar in this episode really hit home for me because I’ve been in a similar position myself.

I found this presentation of Homer to be very relatable.

When you’re watching what feels like the whole rest of the world closing their doors and enjoying the holidays without you, life can feel incredibly lonely. Homer meets a number of characters on his own journey, but that sense of loneliness and missing out on what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year is still a prevalent theme that runs through the entire story.

On a more positive note, I Won’t Be Home For Christmas features a couple of genuinely good jokes and laugh-out-loud moments. It also kicks off with a Christmas-themed reworking of the show’s famous opening sequence, so if you’re watching on Disney+ don’t hit the “skip intro” button! You’ll miss something fun if you do. In a lot of ways I feel echoes of Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire in I Won’t Be Home For Christmas – and not just because of its holiday setting. The episode feels like a throwback to earlier seasons, when The Simpsons as a whole was doing far better at producing stories like this one.

Number 4:
Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too (1991)

Is that Santa and his reindeer?

My younger sister received a VHS copy of Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too as a Christmas present (I would guess in 1992) and watched it endlessly! As a result, it’s probably one of the Christmas specials that I’ve seen most often – it was a mainstay in our house in the run-up to Christmas for several years in a row! What’s more, the original Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne were permanent fixtures on my childhood bookshelf, and I’m sure those books were read to me when I was very small. So the entire Winnie the Pooh series is something I have a great fondness for!

Christmas is a time for nostalgic steps back like this, forgetting the modern world and all of its troubles for a while. Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too is an incredibly sweet Christmas tale set in the Hundred Acre Wood, perfect for a few minutes wrapped up in Christmas-themed cuteness and escapism. Or is that just the nostalgia talking?

Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, and Pooh.

Because Winnie the Pooh has always been pitched at very young children, the story here is rather basic. There’s a kerfuffle surrounding Christopher Robin’s letter to Santa, and Pooh tries to save the day. Despite those limitations, though, the story is incredibly cute, really sweet, and full to the brim with Christmas fun.

Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too isn’t something I go back to year upon year; doing so would probably ruin the magic. But every once in a while I treat myself to this blast of very personal ’90s nostalgia and enjoy my memories of Christmases past. As 2021 looks set to be the second Christmas in a row where we may not be able to do everything we’d want, I think finding moments like that might be very important for a lot of folks.

Number 5:
Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation (2009)

The special’s title card.

As a childless adult, Phineas and Ferb is a series that shouldn’t have had much appeal for me! But as I’ve said many times before, the best kids’ shows have something to offer adults as well, and when I sat down to watch Phineas and Ferb for the first time back when I had the Disney Channel, I found a truly engaging and fun little cartoon.

That extends to the Christmas special too, which is one of the high points of the entire series – in my subjective opinion, naturally! I’m a total sap for the “Christmas is in danger, someone needs to save it!” plot clichΓ©, and Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation puts the series’ trademark spin on that familiar premise. It’s a lot of fun!

Perry and Dr Doofenshmirtz.

I never miss an opportunity to talk about Phineas and Ferb. The show finished its run in 2015, but last year returned for a one-off Disney+ original film, which was absolutely fantastic too. Unlike some of the other entries on this list, which I’ll happily rewatch on occasion, I return to Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation every year without fail – something I’ve done for a decade now!

Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation keeps the series’ trademark twin storylines – the boys and the other kids on one side, Perry the Platypus and Dr Doofenshmirtz on the other. Both stories come together in one connected narrative, but the show sticks to its two angles throughout – and what results is a story with moments of excitement, high drama, and emotion as the boys race to save Christmas.

Bonus:
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo Switch (2020)

Promo for New Horizons’ Christmas event.

If you’re an Animal Crossing player, Christmas Eve is where it’s at! But throughout December it’s possible to buy special seasonal items, to see your island all decorated for the holidays, and to take note of what some of your island friends might want by way of gifts! The Christmas event is known as Toy Day in the world of Animal Crossing, and while it’s possible to ignore it and get on with your regular island life, it’s a bit of fun to play through these one-off events.

As December dawns on your island – at least if you’re playing on a Northern Hemisphere island – snow will start to fall. You’ll be able to build a snowman every day – and building the perfect one unlocks special ice-themed items. There are snowflakes to catch, which are used as DIY ingredients to craft new seasonal items too.

A wintery New Horizons island!

Later in December, Isabelle will announce that she’s decorated some of the island’s trees – but only the pine trees. When I played last year not every pine was decorated, but those that were looked adorable with their little festive lights! Shaking these trees also provided yet another crafting material which could be used to create holiday-themed items.

I’ve been critical of New Horizons for its longevity in particular, but there are few games that offer this style of gameplay. Last year I played through the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year events on my island, and I have to say I had a lot of fun with all of them. The Toy Day event on Christmas Eve (not Christmas Day!) is the kind of sweet Christmassy fun you’d expect from a game in the Animal Crossing series, and if you missed it last year it’s well worth playing through at least once.

So that’s it!

It’ll be the big day before we know it!

I’ve got a few more holiday-themed ideas for the website between now and Christmas – which is getting closer and closer by the day. I hope you like the festive banner and the little Santa hat on the website’s logo, too! I had fun messing around and putting those together.

There are lots of great festive films and holiday specials that I didn’t include on this list, so have a browse through the television listings or your streaming platform of choice. I’ll probably be checking out a mix of old favourites and new entries – there are always plenty of new holiday films every year. I’ve heard good things about 8-Bit Christmas this year, for example! I hope this list has been a bit of festive fun as we continue to get into a holiday groove!

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, streaming platform, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fifteen games worthy of a second look in Spring 2021

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may still be present for a few of the titles on this list.

Anthem is gone, Cyberpunk 2077 is still a stinking mess, and there are delays aplenty across the games industry as the pandemic rolls on. What’s a gamer to do? Well, I might have the answer for you! Tomorrow will be the first day of March, and to me March has always meant the beginning of Spring. There are small snowdrops beginning to bloom in my garden, and the nights are getting shorter. A few times this past week I’ve even managed without the heating on in my house – much to the dismay of the cats!

There are still plenty of great games that – all being well – will be released this year. If you missed it, I put together a list just after New Year of ten of the most interesting titles! But considering the delays and that this time of year is typically fairly quiet in terms of releases, I thought it would be a great moment to consider a few games that deserve a second look. I’ve limited the list to titles that are readily available to buy on current-gen platforms and PC, so no out-of-print games this time.

Without any further ado, let’s jump into the list, which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Nintendo’s most recent karting game is a ton of fun. It’s the kind of arcade racer that has a very low bar for entry – anyone can pick up and play this fun title. But mastering Mario Kart 8 – especially if you choose to head online – is no small task, and there’s a surprising amount of skill involved to be truly competitive with the best players! I’ve adored the Mario Kart series since its inception on the SNES, and this version is the definitive Mario Kart experience… at least until they make Mario Kart 9!

Number 2: Fall Guys (PC and PlayStation 4, 2020, coming to Xbox and Nintendo Switch this summer)

Among Us gained a lot of attention not long after Fall Guys was released last summer and stole at least some of the cute game’s attention! The fact that Fall Guys isn’t on mobile probably counts against it as far as finding a broader audience goes, but despite what some have claimed, the game is by no means dead. Season 4 – which promises to bring a new set of futuristic rounds – is being released soon, and for less than Β£15 (at least on PC) I honestly can’t fault Fall Guys. It’s an adorable, wholly unique experience in which your cute little jelly bean character runs a series of obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout. Each round lasts only a couple of minutes, and it really is way more fun than words can do justice to! I’ve recently got back into playing after taking a break, and there’s plenty of fun still to be had.

Number 3: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC and Xbox, 2002)

You can find Morrowind on PC, and despite being an older title it’s compatible with Windows 10. There has been an active modding scene for almost twenty years at this point, so even if you’ve already played the base game it may still be worth going back for more. In my subjective opinion, Morrowind is the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series. It certainly offers players more to do than its predecessors or sequels – more NPCs to interact with, more factions to join, more types of weapons to wield and spells to cast, and so on. Especially if you hit Morrowind with some of the visual/graphics mods that are available, it can feel almost like a new game!

Number 4: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Another older title that you can find on PC, as well as on iOS and Android, Vice City was one of three Grand Theft Auto titles released between 2001 and 2005. Remember when Rockstar was able to put out more than one game per decade?! If you’ve had your fill of Grand Theft Auto V by now – and it’s been out for eight years, so I wouldn’t blame you if you were ready to play something else – maybe going back to one of the older games will be a nostalgic blast. Many fans of the series consider Vice City to be the best entry, and while I don’t think I’d go quite that far, I had a ton of fun with it back on the original Xbox.

Number 5: Banished (PC, 2014)

There are some great city-builders out there, but one of my favourites from the last few years is Banished. The game was built entirely by one person, which never fails to amaze me! It would still be a fantastic title if it had been made by a full studio, but the fact that the game and all its complex systems were programmed by a single developer is an astonishing achievement. Banished isn’t easy, even on lower difficulty settings, and it will take a little time to get into the swing of how to plan your town and manage your resources. But if you’re up for a challenge it’s a wonderful way to lose track of time!

Number 6: Skully (PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One, 2020)

Skully is a game that I’ve been meaning to write a proper review of since I picked it up last year, but it keeps slipping down my writing pile. From the moment I saw the trailer and heard the game’s premise – a 3D platformer in which you play as a disembodied skull – I was in love, and the game did not disappoint! The environments are beautiful and the game is plenty of fun. It manages to feel at points like an old-school 3D platformer of the Nintendo 64 era, and at others like a wholly modern experience. It’s also an indie title, and it’s great to be able to support indie developers wherever we can!

Number 7: Jade Empire (PC and Xbox, 2005)

If the demise of Anthem has got you missing the “golden age” of BioWare’s role-playing games, make sure you didn’t skip Jade Empire. The Xbox exclusive was overlooked by players in the mid-2000s, and while other BioWare games from that decade, like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age Origins are all held in high esteem, the Chinese-inspired Jade Empire is all but forgotten. When Steam has it on sale you can pick up Jade Empire for less than the price of a coffee, and for that you’ll get what is honestly one of the best and most interesting role-playing games of all time.

Number 8: Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (PC, 1997)

Starfleet Academy is unique among Star Trek games because it features the cast of The Original Series in video clips recorded especially for the game. These aren’t scenes from films or episodes of the show; you literally will not see them anywhere else. Starfleet Academy is a starship simulator, and while its visuals obviously don’t look as good in 2021 when compared to other titles, the overall experience is fantastic. You won’t find another game quite like it – especially because ViacomCBS has all but given up on making Star Trek games since the release of Star Trek Online!

Number 9: Forza Horizon 4 (PC and Xbox One, 2018)

I signed up for Game Pass in order to be able to play racing game Forza Horizon 4 – and it was totally worth it! The Forza Horizon series attempts to find a middle ground between true racing sims and arcade-style titles, and generally manages to do so quite well. Forza Horizon 4 has a map which represents parts of Great Britain, and that’s something unusual! I didn’t see my house, but it’s always nice when a game uses a familiar setting. There are plenty of fun cars to race in, and different kinds of races too, including going off-road.

Number 10: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Multiplatform, 2013)

Is it just me, or has every subsequent game in the Assassin’s Creed series struggled to hit the highs of Black Flag? Origins and Odyssey were decent, but even in 2021, I think that Black Flag is the definitive title in the franchise! There’s something about its pirate setting and the wonderful crop of NPCs that make Black Flag a truly enjoyable experience from start to finish. For a game that’s approaching its eighth birthday it still looks fantastic, too!

Number 11: The Last Of Us (PlayStation 3, 2013)

Despite its severely disappointing sequel, The Last Of Us is fantastic. If you’re looking for a game with amazing characters and a deep, engaging story, it simply can’t be bettered. I put The Last Of Us on my list of games of the decade as the 2010s drew to a close, and for good reason. Joel and Ellie’s trek across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States was absolutely one of the gaming highlights of the last few years. The characters are so well-crafted that they feel real, and every twist and turn in the intense storyline carries emotional weight. The game is being adapted for television, and I’m interested – cautiously so in the wake of The Last Of Us Part II – to see what will happen when it makes the leap to the small screen.

Number 12: Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (PC, 2018)

Though I know Age of Empires II is the title most folks prefer, I’ve always appreciated what the original Age of Empires did for the real-time strategy genre. If you’ve been enjoying the recent remake of the second game, it could be a great time to give the original a try as well. Age of Empires didn’t invent real-time strategy, but it was one of the first such titles I played after its 1998 release – and I sunk hours and hours into it in the late ’90s! There’s something about building up an army of Bronze Age warriors to smash an opponent’s town that’s just… satisfying!

Number 13: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2019)

I played through Jedi: Fallen Order last summer and documented my time with the game here on the website. Suffice to say I had a blast; the linear, story-focused title is exactly what the Star Wars franchise needed after the Battlefront II debacle! Having just seen the dire Rise of Skywalker I was also longing for a Star Wars story that I could actually enjoy for a change, and Jedi: Fallen Order did not let me down! I had a great time swinging my lightsaber across a galaxy far, far away… and I think you will too.

Number 14: No Man’s Sky (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2016)

No Man’s Sky was incredibly controversial at launch. The pre-release hype bubble got wildly out of control, egged on by a marketing push that oversold the game. Remind you of any recent titles? But despite the backlash in 2016, Hello Games has since put in a lot of hard graft, and five years on No Man’s Sky genuinely lives up to its potential. Had it been released in this state I think it would have been hailed as one of the best games of the decade – if not of all time. I understand not wanting to reward a game that was dishonestly sold, and that the “release now, fix later” business model is not one we should support. But there’s no denying that No Man’s Sky is a great game in 2021, and if you haven’t picked it up since its 2016 launch, it could be worth a second look.

Number 15: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2020)

A full remake of the definitive skateboarding game is hard to pass up! In the Dreamcast era, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched an entire genre of skating games, and its amazing soundtrack is a nostalgic hit of late ’90s/early ’00s punk rock. The remade version, which you can pick up on Switch and the two new consoles later this year, is great fun, and has managed to do something rare for a remake: genuinely recapture the look and feel of the original title. Obviously the visuals are brought up-to-date, but the feel of the game and the way tricks are performed are fantastic. I was able to slip right back into playing as if I’d never put the Dreamcast controller down!

So that’s it. Fifteen games that I think are worth your time this Spring.

There are plenty of fun titles on the horizon, but some of the ones I was most looking forward to – like Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Hogwarts Legacy – have recently been delayed, prompting me to look at my library and put together this list.

I hope this has inspired you to find something to play over the next few weeks! If not, stay tuned because there will be plenty more gaming-related articles here on the website. Happy gaming!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten films that (probably don’t) need a video game adaptation!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

Gone are the days when your run-of-the-mill popcorn flick came with a video game adaptation. Why? Well, the truth is that many of those games were mediocre or just outright bad, and after a while the entire film tie-in sub-genre became tainted. Gamers weren’t as interested, and at the same time, studios and publishers were able to make more money developing their own franchises instead of sharing the proceeds from a licensed title. There are still tie-ins from time to time, but not to the same extent there were a few short years ago.

Today, there are a few remaining film franchises that produce video games, but more often than not they’re not direct film adaptations. Instead we see titles like Alien Isolation, which is set in the world of the 1979 film Alien, but isn’t a direct adaptation of any of the films. There are also games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which I recently played through. Jedi: Fallen Order likewise uses Star Wars’ setting but tells an original story.

It’s a shame, because over the years there have been some outstanding video game adaptations of films. I talked about this a little while ago when I put together a list of titles that I’d love to see remastered, but the adaptation of Star Trek: Generations is up there as one of my all-time favourite games.

With all that in mind, here are ten films that I’d love to see adapted as a video game. The usual disclaimer applies: these are not titles that I’m saying will ever be adapted, just titles that I feel could be fun to play through – provided the game was good (and had a suitably high budget!)

Number 1: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Out of all the Star Trek films, First Contact’s relatively action-heavy nature could make for an inspired first-person shooter. The narrow hallways of the Enterprise-E and the menacing threat of the Borg would make for a terrifying combination, and this could even be a game which veers close to the horror genre if developers chose to go down that route. As I said when I wrote about the Borg a little while ago, out of all of Star Trek’s villains, they’re the ones best-suited to a crossover into horror.

There are several ways this could go, including a multiple-protagonist approach which would see players take on the roles of several of the main cast. Or alternatively, the player character could be a nondescript security officer tasked with retaking the lower decks of the Enterprise-E.

First Contact isn’t exclusively a Borg story, though, and the game could be split into different chapters which would include slower-paced missions set on Earth, repairing the Phoenix and preparing for humanity’s first warp flight.

Number 2: Commando (1985)

By coincidence, a video game sharing the title of this action flick was released the same year as the film, and some people still think the game is supposed to be an adaptation – but it’s not! Commando has garnered a cult following that arguably exceeds its status as a competent but otherwise unremarkable title. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a typical “Arnie” performance, and the story is suitably over-the-top.

But I bet players would love stepping into the shoes of Colonel John Matrix and just going postal on wave after wave of kidnappers, terrorists, mercenaries, and all manner of typical eighties action film baddies! This one wouldn’t need to be a massively high-budget production to be successful; any mid-tier action/shooter could be redressed in the style of Commando and be a success. It would work as either a first- or third-person title.

Number 3: Any of the recent Marvel titles

A couple of the earlier films in the MCU received proper video game adaptations, and a couple of others got mobile game tie-ins, but there hasn’t been a major game in the series since the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. The new Marvel’s Avengers video game is plagued with issues, and one of the strangest for me is that it didn’t license any of the actors’ likenesses. I’ve heard the game described as feeling like “a cheap knock-off” of the films as a result.

I’m not the biggest fan of Marvel or of comic book films in general, but even I have to admit that they’re big business right now, and should be ideally suited to a proper video game adaptation. Realistically any of the films could work, but what might be even better is a game that lets gamers play through the events of multiple films, perhaps those leading up to Avengers Infinity War and Endgame.

Number 4: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930/1979)

This is really just an excuse to talk about the lack of First World War titles! However, both the original 1930 version and the 1979 remake of All Quiet on the Western Front are great films with strong characters and an emotional story that could be adapted to make a fascinating game.

When looking at war stories, in some respects the “obvious” choice is a first-person shooter – in the vein of Battlefield One, one of the rare shooters to use a First World War setting. But for All Quiet on the Western Front, a real-time tactics game akin to the recent Broken Lines could be great too – that format can work well to tell stories that rely on multiple playable protagonists.

Since Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 – which was a game that led directly to the creation of the first Doom a year later – many war games have used World War II as a setting. There’s nothing wrong with that (though the World War II shooter definitely became stale by the mid-2000s) but the First World War makes for a fascinating, underused setting.

Number 5: Moana (2016)

Disney was one of the last companies to give up on tie-in games, and because their films are aimed at kids, it makes a certain kind of sense that they’d feel able to churn out a basic but playable title to accompany big releases. However, by the time of Moana’s 2016 release even Disney wasn’t interested in tie-ins, and while a free mobile game was cobbled together it’s no substitute for a proper video game adaptation.

