History, Legacy & Showmanship

Still Boldly Going: Celebrating “Star Trek” on its 50th Anniversary

September 7, 2016 - 3:30 pm   |   by
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Spock from Amok Time

Coate: Which are the show’s standout episodes?

Altman: City on the Edge of Forever. Other favorites are Mirror, Mirror; A Taste of Armageddon and Arena. And from The Next Generation: Q Who, Who Watches The Watchers, The Survivors, All Good Things and Trials and Tribble-ations, and In the Pale Moonlight on Deep Space Nine. Also, Mudd’s Passion and Yesteryear for The Animated Series. Do you want to know the worst? We probably don’t have time for that. Guiltiest pleasures: Spectre of the Gun and The Savage Curtain, and The Royale from The Next Generation.

Bond: City on the Edge of Forever; Mirror, Mirror; Errand of Mercy; The Devil in the Dark — there are many original series episodes, especially in the first season and a half. 

Burnett: This is a question already answered a hundred thousand times before... but I’d like to offer what I’d call a “Meat and Potatoes” episode for each series. That is... not the greatest episode, but a consistent example of what makes Trek great. For The Original Series, I offer season one’s A Taste of Armageddon, about two warring planets fighting a virtual war with computers, but expecting their actual population to pay the price in order to stave off the destruction of an actual shooting war…. For The Animated Series, I have to choose the Larry Niven-scripted Slaver Weapon. First, he incorporated elements of his own Known Space series, including the Cat-Like Kzinti, awesome antagonists I’d dearly love to see one day incorporated into “real” Trek. Any fans of the table-top role playing game Starfleet Battles love the race. Also, it’s one of the only episodes where James T. Kirk does not appear! Bryan Fuller should totally bring back the Kzinti into Discovery…. I’ve always been a fan of The Next Generation’s quiet, mysterious third season episode The Survivors, offering up an elderly couple as the sole survivors of a terrible alien attack which destroyed their entire planet. John Anderson’s superlative performance coupled with a shocking revelation makes this one of the very best of TNG’s seven season run…. DS9’s two-parter, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light remain, after The Menagerie, my absolute favorite Trek two-parter (with Chain of Command bringing up the rear). The less said about these episodes the better, but in the context of the show dramatically illustrated just how far the writing staff had come in shaking up the established status quo by offering some shocking and significant character alteration, causing signification doubt in viewer’s minds where things were going. These shows trumpeted Executive Producer Steven Ira Behr’s real desire to expand Trek storytelling beyond the bounds of traditional five-act structure and embrace the nature of true serialization which later became a staple of the current golden age of television storytelling…. Voyager’s Blink of an Eye, co-written by Star Trek: Discovery’s Joe Menosky, is my absolute favorite Voyager episode. Combining Brannon Braga’s penchant for time anomalies with Menosky’s sometimes problematic use of fringe intellectual concepts, Eye spins a heady tale of a planet out of the normal time stream, with a stuck-in-orbit Voyager itself becoming part of the collective mythology of people living there. A great stand-alone science fiction story with a surprisingly moving climax, Eye provides a fleeting glimpse of what kind of series Voyager might have been if the show concentrated more on modern science fiction concepts and less on the idea of making the long journey home…. My favorite Enterprise remains Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens The Forge. No one understands Star Trek from a modern perspective then the best couple in Star Trek. The authors of my very favorite Star Trek novel, Prime Directive, showed us a glimpse of Vulcan we could only scarcely ever dream of. Fantastic canon episode.

