Last article to move over from the old blog so here we go. I actually gave this one to Jessica when it came to TNG.
A Rundown of the Star Trek franchise
I have been asked by a friend “How do I get into Star Trek?”. Or at lest something in that direction. I admit, it’s a hard question to answer. Star Trek encompasses five live-action tv shows, eleven movies (soon to be 12), one animated series and dozens upon dozens of novels and further material. Getting into Trek is a daunting process. So, how do you start?
Well, start at the beginning, some might say. I believe, that that answer is much more complex, so, what I’m going to do, is give you a rundown of all live-action series and the movies, why and why not you should watch them and some episodes I recommend, as well as my personal experience with them.
At this point I should probably mention, that I’m not a hardcore Trek fan. I’m no Trekkie, or Trekker, or whatever they want to be called. I’m not obsessed with Trek, I just happened to grow up with it. That also gives me the chance to approach some of the more… let’s say controversial aspects with some distance, though by no means by being objective.
1.) Star Trek: The Original Series
This is, of course, the Big One, the original, the one everything else was based upon. The classic 1966 series, the one that became a part of pop culture and the one most people know of.
Let’s get this straight: most of it has not aged well, at all. By that I mean the portrayal of certain… subjects and of course the women, oh the women (I’m looking at you, Janice Rand, captain’s doormat). If you go in it, you should do so with the mindset of “for it’s time”. It was progressive “for it’s time”, the portrayal of women was progressive “for it’s time”, even the miniskirts were progressive “for their time” (back them they stood for empowerment or something in that line, know you kinda feel uncomfortable when Uhura walks around and you can see her underwear in glorious 1080p).
And then, of course, the fact of quality material. I believe Philip J. Fry said it best: “[…]79 episodes, about 30 good ones.” A lot of episodes, while wonderful for fans and watching it for the kitsch, no doubt about it, are hard to sit through. That being said, there are some of the franchises best episodes in their and some of my favourites. So, if you want to watch some TOS, start with these, so that you get a proper introduction to the series and go back to others later. It’s way too easy to get a bad first impression.
“Where no one has gone before” – the second pilot and a good introduction to the series. If you have to start somewhere, you better start here.
“The Corbomite Maneuver”
“The Conscience of the King” – probably one of my favourite Star Trek episodes
“Balance of Terror” – another one of my favourites, it introduced the Romulans and is probably the most mature a Trek episode came to discussing the effects of war until DS9 came around, which owes much to this one episode.
“The Devil in the Dark”
“Errand of Mercy” – introduces the Klingons
“The City on the Edge of Forever” – the big one, pretty much universally considered Trek’s best episodes in the franchises history.
“The Trouble with Tribbles”
After these you can feel free to go back and watch some more, there are still some gems in there. Oh, and, if you can arrange it, watch the remastered version. Not only is it in HD, but it also put new effects in there, that replaced the cheesy old ones, that never looked so good. Hardcore fans may tell you otherwise, but they really enhance some really great episodes by showing what just wasn’t possible on a shoe-string budget in the 60’s.
2.) Star Trek: The Next Generation
Next to TOS this is the one most fans are up in arms about. The one with Picard, who ties with Sisko of DS9 for “Best Captain of the Franchise”. Very much like the original, this has not aged well, with the first to seasons being so consistently bad, that it’s a wonder, that the show survived until Michael Piller rescued it.
Also, most episodes are fine, but not really my thing, as I despise most main characters exept for Picard, Geordi and (mostly) Data. The rest I could care less about, with Worf being rescued from my personal hatedom after he joined DS9. There are some good supporting characters like Barkely, O’Brien, Guinan or Ro Laren, but they are in too few episodes sadly.
The series itself suffered a lot from the “Roddenberry box” of no interpersonal conflict and the starfleet gospel and the whole “enlightenment of humanity”, basicly it demonstrated (next to Voyager, but we’ll get to that) all the worst aspects of Trek a lot of the time.
That being said, there are a lot of great episodes in this show, but problem is, that it was often “okay, bad, okay, great, okay, okay, one of the best episode ever, bad, okay, bad…” or at least I felt about it that way. It may help if you like at least some of the characters.
My advice: ignore season 1, except maybe the pilot “Encounter at Farpoint”, as it establishes the ship, the characters and some other aspects, though skip it, if you are at least a little bit familiar with the series or can find the Wikipedia page.
“The Measure of a Man”
“Who Watches the Watchers”
“The Best of Both Worlds: Part One and Part Two” (with “Family being an unofficial third part or Epilogue)
“The Inner Light”
“A Fistful of Datas”
“Chain of Command: Part One and Part Two”
“All Good Things…”
These are the best in my humble opinion, but feel free to go back after you have seen these, though don’t expect much.
3.) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Okay, I may be biased, but this is definitely the best Trek series, it may as well be one of the best SciFi series of all time and one of my all time favourites. At time of writing, this is the only Trek series I own all seasons of on DVD (well, plus TOS Season 1 on Blu-ray). This one had it all: a fantastic writing staff (including the one and only Ronald D. “I created Battlestar Galactica (2003)” Moore), great characters and actors (well, most of them), a strong supporting cast, character development, interpersonal conflict and interesting dynamics, and, maybe most important, the willingness to be different and risk something from time to time.
A number of Trekdom has pretty much disowned this series, pretty much because it was different and moved away from the Roddenberry ideal, but I just love it. It’s also the only one, next to TOS that is, that was good from start. I recommend the whole series, as it is the only one where it is worth it, because of episode-to-episode continuity, some strong story arcs, etc. Of course, there are also some that stand out. So, this is going to be different. These are the ones, that I enjoyed the most.
