Star Trek: The Original Series + Star Trek: Lower Decks crossover theory: Lost human colonies

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.

Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one which connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!

Has the existence of the Hysperians in Lower Decks solved a fifty-five-year-old mystery?

Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.

Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.

Did ancient humanoids “seed” the galaxy with their genetic data? And if so, does that account for the abundance of humanoid races?

But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.

Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

A Roman centurion from the planet 892-IV.

Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.

So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.

The Hysperians have their own system of government, led by a monarch.

Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.

So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.

Bringloidi leader Danilo Odell with Captain Picard.

Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.

Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.

Burnham, Owosekun, and Captain Pike on the planet Terralysium. The inhabitants were descended from humans saved by the Red Angel.

Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.

I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.

Personally speaking, I never felt that the galaxy being full of humanoid races (like the Klingons) needed a complex in-universe explanation.

But when it comes to aliens that are identical to humans, the explanation from The Chase only goes so far. If we try to argue that the abundance of human-looking aliens is caused by the meddling of ancient humanoids who also caused the evolution of the Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians, etc. then the obvious question is why are there not dozens of Cardassian-looking aliens, or Klingon-oids?

Instead, what we could say is that these peoples are more likely to be lost Earth colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and the Mariposans, knowledge of their existence was lost in between their departures from Earth and their encounters with Captain Kirk. If we take The Original Series episode Space Seed at face value, humans had been able to launch large spacecraft since at least the late 20th Century, and with World War III taking place in the mid-21st Century, it’s possible that the records of thousands of space launches were lost. Just like Khan and his followers set out from Earth, perhaps the ancestors of some of these peoples did as well. Some may also be the descendants of humans abducted by aliens in the distant past, and this could explain how some humans have existed independently of Earth for centuries or millennia.

Natria, leader of the Fabrini.

So that’s the extent of this theory, really! I think it provides an interesting alternative explanation as to why Captain Kirk encountered so many human-looking “aliens” during The Original Series. We could even potentially extend this theory to include races like the Betazoids.

Obviously the reason why so many aliens in Star Trek, particularly in the franchise’s early days, were identical to humans was because of limitations in budget and special effects. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it! We can craft intricate theories, partly based on things we’ve learned in other iterations of the franchise, to go back and explain these things. To me at least, the idea that races like the Iotians, Fabrini, and Betans are in fact lost offshoots of humanity makes more sense than the idea that they naturally evolved to be indistinguishable from humans.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.

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.

Five main characters from Star Trek’s past that I’d bring back

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, and for other iterations of the franchise.

This is going to be the first part of a short two-part series in which I look at a few significant characters from past iterations of Star Trek that I would love to see return. Rather than tying these characters to a specific series, film, or ongoing project, this list is more general. I’m not advocating, for example, for any of these characters to necessarily appear in Picard or Strange New Worlds, but rather to return to the franchise at some point, when a suitable story could be written.

The Original Series Season 2 cast (without George Takei).

It goes without saying that practically every major character (at least those who weren’t killed off) could be brought back in some capacity, and with the franchise continuing to expand I think it’s increasingly likely that we’ll get some significant moments where characters reappear. For the sake of this list I’m not counting characters who are starring in shows that are currently in production, so I’ll be limited to characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the films.

The Next Generation cast in Season 4 – plus Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan.

By my count there are 42 characters across those five series that we could call “major” – i.e. they regularly had their names listed in the main credits, and weren’t considered guest stars or just recurring secondary characters. This time I’m picking on just five, and my usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information!” This is just a short list of characters that I think could be fun to bring back in some capacity, nothing more.

The Deep Space Nine cast in Season 4.

Of the 42 characters that occupied major starring roles in at least one season of the five aforementioned shows, I’m excluding five: James T Kirk from The Original Series, Data and Tasha Yar from The Next Generation, Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine, and Trip Tucker from Enterprise. All the exclusions are for the same reason: those characters have died in-universe. While there could be convoluted ways to bring back alternate versions (such as we saw with Sela, for instance) the original character can’t return after death.

The Season 2 cast of Voyager.

Though it may be controversial, I don’t believe that the death of an actor necessarily excludes a character from returning. The Kelvin films recast the entire main cast of The Original Series, and Star Trek: Picard recently recast a couple of legacy characters as well. So characters whose primary actors have passed away are still in contention.

Now that we’ve laid down the ground rules, let’s take a look at my choices.

Number 1: Chakotay

This one is inspired by the return of Seven of Nine in Season 1 of Picard. I’ve written about this before, but Seven’s return to Star Trek was cathartic for me, because the passage of time allowed her to be a very different, more emotional, and much more human character than she ever was in Voyager. Seven was sometimes annoying and difficult to root for, especially toward the end of Voyager’s run, and basically the reason was that she’d always seem to “reset” after learning what should have been a big and important lesson in how to be human. It made her character bland and repetitive. But we’re not here to talk about Seven of Nine!

Chakotay didn’t have a lot to do in Voyager, despite being the first officer. There were a handful of episodes in which he was given a storyline, but a lot of the time he was just a presence, someone there for other characters to bounce ideas off or to tell Captain Janeway he didn’t recommend she do something we all knew she’d end up doing anyway. In short, bringing back Chakotay is something I would see as a chance for his character to get a Seven of Nine-like “redemption,” with some genuine development and a significant storyline.

One thing Voyager touched on briefly but never really explored was the way Chakotay felt about the deaths of the Maquis. The episode Extreme Risk focused on B’Elanna as she struggled to come to terms with what happened to their former colleagues, but Chakotay never really got a similar moment. As part of a larger story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, learning what happened to the Maquis’ colonies in the aftermath of that conflict could include Chakotay, as one of those worlds was his home.

We could also learn that Chakotay was allowed to remain in Starfleet following Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, and may even have been given his own command. Given that Voyager quite quickly dropped the Maquis angle, I’m not sure this is the route I’d go down because it doesn’t seem like it offers a lot of development or growth potential for his character, but it’s a possibility.

The final few episodes of Voyager’s seventh season saw a burgeoning relationship building between Chakotay and Seven of Nine. With Seven now a recurring character in Picard, and with the possibility of her entering into a relationship with main character Raffi, we could potentially explore what happened between Seven and Chakotay. Voyager’s finale certainly suggested that he had strong feelings for her, even after her death in that timeline.

Unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t especially clear, the producers of Voyager lost interest in – or didn’t know what to do with – the “one ship, two crews” concept that had been part of the show’s inception. Chakotay and the rest of the Maquis were absorbed into the crew by midway through Season 1, and while lip service was paid to Chakotay’s Maquis past at numerous points, I think that’s one aspect of his background that would be ripe for exploration. In any 24th or early 25th Century story that looked at Bajor, Cardassia, and the aftermath of the Dominion War, I’d spend at least an episode or two considering the legacy of the Maquis, and Chakotay could play a major role in such a story.

Number 2: T’Pol

I’ve mentioned T’Pol before in relation to Strange New Worlds, and that series is certainly one where we could see her crop up. Because of Enterprise’s place in the timeline, unless Star Trek plans on returning to the 22nd Century for some other story, there aren’t many characters who could realistically still be active and able to play a major role. The 23rd and 24th Centuries (as well as Discovery’s 32nd Century) are where current Star Trek projects are focused – and I have to say I think that’s the right call. Enterprise was an interesting experiment, but I see no pressing need to return to the 22nd Century at this stage.

The story I’d include T’Pol in would go something like this: she’s a senior Federation ambassador by the mid-23rd Century, and accompanies Captain Pike on a diplomatic mission. The mission would make first contact with a race we met in The Next Generation era, such as the Cardassians. We’d thus tie together all three of Star Trek’s eras in one story! I think an episode like that would be incredibly rewarding for longstanding fans of the franchise; a “love letter” to the fans.

But there are many other roles T’Pol could occupy. Having spent so long with humans during those early days of humanity striking out into space, she could prove an invaluable guide or advisor to a young Spock. Whether Spock is “the first Vulcan in Starfleet” is a point of contention without an obvious answer, but even if he wasn’t it’s clear that the Vulcans continued to operate an independent fleet into the 23rd Century, and thus Vulcans serving in Starfleet seem to have been rare. T’Pol is well-placed to be a kind of mentor to Spock for this reason.

However, both of those story concepts take T’Pol out of her usual scientific role, and perhaps a story could be devised which would be better-suited to her career as a scientist. I’m still thinking of a 23rd Century story, but one which perhaps requires high-ranking Federation scientists to work on a mystery or puzzle.

Number 3: Dr Pulaski

I’ve never met a fan of The Next Generation who likes Dr Pulaski as much as I do. I understand why she wasn’t popular with fans, replacing Dr Crusher after one season and especially because of her early run-ins with Data that amounted to anti-android bigotry. But where Dr Crusher could be fairly bland, Dr Pulaski had a really strong personality that shone through.

On another occasion we’ll talk about Dr Pulaski and how her introduction in Season 2 of The Next Generation was an attempt to shake up the new series and bring in a Dr McCoy-type character. But for now I want to consider how she could return, and what sort of role she could have.

Picard Season 1 missed an opportunity to bring back Dr Pulaski – or another medical officer from The Next Generation like Alyssa Ogawa – in the second episode. Picard receives bad news from a doctor he knew while serving aboard the USS Stargazer, Dr Benayoun. This was a new character created for Picard, and if I’d been writing it I might have chosen to bring back Dr Pulaski at this moment instead. I don’t know if that was ever suggested, because it’s well-known that actress Diana Muldaur didn’t have a great time working on The Next Generation. But it would have been neat to see!

One series that has been doing great with references to less well-known parts of canon is Lower Decks, and perhaps that means Dr Pulaski would be a good fit to return there. I don’t know if Diana Muldaur is still working, nor whether she’d be well enough or willing to reprise the role. But it was at least a little sad that Dr Pulaski was dropped in The Next Generation Season 3 with no explanation. There’s scope, I feel, to learn what came next for her – even if the character has to be recast.

Almost any medical story or story involving characters from The Next Generation Season 2 could see Dr Pulaski return, and of course Star Trek: Picard has to be the prime candidate of the shows currently in production. She could, for example, be one of the chief medical officers assigned to help the surviving ex-Borg now that they’re (presumably) under Federation protection. Or how about this: in a storyline that clearly shows how much she’s changed her attitude to synthetic life, she could be the head of a Federation medical team sent to Coppelius to help the synths. This would cement her “redemption” from her earlier interactions with Data, and would perhaps provide a suitable epilogue to her role in The Next Generation Season 2.

Number 4: Benjamin Sisko

Captain Sisko is probably the character whose return I’ve touted the most! Because of the unique nature of his disappearance in the Deep Space Nine finale – vanishing into the realm of the Bajoran Prophets – he could return literally anywhere, in any time period. The Prophets don’t experience time in the same linear manner as humans, so they could send him to a point in his future, his past, or anywhere along the Star Trek timeline.

This is why I’ve proposed Sisko as a character who could appear in Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery – because he could be sent back by the Prophets at any moment in time. I would argue he would have more to do in a story set in the late 24th or early 25th Centuries than he might in the 23rd or 32nd, but in any story that brought back Bajor, Sisko could play a major role.

He could also be part of a story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, at Cardassian relations with the Federation, and of course at Deep Space Nine itself. I think Sisko has the potential to be a useful character too. If he joined the story right at the moment of his return to normal spacetime, he could potentially be a point-of-view character, and an excuse for a film or episode to dump a lot of exposition that could otherwise feel clunky and out-of-place. This would be done under the guise of other characters bringing Sisko up to speed on what he’s missed – and we could catch up on galactic affairs right along with him!

Of all the characters on this list, Sisko is the one whose story feels the most unfinished. There was almost a cliffhanger ending to his role in Deep Space Nine, with a tease that one day he’ll be coming back. Whether we’ll ever see that on screen is another matter, of course, and Avery Brooks has seemed less willing to reprise the role than some other Star Trek actors. But you never know!

Number 5: Montgomery Scott

It would be relatively easy for Scotty to crop up in Strange New Worlds as a junior engineer – or in any other 23rd Century series, for that matter. But that’s not really what I’m proposing this time. That idea has merit, and I think I included Scotty in one of my character ideas lists for Strange New Worlds. However, this time what I’m suggesting is Scotty in the 24th Century.

Relics, the Season 6 episode of The Next Generation, established that Scotty had been kept alive in a form of transporter stasis of his own devising for over eighty years, finally rematerializing when the crew of the Enterprise-D encountered his crashed ship. After working briefly with Geordi La Forge, Captain Picard, and others, Scotty was given a shuttle and set out to explore the new century on his own. We would later learn in 2009’s Star Trek that Scotty had gone back to work, developing a method of “transwarp beaming” that became important to the plot of that film.

After that, however, what became of Scotty is a mystery. He had initially intended to retire, so did his stint with Starfleet continue? Or did he resume his planned retirement in the 24th Century, catching up on the eight decades of galactic history that he’d missed? He reunited with Spock, apparently, and it’s at least possible he would have been able to visit the elderly Dr McCoy as well.

Scotty offers a “coming out of retirement” story, perhaps prompted by some horrible event or disaster that requires an engineering solution. We could learn, for example, that he’d worked alongside Geordi La Forge in preparing the Romulan rescue fleet, or even that he was helping to rebuild the Mars shipyards after the attack by the Zhat Vash. Those are two ideas based on events from Picard Season 1, but of course there are many, many other ways Scotty could have contributed to Starfleet and the Federation in the late 24th Century.

So that’s it… at least for now. The second part of this short series will look at five secondary or recurring characters who I also think could be fun to bring back!

With so many ongoing and upcoming Star Trek projects occupying different places in the timeline, there really is scope to bring back almost any major character, and I hope the creative team don’t feel constrained! As a Trekkie I think I’d be happy with literally any of them making an appearance, though of course it would have to make sense in-universe as well as not be offputting for casual viewers.

The cast of Enterprise during Season 1.

We mentioned the episode Relics, and I think that story manages to walk that line exceptionally well. For fans of The Original Series, Scotty’s return was an amazing treat. But for folks who weren’t familiar with the older series, his inclusion in the episode still managed to make sense. The story was well-written, and while knowing more about who Scotty was and where he’d come from certainly added to it for Trekkies, it didn’t put off casual viewers by demanding a lot of knowledge of Star Trek canon. That’s the kind of model any future episode, film, or story that brings back a character should try to emulate.

We can also point to If Memory Serves, from the second season of Discovery. That episode began with a short recap of the events of The Cage, establishing what happened to Captain Pike on Talos IV, who the Talosians were, who Vina was, and so on. By beginning an episode which features a returning character with a clip or compilation of their past Star Trek exploits, almost any character could be integrated into an ongoing production.

The Discovery Season 1 cast (without Wilson Cruz).

The Star Trek franchise has been running for over five decades, and has a huge roster of wonderful characters. The fact that there are too many to put on the list – or the fact that the list could literally include every single one – is testament to the quality of the franchise and the creative teams who’ve contributed to it over the years.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where I’ll look at five secondary or recurring characters who I’d also love to see come back!

The Star Trek franchise – including all series mentioned above – is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service exists, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all 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.

Great Star Trek villains: General Chang

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The Star Trek franchise sometimes lucks out on getting a wonderful guest star to jump aboard. Some of these guest stars are relative unknowns; actors and actresses who aren’t household names, but nevertheless gave wonderful, memorable performances. On the other hand, there are a handful of actors and actresses who join Star Trek when they’re already very well-known, either because they’re longstanding fans or because they were offered a once-in-a-lifetime role.

Christopher Plummer, who played General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was firmly in the second category; an established, renowned star. Plummer sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 91, and I thought it would be nice to take a look at his single Star Trek role, as well as pay tribute to this legend of stage and screen.

Christopher Plummer (1929-2021)
Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Plummer had a long career, first appearing on television in his native Canada in 1953. He continued to act well into his 80s, and among his final roles were the 2019 film Knives Out and a Canadian television show called Departure which was broadcast that same year. To Star Trek fans, Plummer is iconic for his role as the eyepatch-wearing Klingon General Chang in 1991’s The Undiscovered Country, where he faced off against fellow Canadian William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.

Plummer’s love of Shakespeare was incorporated into the story of The Undiscovered Country – the title of which is itself a quotation from the Great Bard. Chang would go on to quote Shakespeare numerous times throughout the film, appearing all the more villainous for it! There’s something about Shakespearean language that makes for a menacing antagonist.

General Chang and Captain Kirk share a glass of Romulan Ale aboard the Enterprise-A.

General Chang was one part of a broader conspiracy to prevent the Klingons and Federation achieving peace – a metaphor, in 1991, for the end of the Cold War. The Klingons had been conceived during The Original Series as the “Russians” to the Federation’s “Americans,” so it was certainly fitting to bring them into a storyline like this.

To continue the analogy, Chang represents the hard-liners – Soviet military leaders who could not conceive of the end of their dominance and place in the world. A few months before The Undiscovered Country would hit cinemas, a number of such men attempted a coup in the Soviet Union. This was the final roll of the dice from the old guard to preserve Soviet communism and wrench control away from the reformer Gorbachev; the Soviet Union would be formally dissolved in December of that year.

Chang appears on the Enterprise-A’s main viewscreen shortly after the assassination.

Perhaps it’s because of how timely the story was that General Chang made such an impact on Star Trek. The franchise has often looked at the real world through its sci-fi lens, but few stories managed to be as relevant or as timely as The Undiscovered Country was in 1991. The end of the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation represented the end of the Cold War, the explosion of Praxis and its fallout can be seen as an analogy for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and General Chang and Captain Kirk are the respective “old soldiers” from either side who must overcome the way they feel.