Cushman: Amok Time, when Spock loses his sanity due to an urge to mate. And Kirk must risk his career, and his command, to save the life of his First Officer, who he owes his life to many times over. This episode was so edgy when it first aired in September 1967…. Journey to Babel, an examination of a complex father/son relationship — and the true meaning of love. And the biggest gathering of aliens until the cantina scene in the first Star Wars ten years later, which owes much to this episode…. The City on the Edge of Forever — among the greatest and most heartbreaking love stories ever told on the screen — big or small — and right up there with Gone with the Wind and Somewhere in Time and the 1940s film version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir…. The Naked Time. With only its fourth broadcast episode on NBC, Star Trek dared to strip its characters naked in front of America. Kirk confessed he obsessively loved his ship; Spock cried and admitted he was never able to tell mother he loved her; and a sweaty bare-chested Sulu, with a saber, chased crewman up and down halls with intoxicated and sadistic delight…. Charlie X — because I first saw it when I was a young teen, and my stomach was aching because I was experiencing my first crush. I didn’t know why I felt sick every time I was near her. And then Charlie admitted to the same affliction. And Kirk explained it. Nowhere else on TV had I ever seen that conversation take place before… or since. My father and I never had it. But Kirk and Charlie did, and I was there to learn from it…. The Doomsday Machine — because it’s Moby Dick in space. When we saw William Windom play Commodore Decker, who wanted to join his crew in death, we truly ached. We felt empathy. And any moving picture that can make you do that is a resounding success…. Shore Leave because everything about it is perfect! Watch it and see for yourself.  

Dochterman: There are so many that it is tough to form a list that isn’t 79 episodes long. I think the ones that are the best examples of what the pinnacle of Trek can be are: Balance of Terror — it gives us a glimpse at a villain that is completely understandable and honorable. The Enemy Within — a fascinating look at the nature of man’s good/evil aspects. The Doomsday Machine — old-fashioned, nail-biting adventure filled with thrills and danger. Amok Time — a fun look at the mysterious culture of Vulcan. The Enterprise Incident — a nice cold war adventure. And Requiem for Methuselah — one of my all-time favorites from the often belittled third season.

Fontana: In no particular order — The City on the Edge of Forever, The Trouble with Tribbles, The Devil in the Dark, This Side of Paradise, Journey to Babel.

Gerani: Hmmm.… The Cage/The Menagerie; Where No Man Has Gone BeforeThe Corbomite Maneuver; Balance of Terror; Mirror, Mirror; The Doomsday Machine.

Gerrold: Mirror, Mirror; City On The Edge of Forever; Balance of Terror; Devil In The Dark; A Taste of Armageddon; The Corbomite Maneuver; Doomsday Machine; Journey to Babel; Paradise Syndrome; Day of the Dove; Shore Leave....

Gross: The Devil in the Dark — gives a whole new meaning to the adage of not judging a book by its cover. Metamorphosis — a treatise on the true nature of love, and one of Shatner’s finest moments as Kirk. The Trouble with Tribbles — they proved Star Trek could be funny without losing an ounce of its integrity. A Taste of Armageddon — not usually a Top 10 episode, but a wonderful allegory of Vietnam. Space Seed — Ricardo Montalban as Khan goes up against William Shatner as Kirk! Balance of Terror — A World War II submarine film transported to space with genuine tension and characterization. It just goes on from there.

Kraft: (1) The City on the Edge of Forever. Harlan Ellison’s tale employs a familiar plot device, time travel, and infuses it with a very poignant human theme of love, sacrifice and ethical dilemma. Kirk must choose between his love for Edith Keeler and humankind’s common good. Edith Keeler’s death for a greater good foreshadows Spock’s death in The Wrath of Khan when Spock decides that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” (2) The Doomsday Machine. It’s not only a tale of pulsating suspense, but also a cautionary tale about the perils of technology run amuck in the form of a super weapon that turns into a Frankenstein monster. I interpreted the narrative to be an admonition about nuclear war and the potential extinction of the human race. (3) Errand of Mercy. Both sides get their comeuppance in this tale of planetary meddling by the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It puts the Prime Directive at the forefront and reminds us of its wise guiding principle. Kirk is flummoxed when asked by the Organians if he’s defending the right to start a war. The Klingon commander, of course, remains blinded by his bloodlust. His only regret is that he was cheated of a war that “would have been glorious.” Human and Klingon hubris are brought down a peg. The Organians are truly the ethical/moral superiors. (4) Space Seed. Ricardo Montalban’s charismatic Khan and the moral/ethical implications of the Superman theory highlight this episode. Do superior intelligence and strength (Khan) absolve the inevitable abuse of power that comes with it? Are “Supermen” above the moral imperatives of compassion and mercy? Again Trek poses the big ethical and moral questions. Apparently the learned Khan had no acquaintance with the catastrophic consequences of the Superman theory in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment or was blinded to those consequences by ego and hubris. (5) A Taste of Armageddon. This episode parallels the horrors of the Vietnam War. As never before, that war invaded the living rooms of every home in America with an intimate immediacy and revulsion. It was like a ringside seat at a nightmare courtesy of the national media. When Kirk destroys the disintegration chambers in which millions are “painlessly” disposed of as “antiseptic casualties of war” waged by computer simulation, it forces the warring factions to begin negotiations toward a treaty or face the alternative of real blood and carnage.

Pilato: There are so many wonderful and favorite episodes. Miri…with Kim Darby. Metamorphosis…with Elinor Donahue. Or City on the Edge of Forever…with Joan Collins, just to name a few.

Snodgrass: Charlie X, Balance of Terror, Trouble with Tribbles, The Devil in the Dark.

Sarek and Amanda from Journey to Babel

Coate: If you could name only one, which episode is your favorite?

Altman: I’m boring. City on the Edge of Forever. (The syndication cut for WPIX where the scene of the bum picking up and shooting himself with the phaser is omitted.)

Bond: Amok Time still has my favorite moment in all of Star Trek, which is the moment when Spock realizes that he hasn’t killed Kirk, that Kirk is alive, and the outburst of pure joy from that character. I think it’s one of the greatest moments on television, period, because in just about one second it peels the mask off this character and shows this incredible evolution from a remote, mysterious alien to a character that we know feels very deeply. It’s a great science fiction story written by a great science fiction writer (something the new Star Trek shows really lacked for the most part) and a magnificent character study that gets at what Star Trek is all about, which is understanding each other.

Burnett: City on the Edge of Forever or The Inner Light? Far Beyond the Stars or Blink of an Eye? Aside from the first and last episodes, the entirety of Enterprise’s fourth season? There are over seven hundred hours of televised Trek to choose from and my answer to this question might depend any day on the price of gas at my local Chevron. But there is one episode I’ve dearly loved since I was a wee lad which nobody ever mentions in any list of their favorite episodes: the second season TOS episode The Immunity Syndrome. The one with the 11,000 mile-long space amoeba, easily once of the most compelling alien creatures to ever appear in science fiction. Beginning with Spock sensing the death of the all-Vulcan starship Intrepid, a moment directly referenced in Star Wars, the plot becomes at once scary as hell and mysteriously wondrous at the same time. From the exhausted crew of the Enterprise entering the zone of darkness to their horrifically incredulous discovery of the amoeba itself, the episode remains both a compelling mystery and very hard science fiction with tremendous character beats…. Robert Sabaroff’s crackling script contains some of the best dialogue exchanges of the entire series, including some of the very best Spock and McCoy scenes ever written. “You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours.” — Spock to McCoy, on the deaths of the Intrepid crew…. “Suffer the death of thy neighbor, eh, Spock? You wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?” “It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.” — McCoy and Spock on feeling empathy for the dead Intrepid crew…. “Vulcan dignity? How can I grant you what I don’t understand?” “Then employ one of your own superstitions. Wish me luck.” — McCoy and Spock, outside the hangar deck door…. And finally...one of my very favorites: “Shut up, Spock! We’re rescuing you!” “Why, thank you ... Captain McCoy.” — McCoy and Spock, as the Enterprise locks tractor beams onto the shuttlecraft…. Perhaps my love of this episode offers some insight into why Star Trek: The Motion Picture will always be my favorite Trek feature film.

Cushman: This Side of Paradise — a study in loneliness. Spock tells Kirk at the end, “For the first time in my life … I was happy.” But he gave it up, out of loyalty for Kirk. And we see how tortured and lonely Kirk is, when his crew abandons him and he is left alone on the Enterprise. Brilliant. And heartbreaking.

Dochterman: When forced, I would have to say Mirror, Mirror, for the simple reason that it is so enjoyable to see our crew trying to exist in the mirror universe, and extremely enjoyable to see the mirror counterparts caged in our universe. I just enjoy it so much every time I see it.

Fontana: I can’t name just one.

Gerani: Probably Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever. That one just seemed to have it all… a great premise, a strong leading lady, powerful Ellison time warp concepts, and a memorable closing line. Oh, and the glowing gateway “guardian” was a pretty cool on-set prop.

Gerrold: Obviously, The Trouble with Tribbles. It jump-started my career. Without it, I would have had a much harder time.

Gross: It’s a cliché, but The City on the Edge of Forever. The concept is brilliant, as is the execution. It is so incredibly hard to sell a love story in a self-contained 60-minute episode, but City absolutely does it. And when Kirk sacrifices that love to save history? Still so moving.

Kraft: Of all the gems in the Star Trek treasure chest, The City on the Edge of Forever sparkles the most for me.

Pilato: My favorite episode is Amok Time, in which Spock begins behaving very strangely and, come to find out, he must return to his home-planet Vulcan to marry his betrothed from birth. Due to the Vulcan ceremonial rituals explained in the episode, he ends up battling Kirk for the love of his life, seemingly killing Kirk in the process, and realizing that as he says, “having is not so pleasing as wanting. It isn’t logical, but often true.” And that remains one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite episodes.  

Snodgrass: City on the Edge of Forever.

Coate: Is there an ideal “gateway” episode to introduce someone to the series?

Altman: If I was writing Trek101, I would suggest a neophyte start with The Corbomite Maneuver, which encapsulates the entire Trek philosophy in one episode, and probably The Devil in the Dark and Errand of Mercy. For The Next Generation, Measure of a Man, and Enterprise, Dear Doctor. For Deep Space Nine, watch Duet and In the Tears of the Prophets. And if you like those, binge the next six years.

Bond: I use my wife as an example for this — she’s never had any interest in Star Trek and I made a huge mistake when I first met her by showing her Mirror, Mirror, which has Kirk going into a parallel universe and having to behave like some savage, pirate version of himself, and dealing with an evil Spock who’s wearing a beard — the whole episode basically introduces a completely different TV series concept, which works if you’ve spent a year or so watching the characters, but to have someone come in cold who knows nothing about Star Trek, it’s just asking too much. I actually think The Corbomite Maneuver is a perfect introduction to the characters, and it was designed to do exactly that, but because back then it took them so long to finish the special effects it wound up running much later in the first season. It’s also tough for modern audiences to deal with Clint Howard playing an alien as a little kid, I think — you could get away with that and it was an original idea back then but it’s tough for modern audiences. I would go back to Amok Time — it’s just a great personal story that gives you tremendous insight into the Vulcans and Spock, and his relationship with Kirk. And just to be controversial, the first J.J. Abrams movie is actually a terrific introduction to the characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and I’m sure that has brought a lot of younger viewers into the franchise.

Burnett: It really depends on the person. But I’ve maintained the very best Star Trek gateway episode is The Corbomite Maneuver. Everything you need to know is in those 52 minutes. Great science fiction, a great mystery and a great conclusion. Plus, the First Federation is a fantastic conceit. And booze.

Cushman: I always thought The Corbomite Maneuver served as a great introduction to Star Trek. It was the episode Gene Roddenberry wanted to open the series with on NBC, but the photographic effects weren’t ready. So I showed that to my son first, when he was 12. It bored him to death. Too slow paced for today’s kids. So then I showed him Journey to Babel and he loved it.

Dochterman: Well, it’s a very serious subject to me, and a very difficult question to answer thoroughly. But I think that it depends on the person. If they are likely to react better to action or Klingons, then I would say Balance of Terror or Errand of Mercy. If they are more open to science fiction or character moments, City on the Edge of Forever or Bread and Circuses. And if they respond better to fun romps, then perhaps The Trouble with Tribbles or I, Mudd. