Should Discovery have always been set after Nemesis?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Prodigy.

In 2017, Star Trek returned to the small screen after a twelve-year break. Star Trek: Discovery picked up the baton for the long-running franchise, and thanks in part to a deal with Netflix, scored a decently high budget for its first season. Bryan Fuller, who had written and produced a number of episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, initially spearheaded the project, and it was on his stories and ideas that the show’s characters, story arcs, and settings were based – even though he stopped working on the show while it was still in early production.

Discovery proved controversial in some corners of the Star Trek fan community right from the start, and today I want to consider one of the reasons why that was the case. In addition, I want to ask a deceptively simple set of questions: should Star Trek: Discovery have left the 23rd Century alone? Would the show have been better-received by fans, and won more support, if it had been set after the events of Nemesis instead of a decade before The Original Series? Would fans have found things to pick on and argue about anyway? Was Discovery’s setting in its first two seasons a net positive, negative, or something mixed for the show? And did sending the ship and crew into the far future at the end of Season 2 come as a tacit admission from the producers and showrunners that Discovery should never have been set in the 23rd Century to begin with?

The first glimpse fans caught of the USS Discovery in a 2016 teaser.

Before we go any further, a few important caveats. This is a controversial topic; Discovery elicits strong opinions from fans on both sides of the debate. The fact that we’re considering, hypothetically, whether Discovery might’ve been a better show – or might’ve been received with less hostility by fans – had it employed a different setting doesn’t mean it’s a perfect idea that would’ve massively improved its first two seasons. Regular readers will know that I’m a Discovery fan not a hater; while there are areas where the show could improve, generally I like and support it and I’m glad to have it as part of the broader Star Trek franchise.

Secondly, these are just the subjective thoughts of one person. I’m not trying to claim that I’m right and that’s the end of the affair! Other folks can and will have different opinions – and that’s okay! There’s room enough within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussion and disagreement.

Finally, I’m not trying to attack Discovery, nor any of the creative team, actors, or those involved in its production. This is a thought experiment; a hypothetical question to consider what Discovery – and the wider Star Trek franchise – might have looked like if different decisions had been taken at a very early stage.

Behind the scenes during production on Discovery Season 1.

First of all, let’s consider some of the arguments and points of contention. By deliberately choosing a setting ten years before the events of The Original Series, Discovery ran into some issues with Star Trek’s internal canon. Some of these points matter far more than others, and I tend to take a somewhat nuanced approach to canon. I’m not a “purist,” claiming that the tiniest minutiae of canon must be “respected” at all costs – but at the same time, I believe that the world of Star Trek needs to be basically internally consistent. Internal consistency is the foundation of suspension of disbelief, and messing too much with established canon can, in some circumstances, be to the detriment of a story.

Is that what happened with Discovery, though?

We can set aside arguments about aesthetic elements like uniforms, starship designs, and even special effects. To me, none of those things are relevant, and all that’s necessary to overcome those hurdles is to say that, much like out here in the real world, things like design, fashion, etc. are always changing. Who’s to say that the look of the 2260s wouldn’t be radically different from the 2250s? Considering that there have been leaps and bounds in visual effects, CGI, and cinematography since The Original Series aired, it would be profoundly odd for Discovery to have tried to emulate that 1960s style.

I don’t think anyone seriously wanted or expected Discovery to use this particular look!

So I’m content to put visual style to one side. But there are other elements of canon that the show arguably stumbled over in its first two seasons. The biggest issue that I can see is the USS Discovery’s spore drive – a brand-new piece of technology that had never been seen or heard of in Star Trek before.

The spore drive effectively made warp drive obsolete, and considering that the show was set a decade before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission – and more than a century before The Next Generation era – that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, the spore drive was a classified piece of kit, and across Season 1 we came to see some pretty serious drawbacks, but such a phenomenally useful technology isn’t something Starfleet would simply abandon – or so fans believed. Even if the spore drive had issues, it was such a game-changing piece of technology that persevering and working through those problems would almost certainly be worthwhile.

The USS Discovery in Season 1.

As Season 1 demonstrated, the spore drive’s military applications were incredible. The USS Discovery could jump around a Klingon vessel with ease, basically becoming invulnerable, and the spore drive could be used for rapid hit-and-run attacks, destroying enemy ships before they even had a chance to register what was happening. And for an exploration-focused organisation, the spore drive opened up the entire galaxy, allowing distant worlds to be visited at a moment’s notice. Planets that were decades away from Federation space by warp drive could be hopped to in an instant, and then the USS Discovery and her crew could be back home in time for tea! We saw this in Season 2, with planets like Terralysium able to be visited easily with a single spore jump – instead of the decades of warp travel that would have normally been required.

To the show’s credit, Discovery found uses for the spore drive in this period – but I confess that I found the spore drive to be a gimmick, one that had been clearly and pretty obviously designed to allow the ship to travel to the Mirror Universe in Season 1. In fact, it’s the Mirror Universe – and more specifically, the idea of having an impostor from that parallel world who was trying to blend in and find a way home – that I would argue led to many of the decisions in Discovery’s early production.

Having a Terran character was clearly important to Discovery’s creative team when building the story of Season 1.

Choosing a Mirror Universe character in Captain Lorca arguably determined when Discovery would need to be set. In order for Lorca to be a soldier of the Terran Empire, Discovery would have to be set in an era where the Terran Empire existed – and as Mirror Universe stories in Deep Space Nine categorically established that the Terran Empire had long since fallen by the 24th Century, in order to return to that setting, stepping back to the 23rd Century was required. If having a Terran impostor was one of the first narrative beats written for the season – and I believe it was – then many other elements of the show had to be built around that, including its 23rd Century setting.

As an aside, I would say that the Mirror Universe really isn’t worth all this fuss and bother! It’s a bit of fun for occasional, one-off stories in longer, more episodic seasons, but building an entire story around the Mirror Universe and Terran characters was probably Discovery’s first mistake. This is a setting that easily falls into overacting and pantomime, with one-dimensional villains who love murder, torture, and murderous torture all for their own sake. There’s very little room for manoeuvre in the Mirror Universe, and as we’ve seen in Discovery – and in past iterations of Star Trek too, to be fair – it can trick even competent actors into putting out incredibly over-the-top, hammy performances.

This is what we’d call “a case in point.”

But that’s my own personal lack of interest in the Mirror Universe showing through, I suppose!

When Star Trek: Picard’s second season premiered, I think it brought to the table something incredibly interesting that’s relevant to this conversation: the Confederation timeline. The Confederation wasn’t the Terran Empire, and its setting wasn’t the Mirror Universe, yet it borrowed a lot from that setting both thematically and stylistically. An authoritarian, fascist dystopia was on full display – and it was in the late 24th/early 25th Century, and managed to be there without treading on the toes of anything that had been previously set up in past iterations of the franchise.

Although the Confederation timeline story was a bit of a misfire in Picard, I think it stands as testament to what’s possible with a little creative thinking. Star Trek doesn’t have to keep going back to the same previously-established time periods and settings, and even in those that are superficially similar, new and different creations can be brought to the screen. Very few things in Discovery would have needed to change had the show’s first season adopted a setting inspired by the Mirror Universe instead of lifting it directly from The Original Series.

The Confederation timeline established in Picard Season 2 shows how a new Mirror Universe-inspired setting could work.

And that statement could apply to other elements of the show’s production as well. The idea of a protagonist who was human but raised by Vulcans is a fun and interesting one, a character type that was new to Star Trek – if we don’t count the PC game Hidden Evil, that is! What would have changed about Michael Burnham had her adoptive parents not been Sarek and Amanda but two new Vulcan characters?

Spock’s family is something that Star Trek has messed about with more than once! We could even argue that, as far back as Journey to Babel, it was nonsensical to suggest that Spock’s connection to Sarek would be something that Captain Kirk would have been unaware of. But setting that aside, the film The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned. Adding Michael Burnham to his family felt, to some fans at least, like yet another retcon; an addition that certainly came very close to treading on the toes of Star Trek’s past because of how closely it involved a very familiar character.

The decision to make Michael Burnham Spock’s adopted sister was criticised in some quarters.

It was clear that Discovery’s writers and creators wanted to tie the show to past iterations of Star Trek, but rather than coming across as respectful homage, some of these decisions felt nakedly commercial – it was as if CBS didn’t trust the Star Trek brand to stand on its own without myriad references and close connections to its earlier iterations. This didn’t sit well with a lot of fans, and when Spock had already had a missing half-brother, giving him an adopted sister who he’d also never mentioned began to feel gratuitous.

And for a lot of folks, it came back to that same argument: what would change about this new character if her parents were inspired by Sarek and Spock’s family? The introduction of Spock in Season 2 definitely shook things up in that regard, but by then a lot of the damage had been done and some fans had already decided not to tune in.

Sarek and Amanda in Season 2.

Going all the way back to The Next Generation’s creation in 1987, Star Trek had struck out in bold new directions and tried to do things differently. Every Star Trek show prior to Discovery had cameo appearances, name-checks, and even character crossovers in some episodes, but by and large, the franchise’s different shows stood up by themselves. Would The Next Generation have been improved if the captain of the Enterprise-D had been Kirk’s grandson, for instance? I don’t think anyone would make that case – the show needed the freedom to do its own thing away from those familiar characters. And while Deep Space Nine’s premiere, Emissary, brought Captain Picard on board, thereafter the new series also struck out on its own – as did Voyager and Enterprise when they came along.

For some fans, Discovery crossed a line between finding a connection to what had come before and using it as a crutch, and where past iterations of the Star Trek franchise had been connected to one another through common themes, locales, and even characters, none had ever gone back to retroactively change so many different things as Discovery. Coming off the back of the three Kelvin timeline films – which were also controversial in some quarters because they had re-cast the characters from The Original Series – that felt like a bridge too far for some folks.

A promo photo for Season 1 showing most of the main cast.

Retcons can happen in any franchise, but it’s not unfair to say that some work better than others. Prequels almost always end up bringing more retcons to the table than sequels do, and when we’re talking about a universe that was over fifty years old and had more than 700 stories under its belt at the time Discovery premiered, for a lot of fans, those retcons to Star Trek’s past were too unpalatable.

The Star Trek franchise, much more so than Star Wars, has always felt like it was looking forwards and to the future rather than backwards at its own past. But by 2017, there hadn’t been any Star Trek stories that moved the overall timeline of the franchise forwards in fifteen years. Aside from a short sequence in 2009’s Star Trek reboot film (which told us of the destruction of Romulus), everything that the franchise had done since Nemesis and Voyager’s finale had been a prequel.

By 2017, everything Star Trek had done for fifteen years was a prequel or reboot.

After Enterprise had underperformed and the franchise faced cancellation, the Kelvin timeline came along and rebooted things. But both projects proved to be controversial in some quarters – fans were clearly less keen on a prequel show, as Enterprise’s viewing figures demonstrated. And while the Kelvin films were successful with general audiences at the cinema, there were many Trekkies who were unimpressed with the new action-oriented approach and the decision to recast fan-favourite characters.

Along came Discovery – and it incorporated many of the same issues. Here was another prequel, another Star Trek project that was stepping back in time and not taking the opportunity to pick up the story of the Star Trek universe that had come to an abrupt halt with Nemesis. And not only that, but it then emerged that the show’s protagonist would be a hitherto-unknown relative of one of Star Trek’s most iconic characters – a character whose history and family had already been messed with on more than one occasion.

Spock in The Original Series Season 1.

In 2016, I recall making the facetious point that Discovery seemed to be combining everything that Trekkies didn’t like: a plot point from The Final Frontier – which is widely regarded as one of the least-successful Star Trek films, a prequel setting like in Enterprise – which had demonstrably been the least-successful Star Trek series, and both an aesthetic and action focus that were borrowed from the Kelvin timeline films – films which weren’t popular with a lot of fans. That was a joke; some black humour as we looked ahead to the show and as news was trickling out. But I think that it encapsulates how many fans were feeling at the time.

More than anything, I wanted to see Star Trek move forwards again. Despite knowing a number of Trekkies who either hated or outright refused to watch the Kelvin timeline films, I felt that they were decent additions to the franchise. But if Star Trek was to return to both the small screen and the prime timeline, my preference in 2016-17 would have been for a new show to pick up the story in the years after Nemesis, not another prequel set before the events of The Original Series.

Cadet Tilly in a pre-release promotional image.

Discovery’s prequel setting quickly became a weight around its neck; a barrier that didn’t stop the excitement from building, but that certainly slowed it down. On the one hand, the show’s writers and creative team were constrained by more than 600 stories that were set after Discovery, and on the other, everything that they tried to do that was new or different was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism by fans. There was no way to win – either the show would have to tell less-interesting stories as a result of being cornered by canon, or it would be nitpicked to death by fans who felt it was overstepping its bounds and treading on the toes of stories that had already been told.

Had Discovery’s first season been set in the same time period as Star Trek: Picard later was – the late 24th Century or early 25th Century – a lot of those issues would have disappeared. The spore drive could be Starfleet’s new initiative, with its potential unlimited and the genuine possibility of this interesting piece of technology going on to become the Federation’s new way of getting around. We knew, even before a single minute of Discovery had aired, that the spore drive wouldn’t take off in the 23rd Century – because if it had, all of Star Trek wouldn’t be able to exist as depicted. A post-Nemesis setting would have completely negated that issue.

The spore drive was a controversial inclusion in Discovery’s first season.

Then there was the question of character. Michael Burnham could have been exactly the same person – a human raised by Vulcans with Vulcan instincts. But instead of being the second addition to Spock’s increasingly soap opera-like family, her adoptive parents could have been new characters who were inspired by characters from Star Trek’s past, or even Vulcan characters from the 24th Century that we’d met before if an overt connection was deemed necessary. The war with the Klingons could have broken out in much the same way as we saw on screen – all it would have taken is a brief word of explanation saying that the Klingon-Federation alliance of the late 24th Century had broken down in the intervening years.

Star Trek had an opportunity to advance its timeline, and to take into account events like the Romulan supernova. With relatively few changes to how the story of Season 1 played out, it could be the Romulans, not the Klingons, who went to war with Starfleet. Or it could have been that the Klingons wanted to reassert themselves in the aftermath of the Romulan catastrophe, perhaps seizing former Romulan territory as their empire collapsed. And the idea of having an impostor as the ship’s captain – someone from an alternate reality – could have also been made to fit without returning to the Mirror Universe.

Captain Lorca turned out to be from the Mirror Universe.

Discovery could, for example, have taken the idea of a more militaristic Starfleet that had been seen in the Kelvin timeline in Into Darkness as a starting point, and said that the Kelvin timeline would develop into the same kind of dystopian setting as the Mirror Universe. Captain Lorca could have originated from a late 24th Century Kelvin timeline, from a Federation that was much more authoritarian in nature. That would have tied together the two most recent parts of the Star Trek franchise while still leaving open the possibility of a fourth Kelvin film starring the reboot cast.

In short, there were plenty of ways that Bryan Fuller’s initial concepts and ideas could have been made to fit a post-Nemesis setting rather than a pre-The Original Series one. Some changes are bigger than others, and in hindsight we now know that we’d miss out on the recasting of Captain Pike and Spock that paved the way for Strange New Worlds… but at the time, without that foreknowledge, I really do believe that it would have been worth considering.

Star Trek: Discovery creator Bryan Fuller.
Image Credit: StarTrek.com

Season 2, which focused on the Control AI, could have also been a good fit for a late 24th/early 25th Century setting. In fact, I doubt I’d be the only one to suggest that the Control story might’ve been a better fit for that time period! This idea of essentially a rogue supercomputer is one that Star Trek has tackled before, with episodes like The Ultimate Computer and even some of the stories about Lore in The Next Generation. Control’s schemes could have absolutely worked in a post-Lore environment.

I’ve talked before about how the Control storyline in Season 2 felt like a potential Borg origin story – or at least a story with superficial Borg similarities. Because of Discovery’s place in the timeline, those references were only ever tiny little hints to us as the audience; no one within the show could say “hey, this looks an awful lot like Borg assimilation” because none of them knew who the Borg were at that point. But if the story had been set in that post-Nemesis era, the similarities between Control and the Borg could have been made more overt – even if a full “Starfleet accidentally created the Borg” story had been taken off the table.

Captain Leland was “assimilated” by the Control AI in Season 2.

At the end of the day, though, Discovery wasn’t only controversial because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, and while replacing its 23rd Century setting would have blunted some points of criticism, fans would have found others. Things like the redesign of the Klingons, the more action-heavy storyline, the show’s shorter serialised seasons and more would all remain, and a potential post-Nemesis setting would’ve probably thrown up a bunch of new things for people to pick on, too.

In hindsight, we now know that if Discovery had been set in the years after Nemesis, we’d have missed out on Strange New Worlds – a show that I’d argue is probably the high-water mark of modern Star Trek, at least at time of writing. That alone should make Discovery and its complicated relationship to canon and Star Trek’s internal timeline absolutely worthwhile!

Strange New Worlds is one of the best things about modern Star Trek – and it wouldn’t have happened without Discovery and its 23rd Century beginnings!

But on the other hand, who knows what we’re missing out on? Potential crossovers with The Next Generation and other 24th Century shows would have been on the table, and while Discovery’s third and fourth seasons have tried to pay lip-service to that era, by shooting so far forward in time, it’s once again ruled out any significant crossovers and link-ups.

In addition to obvious characters like Jean-Luc Picard or Kathryn Janeway, dozens or even hundreds of secondary characters and guest stars from that era could have been incorporated into Discovery to tie Star Trek’s newest adventure to what came before – with fan-favourite characters (and the actors who played them) potentially returning. Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy have all shown just how much of an appetite there is within the Star Trek fan community to bring back characters as diverse as Q and Captain Jellico, just to give two examples.

Edward Jellico recently returned in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy.

When making those very early decisions about Discovery, one of the fundamental mistakes executives at CBS (now Paramount) and the creative team made is failing to recognise Star Trek’s real “golden age.” The Original Series in the 1960s may have gotten things started – and it’s remembered fondly, don’t get me wrong – but for many fans, especially fans in their thirties and forties, it’s The Next Generation and the other shows of the 1990s that are best-remembered. Discovery jumped back in time to draw inspiration from and connect up with The Original Series… but I’m not sure that’s where the majority of the fan community was in 2017 – or is in 2023, either.

Whatever we may think of the arguments surrounding canon and the so-called integrity of Star Trek’s internal timelines, a more basic question is this: what setting and what era would most Trekkies choose for a new series? There are some fans, of course, who want to see more of Enterprise’s 22nd Century, some who want to see a far future that shoots past the 24th and 25th Centuries, and certainly there are fans for whom the 23rd Century has its own unique appeal. But many, many Trekkies who first came to the franchise during The Next Generation era – myself included – wanted and still want to see Star Trek pick up where it left off after Nemesis and Endgame. That was doubly true in 2017, when the franchise hadn’t touched that time period in fifteen years.

The USS Voyager in Endgame.

When it became apparent that Discovery was going to be yet another prequel – the third in a row – it meant that there was still no chance of the timeline advancing. It meant that the return of fan-favourites from Benjamin Sisko to B’Elanna Torres was completely off the table. And it meant no explanation of the Romulan supernova that had been glimpsed in 2009’s Star Trek. We subsequently got to see some of those things in Picard – but it wasn’t obvious in 2016-17 that that series was going to be made, and there was, in some quarters at least, a sense of disappointment that Star Trek was once again doing this kind of navel-gazing at its own history and backstory instead of moving forward. That planted the seeds of unhappiness for some Trekkies – a seed that would grow as more details were revealed about the series, its setting, its technologies, and its characters.

And I feel that this is really the key point. On their own, many of the criticisms levelled at Discovery in its first season were overblown nitpicks. The spore drive was never considered by the crew of the USS Voyager as a way to get home quicker. Spock didn’t have an adopted sister in that one episode of The Animated Series that aired in 1973. Did the Klingons and the Federation really fight a war in this era? And so on. But those criticisms found fertile ground in the disappointment that fans were already feeling – and the “snowball” started to roll.

I doubt many fans were that upset about Spock not mentioning Michael Burnham in The Animated Series

This “snowball effect” is something that I’ve talked about before here on the website. In brief, it refers to how a production can find itself subject to more and more points of criticism once a few big ones start to build up. The “snowball” starts rolling, picking up more and more nitpicks and amplifying them. Relatively minor things – like Discovery’s all-blue uniform designs, for example – end up being nitpicked to death in a way that they never would have been in a production that didn’t have those original, fundamental points of criticism to get the “snowball” rolling in the first place.

And that’s what happened with Discovery in 2016-17, in my opinion. Its place in the timeline became the initial source of disappointment for a fanbase that comprised more fans of The Next Generation era than higher-ups at CBS realised. Those fans would have preferred to see a series set after Endgame and Nemesis, and the disappointment they felt began to set the stage for many other points of criticism that, in a different production, would never have been mentioned.

Did the producers at CBS underestimate support in the Star Trek fan community for a post-Nemesis series?

There are, of course, some self-proclaimed “fans” of Star Trek for whom the race and gender of Discovery’s protagonist was the issue. Those people would never have been placated by changes in the show’s setting, and the hate, abuse, and toxicity spewed by that thankfully small section of the show’s audience would have remained regardless. I see no way to avoid that; just as there were viewers in the ’60s who objected to Uhura’s presence on the bridge of the Enterprise, there were some in 2017 who felt that women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and others shouldn’t be part of “their” entertainment products.

Such folks would often try to cage their attacks in the language of media criticism, using expressions like “bad writing” to criticise Discovery. I think we’re all able to tell the difference, though, and I don’t really see much point in addressing this part of the attacks on the show. It isn’t relevant to what we’re talking about today, as the minority of viewers who objected to Michael Burnham because she was a black woman in a leading role would have felt the same way regardless of when the show was set. The only thing that would have changed would have been the way in which those folks would have tried to cover their tracks when attacking Discovery.

Michael Burnham at the end of Season 1.

When Season 2 rolled around, it wasn’t apparent at first that Discovery’s creative team had taken on board much of the feedback and criticism that had been levelled at the show in its first season. In fact, they seemed to double- and even triple-down on making these overt connections to The Original Series by introducing Captain Pike and Spock.

I have to confess something at this point – something which, in light of how darn good Strange New Worlds was in its first season, I’m quite embarrassed about: I didn’t like the idea of Pike and Spock joining Discovery in 2018-19 when that news broke. I’d been a fan of The Cage since I first watched it, and there was something about Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Pike, and the differences between him and Captain Kirk in particular, that occupied a unique place in Star Trek’s history. Here was an “alternate timeline,” and just like hearing a different version of a familiar song, all the pieces were there, but they were different. Pike stood as this kind of “what-if” for the Star Trek franchise; what might have been if history had taken a different course.

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Cage

Furthermore, I found Bruce Greenwood’s take on the character in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness to have been one of the highlights of the Kelvin timeline. Recasting the character so soon after this portrayal wasn’t something that I was wild about either, and I felt that the whole thing rather smacked of desperation on the part of CBS/Paramount; an attempt to bring more eyes to a show that had proven controversial and that probably hadn’t brought in the numbers of subscribers and viewers that they and Netflix had hoped to see.

I was wrong about that, of course – so very, very wrong!

But I wasn’t alone in feeling that way; that Discovery was reaching for a crutch as its second season dawned. Fans who had been left unimpressed by the show in its first season – and particularly at its perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon – were not looking forward to seeing what would become of Captain Pike, a character who had a certain reverence from at least some in the fan community as Star Trek’s “first” captain, but more importantly of Spock – one of the most important foundational characters in the entire franchise.

Pike and Spock in Season 2.

Whether we agree or not that Discovery’s second season shook up Spock’s characterisation for the better – which is something I absolutely believe it did, by the way – something very interesting happened at the end of that season: Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century altogether. Opening a time-wormhole, Burnham led the ship and crew into the far future, and the show has remained in that time period ever since. By the time Season 5 arrives later this year, Discovery will have spent longer in the 32nd Century than it did in the 23rd.

Does that decision stand as an admission from Discovery’s creatives and producers that the 23rd Century was never a good fit for the show? Is it more a case of exasperatedly saying to fans and critics “you wanted us to be set in the future? Well here ya go!” Or is it simply a creative narrative decision that would have been taken regardless of how Seasons 1 and 2 had been received?

Burnham and the USS Discovery heading into the far future.

Let’s rule out that latter point immediately! If Discovery’s place in the timeline was uncontroversial and hadn’t been commented on and criticised from the moment it was announced, we’d have seen Discovery remain in the 23rd Century – I am as certain of that as I can be. The decision to take the series out of the 23rd Century was, at least in some way, a response to these criticisms and/or a way to pre-empt or shut down further such nitpicks.

We’ll have to talk about this in more detail one day, but there’s a phenomenon that I call the “prequel problem” that affects a lot of prequel stories. In short, at the back of our minds as viewers, we know that certain storylines have to end in particular ways; tension, drama, and stakes are all lower in certain prequels – whether we’re conscious of that fact at the time or not. This goes double for a show like Discovery where galactic-scale apocalyptic disasters are the bread-and-butter of its stories.

The Klingon war – especially toward the end of Season 1 – was presented as an existential threat to the Federation.

When it seemed as if Control was going to wipe out all life in the galaxy, we knew that it wasn’t possible. The details of how Pike, Burnham, and the crew were going to prevent it were still to be revealed, but because we’d seen the galaxy in the 24th Century, we knew at the back of our minds that there was no real danger. Likewise with Season 1’s Klingon war – we knew that the Federation wouldn’t be defeated, because we’d seen Captain Kirk’s five-year mission taking place a mere decade after the events depicted in the show. Those “prequel problems” took at least some of the tension out of Discovery’s main narratives – and in a show that wants to turn the tension up to eleven, that’s not ideal to say the least!

If Discovery was the kind of show that told stories that were smaller in scale, we could disregard this point altogether. But for the kind of series Discovery aimed to be, a setting that was constrained by stories set decades and centuries later was problematic – and it had been since day one.

Discovery has always wanted to tell stories with very high stakes; galactic-scale threats.

So let’s start to wrap things up.

The saving grace of Discovery’s 23rd Century beginning is, as I see it anyway, the existence of Strange New Worlds as a spin-off production. Bringing in Captain Pike and Spock proved to be an unexpected masterstroke, thanks in part to some inspired casting. Had Discovery always been set after Nemesis in the late 24th Century, we would never have seen Anson Mount and Ethan Peck take on those roles, and from there we’d never have gotten to see the masterpiece that was Strange New Worlds Season 1. That would have been a huge loss for Star Trek – and I feel that alone more than justifies Discovery’s first two seasons in the 23rd Century.

But it’s clear that being set in this time period caused the show a lot of issues, particularly because of the kind of storytelling it employed. Big, bold stories that focus on end-of-the-world type threats and a serialised framework in which only one or two main stories were told per season combined with a prequel setting to cause some major stumbling blocks. Some of these were bigger than others, and some minor points definitely saw their status overinflated by fans and viewers who were “snowballing” and picking on anything and everything to criticise a series that they already didn’t like. But some of those points of criticism were genuine, and the internal consistency of the Star Trek franchise and its timeline was challenged by some of the narrative decisions that Discovery took.

A promotional image of Discovery’s captain’s chair, from the show’s early marketing campaign.

With Strange New Worlds serving as a huge caveat, I still believe that if I’d been in charge of things in 2016-17, I wouldn’t have created a series set in the 23rd Century. It remains my view that at least a plurality of fans, if not an outright majority, would have preferred to have seen the overall timeline of Star Trek move forwards, and that creating a series set sometime after Endgame and Nemesis would have been the best call. There’s a lot of leeway if all we say is “after Nemesis,” and I’d have entertained pitches and ideas for both the late 24th Century as well as for decades or centuries in the future, far beyond The Next Generation era.

Bearing that in mind, I’d say that practically everything that Discovery did in those first two seasons could and would have worked in a post-Nemesis setting. Some story beats would have had to change to accommodate being set further forwards in time, such as Captain Lorca’s universe of origin. But even if the brief required the creative team to use elements that the Star Trek franchise had already created, I think it would have been possible to tell those same stories in a very similar way.

Captain Lorca and his Terran allies.

The big twist in Discovery’s first season was Captain Lorca’s true identity – but I’m not really convinced that this story beat was worth all the fuss. It was certainly fun and unexpected to find out that the character had crossed over from another universe, and that he was responsible for stranding the ship there as he tried to get home – but after Lorca’s true origin was revealed, his characterisation took a turn for the worse, and he ceased to be the complex, nuanced, hardball Starfleet captain in favour of being a rather one-dimensional villain caricature. So maybe all of this hassle wasn’t even worth it after all!

Season 2 introduced us to Pike and Spock, and set the stage for Strange New Worlds – something which, in hindsight, we know now we’d have missed out on if Discovery didn’t take place in this time period.

Spock and Captain Pike in Strange New Worlds Season 1.

Shooting forwards in time, well past the 24th and 25th Centuries, has allowed Discovery much more creative freedom, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the show’s best episodes have come in the last couple of years rather than in those first two seasons. Even in an established, long-running franchise, writers and creatives need to have the freedom to branch out, to add wholly new elements, and to tell stories that go to completely different thematic places. Some of that was possible in the 23rd Century – and we’ve seen Strange New Worlds succeed in that setting by taking on a more episodic approach – but for the kinds of large-scale, dramatic stories that Discovery wanted to tell, a setting unconstrained by having to fit in with 600+ episodes and films set after the events of the show has undoubtedly opened up a lot more possibilities.

So the question posed is a tough one. Discovery set the stage for Strange New Worlds, and that really is a huge point in favour of its initial 23rd Century setting. But Discovery also reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise for a post-Game of Thrones television landscape, one in which ongoing serialised stories with big, bold storylines was the order of the day. Without Discovery doing what it did in 2017, who knows whether the Star Trek franchise would have continued at all, and whether the likes of Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy would have been created as well.

Alex Kurtzman and the Discovery cast with William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols.
Image Credit: StarTrek.com

Just like the Kelvin films kept a torch burning for Star Trek and proved that there was life in a franchise that had burned out by 2005, perhaps what we should say about Discovery’s first two seasons is that they led to bigger and (mostly) better things, both for the show itself and for the franchise as a whole. Messing with that too much, or trying to create something “better,” may not have had the desired result!

But all of that is with the benefit of hindsight. In 2016-17, I wasn’t alone in wishing that Star Trek would move forward instead of creating yet another prequel. And it wasn’t possible to know at that time where Discovery might lead or what kind of spin-offs might be created in the years ahead. Although I did enjoy what the show did in its first two seasons overall, for much of the time I couldn’t shake the feeling that these stories would still have worked – and in some ways at least, would have worked far better – if the show was set after Nemesis.

It would ultimately fall to Star Trek: Picard to move the timeline of the franchise forward again.

Furthermore, I feel that Discovery’s producers felt that way too, especially after Bryan Fuller left the project and after the show premiered to a rather divisive reaction in some quarters of the fan community. Some of the people in charge may have underestimated just how detail-oriented some Trekkies can be, and in an age of social media, online fan communities, and continuous discussion and debate, small nitpicks about the series and its relationship to past iterations of Star Trek became amplified, making some of these controversies grow larger.

Any time a franchise expands, it leaves some folks behind. There were always going to be Discovery-haters; folks who, for any one of a number of reasons, didn’t want to see Star Trek doing something new and different. But did the show itself provide ammunition to those critics and others by its 23rd Century setting? Absolutely. Leaving the 23rd Century behind was clearly the right decision, and in some ways we can argue that it came two seasons too late.

Discovery’s logo in Seasons 1 & 2.

So there we have it. In my view, Discovery could and perhaps should have been created as a post-Nemesis series instead of one set before The Original Series. With relatively few tweaks to the stories of its first couple of seasons, the same cast of characters, the same starship designs, the same technologies, and the same narrative beats could have all been present, and perhaps interesting new connections could have been found that would have tied the series into the events and even characters of The Next Generation era.

I hope this was an interesting thought experiment! I’ve been wanting to talk about Discovery’s creation and its early seasons for some time now. Because I only created this website in late 2019 I missed the opportunity to write up my thoughts on Discovery as it was being teased and as those first two seasons were broadcast, so this was an opportunity to step back and begin to rectify that! I hope you won’t interpret this as me “hating” on Discovery. Although I wasn’t wild about every decision taken or every character and storyline, I feel that we got two decent seasons of Star Trek, and a show that certainly wasn’t afraid to try new things. This hypothetical question is really just an opportunity to talk about the series some more and highlight some of what I feel were the key decisions taken during its creation.

I’m glad that Discovery remains a part of a very broad, varied franchise. But I think I’m also glad that the show’s producers took it out of the 23rd Century – not because I’m desperately angry about “the purity of canon” or other such things – but because its new era, free from any such constraints, has allowed for the creation of some genuinely different stories.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Building the “ultimate” Star Trek crew… with NO main characters!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds.

A little while ago I put together my “ultimate” Star Trek crew – based on a post that the official Star Trek social media team put out. It was a lot of fun to consider which characters to include for the main roles that we’ve seen across the franchise, and I like to think I put together a crew who could work well together.

This time, I thought it could be fun to take the “ultimate crew” concept to a slightly different place – by limiting myself to secondary characters, recurring characters, and even characters who only made one or two appearances. In short, no main characters allowed!

We have quite a selection of officers and crewmates to choose from!

Over the course of more than 850 episodes and 13 films, Star Trek has introduced us to a huge range of characters. Although some were disappointing and others rather forgettable, most Star Trek characters have been fun, interesting, and memorable – so there’s quite a lot to choose from when it comes to putting together a list like this one!

I’m going to follow the same basic rules as last time, and here they are:

  • First of all, I don’t want to pick too many characters from a single series. If you’re just going to pick the entire crew of the Enterprise-D, what’s the point? We might as well just go and watch The Next Generation!
  • Secondly, the fact that characters come from different eras or timelines is entirely irrelevant. This is pure fantasy – though who knows, maybe one day Star Trek will do some kind of massive crossover event featuring characters from all over the place!
  • Third, characters have to occupy a role that we saw them fill on screen; i.e. Captain Picard can’t be a tactical officer, nor could Michael Burnham be assigned as the ship’s Chief Medical Officer!
  • Fourth, I want to include all of the major roles that we’ve seen main characters occupy on Star Trek – something that the social media post that inspired this piece didn’t do!
  • Finally (and most importantly), I want this to be taken light-heartedly and in the spirit of fun!

So without further ado, let’s get started!

Starship Class:
Galor-class Warship

A Galor-class warship as seen in Lower Decks.

I wanted to pick something a little different from the usual Starfleet vessel – though how exactly our crew came to commandeer a Cardassian ship is something you’ll have to imagine for yourself! I put the Galor-class on my list of ten great starship designs a while ago, and I really do find it to be a strangely beautiful vessel.

The semi-circular “saucer” above the deflector at the front gives it a vaguely Federation (or at least Star Trek-inspired) look, but the “wings,” elongated tail section, and yellow-gold colour scheme makes it stand out as clearly being of Cardassian design. Originally described as a “scout ship,” we’d later see the Galor-class as the workhorse of the Cardassian fleet, and Galor-class vessels played a prominent role in the Dominion War.

I’ve always thought the design was a neat one, and with an interior that may be reminiscent of Deep Space Nine, perhaps it won’t be quite as “alien” to our crew as it might initially appear!

Admiral:
Charles Vance

Admiral Vance’s first appearance.

Admiral Vance has been a great addition to Star Trek: Discovery since his Season 3 debut. Despite Starfleet – and the Federation as a whole – being in dire straits due to the lingering aftermath of the Burn, Admiral Vance never lost faith in Starfleet’s ideals. He did everything he could to hold the Federation together through the toughest of times, and was fair and level-headed.

Whether it was a diplomatic negotiation with an adversary or racing to help evacuate a planet before a catastrophe, Admiral Vance had the stomach and the skills for it, and was even willing to put his own life on the line to help others. He’ll be coordinating our mission back at Starfleet Command – and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have in that role!

Captain:
Edward Jellico

Captain Jellico.

I have to be honest: I adore Captain Jellico, despite the character only making a single appearance in Star Trek. The two-part episode Chain of Command, from The Next Generation’s sixth season introduced the gruff, standoffish captain. Jellico temporarily assumed command of the Enterprise-D while Captain Picard was on another assignment, and he handled himself well against the Cardassians.

Captain Jellico had a very different style of command to Picard, and upset the apple cart on the Enterprise-D in a pretty significant way. Commander Riker and Deanna Troi were both particularly put out by Jellico’s “take no prisoners” approach, but there’s no denying that he ran a tight ship and got results. Maybe he isn’t the most friendly character, but I’d trust Captain Jellico to handle whatever the galaxy has in store. I’d also be curious to see how he handled a longer assignment – my suspicion is that he’d eventually establish a solid working relationship with his crew, and perhaps even make a few friends.

First Officer:
George Kirk

George Kirk on the bridge of the USS Kelvin.

George Kirk – father to Samuel and James T. – served as the first officer of the USS Kelvin in the early 23rd Century. Although we only saw him in action in the alternate reality, he was clearly an outstanding first officer, an inspiration to his sons, and someone who exemplified the very best of Starfleet.

In the alternate reality, George Kirk saved the lives of the crew of the Kelvin, sacrificing his own life in the process when Nero’s ship attacked. He seems like the ideal candidate to serve on our fantasy crew, and I think he’d work exceptionally well with Captain Jellico.

Helm:
Keyla Detmer

Lieutenant Detmer in Discovery Season 4.

Last time, I said that Tom Paris felt like Star Trek’s first bona fide pilot – and Keyla Detmer is definitely cut from the same cloth! A pilot by vocation, Detmer not only loves her job, but as we’ve seen on multiple occasions, she’s damn good at it too! Detmer guided the experimental USS Discovery during trials on its spore drive, then took the ship into the unknown – saving many lives during the bumpy landing in the 32nd Century.

In Season 4, we saw her navigate the dark matter anomaly and the galactic barrier, occasionally having to set aside her own feelings to focus on her work. Detmer was given a sub-plot of sorts in Season 3, but I would’ve liked to have seen it fleshed out a little more, especially considering the difficulty of dealing with mental health on screen. But regardless, Detmer makes for a great pilot and a fantastic helm officer.

Chief Engineer:
Joe Carey

Carey in Voyager’s first season.

When the USS Voyager’s original chief engineer was killed, Lieutenant Carey should have replaced him. Because Captain Janeway felt that there was a “political” need to have more Maquis in senior positions, however, it was B’Elanna Torres who was elevated to the role. But from what we saw of him in those early Voyager episodes, Carey would have made a perfectly creditable chief engineer in his own right.

Voyager’s writers quickly ran out of ideas for the “one ship, two crews” concept, and with less conflict between the Maquis and Starfleet members of the crew, perhaps there was less of a role for him on the show. But from a strictly in-universe point of view, I think we can trust Carey to head up main engineering on our mission!

Chief Medical Officer:
Dr Pulaski

Dr Pulaski in the episode Up The Long Ladder.

Is this a bit of a cheat? Dr Pulaski was the Enterprise-D’s CMO for all of Season 2 of The Next Generation… but actress Diana Muldaur was only ever credited as a “special guest star,” so I’m choosing to include her!

As you may know if you read my character study of Dr Pulaski, I’m a pretty big fan! Although there were aspects of her characterisation that didn’t work particularly well – such as her conflict with Data – overall I liked what she brought to The Next Generation, and I would have loved to have seen more from her.

Dr Pulaski may not have the friendliest bedside manner, but as she demonstrated on many occasions, she more than makes up for it with her medical expertise. Not only that, but she was absolutely unflappable, taking whatever the galaxy had to throw at the crew in her stride, and coming up with some outside-the-box ideas on more than one occasion. And despite her initial misgivings about Data, over the course of her year aboard the Enterprise-D, we saw her attitude shift. She’s a great doctor and will serve us well on our mission!

Nurse/ Sickbay Assistant:
EMH Mark II

The EMH Mark II in Message in a Bottle.

The idea of an Emergency Medical Hologram is a great one – but it clearly needed refining! We got to know Voyager’s EMH over the course of that show’s run, but a second version was developed in the years after the USS Voyager was lost. A Mark II EMH was installed on the USS Prometheus – an experimental long-range tactical vessel that the Romulans attempted to steal early in the Dominion War.

Hopefully we won’t ever need to activate our EMH Mark II, but if things go bad out there – which they can on dangerous assignments – it’s good to have backup!

Counsellor:
Dr Boyce

Dr Boyce.

Dr Boyce served as the Enterprise’s Chief Medical Officer under Captain Pike, but in The Cage we saw that he was more than just a doctor. In one of the episode’s most powerful sequences, Dr Boyce listened to and advised Captain Pike as the latter struggled with the weight of command. In that sense, Dr Boyce not only served as a template for the subsequent creation of Dr McCoy, but also as a kind of counsellor.

In the 23rd Century, it doesn’t seem that many Starfleet vessels had dedicated counsellors, so the role would fall to other members of the medical staff. Dr Boyce was clearly experienced at this, as his advice to both Captain Pike and other members of the crew would demonstrate. I wondered whether Strange New Worlds would bring back Dr Boyce, but that position was taken by Dr M’Benga instead!

Tactical:
Major Hayes

Major Hayes in Enterprise Season 3.

Major Hayes was a rare character in Star Trek in some respects. As a bona fide soldier rather than a security officer, Hayes occupied a role that few characters before or since have really aimed to inhabit, and he was the perfect inclusion for Enterprise’s much darker third season. Although we didn’t get to see a lot of Hayes’ strategic planning, what we did see of his work during preparation for away missions and when recommending the crew take part in tactical drills is enough to fill me with confidence that he’s someone who knows what he’s doing!

There’s obviously a difference between combat on the ground and combat in space, and as someone less familiar with ship-to-ship combat, Hayes might need some on-the-job training! But his hardworking attitude more than makes up for any deficiencies, and I’m sure he’d be a quick study, applying his knowledge of ground-based military operations to conflicts in space.

Security Chief:
Michael Eddington

Eddington prior to his defection to the Maquis.

Deep Space Nine’s Lieutenant Commander Eddington was a wonderful addition to the series; a complex, nuanced character whose motivations were understandable and even a little sympathetic – and whose anti-Cardassian stance was, in a roundabout way at least, kind of justified by subsequent events. Eddington would defect from Starfleet to the Maquis after spending time with colonists in the demilitarised zone along the Federation-Cardassian border, but before that, he served as chief of Starfleet security aboard DS9.

In that role, Eddington actually did a pretty good job. We saw Eddington in action on several occasions prior to his defection, and even his defection itself was meticulously planned. He was a good officer and a loss to Starfleet – and he’ll do a great job on our team!

Communications:
M’Ress

M’Ress at her post.

I like the Caitian race, and it’s one I wish we saw more of in Star Trek! M’Ress was the first ever Caitian that we got to know, debuting in The Animated Series, and she served as a kind of deputy or backup communications officer for Uhura on the Enterprise. M’Ress proved herself, though, and would be a perfectly capable comms officer in her own right.

M’Ress was a character who was easy to animate but harder to bring to live-action, and while we did see a couple of Caitians in one of The Original Series films, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this interesting race. Regardless, M’Ress will make a fine addition to our crew!

Science Officer:
Saavik

Saavik on the Genesis Planet.

Although she initially seemed to be on the command track in The Wrath of Khan, by the time of The Search for Spock Saavik had transferred to become a science officer. In that capacity she served aboard the USS Grissom and worked with Dr David Marcus to investigate the Genesis Planet – and played a key role in saving Spock.

Vulcans tend to make great science officers in Star Trek, and Saavik is no exception! Her fierce devotion to logic doesn’t stop her from developing solid working relationships with her non-Vulcan crewmates, though, and I have no doubt that she’d be a fantastic addition to any crew – particularly one which may be on an exploratory or scientific mission.

Operations:
Nog

Nog aboard the USS Defiant.

Nog has to be one of the best recurring characters in all of Star Trek! His arc took him from a petty thief and troublemaker in his youth through to becoming an upstanding Starfleet officer – and a war hero to boot. As the first Ferengi to serve in Starfleet, Nog was also a pioneer, someone who broke barriers and paved the way for closer cooperation between the Federation and the Ferengi Alliance.

I adore Nog, and it was so terribly sad that Aron Eisenberg passed away a couple of years ago. However, Nog’s legacy lives on in Star Trek, with the Eisenberg-Class USS Nog being his namesake in the 32nd Century. Nog took on different roles within Starfleet, but it was the operations division where he settled. He was promoted to lieutenant at the end of the Dominion War – and in one alternate future, we even saw him as a captain!

Transporter Chief:
Janice Rand

Rand in The Motion Picture.

The former Yeoman Rand had been promoted to chief petty officer by the time of The Motion Picture, and in one of the film’s most harrowing sequences, she tried to engage the Enterprise’s malfunctioning transporter to save the lives of Sonak and another officer; she would sadly be unsuccessful.

But it isn’t fair to judge Rand’s competency with the transporter by one bad incident! She did her best under difficult circumstances aboard a newly retrofitted ship that was experiencing technical issues, and while the death of Sonak may have contributed to her decision to transfer out of the role, I’m sure that giving her a second chance won’t be a problem. Right?

Cadet:
Peter Preston

Midshipman Preston in the Enterprise’s engine room.

Many Starfleet ships take at least one cadet along for the ride, and I think that Peter Preston from The Wrath of Khan would be a great choice. A line which wasn’t included in the original cut of the film identified Preston as Montgomery Scott’s nephew, and he would serve alongside his uncle in engineering.

Unfortunately, Preston would be killed during Khan’s initial attack on the Enterprise, but stayed at his post in an attempt to save the damaged ship. His death was devastating for Scotty, and made a huge impression on Admiral Kirk, too. If Peter Preston had lived, I’m sure he’d have completed his training and gone on to be a wonderful engineer in his own right.

Bartender:
Vic Fontaine

Vic in It’s Only A Paper Moon.

When our crew needs a break, where could be better to go than Vic’s Lounge? Vic Fontaine was a sentient hologram, and his 1960s-inspired Las Vegas bar and casino was installed at Quark’s on Deep Space Nine. Vic would become a true friend and confidante to the crew, and even helped Nog with his rehabilitation when he suffered a wartime injury.

The whole point of having a bar or recreation area on board our ship is to give the crew a place to relax, and what could be more relaxing than stepping out of the real world into a simulated one? Vic is a great host – and a great singer to boot! James Darren, the actor and singer who played Vic, released an album shortly after appearing Deep Space Nine called This One’s From The Heart, featuring many of the songs from the show. It’s well worth a listen for any Trekkie!

Non-Starfleet crewmate:
Zhaban

Zhaban in Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard.

Because Star Trek: Picard’s production has been somewhat slapdash, Zhaban ended up being written out of the series after the first season. But I think he was an absolutely fascinating character, and someone I’m sad that we didn’t get to spend more time with. A former Tal Shiar operative, Zhaban felt indebted enough to Admiral Picard that he gave up his career to live on Earth at the Picard family vineyard.

For the purposes of our mission, I think having an ex-Tal Shiar on board could be incredibly useful, and Zhaban clearly has a varied set of skills – even if his relocation to Earth might mean he’s a little rusty in some areas! Regardless, I can think of countless ways that a former operative of one of the quadrant’s premiere espionage agencies could prove useful, and it’s primarily for that reason that I’m insisting that we bring Zhaban along for the ride (as Picard should have done in Season 1 of his show!)

Villain:
The Tholians

A 23rd Century Tholian leader.

The Tholians have been part of Star Trek since The Original Series, but in all that time we’ve only seen them on a handful of occasions. The Enterprise two-part episode In A Mirror, Darkly told us a little more about the Tholians, including that they’re native to a planet with extremes of heat and temperature, finding it impossible to tolerate “standard” temperatures that humanoid life can survive in.

I wanted to choose a villain that would be familiar to most Trekkies, but with enough mystery to still be interesting – and to potentially allow a story to unfold in very different ways. The Tholians may not be as iconic as the Klingons or the Borg, but I reckon they’re ripe for a deeper dive and an exploration of their culture and society.

So that’s it!

The main crew members of the Enterprise-D.

Did we manage to put together a crew that will become as renowned and as iconic as any other in Star Trek? Well… maybe not quite! But I think all of the characters above are fun in their own way, and I’d definitely welcome back any and all of them to the franchise in future.

For our purposes, though, our crew is complete and it’s time to start our mission! I hope everything goes according to plan…

As I said last time, there are hundreds of wonderful characters that the Star Trek franchise has created over the span of more than fifty years. I picked out a few examples here, but there’s really no right answer to the question of who should be part of the “ultimate” Star Trek crew. Such decisions are entirely subjective, so if you didn’t like any of the characters I included, or I excluded someone that you think should be incredibly obvious, well that’s okay! There’s plenty of room in the Star Trek fan community for discussions like these!

A few weeks ago I was inspired by a social media post that the official Star Trek marketing team put out. That post led me to create my earlier list, and putting that list together led me to think about some of the secondary and recurring characters who I could’ve also included – which is how we ended up here! I hope this was a bit of fun; I certainly had fun writing it up and looking back at older episodes of Star Trek to pick out some of my favourite characters.

The Star Trek franchise – including all characters, television series, and films mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

King of Kings (1961) – an Easter film with a Star Trek connection

I’m not a religious person, and thus Easter has never been an especially important time of year for me. As a kid, Easter meant two weeks off school and chocolate eggs. And as an adult, Easter means a long weekend… and chocolate eggs. That’s about all. But as someone who grew up in England and was frog-marched into church with other schoolkids – back in the days when every school was bound to the local church – I gained a passing familiarity with the holiday. Because I don’t enjoy hot weather, late spring and summer are my least-favourite times of year! Easter, as the event which signals the beginning of that time of year, has always felt at least a little unwelcome as a result, even if the abundance of chocolate serves as a suitable bribe.

But enough about my weather preferences! It’s Easter, and aside from chocolate, Easter means one thing: Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, of this even non-Christians widely agree. Sometime between AD 30 and AD 40, Jesus was executed by Roman authorities in the province of Judea, and his resurrection three days later is what Christians celebrate at Easter. Jesus’ life and death have been depicted countless times in art and entertainment, and this time I thought it could be interesting to briefly look at a mid-century example: the 1961 film King of Kings.

The film’s opening title.

The title of this article promised you a Star Trek connection – since the Star Trek franchise is one of my biggest fandoms and a subject I write about often here on the website! The lead role in King of Kings is, naturally, the character of Jesus. In this case, Jesus is played by Jeffrey Hunter – better-known to Trekkies as Captain Christopher Pike, the original captain of the USS Enterprise.

Hunter’s life was tragically cut short, and he died aged only 42 following a fall that may have been caused by a stroke. Though he’s well-remembered today for his single Star Trek appearance – even more so since footage of him was incorporated into Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery – he was a prolific actor in the 1950s and ’60s, appearing in films like Fourteen Hours alongside Grace Kelly, and The Searchers with John Wayne. He also appeared in a number of television roles, including in big ’60s shows like The FBI and Daniel Boone.

Jeffrey Hunter (1926-1969)
Photo Credit: jeffreyhunter.net

If you’re familiar with Star Trek’s early production history, you’ll recall that Hunter declined to reprise his role as Pike for the show’s second pilot, opting to focus on cinema instead. By the time The Menagerie was made – the two-part episode which reused most of the footage from the show’s first pilot – Hunter was unavailable, leading to the character of Pike being recast and creating the iconic disfigured, wheelchair-bound look.

But all of that is incidental! King of Kings was released in 1961, four years before Hunter would meet Gene Roddenberry and agree to work on Star Trek. The film received mediocre reviews, but was considered a box office success for film studio MGM. And having seen it for myself a few years ago, it was certainly an interesting experience!

Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings.

This was my first time seeing Jeffrey Hunter outside of The Cage – at least, that I’m aware of. Though he’s slightly younger and sports both Jesus’ typical long hair and beard he is recognisable in the role, and that was certainly something neat to see.

The film itself is typical mid-century fare. As I think I’ve explained on more than one occasion, the early 1960s is about as far back as I’m willing to go for most films and television shows, simply because the quality of practically every aspect of production declines more and more the further back in time a film or series was made. Early cinema holds an interest from an academic point of view – the way techniques were developed, how different genres came into being, how technologies were first pioneered, and so on – but I find that actual entertainment value, and my ability to get lost in a production really cannot survive the wooden sets – and wooden acting – of early cinema!

A Roman scene in King of Kings.

King of Kings falls into this trap at points, with some sets and backdrops being pretty obviously fake, and the general acting style being in line with other projects of its era. But it’s perfectly watchable despite those shortcomings.

The film aimed to be an “epic,” recreating the magic of earlier Biblical epic films like 1956’s The Ten Commandments, and of course Ben-Hur, which was released in 1959. Even the film’s poster imitates Ben-Hur’s visual style. I don’t know if I’m the right person to compare these films for you; all are roughly equal in terms of being watchable for me, with similar drawbacks that I find with films from this time period. What we can say, though, is that King of Kings is probably less well-remembered than the other two, with Ben-Hur in particular being widely considered a classic.

Hunter as Jesus of Nazareth at the film’s climax.

The story of Jesus’ life and death has been recreated in cinema on a number of occasions. The 1912 film From the Manger to the Cross is the earliest one I could find, and in the century since there have been countless others. One of the best-known in recent years is Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ, which is a pretty gory and harrowing watch in parts – deliberately so. And who could forget Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a parody of the Bible story?

King of Kings fits somewhere in the middle, the kind of film I’d never choose to watch but for the combination of its Star Trek connection and the holiday we’re celebrating today. It’s a curiosity rather than something I could recommend for pure enjoyment, but if you’ve seen other, better-known depictions of the life and times of Jesus, King of Kings might’ve slipped under the radar. It’s worth a look if that’s the case!

Even for non-Christians, the basic message Jesus of Nazareth preached is worth listening to. Being kind and treating others with respect is something we can all aspire to, especially in today’s politically divided, pandemic-riddled world. King of Kings, like many Bible films, hammers that message home in what is, at times, a ham-fisted way. But the message itself is still worth paying attention to, and for one day a year, we can take a moment to appreciate that.

King of Kings is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and may also be available to stream depending on location. King of Kings was directed by Nicholas Ray and may be the copyright of Metro-Goldwin-Mayer and/or MGM Holdings. 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-mâché 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 Montalbán’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 clichés 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.