Moana’s adventure narrative perfectly suits an action/adventure title, as she travels from island to island on her boat to save her people. A 3D platformer with puzzle elements would also work, in the vein of a classic title like Banjo-Kazooie. The world of Moana offers a lot of different environments, including different islands and the realm of monsters, meaning a good variety of levels should be available.

Number 6: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

Based on an earlier television special, The Quatermass Xperiment is a fascinating example of mid-century horror/sci-fi, and features a plot in which an alien organism infects an astronaut. The infected man escapes, and the titular Professor Quatermass must work to find him before it’s too late. This setup would make for an exciting horror/adventure title, in which players would not only have to track down the mutating monster, but would have to find clues to figure out what’s happening and what to do about it.

The original film was in black-and-white, and I love the idea of having both a colour and monochrome version of the game to allow players to choose what kind of experience they want to have. I’m not the biggest fan of black-and-white in a general sense, but in some properties it works very well, and it’s something that has only ever been attempted in a handful of modern games.

Number 7: Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Recent titles like this year’s comic Maneater demonstrate that there’s still a market for shark-horror games, and 1999’s Deep Blue Sea is one of the better shark films of recent years. A game adaptation would be a marriage made in heaven then, surely?

If you’ve played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you may remember an underwater base on the ocean planet Manaan that served as one of the game’s levels. It was creepy and claustrophobic as players had to contend with not only the wildlife outside, but flooded sections and crazy inhabitants of the base. Deep Blue Sea, being set on an underwater facility, lends itself to that kind of gameplay too, and players could navigate the base and the waters outside while trying to fend off the hungry, overly-aggressive sharks.

Number 8: Star Trek II, III, and IV (1982-86)

The Wrath of Khan remains for many Trekkies the high-water mark of both the Star Trek film series and of all stories featuring The Original Series’ cast. It also formed the first part of a trilogy of films that told one expanded story, and in many ways, a game that only adapted The Wrath of Khan would be leaving out the rest of that story.

The Wrath of Khan would obviously be the best and most exciting part, and could feature the Battle of the Mutara Nebula as its climactic boss fight. Ship-to-ship combat has been tried in a number of Star Trek games, and in my opinion getting this aspect of the game right would be the biggest challenge – but one that would have the biggest payoff if it was successful.

The Search for Spock could have levels including stealing the Enterprise, which could make for a fun stealth section, as well as sabotaging the USS Excelsior, and The Voyage Home would not only let players pilot a Kingon Bird-of-Prey but would also feature a fun and nostalgic ’80s setting. I love this idea, and producing a fun adventure title from this trilogy would be amazing.

Number 9: Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet is an absolute classic of the science fiction genre, and arguably inspired franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars to a degree. The fictional world it created, with the planet Altair IV and the starship C-57D has never been revisited – though the film has been referenced and paid homage to many times.

This is one film where the plot could be directly adapted, but also we could see a broader game world based on the setting that it created. When you consider the success of the Fallout franchise with its ’50s-esque retro-futuristic aesthetic, there’s clearly a market for the visual style of Forbidden Planet in the gaming realm.

Number 10: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

James Bond films tend to have stories that are well-suited to a stealth/action title. The Nintendo 64 game Goldeneye is a classic example of how Bond can work as a video game. While other attempts to make Bond games have been overshadowed by Goldeneye in some respects, there are several creditable titles that have been released.

For Your Eyes Only might be my favourite Bond film – though there’s certainly room for others, like License to Kill! The storyline is a Bond classic – the secret agent must retrieve a stolen piece of technology that could fall into enemy hands. Roger Moore’s Bond visits a number of exotic locales, gets to drive some classic cars, and of course has an array of fancy gadgets at his disposal. All of which would make for an exciting and fun video game!

So that’s it. Ten films which probably don’t need a video game adaptation – but could absolutely be given one regardless! In a way I can understand why the tie-in video game has disappeared, and while many players won’t be terribly upset or won’t care, there are many recent titles which, had they been released fifteen years earlier, could have been accompanied by a solid video game.

The titles I’ve put on this list are from a variety of eras, including some from well before video games existed! But as we continue to see with titles like Friday the 13th and the aforementioned Alien Isolation, going back to older films isn’t something game developers should be afraid of. Trying to make an unabashed classic into a modern game may draw criticism from some quarters, but if the game is good when it ultimately releases, practically all of that criticism will melt away and the game will find an audience.

This list was just for fun, and to give a few examples of titles that could – but almost certainly won’t – be made into video games.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio and/or distributor. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten more games I’d remaster (if I could)

A little while ago I looked at ten games from years past that I wish would be remastered and brought up-to-date. That list was fun to put together, but I ended up leaving off a number of titles that I had considered including. This new list will make up for that!

The same methodology applies as last time: more recent titles – which I’m defining as anything from this console generation or the one preceding it – are excluded by default. And the rest are games that I’ve personally played… albeit I haven’t touched most of them in years or even decades. Remember that this isn’t me saying that these games will be remastered. I’m just saying that, if I had unlimited resources, I’d like nothing more than to bring them up to date and give a new generation of players a chance to experience them.

Number 1: Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992) and/or Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64, 1997)

I’d love to replay the classic tracks of the first two Mario Kart titles using the more modern engine used for Mario Kart 8. A few of the tracks from these two titles have reappeared in recent Mario Kart titles, but not all of them and the two games have never been remastered in their entirety complete with all of the tracks and the same roster of characters.

Super Mario Kart was one of the first games I bought for myself in the early ’90s; I think I’d played a demo of it in a shop and desperately wanted my own copy! Mario Kart 64 is probably my personal favourite entry in the series; it had such an amazing set of tracks. If you want to see some of the best racetracks from these titles and others that I think would be great for the next Mario Kart title, I have an article all about that. With 2022 being the 30th anniversary of the series – and with Nintendo’s love of anniversaries – they could certainly take that opportunity to bring one or both of these titles fully up-to-date!

Number 2: Space Harrier (Arcade, 1985)

On my first list I didn’t include any pre-1990 titles. Partly that’s because I haven’t played all that many games from that era, but partly because a lot of older games were rather basic. Space Harrier is undeniably in that category; it’s an on-rails shooter without any real story, the only objective is to shoot at aliens and creatures. But there aren’t many games like that in 2020, and perhaps with a major visual overhaul it could offer something different to players. The other option would be to take its main character, settings, and alien races and expand on them – turning Space Harrier from a run-and-gun shooter into something more like a story-driven action/adventure title in a unique sci-fi setting.

I never had the chance to play Space Harrier in a real arcade. The closest I got to that experience was playing it in Shenmue – that’s where I first encountered the title. But nostalgia is a big deal these days, and perhaps some people would be tempted to see a reworked version of this classic.

Number 3: Spirit of Speed 1937 (Dreamcast and PC, 1999)

Racing games are a lot of fun, and some modern titles do make an attempt to include older vehicles – classic cars from the golden age of motor racing. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s been another game like Spirit of Speed 1937, though, which was set in that era and exclusively featured pre-war vehicles.

I played the Dreamcast version of this game, and it was a lot of fun. It was also something wholly unique among racing games that were either fun but un-serious kart racers in the vein of the Mario Kart series, or modern-day racers and rally games featuring up-to-date cars. I believe that niche still exists today, and it would be a lot of fun to have a classic racer like this to fill it!

Number 4: Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force

I’ve had an article in the pipeline for a while that I haven’t knocked into shape yet looking at the state of Star Trek video games. To make a long story short, while a number of them have been pretty good, practically none reached out beyond Star Trek’s preexisting fandom. Elite Force was different, and some fans of first-person shooters who didn’t give a hoot about Star Trek played and enjoyed the game when it released in 2000. Its multiplayer mode in particular was something gamers at the time appreciated.

Elite Force had a great single-player campaign too, which included down time in between missions where the player character – Ensign Munro – was able to explore parts of the ship. The story was perfectly Star Trek in its theme, and Voyager would even go on to use a vaguely similar premise for an episode called The Void which aired about six months after the game was released.

Number 5: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Xbox and PC, 2002)

It would have been hard to imagine in the 2000s, but there hasn’t been a game released in the Elder Scrolls series for almost a decade. Though Bethesda have promised us that The Elder Scrolls VI is in development, it seems years away. The company has remastered Skyrim several times and ported it to every platform under the sun, and while we continue to wait for The Elder Scrolls VI, why not bring Morrowind up to date?

Morrowind is undoubtedly my favourite game in the series. It massively expanded on previous entries, with a huge variety of quests and styles of play. It was possible to be a wizard, sneaky assassin, warrior, and all manner of other things. Beginning with its sequel, Oblivion, Bethesda actually began cutting content, and the most recent Elder Scrolls titles have far fewer NPCs, weapon types, factions, and so on. While we can argue about which game is “better” and get nowhere – such things are subjective, after all – for my money Morrowind offers players the biggest choice of things to do. It’s been eighteen years since I first played it, and I still haven’t completed every quest!

Number 6: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)

I kept this title off my first list because there had been rumours floating around of a remaster being worked on. Sadly, as I noted when I looked at Nintendo’s lineup for Mario’s 35th anniversary, Super Mario 64 was only included in its original form as part of a bundle. But replaying this amazing game in the Super Mario Odyssey engine is something I really want to experience, and with the game’s 25th anniversary coming up next year, perhaps Nintendo will finally bring Super Mario 64 up-to-date.

I first played Super Mario 64 when it was released; it was the first Nintendo 64 game that I owned. I’m not sure if it was the first ever true 3D game I played, but it was certainly one of the earliest titles I got to enjoy that wasn’t 2D. It has a special place in my heart as “my” Mario game – I played the SNES versions of classic Mario titles, but even at the time they were “old” games, and Super Mario 64 was the first that I got to play when it was new.

Number 7: Medieval: Total War (PC, 2002)

Medieval: Total War is almost certainly my most-played game of the early 2000s. It followed on from the also brilliant Shogun: Total War, but took the setting from feudal Japan to the more-familiar western Europe. It was a game that was very easy to mod – I remember opening up the game’s files in Notepad and editing things like the year the game began, which factions controlled which province, and even the names of provinces! I loved the dual gameplay, which was unique among strategy games at the time – both a grand strategy game that required detailed faction management and real-time battles were present in the same title.

The Total War series is still going strong in 2020, and recent titles like Total War: Warhammer and Total War: Three Kingdoms are carrying the flag for the franchise on a massively improved engine. Medieval II: Total War did bring the series back to this setting in 2006, but even that game is rather outdated compared to the latest entries, and it would be amazing to see a remake of Medieval: Total War using the technology at the franchise’s disposal today.

Number 8: TimeSplitters 2 (GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Out of all the games I’ve ever played, TimeSplitters 2 may have the best ever multiplayer mode! It was certainly something that was a huge amount of fun to play on the original Xbox, with its goofy time-travel narrative taking players from Prohibition-era Chicago to futuristic Toyko and beyond. The TimeSplitters games were never going to be on par with other first-person shooter titles like Halo or the Call of Duty series, but the series had heart and did what it did incredibly well.

The recent remake of Destroy All Humans shows that there is a market for early/mid 2000s games with a sense of humour to be remastered, and I’d absolutely love to welcome back TimeSplitters 2 after all this time.

Number 9: The Simpsons: Hit and Run (Multiplatform, 2003)

Talk to anyone who was a gamer in the mid-2000s and I bet they’ll remember The Simpons: Hit and Run with a sense of nostalgia! I didn’t actually own this game for myself at the time (being a broke student) but a friend did and we played it regularly when I was at university. The game is basically a Simpsons-themed Grand Theft Auto-clone, playing on the popularity of that sub-genre in the wake of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, and while fans of Grand Theft Auto will find the more extreme violence of that series decidedly toned-down and cartoonish, it’s a solid game nevertheless.

Recent games have steered away from tie-ins with films and television shows, and the days of a big-budget game based on a popular series are all but gone. There was a time when many popular titles got video game adaptations, and while as a whole tie-in games picked up a (not undeserved) reputation for being pretty poor, there are some real gems too. The Simpsons: Hit and Run is absolutely one of them!

Number 10: Operation WinBack (Nintendo 64, 1999)

Despite languishing in relative obscurity in 2020, Operation WinBack – known as WinBack: Covert Operations in the United States – is an incredibly influential title. Doom was the father of the first-person shooter, and similarly Operation WinBack is the instigator of the cover-based third-person shooter genre. Titles like Gears of War and Mass Effect would not exist without Operation WinBack, and while its cover system – which was so unique at the time it debuted – is now a standard feature, there are still plenty of reasons to bring back this fun spy adventure.

Operation WinBack had a good story, one that would be at home in films like the Mission: Impossible or James Bond series. 2016’s Doom has proved that there’s an appetite among gamers for going back to the roots of established genres, so it could be time to return to the world of Operation WinBack.

So that’s it. Ten more titles that are – in my opinion – worthy of a remaster in 2020. Will any of them ever get one? Let’s just say if I were a gambler I wouldn’t put any money on it! Well… maybe one or two? Some of the biggest companies in the games industry have recently put lots of money into remakes and remasters, and some games that I’d never have expected – like Destroy All Humans and Command and Conquer – have been brought up-to-date. So there’s a chance. There’s always a chance!

Though several of these games are undoubtedly out of print, each one is worth playing in its original form if you’re able to track down a copy, and even though it’s been years or decades since I got to play some of them, I recommend every title on this list!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developers, studios, and/or publishers. Some screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Introducing someone to Star Trek for the first time

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the episodes and films on this list.

Most people will have at least heard of Star Trek, even if they’ve never seen a single episode or film. It’s one of those franchises that is firmly embedded in popular culture. But it also has a reputation as a nerdy franchise, and despite recent attempts to shake that, it persists and can be offputting for some people. On a number of occasions I’ve been with a friend, relative, or girlfriend who was brand new to the franchise, and the question of how best to introduce them to this wonderful universe came up.

There are two huge choices: which series should be their first contact, and then which episode. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist, because everyone has different preferences and different things they enjoy. For someone who’s already a sci-fi fan it might be great to start with a more ethereal story, but for an action fan you might need to pick a more action-oriented episode or film, just to give two examples. And there are different eras to consider: should you go for The Original Series, the classic from the 1960s? One of the shows of The Next Generation’s era, perhaps? Or come right up-to-date with Discovery? It will depend on what you enjoy and what they enjoy.

Looking to get started with Star Trek? Check out the list below!

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I don’t like to start too strong. If you show someone an episode or film that’s so good it’s almost too good, you might set an expectation that future stories will fail to live up to, putting them off. Now that doesn’t mean put your worst foot forward and start with Spock’s Brain or Shades of Gray, but maybe you’ll want to build up to The Wrath of Khan or First Contact instead of using that as someone’s introduction. At the end of the day, you want them to come away from whatever episode or film they saw with a positive impression of the franchise. If they have preconceptions about Star Trek – that it’s full of technobabble or excessively nerdy, perhaps – finding a story that challenges those notions and shows them that there’s more to Star Trek than they realised is also a key part of the challenge.

In this list I’ve tried to collate a few stories (episodes and films) that I feel would make for potentially good ways to introduce someone to the franchise. If you’re struggling with what to choose, hopefully I can at least narrow down some possibilities for you. But hey, if you like all of them, put together a playlist and binge the lot! The list is in no particular order.

Number 1:
Ephraim and Dot (Short Treks, 2019)

Ephraim the tardigrade.

If you have young kids (or immature adults, I won’t judge) Ephraim and Dot is a great introduction to the world of Star Trek – as I wrote when I looked at it along with its sister episode, The Girl Who Made the Stars, last December. The story is absolutely adorable and surprisingly emotional at points, as it tells the story of a space-dwelling tardigrade’s encounter with the USS Enterprise – and a robot who almost messes things up for her!

Along with its sister episode, Ephraim and Dot is quite unlike anything else in the Star Trek canon. While I said above that could set unrealised expectations, as a point of first contact for very young kids I think it could work – and could lead them on to other adventures in the Star Trek universe.

Number 2:
In the Cards (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997)

Jake Sisko in In The Cards.

The fifth season of Deep Space Nine doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit for an introduction, as there’s a lot of background information from the previous season’s Klingon war as well as the buildup to the Dominion War and the temporary abandonment of the station. But In the Cards spends a lot of time following Jake Sisko and Nog as they make trade after trade after trade in order to get Captain Sisko a rare baseball card. It’s hardly an original premise, but it’s one that In the Cards pulls off with a cheeky smile.

Because Jake and Nog have to trade many different items with different characters, it’s an episode which shows off a number of Star Trek’s races as well as different areas of DS9, the Defiant, and even other ships. There is a secondary plot that’s connected to the Dominion, but with a few words of explanation to a brand-new viewer I think this could be easily explained.

Number 3:
The Cage (The Original Series first pilot, 1965/1988)

The very first scene of The Cage.

Some people like to start at the beginning, and there’s no episode that was produced earlier that The Cage – even though the episode wasn’t shown in full on its own until after the premiere of The Next Generation! The episode was rejected, but Star Trek was reworked into the show we know today. Most of the footage from The Cage was incorporated into The Menagerie, a two-part episode of The Original Series.

For someone who likes the 1960s aesthetic this could be a good choice, but The Cage is very different from today’s television offerings. Dated across the board from its props and special effects to the quality of most of the acting performances, it’s a piece of history and well worth watching for any Star Trek fan. I’m not convinced it would make the best starting place, but I’m sure many people will insist on starting right at the beginning.

Number 4:
Breaking the Ice (Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001)

Reed and Mayweather set foot on Archer’s Comet in Breaking the Ice.

Speaking of starting at the beginning, in terms of Star Trek’s in-universe timeline the adventures of Captain Archer aboard the NX-01 Enterprise took place before everything else. Breaking the Ice depicts one of those early missions, as Archer and the crew investigate a comet.

What I like about Breaking the Ice is that it shows, in a way many later Star Trek shows really don’t, how dangerous interstellar travel and exploration can be. Starfleet’s technology is a long way behind their Vulcan allies’ – so the episode could be a great frame of reference to show how much progress had really been made by the 23rd and 24th Centuries. Enterprise as a whole definitely has the spirit of exploration that has always been at the heart of Star Trek, and this episode is one of the better examples of how well that premise worked.

Number 5:
Star Trek (reboot film, 2009)

The USS Enterprise.

2009’s Star Trek is not my favourite film in the series, and I think its sequel – Star Trek Into Darkness – was better. But as a reboot it gets a lot of things right. JJ Abrams recast the crew of The Original Series, and this film had the difficult task of introducing those characters to a new generation of fans for the first time, while also reintroducing the rebooted versions of the characters to older fans like me. I know some people who felt it didn’t work, but that’s really just a subjective opinion. Star Trek was the highest-grossing film in the franchise by miles at the time it was released, and it brought in many new fans.

This was its goal: the franchise had been in non-stop production for almost 20 years when Enterprise was cancelled, and it needed shaking up in order to bring in new fans and remain profitable. In my opinion the film succeeded in that objective, and for someone who is a fan of high-octane action, it could be a great first contact.

Number 6:
The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I & II (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1990)

The Best of Both Worlds pits the crew of the Enterprise-D against the Borg.

The Best of Both Worlds drops viewers into the action immediately, as Riker leads an away team to the surface of a planet – only to find the entire colony gone. It may be an adjustment for total newbies – I think you can expect a few “who’s that?” questions in the first few minutes! But it’s one of The Next Generation’s finest offerings; a story which sees an existential threat to Earth.

While there’s an argument to be made that newcomers might lack the connection to Picard that makes his capture and assimilation by the Borg so impactful at the end of Part I, the visual effect is still incredibly shocking and the reactions of Riker and others on the bridge is a huge part of the emotional weight of that moment. If you’re a big fan of The Next Generation, this could be a great episode to introduce someone to your favourite part of Star Trek.

Number 7:
An Obol for Charon (Star Trek: Discovery, 2019)

The crew of the USS Discovery encounter a brand-new lifeform in this episode.

I start to feel very old indeed when I hear someone describing something from the ’80s, ’90s, or even the 2000s as “old-fashioned”. But for plenty of people, television and films produced before the turn of the millennium are dated and less enjoyable to watch as a result. For someone who falls into that category, Star Trek: Discovery could be a way to get them started in the franchise with a show that’s familiar in terms of the way it’s produced and the way it tells stories.

Because Discovery is a wholly serialised affair, pulling a single episode out is hard. Unfortunately the series premiere, The Vulcan Hello, was pretty poor in my opinion, so I couldn’t recommend it for someone’s first contact! An Obol for Charon does have ongoing story threads from Discovery’s second season, but the main plot of the episode – which features Pike and the crew dealing with a planetoid-sized lifeform – is a fairly self-contained story, albeit one that would have a big impact on the remainder of the season. For that reason I think it’s one of the best opportunities to use Discovery to introduce someone to the franchise.

Number 8:
Equinox, Parts I & II (Star Trek: Voyager, 1999)

The USS Equinox alongside the USS Voyager.

Star Trek has many great episodes which look at morality in the 24th Century, but one of my personal favourites is this two-parter from Voyager. Using its science-fiction setting to parallel real world issues is something Star Trek has always done, and while there are many great episodes which do this, for me Equinox has to be among the best. What I love about it is that there’s nothing black-and-white. Captain Ranson – the story’s antagonist – is presented in a very sympathetic way despite what he did, and the episode challenges viewers, asking “what would you have done in his place?”

The whole main cast of Voyager have roles to play in Equinox, which I think shows off Star Trek – which has predominantly been a franchise based around ensemble casts – at its best. The story is intense at points, and while it may need a little bit of explanation to bring newbies up to speed on where the USS Voyager is and how far away from home the crew are, for the most part it’s self-explanatory.

Number 9:
Trials and Tribble-ations (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1996)

The USS Enterprise on the viewscreen of the USS Defiant in Trials and Tribble-ations.

Produced to mark the Star Trek franchise’s 30th anniversary, Trials and Tribble-ations took the same technology pioneered in the film Forrest Gump – which was released only a couple of years earlier – and brought it to television. The episode blends the crews of Deep Space Nine and The Original Series, and is truly an episode made for fans. Why does that make it a good starting point instead of a confusing mess? Well, Deep Space Nine didn’t assume that everyone watching the episode would know everything about The Original Series, so Trials and Tribble-ations is careful to explain much of what’s happening through the use of a frame narrative.

For someone wholly new to the franchise, Trials and Tribble-ations brings together the two “main” Star Trek eras, seamlessly blending the 23rd and 24th Centuries. I’d wager that most people, even ardent Trek-avoiders, are at least vaguely aware of Captain Kirk and the iconic scene from The Trouble With Tribbles, which is another point in this episode’s favour. Most of all, though, Trials and Tribble-ations is a story with a great sense of humour, and that’s something people don’t seem to realise is present in Star Trek.

Number 10:
The Doomsday Machine (Star Trek: The Original Series, 1967)

Spock and Kirk discuss nuclear weapons at the end of The Doomsday Machine.

The Doomsday Machine is simultaneously a fascinating piece of history – looking at the huge issue of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War – and a truly dramatic story that channels Moby-Dick and other classic tales of revenge. It’s one contender for my favourite episode of The Original Series, and for all of these reasons and more it could be a great way to introduce someone to Captain Kirk and the crew.

The Original Series started it all in the 1960s, but many of its episodes have aged poorly in comparison to the Star Trek shows of the ’80s and ’90s. The Doomsday Machine bucks that trend with a great acting performance from guest star William Windom, reused sets to represent the USS Constellation, and a relatively uncomplicated story that doesn’t stray too far from them mainstream of action/sci-fi.

Number 11:
Doctor’s Orders (Star Trek: Enterprise, 2004)

Is Dr Phlox alone in Doctor’s Orders?

Because the Star Trek franchise has been going so long, it’s tried dipping its toes in the waters of many different genres. Horror isn’t something I’m necessarily a big fan of, but if you have someone who loves it, Doctor’s Orders from Enterprise’s third season could be a potentially interesting first contact for them.

Space exploration is full of potential dangers, and this was one thing that Enterprise absolutely nailed in its depiction of Starfleet’s first mission. In this episode, which focuses mostly on the character of Dr Phlox, the crew have to be placed in stasis while traversing a dangerous energy cloud. With Phlox alone on the deserted ship, he begins to suspect someone – or something – is in there with him. It’s an eerie, creepy episode with at least one good jump-scare for horror aficionados!

Number 12:
Empok Nor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997)

Chief O’Brien and Garak in Empok Nor.
(Brightness adjusted)

Sticking with the horror theme, Empok Nor is another great example of how Star Trek can do dark and scary stories well. Doctor’s Orders, discussed above, and Empok Nor both have elements of psychological horror, but Empok Nor features a wider cast of characters – several of whom are killed off in unpleasant ways. That’s not to say it’s excessively gory – this is still Star Trek, after all!

Recurring character Garak is the focus of the episode, along with Chief O’Brien, and their animosity – mostly conducted by communicator – is comparable to the dynamic between Bruce Willis’ John McClane and Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in Die Hard in the way it’s presented on screen.

Number 13:
The Drumhead (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1991)

The Drumhead puts a crewman on trial.

There are a number of episodes that show that Star Trek can do great courtroom drama and conspiracy stories, but The Drumhead is outstanding. It’s also an episode in which we get to see Captain Picard at his level-headed best. Widely regarded as one of The Next Generation’s best episodes, it could be a great way to bring in a newbie.

When the USS Enterprise appears to have been sabotaged, a retired judge comes aboard to find out what happened. Her investigation quickly spirals out of control, however, and she begins to see a vast conspiracy where none exists.

Number 14:
Message in a Bottle (Star Trek: Voyager, 1998)

Message in a Bottle uses the dynamic between the two EMHs to great effect.

Star Trek has always had a great sense of humour, and many episodes feature some moments of comedy. But it’s hard to think of another episode that’s as funny as Message in a Bottle. Andy Dick guest-stars as another version of the Emergency Medical Hologram when Voyager’s Doctor is sent to the Alpha Quadrant.

Robert Picardo’s character always had comedic potential, but Message in a Bottle really lets it loose. Watching the two holograms working together was laugh-out-loud hilarious at points, and I think the episode would be enough to change anyone’s mind about Star Trek.

Number 15:
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (film, 1991)

Chekov, Kirk, Dr McCoy, and Valeris on the bridge of the Enterprise-A in The Undiscovered Country.

As the swansong for Captain Kirk and The Original Series’ crew, this may seem like an odd choice for someone’s first contact. But it’s a great story with elements of mystery, conspiracy, and tension, as well as some of the best ship-to-ship combat in the franchise. Gene Roddenberry, who saw the film shortly before he passed away, hated it for its militarised Starfleet and anti-Klingon racism espoused by Kirk early in the film. But those flaws in Kirk’s character give him a genuine arc.

The Undiscovered Country also shows off the complicated relationship between three of Star Trek’s major factions: the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. It has a sense of humour at points – I’m especially thinking of the scene with the boots! And it features one of those edge-of-your-seat storylines where the focus is on whether the crew can make it in time to save the day.

So that’s it.

Those are some episodes and films which I feel could be a great way to introduce someone to the Star Trek franchise for the first time. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and it’s a topic I may well revisit in the future.

It’s worth noting a few things – and explaining a few absences – before we conclude. Firstly, I deliberately left off The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, The Trouble with Tribbles, City on the Edge of Forever, and a handful of others because I felt they were too obvious. I also excluded Far Beyond the Stars, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Visitor, The Inner Light, and a handful of others that I feel are too unrepresentative of the franchise, seeing that they’re stories which take place well outside of the main timeline or universe. I also didn’t include a number of personal favourites, like Call to Arms, Disaster, In the Pale Moonlight, Relics, and a handful of others because I felt they needed a bit too much background knowledge to be good starting points. Finally, I excluded Star Trek: Picard. This is a fantastic show, but it’s wholly serialised and of the two episodes that can be somewhat taken as standalones – Absolute Candor and Nepenthe – both rely a little too heavily on past iterations of Star Trek, which I feel could be offputting for newcomers.

Star Trek: Picard is a serialised show that works best when watched in full.

All that being said, this list is purely subjective. I understand the desire to show off how great Star Trek can be to non-Trekkies, and I tried to pick a few examples of stories that hopefully show off not only the franchise at its best, but that it can be different to the preconceived notions many people have. Star Trek is sci-fi, and sometimes – particularly in The Original Series – it leaned into the weirder side of the genre. But it can also tell some very different and unexpected stories, from tense mysteries and family drama to comedy, horror, and beyond. There’s a lot to get stuck into, and if you’re thinking about how best to introduce someone to Star Trek, there are a lot of options – 778 episodes and films at time of writing.

It’s worth pointing out (again) that Deep Space Nine and Voyager are currently only available in DVD quality, having never been remastered. This could be offputting for some newcomers, so it’s worth being aware of this silly limitation. I have written a piece calling on ViacomCBS to rectify that situation and finally bring these two awesome shows into the 2020s. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Elsewhere on the website, you can find lists of ten great episodes from the various Star Trek series if you’re looking for more inspiration. Those lists weren’t composed with newbies in mind, but they feature a different set of episodes in case you want to check out my thoughts on what I consider to be some of Star Trek’s best stories. I’ll link the lists below:

The Original Series
The Next Generation
Deep Space Nine
Voyager
Enterprise
Everything Else

Until next time!

The Star Trek franchise – including all films, series, and episodes mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. All are available on DVD, most are available on Blu-Ray (with the exception of Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and can be streamed on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 5: Enterprise

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the Enterprise episodes on this list, further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

My relationship with Star Trek: Enterprise hasn’t always been smooth. I was listening to the radio sometime in either late 1999 or early 2000 when news was breaking that a new Star Trek show was entering production. Here in the UK, Deep Space Nine and Voyager were still on the air – but were approaching the end of their runs. It wasn’t clear what would come next, and as a teenager who was a big Star Trek fan, I was naturally curious and anxious to see what we were going to get. I was definitely expecting a new Star Trek show sooner or later – the franchise had been on television for practically my entire life up to this point, so the idea that it might go off the air never even crossed my mind!

However, when the show was revealed to be a prequel (I can’t remember if that was part of the initial announcement or was something that I found out later) I was less than impressed. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had been in cinemas around this time, and I just remember feeling that prequels as a concept were not something I was a fan of. This was a pretty childish reaction: “The Phantom Menace was bad, therefore all prequels must be bad!” Nevertheless, that’s how I felt at the time. Enterprise would also be shown not on the BBC, which doesn’t have advertisement breaks, but on Channel 4, which does. Having seen all of the other Star Trek shows free of ad breaks I wasn’t especially keen to have them in Enterprise.

The inclusion of Scott Bakula, who had previously starred in an underappreciated science fiction series called Quantum Leap, did improve matters somewhat for me, but I still wasn’t sold on the premise of Enterprise. Why did Star Trek need to go back in time to before Capt. Kirk? For me, the whole point of the franchise was, and always had been, to press further forward into the future. Looking at how the Federation formed and Earth’s early missions of exploration, meeting races I’d already seen developed in other series, just didn’t hold much appeal as a concept.

Opening title card for Enterprise in its first two seasons (before the Star Trek prefix was added).

When Broken Bow premiered in late 2001 I did tune in, but for much of the rest of Enterprise’s original broadcast run I didn’t, and as a result I didn’t see well over half the series until I picked it up on DVD around 2009-10, long after it had gone off the air. This was the moment that I came closest to no longer following the franchise, as I’ve previously discussed. When I did pick up Enterprise on DVD, however, I was pleasantly surprised. While it still isn’t my favourite part of the franchise, it’s a series which has heart, and the spirit of exploration – seeking out strange, new worlds – which had been largely absent from Deep Space Nine and parts of The Next Generation and Voyager was on full display. I’ll often use Enterprise as an example whenever I hear the expression “no one asked for this”. No one in 1999-2000 was asking for a Star Trek prequel, yet the show found its feet and told some interesting and enjoyable stories with a great cast of characters. Despite my initial feelings, I’ve warmed up to Enterprise in the years since it was broadcast.

Enterprise wasn’t just controversial with me, though, and the show struggled with ratings during its run. It managed to last for four seasons – one more than The Original Series – before being cancelled in 2005. In the aftermath of Enterprise’s demise the Star Trek franchise seemed dead – until rumours of a reboot film were first heard over a year later. It would be twelve years before another Star Trek show would grace the small screen, though, and by then a lot would have changed for the franchise. The CGI used for almost all of the Enterprise‘s special effects is very much of its time, and thus looks dated by today’s standards. The late 1990s and early 2000s were, at least in my opinion, not a great time for CGI. Many shows and films – like the Star Wars prequels – tried to take advantage of the technology before it was properly ready for prime-time.

In case you missed it, here’s how this format works: this isn’t a “top ten” ranked list of my all-time favourite episodes. Instead, this is simply a list of episodes that I find enjoyable and would recommend – especially if you find that you have more time than usual for entertainment at the moment! I’ve picked stories (a couple of which are multi-episode arcs) from all four of Enterprise’s seasons, and they’re listed below in the order they were released.

You can find the first four articles in this series by following these links: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager.

This is your final chance to jump ship if you want to avoid spoilers!

Number 1: The Andorian Incident (Season 1)

Shran would go on to be a recurring character.

One of the unexpected things about Enterprise, not just in its first season but really for its entire run, was that the Vulcans were quasi-antagonists. We’d seen human-Vulcan relations being generally good across Star Trek, and even in First Contact there was no real indication that it would be a rocky road. Nevertheless, the Vulcans are presented as being arrogant, interfering, and are suggested to have deliberately slowed the development of humanity’s warp technology. Even at this early stage in Enterprise, they’re not exactly good friends.

The Andorians had been established as one of the Federation’s core races as early as The Original Series’ second season episode Journey to Babel – which featured on my list of ten great episodes from Star Trek’s first show – and after the blue-skinned aliens were curiously absent for almost all of The Next Generation’s era, Enterprise brought them back. The show was focusing on the build-up to the birth of the Federation, and with the Andorians known to be one of the founding members, encountering them was inevitable.

Journey to Babel established that relations between Vulcans and Andorians could be complicated, to say the least! And The Andorian Incident takes that story thread and runs with it, not only telling a really interesting story that showed the Vulcans at their most arrogant and duplicitous, using a site they claimed to be a religious sanctuary as a high-tech spy post, but also laid the groundwork for the Andorians’ future appearances on the show.

Shran, played by veteran Star Trek actor Jeffrey Combs, makes his debut here and would go on to be a recurring character. Jeffrey Combs had previously portrayed Weyoun in Deep Space Nine, among several other characters, and is outstanding in the role of Shran. This Andorian commander would be both an enemy and later an ally of Capt. Archer and Enterprise’s crew, and the complex character was a perfect fit for Combs to play. Despite the difference in makeup and prosthetics from Deep Space Nine, it is clearly him, and if you’re very familiar with Weyoun from the Dominion War arc that can take a little while to get used to!

Number 2: Sleeping Dogs (Season 1)

Shuttlepod 1 departs Enterprise.

Broken Bow, which was the premiere of Enterprise, showed first contact between humans and Klingons. While this first contact wasn’t exactly smooth, the two powers maintained an uneasy peace, and the Klingons had already reappeared in Enterprise’s first season. Sleeping Dogs is another episode featuring the famed warrior race, showing an early (in terms of the in-universe timeline!) example of cooperation with humans as Archer and a Klingon named Bu’kaH attempt to free a stricken Klingon ship.

Enterprise stops to investigate a gas giant only to discover a Klingon ship trapped in its atmosphere. An away team consisting of Reed, T’Pol, and Sato is sent to investigate, but they become trapped when their shuttlepod is stolen. These three characters weren’t often working together, despite being bridge officers, so giving them a chance to interact and face adversity was a good move for a series in its first season. Recent outings aside, Star Trek has always tried to give every main cast member opportunities like this.

Bu’kaH is an interesting guest star. While the way she was ultimately convinced to help – appealing to her Klingon sense of honour and fear of a dishonourable death – isn’t original and had been done before, it was nevertheless nice to see her come around and work with Archer to rescue the stranded away team.

Number 3: Carbon Creek (Season 2)

Vulcans in the ’50s!

Prequel stories can often mess up existing canon, overwriting what we thought was the established backstory, lore, and history of a fictional universe. As a result, I find that they can be very difficult to get right, as I’ve already explained in my introduction. Carbon Creek, however, is different. The episode tells the story of the crew of a small Vulcan craft who find themselves stranded in 1950s America – in the town of Carbon Creek.

Time travel stories in Star Trek, like the film The Voyage Home or the Voyager two-parter Future’s End, feel very dated very quickly, because they dump the crew in a contemporary setting. Carbon Creek deliberately avoids this trap, putting the crew in a nostalgic 1950s setting rather than the early 2000s – when Enterprise was in production. Stories that go down that route tend to work better, at least in my opinion.

T’Pol, aboard Enterprise, entertains Archer and Tucker with a story of her great-grandmother, who happened to be one of the stranded Vulcan crew members. The episode focuses largely on this Vulcan crew, meaning T’Pol actress Jolene Blalock is the only main cast member with significant screen time. It was a great episode for her – but not one which really let her get away from the stoic Vulcan behaviour of T’Pol. The two characters – T’Pol and her great-grandmother – are essentially the same; we could do a whole article about Vulcan personalities and how easily (or not) one Vulcan could be swapped out for another!

Regardless, Carbon Creek is a sweet story, and the classic 1950s Americana setting is something I personally enjoyed. It’s definitely a different kind of episode – it’s not a time travel story, it’s something comparable to Voyager’s fifth-season episode 11:59 in that it’s a story set in the past, relayed by a character in the present. I found it enjoyable, telling a hidden story of human-Vulcan contact.

Number 4: The Catwalk (Season 2)

Mayweather and Tucker in the titular catwalk.

What I like about The Catwalk isn’t necessarily its major storyline, which sees a species called the Takret invading Enterprise, trying to catch three of their deserting officers who had been given refuge aboard the ship. Instead, what I like is the driving force behind the plot, that the crew are trapped in a storm and forced to take refuge in one of the nacelles.

To me, this is Enterprise showing off just how dangerous space exploration can be, even for a ship designed explicitly for the purpose. We’ve seen Starfleet ships face anomalies and space weather before, but this is the first time that we’ve seen them come up against something they couldn’t outrun or avoid. Instead, the crew are forced to sit through a storm, hiding in one of the most heavily-shielded parts of the ship.