“The Marquis, Part 1 and Part Two”
“The House of Quark”
“Improbable Cause / The Die is Cast”
“The Way of the Warrior, Part One and Part Two”
“Our Man Bashir”
“Return to Grace”
“For the Cause / For the Uniform / Blaze of Glory” (connected Edington-Trilogy)
“Trials and Tribble-attions”
“In Purgatory’s Shadow / By Inferno’s Light”
“In the Pale Moonlight” – by some considered the worst episode of the franchise, a betrayal of all that Roddenberry envisioned by creating Trek, others consider it up there with “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Guess which camp I belong to)
“The Magnificent Ferengi”
“The Siege of AR-558”
“It’s Only a Paper Moon” (follow-up to AR-558)
“Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges”
So, yeah, try to watch the series. It’s definitely worth it. Next to, say, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica, this inspired me the most of of scifi tv in my own writing.
4.) Star Trek: Voyager
Boy… have we already reached the bottom of the barrel? The lowest of the low? This is definitely the worst series, hands down. Why? It’s the one that played it the safest. I’ll explain it by example of the core concept:
“The USS Voyager is trapped on the other side of the galaxy by aliens, there is no going back. Furthermore, the Starfleet crew has to align itself with Marquis, a federation terrorist group, that is stranded alongside them. They have to cooperate. Voyager will have to deal with the consequences of being stranded, having no backup, a limited number of supplies and being alone in hostile territory, while trying to hold on to federation principles.”
Yeah, nothing of that happened. There was no episode-to-episode continuity, there was no real interpersonal conflict (well, up until halfway through the pilot), they always played it save and Status Quo is God. Let’s just say, that all the competent people went to DS9 when TNG ended and the rest to Voyager. Problem is, that this is not a sports movie about the underdog trying to rise up and beat the odds.
The show has so few redeeming elements, that I can’t recommend any episodes, even a handful of good ones (they’re not worth exposing oneself to the series and only really good in contrast to their own series’ low standard). It wasted three interesting characters, that DS9 or even TNG could have made more use of (The Doctor, Tom Paris and Seven of Nine). It ran the Borg, once the biggest, most deadly enemy of the Federation, into the ground and made them the punching back of the galaxy. I truly dislike it. Though, admittedly, it had the most layered and dimensional villain in Star Trek history. Unfortunately she was supposed to be The Captain and principal protagonist.
5.) Star Trek: Enterprise
You know, it’s funny. A year or two ago, I might have said the same about this series as I’ve said about Voyager. Difference is though, that Enterprise got good about halfway through (rule of thumb: season 1 and 2 are among the worst of Trek, 3 and 4 among it’s best) and the characters were tolerable enough to sustain me through seasons one and two. Perhaps it’s, because this was the first Trek show I watched from beginning to end as it aired, rather than reruns without wait between episodes or entire seasons. Maybe it’s because season 3 and 4 were just that good.
Season 1 and 2 you can pretty much summarise as “the creators of Voyager trying to recapture the feeling of TOS and TNG, while being as ‘edgy’ and fresh as the DS9-guys, but without the talents and executive meddling”.
Anyway, watch these following episodes, skip the bad ones and then head on to season 3 and 4 and watch them in their entirety.
“Broken Bow” – the pilot, pretty decent, entertaining enough to carry you through the stupid bits
“The Andorian Incident” – kinda okay, but necessary for some arc elements and the introduction of a major supporting character
“Cold Front” – important for the arc
“Silent Enemy” – very good early outing, tension heavy and good characterization
“Fallen Hero” – first episode where they reach Warp 5 and otherwise quite solid
“Shockwave, Part I and II” – important for the arc
“Minefield” – somewhat important for the arc, I guess, but otherwise solid Archer and Reed character stuff
“Cease Fire” – important for the arc
“Future Tense” – arc stuff
“Judgement” – very good Klingon episode that actually gives us a new side of the species to consider
“Regeneration” – to be watched as a companion piece to Star Trek 8: First Contact
“First Flight” – not really important for the arc, but a good world-building episode about the NX-program
“The Expanse” – important for the arc, leads into season 3
Then, as said, season 3 and 4, which are really, really good, minus a couple of slip-ups (season 3…). And do yourself a favor and quit after the Terra Firma two-parter with Peter Weller, it’s the true series finale, it makes way more sense. And afterwards pick up the Relaunch books starting with “The Good That Men Do” and follow all the way through the “Rise of the Federation” series. It goes to show how much better books can convey ideas than network tv.
7.) The movies
Ah, the movies. six good ones out of eleven. I would recommend to watch the TV episodes first, as it will give you a deeper understanding for the characters, but you might as well start here, if you find it easier to watch through 12 hours of movies, as opposed to weeks worth of episodes. Can’t say I blame you. Not the cowards way out, I promise.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” – the magnum opus of the franchise, achieved after Roddenberry was kicked upstairs and they brought in some fresh blood. My second favorite.
“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” – spoiler: they search for Mr. Spock in this one.
“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” – builds a trilogy with II and III, probably the most mainstream Trek movie up until the J.J. Abrams one in ’09
“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” – the best in the movie series
“Star Trek VIII: First Contact” – the only good TNG movie
And after that I definitely go see Star Trek: Beyond, which is the third best movie in the entire franchise, but for that you’ll need to watch the 09 reboot. It’s a film I can take or leave, but it’s a million times better when you watch Beyond straight afterwards instead of Into Darkness, which just treaded water and was so damn pointless.
This should be a pretty decent guideline through the franchise. Should there be any questions, any problems with the list, I’ll always listen. If you find, that some episodes, that deserved it, weren’t on the list, then comment below and name them.
Until then, live long and prosper.