Kirk succeeded where Chang could not in that regard, and The Undiscovered Country gave him a meaningful character arc in a way few prior stories had. But Chang’s role is just as interesting, as he represents the many people on both sides of the conflict who were unable to find a way to live in peace. He was a foil for Kirk; a dark reflection of where Kirk’s own biases and mistrust could have led. Chang’s philosophy was that it was better to die in battle than live peacefully with one’s enemies – and he got his comeuppance for it.

Chang during Kirk’s trial on Qo’noS.

But having an interesting real-world message isn’t the only thing that makes Chang’s story so much fun. As I’ve said before, pushing too hard on that front can sometimes lead to a story or character being less entertaining! Instead, Chang was a truly interesting villain for the Star Trek franchise; a Klingon whose motivations were steeped in the concept of honour that his warrior people hold so dear.

Chang’s Klingon Bird-of-Prey could fire its weapons while cloaked, making it a uniquely challenging vessel for Kirk’s Enterprise-A and Sulu’s Excelsior during the climactic final confrontation. This battle, along with the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan, draws on inspiration from war films set aboard submarines, with Kirk and Sulu trying to outmanoeuvre and outthink their unseen opponent.

General Chang’s Bird-of-Prey could fire while cloaked.

During Kirk and McCoy’s trial on Qo’noS, Chang was a powerful advocate for the prosecution, insisting they be convicted for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon – an act for which he and his co-conspirators were, in fact, responsible. Star Trek has shown numerous times that it’s a franchise capable of some great moments of courtroom drama, and this was absolutely one of them! Chang shouting at Kirk that he shouldn’t wait for the universal translator was pitch-perfect acting.

A complex villain, whose motives were to continue a conflict that he could simply see no way of bringing to a peaceful end, General Chang is absolutely one of the most interesting and entertaining antagonists in all of Star Trek, and is up there with Khan as one of the best ever faced by Kirk and The Original Series’ crew.

Christopher Plummer had a long and varied career, one which touched many different genres and styles of acting, and endeared him to generations of audiences. His one moment in Star Trek was not his defining role – and is not the headline in most of his obituaries in mainstream news outlets today – but I firmly believe it showed what he was capable of at his best: a classic Shakespearean actor capable of transitioning to a wholly new genre. He will be missed.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Aliens of Star Trek: The M-113 Creature

Happy Star Trek Day! Today marks fifty-four years since the first episode of The Original Series aired on American television, kicking off a franchise which is still going strong today. The Man Trap featured an alien called the M-113 Creature, but you may know it by its unofficial name: the Salt Vampire!

The early production history of Star Trek is complicated! After The Cage – the show’s original pilot – wasn’t picked up by network NBC, a second pilot was commissioned. This was very unusual, and rumours abound as to what happened. Gene Roddenberry and co. went away to work on a new pilot, and what resulted was Where No Man Has Gone Before. The new pilot dropped most of The Cage’s characters – only Spock would be retained – and reworked the series. It ultimately led to Star Trek being greenlit, and the show was picked up for a full season. Several episodes were filmed, including The Man Trap, and when NBC came to deciding the order in which the stories would air, it was selected as the premiere as its story was considered easier to follow by the executives at the network.

Happy 54th anniversary to The Man Trap… and to Star Trek!

So that’s a potted history of how The Man Trap came to be Star Trek’s first episode, despite the fact it wasn’t filmed first! The episode would see the crew take on a nefarious alien which was the last of its kind: the M-113 Creature.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I really like the design of the creature and the special effects used to pull it off. The heavy rubber suits used for some of The Original Series’ aliens and creatures have a distinct aesthetic, but it’s one I think really works. The suits were very cleverly and lovingly designed, and compared to a lot of contemporary special effects have held up remarkably well over the decades. I’d even compare these kind of practical effects very favourably to lots of digital effects and CGI; no one will ever convince me that Enterprise’s CGI Gorn looks better than The Original Series’ rubber suit!

I think this Gorn still looks pretty good in 2020!

Though the M-113 creature was only seen in its true form very briefly, the same kind of special effects brought it to life in a horrifying way, yet with a unique look that is now emblematic of the Star Trek franchise. Many people who are only dimly aware of Star Trek would recognise the M-113 Creature and be able to identify it as a Star Trek alien; in that sense the creature is up there with races like the Borg and Klingons as being iconic.

It’s been great to see a couple of recent references within Star Trek to the M-113 creature. It appeared in Ephraim and Dot – an animated episode of Short Treks that aired back in December. And just last week we caught a glimpse of the M-113 Creature in Cupid’s Errant Arrow, the fifth episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. These fun little “Easter eggs” to Trekkies were greatly appreciated, and serve as a reminder of Star Trek’s origins all these years later.

The M-113 Creature seen in Ephraim and Dot…
…and again in Cupid’s Errant Arrow.

Though the creature the crew of the Enterprise encountered in The Man Trap was said to be the last of its kind, it’s arguable that may no longer be the case. Being mentioned in Lower Decks could be seen to imply that further M-113 Creatures have been discovered later in the 23rd and 24th Centuries, so we may not have seen the last of this iconic villain.

Nicknamed the “Salt Vampire” because of its ability to extract all of the salt from its victims, the M-113 Creature was a shapeshifter, able to take the form of other species, including humans. It also seems to have been sentient – able to mimic human behaviour and even hold in-depth conversations and form relationships.

The M-113 Creature was able to assume many forms.

Though distinct from later shapeshifting races – most notably the Founders of the Dominion – the M-113 Creature was the first such alien encountered in Star Trek. We’ve since seen a number of others, all of which owe at least a little something to their predecessor from The Man Trap. The concept of a shapeshifter is frightening, and that aspect has been used to great effect in several Star Trek stories.

The M-113 Creature also possessed several other abilities that made it a formidable adversary: it could telepathically sense the minds of sentient life forms – including humans – and use what it found to choose its appearance. This kind of tactic allowed it to get close to its prey and get them to let their guard down. It was also capable of paralysing people in order to get close to them when in its true form, and was incredibly physically strong – far more so than humans and Vulcans.

The M-113 Creature in its true form.

In The Man Trap, the sole surviving M-113 Creature (that we know of) took the form of Nancy Crater, a woman Dr McCoy had known; “that one woman”, as Captain Kirk put it. It lived with Crater’s husband, Robert, on the planet M-113 for a number of years. It was speculated that there had once been a civilisation of M-113 Creatures, but that the majority had gone extinct when the planet’s supply of salt was used up. Robert and Nancy Crater led an archaeological expedition to the world, encountering what could be the last survivor of the race.

Despite possessing some degree of sentience, it wasn’t possible for the crew of the Enterprise to reason with the M-113 Creature that they encountered, and it was killed by Dr McCoy while attempting to feed on Captain Kirk. If it were possible to negotiate with it – or others of its race – Starfleet could have provided the aliens with a supply of salt in exchange for peace. Perhaps such a story could be included in a future episode of Star Trek!

The M-113 Creature after being killed by Dr McCoy.

Despite its monstrous appearance and villainous role in the story, the death of the M-113 Creature in The Man Trap is a sad occasion. Potentially the last of its kind, the entire race and everything they had created now seems lost to history. Starfleet aims not only to seek out new life, but also to find ways – where possible – to peacefully coexist. It’s ironic, considering subsequent Star Trek stories, that the first encounter with an alien ended with its death!

But in a way, the aftermath of the M-113 Creature’s death is what established Star Trek as being more than just typical mid-century B-movie sci-fi fare. It took an emotional toll on Dr McCoy to kill what he thought was his long-lost love, and it took a toll on Kirk and the crew to have killed off the last member of a species. But as the Enterprise prepares to leave orbit, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy gather on the bridge and remember the creature in what was a very poignant moment.

The crew of the Enterprise at the end of The Man Trap.

It’s moments like this, across The Original Series’ early episodes, that set up Star Trek as being something special. There was more to the story of the M-113 Creature than just a horrible monster for our heroes to outsmart. That story was emotional and complex, bringing up issues of morality that other television series and films struggle to get across even today.

Star Trek offered – and continues to offer, fifty-four years later – much more to its audience than just exciting space adventures. This is why the franchise has endured so long, and it all began on the 8th of September 1966 with The Man Trap and the M-113 Creature.

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 listed above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 1: The Cage (Pilot)

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

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

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

Even in its remastered form, The Cage is janky and dated by today’s standards. With the general exception of Jeffrey Hunter, most of the performances are very much of their time – which is to say not particularly convincing. Acting has come a long way since the mid-1960s, and there’s a lot to be said for how much better, in general, the quality of acting performances are today than they were back then. Many aspects of the episode’s visual design are also not what you’d expect from a show made today. The indoor sound stage which was used to represent the surface of Talos IV is obviously artificial, as are the papier-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.