Much of the plot is set in the catwalk – part of the ship’s warp nacelle. The crew take refuge there when a massive storm front hits, and we see them having to survive in very close quarters. Morale could easily dip very low under such circumstances, so this is a moment for Capt. Archer to show off his leadership abilities.

The main storyline is interesting, showing the abandoned ship invaded by the Takret, but it parallels the Voyager fourth season episode Scientific Method in some respects – particularly its resolution.

Number 5: Regeneration (Season 2)

Borg drones in Regeneration.

The Borg are one of Star Trek’s most interesting villains. I have an article discussing how they can be used as an incredibly effective storytelling device, including how they play on our collective fears of brainwashing and out-of-control technology. You can find it by clicking or tapping here. In-universe, however, the Federation’s history with the Borg only begins in The Next Generation’s era; the 24th Century. Bringing the Borg into Enterprise was a challenge, but one that the producers decided was worth trying. Even by Season 2, things weren’t going smoothly for Enterprise – the show had lost some of its core fans, and after more than fifteen years on the air, there was an element of franchise fatigue setting in, at least for some people. The Borg had usually been a guaranteed winner in Star Trek, and I’m sure that was a key production-side reason for doing a Borg story.

The story that results makes a mess of canon, but no more of a mess than the introduction of Seven of Nine’s family had in Voyager. Both of these stories shifted humanity’s first contact with the Borg to before Q Who (the second-season episode of The Next Generation which first introduced them). Setting aside canon issues, however, what results is a strong story taken as a standalone piece. Sure, the reason for the Borg’s presence is a bit of a stretch, but aside from that it was interesting to see 22nd Century humans try to deal with an enemy like 24th Century Borg.

By having a tiny number of drones and one small, sub-light ship being all there was, there was a reasonable and realistic way for Archer and Enterprise’s crew to prevail; pitting them against a fully-operational Cube and thousands of drones would have clearly been too much to handle! And the episode’s resolution does handle at least part of the canon question – by saying that the Borg’s transmission to the Delta Quadrant wouldn’t be received until the 24th Century it excuses the fact that the Borg didn’t attempt to visit Earth in the interim… though it does, perhaps, set up a time-loop paradox!

Number 6: Impulse (Season 3)

Vulcan “zombies”!

Season 3 of Enterprise was Star Trek’s second experiment with serialised storytelling, following the Dominion War story arc in Deep Space Nine. The season also saw Enterprise receive the “Star Trek” prefix, in line with other shows. In its first two seasons it wasn’t titled Star Trek: Enterprise, but simply Enterprise. The serialised nature of Season 3 makes it difficult to pick individual episodes, but Impulse is a great choice as it’s a fairly self-contained story.

While in the Delphic Expanse searching for the Xindi, Archer and the crew encounter a Vulcan ship. The crew of the ship have been driven insane by a compound that’s toxic to Vulcans but which ships traversing the region need for reinforcing their hulls. The Vulcans were unaware of the side-effects and were driven mad – coming close to animalistic or zombie-like. In fact, the 28 Days Later style of fast-moving zombies is probably a good analogy for the sick Vulcans in Impulse.

The episode focuses in part on T’Pol, and her struggles with the toxic compound. She would later develop an addiction as a result of her exposure here, something which would be detailed in later episodes in the third and fourth seasons. This set up not only an interesting new angle for her character, but a great storyline about dealing with addiction.

Number 7: Countdown and Zero Hour (Season 3)

The Xindi weapon in Countdown.

As previously mentioned, Enterprise’s third season essentially forms one continuous story. While there are semi-standalone episodes contained within, it’s by far a better experience if watched from beginning to end as intended. Countdown and Zero Hour are the culmination of more than twenty episodes’ worth of story, and really need to be viewed in that context.

At the end of Season 2, Enterprise was recalled to Earth following an attack by the Xindi. It would be revealed to Capt. Archer that the Xindi were developing another weapon, larger in scale, that would destroy the Earth, and thus the ship was dispatched to prevent this from happening. The season continues the time travel themes established in previous stories, and explains that the Xindi are being manipulated by a faction in the Temporal Cold War.

By this point in the story, Capt. Archer has managed to contact the Xindi, and the race is on to prevent them from using the weapon – which is now fully-operational and ready to be deployed. Major Hayes, who had been a recurring character throughout the season, is killed off in a pretty brutal scene, and eventually it’s up to Archer to do whatever it takes to save Earth.

A season-long arc like this needed a truly awesome ending, and Countdown and Zero Hour delivered, providing an explosive finale.

Number 8: Home (Season 4)

Tucker, Archer, and T’Pol in Home.

Home is an interesting story, dealing in part with the way Enterprise’s crew are treated after returning to Earth. As we’ve recently seen in Star Trek: Picard, and saw hints at in Star Trek Generations, some Starfleet officers and crew seem to become semi-celebrities in the Federation, or at least people whose names are known to the public. Home explores this concept in a way we haven’t really seen in any other Star Trek story, however.

While we’d seen the Xindi weapon defeated at the very end of Season 3, Season 4’s two-part premiere took the crew on another adventure, finally wrapping up the Temporal Cold War arc. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, time travel stories have never been my favourite (both within Star Trek and outside it) so from my point of view I was glad to see that element of the show brought to a conclusion. Home is thus the first episode of Enterprise taking place after the victory over the Xindi.

The episode introduces Enterprise’s sister-ship, Columbia, which would appear on several occasions before the show wrapped production at the end of the season. This story element was nice, showing humanity finally expanding its fleet and beginning another mission of exploration. Archer’s comments that the new ship would need all the weapons it had was an acknowledgement that his optimism had been tainted by his experiences in space – with the Xindi in particular.

Home would also set up what I consider to be the fourth season’s most interesting storyline: the Terra Prime anti-alien xenophobia which would be further explored toward the end of the season.

Number 9: The Forge, Awakening, and Kir’Shara (Season 4)

Tucker and Ambassador Soval in The Forge.

As I mentioned earlier, the way Vulcans were portrayed in Enterprise as pushy, rude, arrogant, and even aggressive at times may have been in keeping with some of what we’d seen previously, but it was also quite different from how we’d seen characters like Spock and Tuvok. This trilogy of episodes essentially removes many of the higher-ranking Vulcans we’d come to know over much of Enterprise’s run, setting the stage for the changes in Vulcan society that would be needed to get them closer to prior depictions.

We’d learnt earlier in Enterprise’s run that mind-melding was something considered taboo among many 22nd Century Vulcans, and given that we know by the 23rd and 24th Centuries this would no longer be the case – and would not even be referenced – that was one of many Vulcan storylines that needed concluding. Given that Enterprise’s ratings had always been shaky and cancellation was always a threat, it may have seemed to the show’s creators that the fourth season was going to be the final opportunity. Having developed the Vulcans over three seasons, with T’Pol and Ambassador Soval in particular, there was a sense that it was necessary to try to move the Vulcans themselves closer to their 23rd and 24th Century depictions.

The resulting story is a fascinating one that takes a far deeper look at Vulcan history than anything we’d ever seen, greatly expanding on the role of Surak – the legendary father of Vulcan philosophy and logic who debuted in The Original Series third-season episode The Savage Curtain. This was a great tie-in to the franchise’s past, and explored the Vulcans from a different point of view, while at the same time making that abrupt turnaround from the way they behaved in Enterprise to what we’d already seen in other Star Trek shows.

Number 10: Demons and Terra Prime (Season 4)

John Frederick Paxton was the villain in Demons and Terra Prime.

At the beginning of Season 4, Home established that there was a faction of humans on Earth opposed to any and all dealings with aliens, something which had been a minority view but had grown massively as a result of the Xindi attack. This duology of episodes explores that idea in much more detail, and continues Star Trek’s tradition of using a science fiction setting to parallel real-world issues.

I’ve written a number of times about how it’s important to consider Star Trek episodes in the context of their time when looking at real-world parallels, and Demons and Terra Prime were written and produced in the aftermath of both the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War – both of which were major events in the early/mid-2000s. Among the many consequences of 9/11 and subsequent conflicts in the Middle East was a rise in xenophobia targeting Muslims – and I’d argue that’s what Demons and Terra Prime is paralleling with its anti-aliens storyline.

However, it’s never good enough for a story to have a moral or a message – in some cases, being too in-your-face can detract from the enjoyment. So where Demons and Terra Prime really succeed is that the story is engaging and well-told. The primary villain – John Frederick Paxton, who’s portrayed pitch-perfectly by Peter Weller, who would also play Admiral Marcus in Star Trek Into Darkness – is one of Enterprise’s best. His motivation, while abhorrent, is something we as the audience can understand because, at least in 2005, we were living through what many considered to be a similar time. Paxton is a reactionary, a far-right conservative who wants to take Earth back to an era before humans and aliens had contact. He’s by no means a sympathetic villain – as we’ve spent four years with T’Pol, Phlox, and others, we feel we know them on a personal level in a way Paxton doesn’t – but he’s a fascinating one nevertheless.

Terra Prime ends with a major emotional revelation for Tucker and T’Pol, and these two characters in particular are at the heart of the story.

So that’s it. Ten great Enterprise episodes. There’s a lot to appreciate in the series, despite my initial reaction to it all those years ago. While it can certainly be argued that Enterprise led directly to Star Trek’s second major cancellation in 2005, in other ways it laid the groundwork for what would come later. The serialised storytelling in particular went a long way to modernising the franchise from a narrative point of view, and the focus on exploration brought Star Trek back to its roots.

Prequels can be difficult to get right for many reasons, and while Enterprise does create some issues for Star Trek’s wider canon, overall there were more hits than misses. The undeveloped fifth season, which supposedly would have shown parts of the Earth-Romulan war, as well as more of the lead-up to the founding of the Federation, remains to this day something I’m disappointed we never got to see.

By 2004-05, Star Trek had been on the air approaching twenty years without a break, with two shows running simultaneously for large parts of that. The whole reason Enterprise was envisioned as a prequel, instead of making another 24th Century spin-off or moving the timeline forward, is almost certainly because the people in charge of Star Trek at that time were running out of ideas. There exists such a thing as “franchise fatigue” in the world of entertainment, and thus I’d suggest that by that time, Enterprise’s cancellation had as much to do with Star Trek as a whole needing an overhaul than the series itself.

Enterprise’s 2005 cancellation seemed to mark a definitive end to the franchise, and for at least a year it seemed as though we’d got all of the Star Trek films and shows that we were ever going to. But of course we know that it wasn’t the end: Star Trek would be successfully rebooted in 2009, and finally in 2017 would return to the small screen. Enterprise’s reputation as “the show that killed Star Trek” can thus be fully rehabilitated, and while it isn’t perfect, and much of its CGI in particular is very dated by today’s standards, it is a very enjoyable show.

There’s one more article to come in this current series, which has the working title “everything else”! I will be picking ten episodes from other Star Trek productions which currently don’t have enough episodes to have a “ten great episodes” list of their own, including The Animated Series and Short Treks. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that in the next few weeks.

Star Trek: Enterprise is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Enterprise – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 3: Deep Space Nine

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the Deep Space Nine episodes on this list, minor spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

In the previous two entries in this series of articles, I picked out ten great episodes from both The Next Generation and The Original Series. This time, it’s the turn of Deep Space Nine to get a closer look. Thus far on the blog I haven’t spent much time with Deep Space Nine, which is mostly due to Star Trek: Picard taking up a lot of time, and because practically nothing from Deep Space Nine crossed over to that show. So this is a first!

The Next Generation had successfully proven that the Star Trek brand was bigger than Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in the late 1980s. With Gene Roddenberry terminally ill, Rick Berman took over the running of the Star Trek franchise, and by 1990, when the fourth season of The Next Generation debuted, was in full control. It was around this time that the concept of a spin-off from The Next Generation began to be taken seriously. It was decided that the show should be set on a space station so as to differentiate it from The Next Generation, which was still on the air at the time it premiered. Returning to the franchise’s western inspirations from way back in the mid-1960s, Deep Space Nine was based on the idea of a frontier town from those kind of stories – complete with a town sheriff, bartender, “mayor”, and “natives”.

Deep Space Nine represented the biggest change in the Star Trek franchise so far, and even in 2020 remains unique as a series not set on a moving starship. The fixed setting meant that the producers could bring in a number of secondary recurring characters in addition to the main cast, several of whom would go on to have increasingly large roles as the seven seasons of the show rolled out. Two major characters from The Next Generation crossed over to Deep Space Nine – Chief O’Brien was present from the beginning and Worf joined in the fourth season. This continuity of characters, combined with crossover episodes, firmly tied the two series together as separate parts of a larger ongoing fictional universe in a way that was unprecedented at the time. The Next Generation had gone out of its way to stand apart from The Original Series at least in terms of its characters and setting, but Deep Space Nine leaned into its sister-show.

The opening titles for Deep Space Nine.

Thematically, however, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were worlds apart. From the very beginning there were tensions and conflicts among the crew, which was now made up of Federation and non-Federation personnel. The show would diverge even more from previous iterations of the franchise as time went on, becoming much darker in tone and eventually portraying a long, bitter war between the Federation and the Dominion – a new faction created for Deep Space Nine. The Dominion War storyline, which built up slowly between Seasons 2 and 5 and would explode into all-out war for the entirety of Seasons 6 and 7, marked Star Trek’s first foray into serialised storytelling. This more modern style of television storytelling would be employed in Enterprise, Discovery, and Star Trek: Picard as well.

For all of these reasons, Deep Space Nine was controversial in some Trekkie circles, and some fans of the two earlier shows weren’t keen on its static setting, darker tone, and serialised stories. Conversely, though, some Trekkies cite Deep Space Nine as their favourite entry in the franchise by far, precisely for those same reasons. I place myself somewhere in the middle; while it is different to what came before, that doesn’t make it worse and it is still greatly enjoyable Star Trek fare.

One final point worth making note of is that, as of 2020, Deep Space Nine has not been remastered and remains in its original broadcast format from the 1990s. I consider this to be a major mistake and oversight on ViacomCBS’ part, especially as they’ve been so keen to use the Star Trek franchise to drum up support for their streaming platform, CBS All Access. As a result, Deep Space Nine doesn’t look as good as most of the other shows (along with Voyager, which has the same limitation). I did write a piece about this, calling on ViacomCBS to remedy this situation. You can read it by clicking or tapping here.

If you missed the other posts in this series, here’s a recap of how the format works: this isn’t a “Top Ten” list of my all-time favourites. Instead, it’s a list of ten episodes (or rather, ten stories, some of which are multi-episode arcs) which I think are great and well worth watching – especially if you’re finding yourself with lots of time for entertainment at the moment. I’ve picked at least one episode from each of the show’s seven seasons, and the episodes are not ranked, they’re simply listed in order of release.

Let’s jump in and look at the episodes, and please be aware of spoilers.

Number 1: Emissary (Season 1, premiere)

Commander Sisko and Chief O’Brien in Emissary.

It’s rare for a series to kick off with one of its best episodes. What often happens in television is that it takes time for a show to find its feet as the actors and crew get used to working together and as characters and story elements develop. In the Star Trek franchise this is true too, but Emissary bucks the trend. Until very recently I’d have said it was easily the best opening episode of any Star Trek show, but it must now share that crown with Remembrance, the premiere of Star Trek: Picard – a review of which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

The episode begins with a flashback to the events of The Next Generation episode The Best of Both Worlds, around three years previously. Sisko, it turns out, had been aboard the USS Saratoga, one of the ships destroyed by the Borg. His wife had been killed but he escaped the exploding ship with his son Jake. Cut to the present day, and the Cardassians had finally withdrawn from Bajor after decades of occupation. Both factions had been introduced in The Next Generation too, so the audience would have been familiar with them. Both of these elements tied Deep Space Nine to its sister-show in a way that hadn’t really been seen before. Star Trek was expanding, but it was expanding in such a way that the shows being produced together would share a setting – we’d also see this in Voyager, and I’ve written previously about why it worked and why doing something similar would be good for Star Trek going forward. But we’re off-topic again.

Sisko and Jake travel to the Bajoran system and arrive aboard the newly-christened Deep Space Nine, a former Cardassian station. The episode introduces us to the crew – O’Brien, who’s obviously crossed over from The Next Generation, as well as Dax, Quark, Kira, Odo, and Dr Bashir. Interestingly, the role of Kira Nerys was intended to be filled by Ro Laren, another recurring character from The Next Generation, but actress Michelle Forbes declined the offer.

The episode sets up tension between Sisko and Picard; the former blaming the latter for what happened at Wolf 359. Sisko seems on the verge of resigning from Starfleet, but after discovering the Bajoran wormhole and encountering the noncorporeal Prophets, Sisko realises why he’d been unable to move on from those events, and approaches his new role with renewed vigour.

The only criticism I’d have of Emissary might be this: the story almost immediately took DS9 from being a minor frontier outpost to being a vitally important location. There was scope, I feel, for the show to have spent a little more time looking at DS9 as an unpopular posting, and at Bajor as a slowly-recovering backwater before introducing the Gamma Quadrant. I mentioned that Emissary stands up as being a pilot that’s one of the series’ best episodes and that’s true – in part because the discovery of the wormhole storyline could have been moved to later in the show!

Number 2: The Homecoming, The Circle, and The Siege (Season 2)

The Siege sees Bajoran rebels capture DS9.

I believe this trio of episodes form Star Trek’s first “three-parter”, and kicked off the second season of Deep Space Nine with an explosive story. It would’ve felt wrong to pick just one of the three episodes considering they form a single story, and I wanted to talk about it in its entirety.

One aspect of the story in Season 1 designed to cause tension was the idea that some Bajorans resented the arrival of the Federation so soon after the Cardassians had left. While Major Kira expressed this view in Emissary, she had largely stepped back from overt criticism of the Federation’s presence, yet it was something the show wanted to address. In this story, an aggressive group of Bajorans want the Federation gone. They don’t realise it, but they’re being manipulated by the Cardassians, and the whole scheme is a Cardassian plot to retake the station and the Bajoran system – which is now strategically valuable because of the wormhole.

DS9 would come under attack a number of times across the series’ run, but this is the first time we really see the station and its crew forced into such a difficult combat situation. Despite Starfleet’s order to withdraw – they were only there, after all, at the request of the Bajoran government – Sisko and the crew stay behind to fight off the Bajoran soldiers involved in the coup.

The character of Li Nalas, played by Richard Beymer, is one of the best one-time characters that appeared in the show, especially in the early seasons. A resistance hero who Kira rescues, Li is assigned to the station and ultimately loses his life to save Sisko from the rebels.

Vedek Winn – who would later be elected Kai, the Bajorans’ spiritual leader – returns in this story from her sole appearance in Season 1. While she had been presented as a thoroughly dislikable character in the episode In the Hands of the Prophets, it was here, at the beginning of Season 2, that her role as a villain begins to be fleshed out, as she is shown to be collaborating with the Cardassians and is clearly someone for whom power is the ultimate goal.

Number 3: The Wire (Season 2)

Dr Bashir tends to Garak in The Wire.

Elim Garak, the sole Cardassian aboard DS9, was an enigmatic and interesting character in his early appearances. Later episodes would flesh him out much more, especially during the Dominion War which of course affected Cardassia greatly. But The Wire was one of the first Garak-centric episodes, and it looked in detail at his past as a spy.

In fact, The Wire is the first episode to introduce the Obsidian Order – the Cardassian Empire’s secret police/intelligence agency. This faction would go on to be further developed as later seasons of the show rolled out, but here is where it was first introduced. We also meet its former head, Enabran Tain, for the first time. Tain would reappear several more times in Deep Space Nine.

Garak had been an enigmatic character, but prior to The Wire his status and his past were unclear, and his conversations, particularly with Dr Bashir but also with others, could be taken in different ways. It wasn’t until this episode that we get outright confirmation that not only was he once a spy, but that he’s in exile. His lies cloud the story somewhat, and even by the end of the episode the reason for his exile is not clear, but what is clear is that Dr Bashir had been right about him in a roundabout way – Garak had once been a spy.

Over the course of more than thirty appearances in Deep Space Nine, Andrew Robinson would make Garak just as much a part of the show as its main cast – especially in later seasons. It’s hard to imagine the series without him, as he would become such an important character, and from that point of view the story of The Wire is important. But as a work of mystery, and as an episode focusing on Dr Bashir as he tries to save a patient who, at times, treats him awfully, it’s a great work of drama too.

Number 4: The Search, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 3)

The Search introduced the USS Defiant.

The finale of Season 2 introduced the Dominion, the aggressive Gamma Quadrant faction that would become Deep Space Nine’s major antagonists. The Season 3 premiere picks up the story in the aftermath, and the crew set out to search for the Dominion – in the brand-new USS Defiant.

The Dominion were intended to be an anti-Federation factioin. Where the Klingon and Cardassian Empires were monoethnic, the Dominion would incorporate several races under its banner, just like the Federation. But instead of being a democratic society with a focus on peaceful exploration, the Dominion would be a dictatorship, and its races would be split into castes – with the Founders being treated with god-like reverence, akin to something we might see in Imperial Japan before 1945 or North Korea. The Dominion also answered a burning question for Deep Space Nine, namely what to do with the Gamma Quadrant. The show was supposed to be set on a static station with less focus on exploration, but with the Gamma Quadrant beckoning just beyond the wormhole, a number of episodes had basically been about going there and exploring. The Dominion, and their iron grip on the territory beyond the wormhole, gave Deep Space Nine an excuse to cut back on exploration, and by extension, avoid becoming The Next Generation or Voyager, which was about to premiere. Voyager’s upcoming launch also changed the name of the USS Defiant – it was originally to be named the USS Valiant, but Rick Berman and other Star Trek producers didn’t want two ships whose names began with the letter V!

The introduction of the Defiant allowed for more stories away from the station featuring the full crew, not all of whom could seemingly fit on one Runabout. It shook up the show, and would set the stage for the more military direction that the showrunners intended to take.

The Search also introduces two key recurring characters – Michael Eddington, the Starfleet officer who would go on to become a leader in the Maquis, and the unnamed female changeling, who would be the Founders’ representative throughout the Dominion War. Odo discovering his people and realising for the first time that he isn’t alone was a major turn for his character too, one which worked brilliantly, especially in later stories. Indeed, much of what would come later in Deep Space Nine in terms of successful storylines premiered or was at least hinted at in this two-parter.

The Dominion here are shown to be very powerful, but their intentions are not yet clear. The Founders clearly have a major problem with any non-changelings, but they do concede to Odo at the end and allow everyone to return home. Obviously, however, this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of the Dominion or Odo’s people.

Number 5: Homefront and Paradise Lost (Season 4)

Admiral Leyton was the antagonist in Homefront and Paradise Lost.

Since discovering the Dominion and their shape-shifting Founders, the Federation had become increasingly worried – to the point of paranoia, in some cases – about being attacked or infiltrated by changelings. The basic story of Homefront and Paradise Lost sees a former commander of Sisko’s recall him to Earth to work on strategies to protect the Federation – but this officer, Admiral Leyton, played by Robert Foxworth, has another scheme in mind.

Believing the democratic government to be impotent and paralysed in the face of the Dominion threat, Leyton plans a coup to seize power for himself on behalf of a cadre of Starfleet officers, in a story with a genuinely sympathetic antagonist. What’s so engrossing about Leyton is that he’s not a typical villain. He and Sisko actually have the same morals and the same motivation – they just have very different ways of going about engaging the Dominion. Leyton genuinely believes he’s doing the right thing – and while in the episode itself he’s presented as being in the wrong, we can at least entertain the argument that the later Dominion War would prove that he was right to take the threat seriously.

We’ve visited Earth in Star Trek on a number of occasions, but this was our first significant look at 24th Century Earth outside of Starfleet Academy. The action takes place in several locations on the planet, including Sisko’s hometown of New Orleans. It also gives Nog, now a Starfleet cadet, something significant to do for the first time in a number of episodes, and sets the stage for his future development as a Starfleet officer.

I’ve always liked the character of Joseph Sisko, played by veteran actor Brock Peters. In this story, he’s presented as a voice of reason, standing up to Sisko’s increasingly paranoid behaviour as he searches for changeling infiltrators. Giving that role to Joseph Sisko worked so well in the story, and it’s one of my favourite storylines from this duology.

Number 6: Nor Battle to the Strong (Season 5)

Nor Battle to the Strong was a rare Jake-centric episode.

Despite being credited as a main cast member for all of Deep Space Nine’s seven seasons, Cirroc Lofton’s character of Jake Sisko made only 71 appearances out of the show’s 176 total episodes. For a long time, the show’s creators didn’t really know what to do with the character. Having him try to become a Starfleet officer would have been too similar to Wesley Crusher’s storyline in The Next Generation, and I have no doubt that there was an awareness on the part of the producers that Wesley had been, shall we say, not well-received by every fan. So there was a need to do things differently, but without any real sense of direction as to what that might be. Jake Sisko was created to be less a character in his own right than to give Benjamin Sisko a dependent, and it shows.

However, by the fifth season, the idea had been conceived to make Jake into a writer. Initially he wrote poetry and planned to write a novel, but in the episode Nor Battle to the Strong he branches out and begins writing articles and profiles about current events – in this case he uses the opportunity of writing about Dr Bashir as an excuse to get off the station, but ends up in a warzone when their ship is diverted. At this point in Deep Space Nine’s story, the Federation and Klingons are engaged in a brief war which had been set in motion by a Dominion infiltrator, but that really is’t the focus of the episode.

Jake is thrown into a warzone completely unprepared for what he’d find. He goes from enthusiastic to terrified in a matter of hours, and in a very powerful sequence finds himself alone with a badly-wounded Federation soldier, who dies in front of him.

Toward the end of the episode the Klingons attack, and Jake finds himself trapped and terrified in the Starfleet base. Firing his phaser randomly he inadvertently causes a cave-in, which stops the Klingons in their tracks. Hailed as a hero, Jake feels dejected and depressed, feeling that after abandoning Bashir and the dying soldier, he doesn’t deserve the label. He writes up his experiences in a powerfully honest piece which we see both Sisko and Bashir read.

Nor Battle to the Strong is an incredibly powerful story about the reality of war, told through the eyes of the kind of enthusiastic young man that our armies arguably consist of. At the beginning of the episode Jake is longing for action, to get away from the boredom of the station and a medical conference. He’d love to thought of as a hero, too. Yet by the end, after the horrors he saw and the trauma he went through, not only does he reject the label of “hero”, but he’s more than happy to be back aboard the station.

While he labels himself a coward, and perhaps not unfairly so, we sympathise with Jake. He wasn’t ready for what he saw, as indeed nobody can be until they see if for themselves, and he acted on instinct and out of fear. Jake could be any of us, and the episode challenges us as the audience as if to say: “you think you’d act any differently?” Nor Battle to the Stong also sets up Jake for his decision to remain aboard DS9 when it’s occupied by the Dominion at the end of the season. Having seen warfare first-hand, he’s more experienced and perhaps feels a little more ready for taking a big decision like that.

Number 7: Call to Arms (Season 5), Favor the Bold, & Sacrifice of Angels (Season 6)

The Federation fleet in Favor the Bold, en route to DS9.

This trio of episodes forms a single story, with several other episodes in between at the beginning of the sixth season. In Call to Arms, the cold war between the Federation and the Dominion finally boils over into all-out conflict, and as the gateway to the Gamma Quadrant DS9 is in the firing line. In an attempt to stop the Dominion’s military build-up in Cardassian space, Sisko and the crew plant a minefield at the mouth of the wormhole – self-replicating mines, designed by Rom, Dax, and O’Brien, which would also be cloaked for maximum effectiveness. While it had been clear for some time that the Dominion War would happen one way or another, in the end it would be Starfleet and the Federation who would trigger it.

We’ve touched on Deep Space Nine being darker before, and this decision is another example of that. Starfleet had evidently given up on the idea of a negotiated settlement, and as they could no longer stand a military buildup on their frontier, they took the first step – aggressive action which had no other possible outcome. In this sense, Starfleet is presented in a much more military light than usual, akin to some of the conspirators in The Undiscovered Country, which is perhaps the closest we can get within the franchise.

The minefield ultimately leads to the anticipated Dominion-Cardassian attack, and with the Federation’s resources focused elsewhere, DS9 is surrendered to their forces at the end of Season 5, and remains under their control for the first third of Season 6. I’d argue, by the way, that DS9 was so vitally important to the war effort, as it controlled the only travel route between Dominion space and the Alpha Quadrant, that all steps should have been taken to keep it safe. But a) there’s no denying it was a dramatic turn as a story beat, and b) we don’t know the state of Federation-Klingon forces at the time, and they may well have decided that trying to hold the station and the Bajoran system would be massively costly and ultimately futile. But we’ve gone way off-topic!

Favor the Bold sees Sisko come up with a plan to recapture the station, but with the Dominion close to destroying the minefield and unleashing a vast wave of reinforcements, they have to launch the plan ahead of schedule. I loved the way that they were able to communicate the information from DS9 to Sisko – Morn would become a courier, and I loved this way of using his character.

The story arc is finally concluded in Sacrifice of Angels in dramatic fashion, and features what is still one of Star Trek’s biggest space battles to date, possibly only behind a couple of later battles in Deep Space Nine and the one seen in Discovery’s Battle at the Binary Stars. The battle is also one of Star Trek’s finest, with the last-minute arrival of the Klingon fleet clearing a path for Sisko to make it back to the station. The next twist involves the Prophets, who finally involve themselves in the war on the side of the Federation – at least for a moment.

Practically every character gets a turn across this story arc, from Jake Sisko, who opts to stay behind aboard the occupied station, to Kira, who sees herself as a collaborator with the Cardassians, to side-characters like Rom, Nog, and Garak, who all have roles to play. Gul Dukat sees a massive turnaround in his character, going from achieving his wildest ambitions to tasting bitter defeat and painful loss, setting the stage for what would come next for him. Overall, a stunning story to kick off the Dominion War arc.

Number 8: Who Mourns for Morn? (Season 6)

Morn and Odo in Who Mourns for Morn?

In the midst of a what was a very dark season overall, Who Mourns for Morn? stands out as being a much more light-hearted episode. Focusing on the character of Morn, who was less of a recurring character than a true background character, this episode sees him “killed”, and Quark scrambling to recover his fortune.

Taking a break from the war and returning to the Quark-versus-Odo dynamic that had worked so well in previous seasons, the episode also brings in a number of guest stars to play Morn’s criminal associates. Each of these characters was fairly one-dimensional and even a little over-the-top, but in the context of a fun heist/mystery story they worked wonderfully, and gave Deep Space Nine some much-needed time off from the war.

RenΓ© Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman worked so well together, not just here but throughout their stories together in Deep Space Nine. The two actors built up a chemistry and, reportedly, a genuine friendship – helped, no doubt, by the long sessions spent together having makeup and prosthetics applied.

Morn had been a part of Deep Space Nine from the beginning, but in a non-speaking role. This episode took a more detailed look at him, particularly his past as a criminal. It was genuinely funny to see the characters talking about Morn as someone who would never shut up in light of the fact that we never heard him speak on-screen, though the episode wasn’t universally well-received, as some fans felt it was too un-serious in the middle of a war, and that Morn was somehow “unworthy” of an episode dedicated to him. Some people are real killjoys!

Number 9: In The Pale Moonlight (Season 6)

In The Pale Moonlight spawned an early internet meme!

Deep Space Nine was much darker than any Star Trek show had been before, as we’ve already mentioned. It looked at themes like warfare and morality from a wholly different place than Gene Roddenberry had done, and In The Pale Moonlight sees the show at one of its darkest moments. What results is an episode that is divisive, at least in some circles. Fans of the more optimistic tone of The Original Series and The Next Generation may dislike what it brings to to the table, particularly in the way it shows how 24th Century humanity is susceptible to the same flaws and problems that we are today – but I’d argue that simply makes it more relatable, or even realistic.

With the Dominion War raging and many Starfleet officers dying on a daily basis, Sisko hatches a plan to bring the Romulans into the fight on the side of the Federation-Klingon alliance. Other episodes of Deep Space Nine had looked at the gritty reality of war from different angles, but In The Pale Moonlight showed the crew looking through reams of names of the dead and missing in a powerful sequence that showed just how many casualties were being inflicted.

The Dominion had been created to be an equal for – and to outgun, at points – the Federation-Klingon alliance. We’d seen even going back to their pre-war appearances how powerful their ships and weapons could be, so by this point in the show the fact that the war would see the Federation somewhere between a WWI-esque stalemate and actually being on the back foot is not unrealistic. The storyline builds masterfully on what has come before, especially earlier in Season 6, to present Sisko’s decisions in a sympathetic light.

Sisko employs Garak to aid in his scheme to convince a Romulan senator that the Dominion plans to attack them. As with any big lie, Sisko finds himself falling deeper and deeper into the scheme, crossing more and more lines in his quest to do what he believes is right. The episode thus looks as the concept of moral relativism and the question of whether the ends can in fact justify the means under exceptional circumstances. Sisko was ultimately okay with lying, forging evidence, pitting two powerful factions against one another, and dragging a foreign power into a war that they didn’t need to participate in. He was even content to cover up murders, all in the name of victory for the Federation. As Section 31 would say, sometimes saving the Federation means doing very un-Federation things.

Number 10: The Siege of AR-558 (Season 7)

Nog receives a serious injury in The Siege of AR-558.

Deep Space Nine’s seventh and final season was a war story, and the latter part in particular was one long serialised arc. It can be difficult to pull out single episodes from such a story, but for me, The Siege of AR-558 encapsulates perfectly what the show wanted to say about war.

Directed by Vietnam War veteran Winrich Kolbe, who directed a number of other Star Trek episodes too, The Siege of AR-558 has a claustrophobic feel, no doubt informed by its director’s own experiences. The fact that the planetoid is not even given a proper name adds to the sense of futility, and while there is a good reason to defend the captured position – it hosts an important Dominion communications relay – that hardly matters to the soldiers stationed there.

Nog’s character arc in Deep Space Nine, from petty thief to outstanding officer and war hero, sees major development as he suffers a serious injury. The way Aron Eisenberg approached the role of Nog is commendable, because he took what could have been a one-dimensional minor character, and foil for Jake Sisko, and turned him around into someone we could root for and feel for. Sadly, Eisenberg passed away last year.

The Siege of AR-558 is also a reminder that all wars see small acts of heroism on a regular basis, many of which go unnoticed and unreported. Sisko’s decision to stay and fight is one, Nog’s injury is another, but also we have the soldiers already present on the planetoid – not all of whom survive the episode. These characters show different reactions to life on the front lines, and the episode is much better for their inclusion.

The Siege of AR-558 also gives Ezri Dax something to do away from the station. Ezri was brought in at the beginning of Season 7 to replace Jadzia Dax – who had been killed at the end of the sixth season. Nicole deBoer played her very well in all of her appearances, but with only one season left before the show would end, Ezri didn’t have a lot of time for us to get to know her. Thus her role in an episode like this one, while not the main focus, is important for her character as the season unfolds.

So that’s it. Ten great episodes from Deep Space Nine. I tried to pick a couple of non-war stories to go along with all of the war-themed episodes. There’s more to the show than the war, but war and its associated themes are prevalent throughout the series, even from its opening scene which was set midway through a battle.

There are many other episodes which almost made this list, and Deep Space Nine has some great options to revisit time and again. I’ve seen the Dominion War arc more times than I can count, and even on a repeat viewing the war is still incredibly dramatic, tense, and exciting. For me, “modern” Star Trek began partway through The Next Generation’s run, perhaps around the third season, and Deep Space Nine carried on the trend of modernising the storytelling, taking Star Trek away from its 1960s roots. While some fans of The Original Series may not appreciate that, for me personally it works. I have friends on both sides of the argument of whether the Dominion War arc was a great idea or a terrible one, but again it’s a storyline that worked for me.

As I said last time when looking at The Next Generation, there were many other episodes that I could have chosen for this list. Deep Space Nine can be divided into at least three distinct parts – Seasons 1 and 2, prior to the introduction of the Dominion, Seasons 3-5 before the outbreak of the war, and Seasons 6 and 7 while the war raged. Within that framework there were changes, the two biggest ones being the introduction of Worf in Season 4 and Jadzia Dax being replaced by Ezri at the beginning of Season 7.

While I wouldn’t pick Deep Space Nine to be someone’s first introduction to Star Trek – especially as it hasn’t been remastered – it is nevertheless a great show, and one that takes the franchise to different places both in terms of its static location and thematically. It’s a very interesting part of Star Trek’s history, and one that I hope will be the inspiration for a new series in the future.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD. The Star Trek franchise – including Deep Space Nine and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 2: The Next Generation

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

Welcome back to my series of articles looking at ten great episodes from each of the Star Trek shows. We looked at The Original Series last time, so now it’s The Next Generation’s turn. This is the series which first introduced me to Star Trek in the early 1990s, and it was Capt. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D who really hooked me in and got me invested in this fictional universe. I will always hold The Next Generation in very high regard as a result, and of all the Star Trek shows, it has a special place in my heart.

Plans for a Star Trek series which would have featured a different cast to that led by William Shatner in The Original Series had been kicking around in various forms since at least the mid-1970s. One of the earliest concepts for a new Star Trek film or series, before work on The Motion Picture had begun, was for something set at Starfleet Academy. Buoyed by the success of The Original Series in syndication and of the first three films, Gene Roddenberry began working on a Star Trek spin-off in the mid-1980s. Unlike the films, which mandated a lot of influence from Paramount Pictures, Roddenberry was keen to retain as much creative control over the new show as possible, and kept The Next Generation on a tight leash until ill health forced him to step away from day-to-day work on the show. If you’d like to know more about the creation of The Next Generation there’s a documentary on the subject titled William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge, which was made in 2014. I’ll leave the question of how unbiased and accurate it is up to you!

Star Trek: The Next Generation ran from 1987 to 1994.

While The Next Generation retained much of what had made The Original Series a success, it did change up the formula somewhat, and not all of the changes made were well-received by longstanding fans at the time. As I noted in my article looking at divisions in the fanbase, some Trekkies actively refused to watch The Next Generation when it premiered in 1987, because for them, Capt. Kirk and his crew were the irreplaceable beating heart of Star Trek. While the show was only really controversial in some small fan circles, there was wider concern about its viability. At this point in the history of television, very few series outside of incredibly popular sitcoms and soap operas had ever successfully made spin-offs, so this was uncharted territory. Sir Patrick Stewart, who of course plays Capt. Picard, has gone on record as saying he did not believe the show would be a success, even saying at one point that the only reason he agreed to take on the role was because he expected it to be a one- or two-season commitment at most!

If you didn’t tune in last time, here’s how this format works. This isn’t my all-time “Top Ten”, because a ranked list for a show like The Next Generation comes with a lot of pressure! Instead, this is simply a list of ten episodes which, for a variety of reasons, I think are great and are well worth a watch – especially if you’re finding yourself with plenty of time on your hands at the moment! I’ve picked at least one episode from each of the seven seasons – and there are so many more I wanted to pick! The Next Generation has 176 episodes, so narrowing it down to just ten was a difficult task. There may very well end up being a second round of articles in this series to accommodate some of those great episodes which I couldn’t include this time. The episodes are listed in order of release.

So let’s go ahead and jump into the list – and be aware of spoilers (though do we even need to flag up spoilers for a thirty-three year old series?)

Number 1: Home Soil (Season 1)

Home Soil saw the crew of the Enterprise-D discovery a very unusual form of life.

Gene Roddenberry’s final episode as head writer is actually one of Season 1’s most interesting. Star Trek has always sought to seek out new life – but often that new life ends up looking and sounding remarkably similar to humans! Home Soil completely changes that, showing how the life that may exist beyond Earth could be very different indeed.

I tend to feel that stories like this play very well with a small group of fans – in which I must include myself, of course – but are less well-received in the wider Star Trek fan community. When we look at stories that tried to take very different looks at the kind of “new life” that may exist in the cosmos, they tend to be much more philosophical and ethereal, looking at concepts like how we categorise and qualify “life”, as well as about bridging the huge gulf between ourselves and them and coming to an understanding. We see this in The Motion Picture – and I have an article looking at the 40th anniversary of that film which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Many of the same issues are in play in Home Soil, but on a microscopic scale – The Motion Picture looked at a life-form that was almost the size of a solar system!

Home Soil also has something to say about the environment, particularly how we as humans can be destructive to the habitats of native species. Without meaning to in some cases – or by wilfully ignoring warning signs in others – we can cause damage which could ultimately be to our own detriment. This is a message that is still relevant today! Star Trek has often sought to use its science fiction setting to parallel real-world issues, and this is another good example of that phenomenon.

Number 2: Time Squared (Season 2)

Dr Pulaski in Time Squared.

Are you familiar with the term “jumping the shark”? It refers to the moment where a television series begins to see a major drop in quality with increasingly outlandish plots, and it’s taken from an episode of Happy Days. The opposite is called “growing the beard”, where a series greatly increases in quality, usually in its second season – and that term originates with The Next Generation, taken of course from Commander Riker’s beard, which debuted in Season 2. Just a little television trivia for you!

Season 2 saw changes to The Next Generation’s cast. Dr Crusher was gone, replaced by Dr Pulaski. There were apparently issues with Gates McFadden’s contract which meant she declined to return, and instead Diana Muldaur, who had guest-starred twice in The Original Series, was brought in. Dr Pulaski was an interesting character and I liked her McCoy-esque side which brought a different perspective to things. However, after McFadden agreed to return in the third season, Dr Pulaski was unceremoniously dropped without her departure being acknowledged on screen. Muldaur herself had not particularly enjoyed working on the show, especially after struggling with wearing heavy prosthetic makeup in the episode Unnatural Selection, and it seems that Dr Pulaski had not been as well-received by viewers as the show’s producers had hoped. The second season also saw a couple of cast members shuffled around to their familiar roles. Worf became the Enterprise-D’s security chief and replaced Tasha Yar at tactical. And after a first season without a permanent chief engineer, that role was given to Geordi La Forge, largely removing him from the bridge.

I’ve stated on the blog a number of times that time-travel stories are seldom my favourites because they can be so hard to get right. Time Squared is an exception to this rule, as it sees a time-travelling Picard picked up by the Enterprise-D’s crew. This alternate Picard is from only a few hours in the future, yet is unable to communicate. What is clear, however, is that the Enterprise-D has experienced a major disaster, and this alternate Picard appears to have abandoned ship! Given everything we know about the upstanding captain even at this comparatively early stage in The Next Generation, that seems unfathomable, and the crew work hard to unravel the mystery.

Time Squared also lets us get up close and personal with one of the Enterprise-D’s shuttlecraft. These smaller vessels have been present since The Original Series, and the design used here was used in The Next Generation’s earlier seasons before a larger shuttlecraft design was incorporated. But few episodes show us a shuttecraft in this much detail inside and out, so if you’re as interested in ships and shuttles as I am it’s interesting from that point of view. The fact that the shuttle had to be designed and built in such a way that its interior and exterior could be seen at the same time is also something worth noting, and must have been a challenge for those working on the show.

Number 3: Yesterday’s Enterprise (Season 3)

Yesterday’s Enterprise told the story of what happened to the Enterprise-C.

Season 3 dropped the spandex uniforms and replaced them with the more familiar high-collar variant that would remain in use for the rest of the series. As previously mentioned, this season also saw the return of Dr Crusher and the departure of Dr Pulaski, restoring her to the cast after a one-season break. However, Yesterday’s Enterprise completely changes things up and is set in an alternate timeline, one in which the Federation and Klingons are locked in a bitter war.

Broadcast almost two years before The Undiscovered Country brought the era of The Original Series to a close, there was still a lot left unexplained about the timespan between Capt. Kirk’s adventures and those of the Enterprise-D. One good question was: “what happened to the Enterprise-B and Enterprise-C?”, and this is something that Yesterday’s Enterprise sets out to answer, as well as filling in some of the blanks from those lost years. From that point of view, Yesterday’s Enterprise goes further than almost any other episode of Star Trek to date in exploring that era, and certainly further than any story had by this point in The Next Generation’s run.

Denise Crosby reprises her role as Tasha Yar, the Enterprise-D’s original security chief who’d been killed off toward the end of the first season. I think it’s pretty clear that by this point in the show’s run (and perhaps without many other roles coming her way), Crosby was regretting her decision to leave – and it had been entirely her decision, as she felt that Tasha Yar was not being given enough to do. How she could have come to that conclusion less than halfway through the first season, and knowing that the show would be returning for at least one more is anyone’s guess, but regardless. This alternate timeline version of Tasha Yar would be referenced in future seasons, as Denise Crosby would return to play her daughter, the half-Romulan commander Sela. Sela, by the way, is the one Romulan character I was glad not to see in Star Trek: Picard earlier this year!

The Enterprise-C’s Capt. Rachel Garrett, played by guest-star Tricia O’Neil, makes a great equal for Picard as the two Enterprise captains must work together. Picard’s admission later in the episode that the Federation was on the brink of defeat convinced Capt. Garrett to return the Enterprise-C to her own time, even though she knew doing so would mean sacrificing her life for the cause. The theme of sacrifice has been present in Star Trek before, notably with Spock in The Wrath of Khan, and would be seen again on several more occasions, but the Enterprise-C is a great example of how it can play beautifully in Star Trek.

Number 4: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2 (Seasons 3 & 4)

Commanders Shelby and Riker see the assimilated Picard for the first time in The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.

For many fans, The Best of Both Worlds might just be their favourite episode in The Next Generation. The first part concluded the third season, leaving behind a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, and the second part was broadcast after several long months and brought the story of the Federation’s first Borg invasion to a conclusion. The events of The Best of Both Worlds would be revisited several times: in the fifth-season episode I, Borg, in Emissary, which was the premiere of Deep Space Nine, in the film First Contact, and most recently in Star Trek: Picard, particularly in the episode The Impossible Box – a review of which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Picard’s assimilation by the Borg would go on to be a defining part of his character in these stories and others, and while it didn’t fundamentally change him as a person, it did mean he would suffer from guilt and flashbacks, and when he crossed paths with the Borg again he’d find it hard to remain objective.

The writers of The Next Generation had been planning to introduce the Borg since the show’s first season. Both the neural parasite conspiracy, which took up two episodes of Season 1, and the destruction of Federation colonies near Romulan space seen in the first season finale The Neutral Zone were meant to tie into the Borg’s ultimate introduction in the second season. The neural parasite angle was (fortunately) dropped, and the Borg’s first major attack on the Federation unfolded in an incredibly dramatic fashion. The Best of Both Worlds is really two stories – Picard’s personal battle with the Borg, which includes the efforts to rescue him by the Enterprise-D’s crew, and the wider conflict between the Borg and the Federation, and both aspects are incredibly tense and exciting. The decision for Picard to be captured raised the stakes significantly; no longer was the conflict an abstract one with mostly nameless minor characters threatened, but Picard, who had been the cornerstone of The Next Generation since its premiere, was being held hostage and brainwashed. As much as we as the audience want to see the Borg stopped and Earth saved, we care even more about Picard and ensuring he can be rescued and de-assimilated.

Thanks to many subsequent appearances, particularly with the Hansen family storyline in Voyager and the Enterprise episode Regeneration, the in-universe history of Borg-Federation relations and contact is now a bit of a mess. In the run-up to Star Trek: Picard I looked at the Borg as a faction, including their history, so if you’d like to know more please check out that article by clicking or tapping here. But we have to try to remember to place The Best of Both Worlds in context – this was only the faction’s second appearance in Star Trek, and their first major attempt to attack the Federation. While in some ways the Borg and their modus operandi have become stale thanks to their repeat appearances, this is the first time many of the things we now think of as Borg tropes were seen. Even on a repeat viewing in 2020, the crew of the Enterprise-D first seeing the assimilated Picard on the viewscreen is still incredibly powerful.

The way in which the Borg were ultimately stopped – by Picard breaking through his Borg programming to give Data a message – shows, I think, just how strong Picard can be. And that the Borg could be ultimately defeated by a poorly-guarded computer algorithm definitely has a War of the Worlds vibe – the Martians in that novel were, of course, ultimately defeated by bacteria, which was something tiny and easily-overlooked. The frightening thing about the Borg – beyond their seemingly-invincible vessel that cut through an entire fleet with ease – is that every ally that our heroes lose can be assimilated and turned into another enemy to fight. The Borg are akin to zombies in that respect, and also show us a nightmarish vision of how technology could get out of our control. I wrote an article looking at the Borg as a storytelling element, and I go into much more detail about these points and others in that piece. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Number 5: The Wounded (Season 4)

The Wounded introduced the Cardassians, and was a big episode for Colm Meaney’s character as he prepared for his move to Deep Space Nine.

The Wounded marks the first appearance of the Cardassians, a race we’d become much more familiar with in Deep Space Nine, which had already been conceived at this point. As part of the slow buildup to Deep Space Nine, The Wounded also sees a big expansion in the role of recurring character Miles O’Brien, who had been present on the show since its premiere. Colm Meaney’s character would be transferred to Deep Space Nine when that show kicked off, and this was the second consecutive episode featuring him in a big way as part of fleshing out Chief O’Brien and preparing the character for the sideways move. Along with Data’s Day, Disaster, Power Play, and Rascals, and smaller appearances in other episodes, O’Brien would step up to become a major character in time for Deep Space Nine, and would go on to be the character with the second-highest number of appearances in Star Trek after Worf, who also appeared in both shows.

We get to see Starfleet through a more military lens than usual, as we learn some background to Federation-Cardassian relations. The two sides fought a series of wars along their shared border, which seem to have only recently come to an end. Many people, including O’Brien, still hold bitter feelings toward the Cardassians as a hangover from those war years, and Capt. Maxwell, whom the Enterprise-D is ordered to intercept, seems to be among them. Speaking as we were of The Next Generation establishing background for Deep Space Nine, the introduction of the Cardassians was another big step in that direction, as was the inclusion of border colonies – the foundations for what would become the Maquis storyline can be glimpsed here.

As a very military Star Trek episode, The Wounded is different to many that came before, and is perhaps closer in tone to The Undiscovered Country. The episode also channels the war film Apocalypse Now at points, focusing on a rogue captain heading into enemy territory, his mental health, and the need to stop him from doing too much harm. Just as that film is considered one of modern cinema’s best, so too is The Wounded one of The Next Generation’s, even though it is quite unlike many of the series’ other offerings.

I have a full write-up of The Wounded, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

Number 6: Disaster (Season 5)

Keiko O’Brien and Worf in Disaster.

Disaster would not be a good episode to use to introduce someone new to The Next Generation, as it takes the crew of the Enterprise-D and throws each of them into unfamiliar and difficult situations. For someone familiar with the series, however, this bottle show is absolutely fantastic, giving all of the main cast – and several recurring characters – a chance to shine.

When the Enterprise-D hits a strange anomaly in space, all main power is lost (except, as always, artificial gravity!) and the crew are trapped in whatever areas of the ship they happened to be in at that moment. With none of the main crew members at their posts, and with the ship having suffered serious damage in some sections as a result of the anomaly, the various pairings and groups have to work together, and it’s a great chance for some cast members who don’t often get much time together to interact. Dr Crusher and Geordi are paired up, Counsellor Troi is left as the senior officer on the bridge with Ensign Ro and Chief O’Brien, Worf is in Ten-Forward and must deliver a baby, Riker and Data undertake a dangerous trek to engineering, and Capt. Picard is stuck in a turbolift with a group of frightened children. All of the characters are given their own challenges to overcome, and the episode doesn’t feel like it’s one which belongs to any of them; it’s a true ensemble story with everyone having a role to play.

Almost every season of every Star Trek show ended up having what came to be known as “bottle shows”; episodes which took place wholly on the ship and without bringing in any expensive guest-stars or using too many special effects. These episodes do vary in quality somewhat, but Disaster has to be one of the best. Though it does end up featuring some great special effects – which look especially good in the remastered version – it’s a self-contained story set aboard the ship.

I had previously included this episode on one of my two lists of episodes to watch leading up to the release of Star Trek: Picard, as I felt it was an episode which took the captain out of his comfort zone. Disaster happens to be one of my all-time favourites as well, which isn’t surprising considering it’s on this list!

Number 7: Unification, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 5)

Leonard Nimoy returned as Spock for Unification, a two-part episode.

When considering episodes for this list, both Unification and Relics were major contenders. Both episodes feature a returning cast member from The Original Series: Scotty would be back in Season 6’s Relics, and Unification sees the return of Spock. Both episodes are well worth a watch and I hope to talk more about Relics on another occasion. Unification, Part 1 was the first episode to be broadcast following Gene Roddenberry’s death, and carries a special title card honouring Star Trek’s creator.

Without telling anyone his intentions beforehand – perhaps fearing they’d try to stop him – Spock has travelled to Romulus. This is of course a problem for the Federation, who even fear he may be defecting, and enlist Picard’s help to find out what happened. The episode marks the final appearance of Mark Lenard as Sarek, before the character was recast for the JJverse films and Discovery, bringing to a close a role he’d played in The Original Series, The Animated Series, three films, and a previous episode of The Next Generation. Lenard’s role, while fairly short in the episode itself, was one of the highlights as he gives an amazing performance. The tension between Sarek and Spock has been ongoing since his first appearance in Journey to Babel, and I think it’s one that many audience members can relate to, so seeing his death and Spock’s reaction to it was a continuation of that.

What’s great about Unification for a Trekkie is that brings together elements from different Star Trek stories. Of course there’s the inclusion of Spock, but the episode also harkens back to prior events in The Next Generation – notably Picard’s involvement with the Klingons. It’s an episode which explores both the Romulans and their connection to the Vulcans in far more detail than anything that had come before, and that makes it fantastic to geek out to! Spock’s involvement with the Romulans in Unification also laid the foundations for his appearance in 2009’s Star Trek, and that film’s destruction of Romulus storyline – a plot thread which was later picked up in Star Trek: Picard.

Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock has always been outstanding, and as the first character from The Original Series to cross over with The Next Generation in a major way (Dr McCoy’s appearance in the premiere was little more than a cameo) it goes further than almost any other episode had previously to really tying the two shows together, and succeeds as being an episode that really feels that it was made for fans. The decision to keep The Next Generation largely separate from The Original Series in its first few seasons allowed the show to really stand on its own two feet, and that’s an incredibly positive thing; too many crossovers and callbacks would, I feel, have been to the show’s detriment. But at this point in its run, The Next Generation was on a much more secure footing as one part of a growing franchise and thus the decision to include such a major character as Spock feels justified – and it’s a great story to boot, one which allows Spock to shine.

Number 8: Realm of Fear (Season 6)

Realm of Fear showed us in much more detail what using the transporter feels like.

Lieutenant Barclay is a recurring character we haven’t got to talk about yet, and he’s one of The Next Generation’s most interesting. First introduced in the third season, Dwight Schultz’s character has cropped up a few times since, and would often end up the butt of jokes both for the Enterprise-D’s crew and for the show itself. Realm of Fear is a little different, however, as it gives Barclay agency within the story and the chance to become somewhat of a hero for once.

While investigating a ship whose crew appears to have gone missing, Barclay – who has a phobia of transporters – begins to think he’s losing his mind as he keeps seeing strange shapes inside the transporter beam. After investigating what’s happening, he’s able to save the crew of the stricken ship.

It’s a story that only Barclay could really pull off, because his unique position among the crew of the Enterprise-D as a hypochondriac and as someone with a history of fears and exaggeration lends credence to the idea that Capt. Picard and others would dismiss his report. And in that sense, the episode makes great use of the established character of Barclay – who is played in a wonderfully neurotic way by Schultz.

Realm of Fear takes a deeper look than almost any other episode at the process of using the transporter, and that’s fascinating to me as someone who loves this technology. Star Trek can, at times, fall into the trap of using things like the transporter as a macguffin to drive the plot forward, and thus its in-universe use and status isn’t always consistent. The concept of the transporter, by the way, was an invention of Gene Roddenberry to allow the crew of The Original Series to visit different alien worlds without having to land the Enterprise every time – something he was told would be costly from a special effects point of view. It was thus a cost-saving measure, and while the idea of teleportation is nothing new, Star Trek gives it a uniquely technological spin.

Number 9: The Pegasus (Season 7)

Riker is forced to confront his past – and a former commander – in The Pegasus.

The Pegasus now forms a duology of episodes with the Enterprise series finale These Are The Voyages, which was set during the events of this episode. Whatever one may think of Enterprise’s take on things – and it’s an episode which remains controversial – the original episode from The Next Generation stands on its own two feet and is a fascinating look at Riker’s past, as well as relations between the Federation and Romulans. It also features one of The Next Generation’s best performances by a guest-star, as future Lost star Terry O’Quinn takes on the role of Riker’s former commanding officer.

One valid question within Star Trek is why the Klingons and Romulans have cloaking technology but the Federation do not. It’s shown numerous times across the franchise – from the cloak’s first appearance in Balance of Terror in Season 1 of The Original Series right through to the Klingon war arc in Discovery’s first season – just how useful this technology can be, and how dangerous it can be in enemy hands. The Pegasus attempts to answer this question, by saying that the Federation has refused to develop the technology as a result of a treaty they signed with the Romulans decades before The Next Generation is set. As with other technologies in Star Trek, the cloak can be a bit confused, especially with the prequel shows establishing the existence of the technology before Capt. Kirk made Starfleet’s first encounter with it. My own personal head-canon to get around this is that there are just different types of cloak which the Federation are constantly figuring out how to scan through, and once one type is “cracked”, the Romulans and Klingons have to invent a new kind. Cloaking, despite how we usually see it presented on screen, doesn’t merely render a ship invisible, it must also conceal it from sensors and scans – something crews see on a viewscreen represented by the ship disappearing. But we’re getting off-topic, and none of that is actually canon, just my own thoughts.

In The Pegasus, Riker receives a visit from Admiral Pressman, his former commanding officer. Pressman is looking to track down his old ship, which had been presumed destroyed but had been reported to have been found by the Romulans. Aboard the ship was an experiment that would be illegal under the Federation-Romulan treaty, as under Pressman’s leadership, Starfleet had been working on its own cloaking device.

The episode presents Riker as deeply conflicted between two senior officers. His unwillingness or inability to tell Picard the full truth shows us a depth to his character that we don’t always see a lot of – Picard may be his current commanding officer, friend, and someone he respects, but he has other loyalties too. His decision at the end to tell Picard the truth about what happened aboard the Pegasus, and how he and Pressman barely escaped a mutiny, is an important moment for him and his relationship with Picard.

Number 10: All Good Things… (Season 7, finale)

All Good Things sees the return of Q, and he has a challenge for Picard.

After seven years on the air, The Next Generation finally came to an end in 1994. But All Good Things was less a finale than another instalment, as Star Trek: Generations would be released a mere six months later, kicking off the era of The Next Generation’s crew on the big screen. Indeed, a good deal of the work on Generations took place prior to and alongside All Good Things, and the film would reuse many of the familiar Enterprise-D sets. So in a lot of ways, the episode doesn’t feel like a finale. While it does bookend the series nicely, with Q returning and the action jumping back in time to the Enterprise-D’s first adventure, as the episode’s story draws to a conclusion the ship and crew warp off to their next destination, just as we might expect them to at the end of any other episode. Both of the other finales of this era – Deep Space Nine’s What You Leave Behind and Voyager’s Endgame – are very definite ends, with the story arcs for many characters within those shows wrapping up. All Good Things isn’t like that, largely because the Enterprise-D and its crew would be moving on to their next adventure in short order.

Encounter at Farpoint, the show’s 1987 premiere, introduced Q, the omnipotent quasi-villain who put Picard on trial for the supposed “crimes” of humanity. Q had promised then that his people would be observing Picard on his mission, and he cropped up on several other occasions in The Next Generation. In All Good Things, however, Q makes good on his words from right at the beginning of the series, and gives Picard a time-bending puzzle to solve – one which could result in the destruction of all humanity if he fails!

The puzzle essentially boils down to an understanding of time – is it always linear and moving in a single direction? When Picard finally learns to think outside the box and realises that, in this particular circumstance, events in the future were having an effect on events in the past rather than vice-versa, he’s able to unravel the mystery. Q compliments him on his thinking, and explains that the whole thing was a test to see how humanity was progressing.

So that’s it. Ten great episodes from The Next Generation that are well worth your time – especially if you have more time than usual for entertainment at the moment. I feel that The Next Generation is, in some ways, a series in two parts. The first part, which encompasses the first and second seasons, as well as parts of the third, is very similar to The Original Series in its format. The second part, which was certainly in place by the time of the third season finale, is much closer to modern television storytelling. As plans for Deep Space Nine stepped up a gear, Star Trek edged closer to being a serialised franchise, and with that came recurring themes, factions, characters, and story elements.

The Next Generation was my first encounter with Star Trek some time in the early 1990s. The first episodes I have solid recollections of are The Royale and Who Watches The Watchers from Seasons 2 and 3 respectively; I’m pretty sure I was an avid viewer by about midway through the show’s second season. It was also the first series I began collecting, initially on VHS but later on DVD in the 2000s. On a personal level, the series was a major part of my youth and adolescence, providing entertainment and escapism when I needed it. While I have enjoyed all of the other Star Trek shows, The Next Generation will always be special to me for that reason.

Up next in this series of articles I’ll be looking at ten great episodes from Deep Space Nine, after which I’ll move on to Voyager and then Enterprise, as well as do a “bonus” piece which picks ten episodes from The Animated Series, Discovery, and Short Treks. So I hope you’ll come back to take a look at those over the next few weeks.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 1: The Original Series

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including both Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

This is the first part of a new series of list-articles in which I’ll look at ten great episodes from each of the Star Trek shows (except for Star Trek: Picard, which only has ten episodes in total at this point!) I didn’t want to call it a “Top Ten List”; that comes with a lot of pressure to both choose my all-time favourites as well as how to rank them! Instead, this is a list of “ten great episodes”, and they’re in order of release.

Star Trek – retroactively titled The Original Series to prevent confusion – premiered on American television in 1966. It ran for two seasons, with a third being granted in 1968 following an extensive letter-writing campaign by fans who feared its perpetually low ratings would lead to cancellation. Its third season would be its last, however. It was only when the series was syndicated and rebroadcast in the 1970s that its fanbase grew, leading to both an animated series in 1973 and finally a feature film in 1979. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was actually the culmination of several years’ worth of attempts to bring the franchise back to the small screen, which seem to have kicked off around 1975.

This is the series that spawned all the others, but as the fanbase has grown over time, many self-proclaimed Trekkies aren’t as familiar with The Original Series as they are with the Star Trek shows of the 1990s. For me, The Next Generation was my first encounter with the franchise, and it wasn’t until some time later that I got to see The Original Series. While it is dated by modern standards almost across the board – acting, set design, effects, and even storytelling – it is still worth watching for anyone who wants to see where the franchise began. Given that you may find yourself with time on your hands at the moment, it could be a great time to check out this classic series.

So let’s dive into the list – and be aware that there may be spoilers. (Do spoilers for a fifty-year-old series still need to be flagged?)

Number 1: The Cage (Pilot)

The bridge of the USS Enterprise at the beginning of The Cage’s very first scene.

Star Trek had two pilot episodes, the second of which – Where No Man Has Gone Before – was successful and got picked up for a full season. But before we got to meet William Shatner’s Capt. Kirk and the rest of the crew, Star Trek’s first pilot was rejected by television network NBC. Practically all of the footage shot for The Cage would end up recycled into a two-part episode in Star Trek’s first season, titled The Menagerie, but the episode would not be seen in full on its own until after The Next Generation premiered over twenty years later. It’s rare in television for a rejected series to get a second chance, and there have been many rumours over the years as to exactly how things went down in 1965 leading to the decision to make a second pilot, including that Lucille Ball – famous for her role in the classic 1950s series I Love Lucy, and co-owner of Star Trek’s production company Desilu – intervened on the show’s behalf.

An actor by the name of Jeffrey Hunter took the lead in The Cage as Capt. Christopher Pike – a character most recently portrayed by Anson Mount in Star Trek: Discovery. The USS Enterprise is lured to the planet Talos IV by a faked distress call, and Pike ends up captured by the Talosians – a race capable of using their minds to create illusions indistinguishable from reality.

Even in its remastered form, The Cage is janky and dated by today’s standards. With the general exception of Jeffrey Hunter, most of the performances are very much of their time – which is to say not particularly convincing. Acting has come a long way since the mid-1960s, and there’s a lot to be said for how much better, in general, the quality of acting performances are today than they were back then. Many aspects of the episode’s visual design are also not what you’d expect from a show made today. The indoor sound stage which was used to represent the surface of Talos IV is obviously artificial, as are the papier-mΓ’chΓ© and polystyrene “rocks” and “mountains” which form the landscape of the planet. There are also some outdated references – at one point, Capt. Pike says he can’t get used to the idea of “a woman on the bridge” of his starship. But this was the reality of storytelling at the time, and for all of its flaws by today’s standards, this is where Star Trek began.

I’d argue that very few television series begin with a pilot that ends up being one of the best episodes overall. Shows take time to find their feet, for cast members to get to know each other and develop chemistry, and for writers and production staff to get into a rhythm. The Cage is our first introduction to all of the Enterprise’s crew, and with the exception of Spock, we wouldn’t see any of them return in a meaningful way until the second season of Star Trek: Discovery just last year reintroduced Capt. Pike and Number One. Those recast characters are so far removed from their origins in The Cage that they’re halfway to being new characters altogether, but we’re getting off the subject. The Cage in some ways contradicts or at least undermines some elements that would come later in Star Trek as its first season rolled out. For example, Spock behaves in an altogether different way to his usual cold and logical self. The one consistent character in both The Cage and Star Trek’s first season is actually inconsistent in his characterisation. Seeing Spock showing such emotion and behaving in a manner that is so human can be a jolt – so be prepared!

Number 2: Court Martial (Season 1)

Lawyer Samuel T. Cogley meets with his client, Capt. Kirk, in Court Martial.

Of all the first-season episodes which deal with Kirk, I feel none are quite so influential as Court Martial. By this point in its run, Star Trek was finding its feet. The core trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was developing, and the Enterprise had a handful of adventures under its belt that had set the tone for the show. Kirk had been established as a caring commander, someone who would bend the rules for the sake of his ship and crew, but never for himself. So when we see him accused of negligence, manslaughter, and ultimately murder, and trying to cover his tracks to save his own neck, we know enough about the Enterprise’s captain to know this can’t be true!

The Star Trek franchise has some great episodes featuring courtroom drama. There was The Measure of a Man and The Drumhead from the second and fifth seasons respectively of The Next Generation, Rules of Engagement from Deep Space Nine’s fourth season, Death Wish from Voyager’s second season, and even a sequence at the end of Battle at the Binary Stars, which was the second half of Discovery’s premiere. All of these episodes, and others not mentioned, owe a lot to Court Martial for establishing courtroom drama as one thing that Star Trek can do exceptionally well. As an aside, I recently re-watched The Measure of a Man during Star Trek: Picard’s first season, and you can see the resulting article by clicking or tapping here.

Court Martial also makes good on the original pitch of Star Trek as being a “wagon train to the stars” – i.e. a western-inspired series. Old country lawyer Samuel T. Cogley – based, undoubtedly, on famed American lawyer Clarence Darrow – steps up to defend Kirk in what seems to be an open-and-shut case against him. The roles of Cogley and Dr McCoy in Court Martial would be just as at home in one of the many westerns of the time which Star Trek was influenced by. While the concept of an old country lawyer can hardly be called unique to the Star Trek franchise, Cogley has become somewhat of a cult character, with homage and parody paid to him in shows like Futurama.

Number 3: Space Seed (Season 1)

Space Seed sees the crew of the USS Enterprise tangle with Khan for the first time.

Khan would later become far more famous – and arguably a cultural icon – from his appearance in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. But Ricardo MontalbΓ‘n’s character debuted in Space Seed during Star Trek’s first season. One of the great things about The Wrath of Khan as a story is that it doesn’t make this episode essential viewing in order to follow the plot; it was, after all, released years before home video was commonplace. However, if you’re a Wrath of Khan fan who hasn’t seen the episode, or if you simply haven’t seen it in a long time, it does provide great background to the film.

In the far future – by 1960s standards – of the 1990s, a tyrant by the name of Khan would arise on Earth. Precisely how seems to have been lost to history, but Khan and his followers were genetically engineered and considered themselves to be super-human. After a conflict known as the Eugenics Wars, Khan was defeated, but he and some of his followers secretly fled into space, where they remained in stasis… until Capt. Kirk and the Enterprise crew discovered them!

Our understanding of Khan as a villain is largely based on his second appearance in the franchise, which, as already mentioned, can be taken as a standalone story. However, many of the elements that would be developed further in The Wrath of Khan are on display here, and this is where Khan’s rivalry with Kirk began. One element from the film is that Khan had a wife – her death is part of the reason he’s so angry with Kirk. While it has never been confirmed on screen, Enterprise crewman Marla McGivers is a solid candidate for who it could be. She was set to be included in The Wrath of Khan, but sadly actress Madlyn Rhue was ill with multiple sclerosis by 1982 and her character was written out of the film and not recast.

Number 4: The Doomsday Machine (Season 2)

In The Doomsday Machine, Commodore Decker is the sole survivor aboard the USS Constellation.

Season 2 is where Star Trek really hit its stride. At least in my opinion, most of the best episodes come from this season, which improved on Season 1 and came before the reduction in the series’ budget which contributed to a generally lacklustre third season. Though it can be hard to name an “all-time favourite episode”, The Doomsday Machine is definitely a contender for that title.

A thinly-veiled analogy for the issue of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War – which spills over at the end of the episode into in-your-face social commentary – The Doomsday Machine is a fascinating piece of television history, and a great example of how the Star Trek franchise can use its science-fiction setting to draw attention to real-world issues. When the episode premiered in October 1967, it was almost exactly five years to the day since the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world as close as it arguably ever came to nuclear armageddon. Thus any examination of the episode has to understand its place in time. The Cold War was still rumbling on, with the Vietnam War approaching its apex. Practically everyone watching in 1967 would have vivid memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and even younger viewers would be acutely aware of the threat of nuclear war, as civil defence was taught to all schoolchildren in this period. While we may look back at it now as something rather dated, in its time, The Doomsday Machine was relevant social commentary.

But analogy and commentary alone do not make for entertaining television – and can, in some cases, detract from it. So what makes The Doomsday Machine such a standout episode is that floating atop the deeper meaning is an engrossing story. Commodore Decker is introduced as a broken officer, who had commanded the USS Constellation, a sister-ship to the Enterprise, when it encountered a plant-killing superweapon. With the ship damaged, Decker evacuated his crew to a nearby planet, only for the planet-killer to destroy it and kill them all. Devastated and clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress, Decker becomes obsessed with revenge – channelling Capt. Ahab from Moby-Dick – and tries to take down the planet-killer, even if it means putting the Enterprise in danger.

William Windom, who plays Decker, carries large parts of the episode in a way most guest stars don’t, even in more modern shows. His performance was inspired and riveting, and the raw emotion Decker is feeling at the loss of his crew plays exceptionally well against Spock’s cool, logical persona in particular.

Number 5: Journey to Babel (Season 2)

Sarek arrives aboard the Enterprise in Journey to Babel, and is greeted by Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy.

Journey to Babel introduced Sarek, who would become a recurring character in the franchise. Meeting Spock’s father, and seeing the cool, logical tension between them is, in a curious way, relatable to many of us in the audience. Mark Lenard, who took on the role, had previously played the unnamed Romulan commander in the first season episode Balance of Terror, which didn’t make this list but is itself well worth a watch as it introduces the Romulans for the first time.

The episode gives some fascinating backstory to the Federation itself, which would be built up much more in Star Trek: Enterprise in particular. We meet the other core races who founded the Federation along with humans and Vulcans: the Tellaraites and Andorians. Both species have cropped up at various points in other iterations of the franchise.

There are two story elements at play – the aforementioned family drama between Spock and his father, and a murder mystery which threatens the peace between the Federation’s races, in which Sarek is a suspect. Both stories are intertwined perfectly, making Journey to Babel tense and dramatic throughout. While father and son don’t exactly resolve their differences, the intervention of Dr McCoy using Spock’s blood to save Sarek’s life does go some way to improving things between them, at least for a time.

Number 6: The Trouble With Tribbles (Season 2)

This scene from The Trouble With Tribbles is arguably one of the most famous in all of Star Trek!

When fans and non-fans alike think about The Original Series – and the Star Trek franchise in general – one of the episodes that often springs to mind is The Trouble With Tribbles. The episode has become synonymous with the series in our broader cultural imagination in some ways, and while many people would struggle to think of any other story from The Original Series, I bet most people could recall The Trouble With Tribbles.

The little furry creatures have themselves become an inseparable part of the franchise – up there, I would absolutely argue, with the Borg and the Klingons as something that people inherently associate with Star Trek. That’s probably helped by their cute appearance and gentle purring noise – they’re like round, faceless cats!

The Star Trek franchise has itself leaned into this cultural trope. For its 30th anniversary in 1996, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine released a groundbreaking episode – Trials and Tribble-ations – using footage from the original episode with the Deep Space Nine cast creatively worked in. This technology was pioneered in the film Forrest Gump a couple of years earlier, but it was the first time it had been used on television, and the budget for Trials and Tribble-ations was sky-high as a result. More recently, Tribbles have featured in the Short Treks episode The Trouble With Edward. If you can find a copy – Short Treks is currently unavailable outside of the United States – it’s absolutely hilarious and well worth a watch.

In The Trouble With Tribbles, Capt. Kirk and his crew visit a space station which is holding a vital shipment of grain destined for a planet that both the Federation and Klingons want to control. In the midst of it all, a rogue trader has arrived at the station with, among other things, Tribbles for sale. Several crew members are immediately taken with the cute critters, but with a mystery to unravel and Klingons to outwit, Kirk has his work cut out for him! This is Star Trek at its best, blending different genres together and with a healthy side of humour to boot. No wonder the episode has become so famous.

Number 7: The Ultimate Computer (Season 2)

Dr Richard Daystrom introduces Dr McCoy, Spock, and Kirk to the M-5 Multitronic Unit in The Ultimate Computer.

The Ultimate Computer was, in many ways, a story ahead of its time. The idea of rogue artificial intelligence has become more common in sci-fi since 1968, and of course is a real-world concern too, being discussed even by the likes of (Star Trek: The Next Generation guest star) Stephen Hawking. The Star Trek franchise has used this concept to great effect with the Borg in particular – you can see my thoughts on the Borg as a story element by clicking or tapping here. It’s also been explored in great detail in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season with the Control AI, and of course in Star Trek: Picard’s first season with the rogue synths.

Star Trek: Discovery came closest to channelling The Ultimate Computer at points in its second season storyline, and the fact that the concept is just as interesting and frightening today as it was in 1968 makes this episode a great watch. Unlike some episodes of The Original Series, which can feel very dated, in that sense it is oddly timeless. Our collective fear as a species of out-of-control AI is one that is still present, arguably even more so today than when The Ultimate Computer premiered.

The episode also features one of Star Trek’s best guest performances by actor William Marshall, who took on the role of computer scientist Dr Richard Daystrom. Marshall’s role is another great example from Season 2 of Star Trek using its futuristic setting to address real-world issues – in this case, the issue of race. While Uhura had been a constant presence on the show since its second pilot, and Star Trek had already been in many ways groundbreaking in the way it dealt with black Americans in particular, Dr Richard Daystrom is yet another middle finger to the newly-desegregated Southern states, showing an incredibly intelligent engineer working in the future – who happened to be black. There was nothing in-your-face about it, no monologues to the camera or wry remarks by Kirk and the crew, simply the presence of a black man in a senior position being treated as normal and commonplace. It absolutely is those things today – or at least it should be – but in the 1960s race relations in parts of America were still very complicated.

Dr Daystrom’s legacy lives on within the Star Trek franchise, as he’s the namesake of the Daystrom Institute. This organisation was first mentioned in The Next Generation, and has recently appeared in Star Trek: Picard.

One thing that many fans don’t realise is that James Doohan was an accomplished voice actor. In The Animated Series he would often be called upon to voice guest characters, and in fact his Scottish accent was not his normal speaking voice; Doohan was Canadian. In The Ultimate Computer, he lends his voice to the M-5 Multitronic Unit.

Number 8: Spock’s Brain (Season 3)

In Spock’s Brain, Dr McCoy must tend to a brainless Spock.

Let’s be frank for a moment – Spoack’s Brain could well be the worst episode of The Original Series. Both in terms of its premise and the way it was executed, the third season’s premiere was poor. But amongst the wreckage of the story are some unintentionally hilarious moments, and the episode is well worth watching for that alone. In that sense, it’s akin to a classic B-movie.

If all of Star Trek had been on the level of Spock’s Brain, it would never have lasted even one season, let alone been renewed for an animated series, films, and spin-offs which now span more than half a century! But despite that, it’s worth coming back to episodes like this to see what The Original Series was beyond the familiar elements like starships and Klingons. Aside from the first couple of seasons of The Next Generation, which followed a similar format to The Original Series in many respects, episodes like Spock’s Brain aren’t made any more, and haven’t been since the dawn of the 1990s.

The episode aims to be a kind of sci-fi concept, looking at both the potential for technological dependence and how advances in medical technology could lead to things like brain transplants. But neither of these story elements landed, and it’s not without reason that the Star Trek franchise has never revisited Sigma Draconis VI.

Number 9: The Tholian Web (Season 3)

Caught between parallel universes in The Tholian Web, the USS Defiant glows an eerie green on the Enterprise’s viewscreen.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen The Tholian Web’s USS Defiant crop up in both Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery, but I feel that The Tholian Web is one of the third season’s high points. Many stories in The Original Series are unique to this show in the sense that they wouldn’t translate well to other iterations of the franchise, but The Tholian Web absolutely would be at home in any other Star Trek show.

The Tholian Web is a space story first and foremost, and it brings to bear some elements from the claustrophobic war films of the 1940s and 1950s, particularly those set at sea and on submarines. The USS Defiant – a sister-ship to the USS Enterprise – is adrift and caught between two parallel universes, and Kirk and the crew are called to investigate. The Tholians – a race who resemble insects – intervene, trying to claim both the USS Defiant and this region of space for themselves.

Despite being inspired by war films, The Tholian Web is pure space-based science fiction in a way that many episodes of Star Trek arguably are not, especially in the third season. The drama and tension come from an extraterrestrial race and the concept of an alternate dimension, both key elements in sci-fi. In that sense, and combined with its ties to more recent iterations of the franchise, The Tholian Web could be a great introduction for someone wholly new to The Original Series but familiar with other Star Trek series. As an episode which makes extensive use of sets normally used for the USS Enterprise, The Tholian Web is one of Star Trek’s famous “bottle shows”.

Number 10: Whom Gods Destroy (Season 3)

Having been locked up in the Elba II asylum, in Whom Gods Destroy Garth of Izar attempts to commandeer the Enterprise.

Depictions of mental health on television have, in some ways, changed over the years. The presentation of mentally ill people as being dangerous and criminal was commonplace in the 1960s and earlier, as our understanding of mental illness was poor. The Star Trek franchise still has issues in the way it presents mental health – look at my thoughts on the Star Trek: Picard episode The End is the Beginning for how stereotypes and tired clichΓ©s are still present, or the portrayal of the genetically-engineered characters in the Deep Space Nine duology of episodes Statistical Probabilities and Chrysalis – but overall, audiences today have a better understanding of mental illness and thus, the way it is presented has evolved.

Whom Gods Destroy is, in some ways, a product of its time. However, what it does is introduce hope – hope that in the future, mental illnesses can be cured even in the most extreme cases. This kind of hopeful narrative is exactly what Gene Roddenberry wanted to use Star Trek to explore. His vision of the 23rd Century was one where humanity was working hard to overcome all manner of problems, and Whom Gods Destroy looks at how there may yet be hope for curing severely ill patients, which I feel is a positive message, even if the portrayal of Garth of Izar and the other Elba II inmates is very much dated.

The character of Garth of Izar is interesting, and the episode teases fans with some hints at Starfleet’s history prior to Capt. Kirk’s five-year mission. Kirk himself says that Garth’s exploits were required reading during his time as a cadet. As of 2020, Garth has yet to make another appearance, despite the era of Star Trek: Discovery potentially crossing over with the time he was an active officer in the fleet. However, a fan project titled Star Trek Axanar will take its own look at the character and the decisive Battle of Axanar when it eventually premieres. This project has been controversial in some Star Trek fan circles, but the passion of those behind it is unquestionable, and it will bring back several actors from past iterations of the franchise.

So that’s it. Ten great episodes from The Original Series that are well worth a first or second look. Many of the episodes I’ve chosen are closer to other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, but The Original Series also featured many episodes which looked at settings and concepts that future Star Trek shows would generally not touch, simply because television storytelling and science fiction in general had moved on in the intervening years.

When we consider the incredibly large and broad question of “what is Star Trek?”, for many fans The Original Series is the answer. It’s episodic television, with influences from westerns, World War II films, and other mid-century dramas. It’s also quite different, both in the way it looks and the way it’s presented, from much of what would come later. Whether that’s something you like or dislike is something personal and subjective, of course, and I’m not passing a judgement either way. These aren’t episodes which I’m saying are “objectively the best”, nor even are these my top ten favourites. To reiterate what I said at the beginning, these are simply ten great episodes that, for various reasons, are worth your time.

Stay tuned for more in this series of articles over the next few weeks. I will take a look at The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, and pick ten great episodes from each of those series as well. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’ll hear a solid release date for the third season of Discovery, too, and when we do I’ll be taking a look at each of those episodes as they’re released. In short, there’s much more Star Trek content to come here on the blog!

Star Trek: The Original Series is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Inappropriate things to watch while self-isolating

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have been suggested, requested, or outright forced into self-isolation as a result of coronavirus. I’m one of the people you’re keeping safe by self-isolating – I have a fairly complicated set of health issues, several of which tick the boxes for putting me at greater risk from the illness. So thank you for helping to keep me safe, I appreciate it!

But being stuck at home is awful if you aren’t used to it, so as a way of saying thanks for staying indoors and limiting the spread of this disease, here are a few television series and films that would make for highly inappropriate quarantine viewing.

Spoiler Warning: There may be spoilers ahead for the titles on this list. If you haven’t seen one and want to be certain of avoiding spoilers, skip ahead to the next entry just to be safe.

Film #1: Contagion (2011)

Bodies being buried in mass graves in Contagion.

Contagion takes a realistic approach to a global pandemic, focusing on the doctors and scientists leading the response and trying to find a cure. It demonstrates how a pandemic can easily get out of control, and how those tasked with leading the response can be just as in the dark as everyone else in the early stages of an outbreak. There’s a great performance from Lawrence Fishburne in particular.

Film #2: I Am Legend (2007)

Will Smith in I Am Legend.

A scientist attempting to find a cure for cancer accidentally releases a pathogen which kills more than 90% of the world’s population and turns almost all of the rest into zombie-like creatures. Dedicated to his research, he stays in an eerily abandoned New York City trying to reverse the effects. I Am Legend is, in parts, a very emotional film, and its ending, while deliberately ambiguous, seems to suggest that the zombies were a lot more “human” than they were given credit for.

Film #3: 28 Days Later (2002)

London is deserted in 28 Days Later.

A man wakes up from a coma in a hospital to find it deserted and the world outside ravaged by zombies. No, this isn’t television’s The Walking Dead, but it’s 28 Days Later, a film directed by Danny Boyle. Set in the UK in the aftermath of a virus called “rage” that turns people into living zombies, a small group of survivors look to escape London and find safety.

Film #4: World War Z (2013)

Brad Pitt in World War Z.

This Brad Pitt-led film gets somewhat of a bad rap, perhaps because it was so different from its source material. As a zombie infection begins to spread, a scientist must travel across the world in search of a cure. Things get progressively worse as society collapses around him.

Film #5: The Road (2009)

Father and son share a drink in The Road.

Not specifically about a virus – though that could perhaps be the cause of The Road’s unspecified disaster – this film focuses on a father and son as they try to survive in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. A strongly character-driven story looking at a dark, gritty post-apocalyptic environment where people will do anything to survive, it’s a fascinating, if depressing, film.

Film #6: The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson in one of cinema’s most iconic scenes.

What better to watch when stuck in place with no one to talk to than a film about a man being driven insane by being stuck in place with no one to talk to? This adaptation of the Steven King novel is a classic, and one of Jack Nicholson’s most legendary performances. It recently spawned a sequel – Doctor Sleep – but that film didn’t seem to have recaptured the magic.

Film #7: The Purge (2013)

Masked attackers terrorise a family in The Purge.

If you want to torture yourself with fears about being burgled and having your home broken into in these days of a supposedly limited police response to what they deem “less-important” crimes, why not check out 2013’s The Purge? In an America which has solved crime by legalising crimes for one night of the year, the film sees a family hunker down in their home as criminals try to break in. Can they survive the night?

Film #8: The Hole (2001)

Teenagers trapped underground in The Hole.

A group of teenagers end up locked in an underground bunker after a party goes wrong. They begin to run out of food and medicine while trapped, unable to leave the “hole” – they should’ve stockpiled toilet paper and pasta. A deeply claustrophobic film, The Hole is perfect quarantine viewing!

Television series #1: Survivors (2008)

Abby wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world in Survivors.

A small group of people must survive in a post-apocalyptic UK, after a disease has ravaged the world and killed the vast majority of the population. The disparate group must pull together to overcome obstacles in the world the virus has left behind, and contend with people who become incredibly selfish in the face of survival. As a show that examines the duality of human nature in the face of disaster, Survivors is a fascinating look at the post-apocalypse.

Television series #2: The Andromeda Strain (2008)

A dead body in The Andromeda Strain.

A loose adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, The Andromeda Strain is a miniseries which looks at a disease that comes from space – an extraterrestrial microbe. Naturally humanity has no immunity or resistance to the infection, as it comes from space, and it quickly spreads through an American town. Primarily focused on the government response, the miniseries looks at how a situation can spiral out of control.

Television series #3: The Last Ship (2014)

The USS Nathan James in The Last Ship.

This show made my list of the top ten shows of the 2010s a few months ago, and for good reason. It’s a fascinating look at survival and rebuilding in a global pandemic. The action is focused on the crew of the USS Nathan James, a US Navy ship which is tasked with researching and curing a disease called the “red flu”. During Season 1, it becomes clear to the crew that the virus is far worse than they imagined and that society is on the precipice of collapse. Along with lone virologist Dr Rachel Scott, Capt. Chandler and his crew race to find a cure before it’s too late for humanity’s remaining survivors, but they must contend with a Russian ship which is also researching the disease. Later seasons introduce other antagonists, like the crew of a rogue submarine and pirates in East Asia, and look at how American society is slowly being rebuilt.

Television series #4: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak (2019)

Title card for Pandemic.

I actually have a review for this series already posted on the blog – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. A documentary looking at various aspects of pandemic prevention, including attempts to synthesise a general cure for all kinds of flu, Pandemic is an interesting look at its subject matter – if somewhat politically slanted and limited by its focus on specific individuals. It attempts to be a broad overview of the subject matter, and although an incomplete picture, it is genuinely interesting.

Television series #5: The Stand (1994)

Gary Sinise in The Stand.

Based on a Steven King novel, this miniseries looks at the accidental release of a biological weapon based on influenza, which is rapidly spread across the United States. The disease has a massive death toll, leaving only a few survivors worldwide. The miniseries featured some great performances from actors who either were big stars already or who would go on to find further fame later on, like Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, and Molly Ringwald.

Television series #6: Helix (2015)

Promotional image for Helix.

Helix is one of those shows that starts off great but gets progressively worse as its story progresses. At a remote research station in the Arctic, a disease has infected a number of scientists and workers. A team from the CDC is dispatched to bring the infection under control, and the plot then spirals into a zombie story, a family drama, and a global conspiracy of silver-eyed immortals. Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager) guest stars, and the cast is led by Star Trek: The Next Generation guest star William O. Campbell.

Television series #7: The Strain (2014)

One of The Strain’s vampires.

The way this vampire story unfolds – particularly in its first few episodes – focuses very much on how the infection spreads from one “master” vampire to everyone else. Focusing on a CDC doctor in New York City, this show has a great cast – including David Bradley, whose performance is outstanding – and is a fun bit of fantasy-horror in a modern setting.

Television series #8: Twelve Monkeys (2015)

Title card for Twelve Monkeys.

Based on a film from the 1990s, Twelve Monkeys is a time-travel series that starts off with a fascinating premise: a man must travel to the present day from a future where a deliberately-released disease has killed off most of humanity. Over the course of the first season, the time-traveller unites with a doctor from our time to track down the source of the virus. Later seasons go off the rails and stop looking at the disease, focusing on a conspiracy to destroy time itself(?) at which point I stopped watching. But the first season in particular is outstanding and thoroughly worth a watch.

Video game #1: The Last Of Us (2013)

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

Another one of my top tens of the 2010s, this time in the video games category, The Last Of Us is essentially a road trip that sees a man escort a young girl across America, twenty years after a fungus-based disease brought down society. In a few secure locations, some semblance of the American government still exists, but for the most part it’s everyone for themselves out in the wilderness. There are some beautiful locations for players to explore – even though the game was released on last generation’s PlayStation 3. And not to spoil anything, but the final act of the game is incredibly emotional and a great example of a videogame telling a story that would be just as at home on the big or small screen.

Video game #2: Plague Inc. (2012)

Promotional screenshot for Plague Inc.

Now available for PC, this game started on smartphones just at the right time, when phones were taking off and becoming a legitimate gaming platform. Rather than taking on the role of humans facing a disease, Plague Inc. sees players take on the role of the disease itself. There are various types from viruses to bacteria to fungal spores, and diseases must be upgraded in order to achieve the goal of wiping out humanity. Striking the right balance between being sufficiently contagious, able to remain undetected, severe enough to cause mass deaths, and able to adapt to and outsmart human researchers is no easy challenge – so be prepared for a lot of defeats before you’re finally able to get your version of coronavirus to kill everyone.

Star Trek has looked at diseases, quarantines, and issues surrounding isolation at many points in its history, so as an addendum to the main list, here are a few episodes from various iterations of the Star Trek franchise which would also make for inappropriate self-isolation viewing!

Star Trek episode #1: The Conscience of the King (The Original Series, 1966)

Kirk must solve the riddle of this man’s identity.

Years before he assumed command of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk was resident on a colony which ran out of food. In an attempt to save lives, the colony’s governor condemned half of the population to death so that the remaining food could be rationed among the other half – those he deemed worthy of survival. When a man beams aboard the Enterprise who may be the tyrannical governor, Kirk must put the pieces together.

Star Trek episode #2: The Deadly Years (The Original Series, 1967)

A terrified Chekov in The Deadly Years.

Several senior Enterprise crew members are afflicted with a disease which causes rapid ageing. Dr McCoy and his medical staff must try to find a cure – before it’s too late! Not even Spock is immune, and it seems as though the ship and its entire crew are in danger.

Star Trek episode #3: Starship Mine (The Next Generation, 1993)

Picard talks to the mercenaries in Starship Mine.

Trapped alone aboard a deserted Enterprise-D, Picard must contend with intruders set on stealing a byproduct of the ship’s warp drive. Without any of his friends or crew to help, Picard must outsmart the mercenaries using only what he can find on the deserted ship. Starship Mine is actually one of my favourite episodes of The Next Generation.

Star Trek episode #4: Genesis (The Next Generation, 1994)

Barclay attempts to diagnose himself, kicking off the events of Genesis.

An attempt to cure a case of the flu goes horribly wrong, resulting in the “de-evolution” of the Enterprise-D’s crew into various inhuman monsters. Picard and the immune Data must synthesise an antidote before it’s too late!

Star Trek episode #5: Armageddon Game (Deep Space Nine, 1994)

Chief O’Brien is in a bad way in Armageddon Game.

Infected with a biological weapon, O’Brien is dying and trapped in hostile territory with Dr Bashir. This episode would mark a major milestone in the friendship of these two characters, whose relationship would be a significant factor in later seasons of Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek episode #6: The Quickening (Deep Space Nine, 1996)

Dax and Bashir work on a cure.

The Dominion used a biological weapon (the titular “quickening”) to punish a wayward planet. Dr Bashir attempts to find a cure for the disease, which can cause rapid death, in an episode which was an interesting look at how doctors cope with an “unwinnable” situation.

Star Trek episode #7: Phage (Voyager, 1995)

Tom Paris and The Doctor work to help Neelix in Phage.

Voyager encounters the Vidiians, a species suffering from a centuries-long plague which causes their bodies to rot. They survive by becoming pirates, capturing others and stealing body parts to replace their own disease-ravaged ones. The Phage would crop up several times in Voyager, and despite the best efforts of the crew they never managed to find a cure.

Star Trek episode #8: Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2 (Voyager, 1997)

The USS Voyager suffers extensive damage in the two-part episode Year of Hell.

A time-travel story in which the Voyager crew see their ship constantly attacked and running out of energy and resources. Crew members die and become maimed, the ship falls apart and whole sections become uninhabitable, and resources dwindle to the point where Capt. Janeway gives the order to abandon ship.

Star Trek episode #9: A Night in Sickbay (Enterprise, 2002)

Porthos in A Night In Sickbay.

Capt. Archer’s beloved pet dog becomes ill with an alien virus, and he spends a tense night in sickbay with Dr Phlox as they wait to see whether Porthos will pull through. A Night in Sickbay is a surprisingly emotional episode that any pet owner can relate to.

Star Trek episode #10: Observer Effect (Enterprise, 2005)

Sato and Tucker suffering from the effects of a virus.

Sato and Tucker are infected with a silicon-based virus in this Enterprise episode, while the crew are being observed by a noncorporeal race who want to see if they can figure out a cure in time. Observer Effect served as a semi-prequel to The Original Series episode Errand of Mercy, featuring the same alien race.

So that’s it. I hope we can all stay safe and well during these strange times, and if you are told to stay at home please follow the instructions of the authorities in your local area. I know it can be frustrating and that “cabin fever” is a real sensation, but if we all comply we’ll all come out the other side and life can get back to normal.

Staying at home isn’t just for your own selfish benefit – it helps people like me, who have health issues and would be more likely to suffer complications from coronavirus. It also helps doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers to not become overwhelmed with tens of thousands of cases all at once. I’ve seen lots of people, including in some major national newspapers, arguing that because coronavirus is “not that bad” that everyone should just carry on as normal. And while we should all certainly be avoiding panic-buying, things cannot carry on as normal, at least not in the short-term. By staying in, avoiding as much contact with people as possible, and maintaining a high level of hygiene, we can slow the spread of the disease which will relieve the pressure on hospitals and allow more time for the development of a vaccine. Staying at home isn’t actually all that difficult, especially with YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, digital videogame platforms, hundreds of television channels, and the entire internet providing us with so much to do.

If none of the shows, films, or episodes I’ve semi-jokingly listed seem like something you’re interested in, then stay tuned because I’ll be bringing you more lists and reviews of things to watch while you’re stuck indoors. Once again, I urge all of my readers to follow local advice and requirements, and do what you’re told to avoid making things worse and inadvertently spreading this nasty disease to others.

Stay safe everyone!

All episodes, games, television series, and films listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, publishers, distributors, producers, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.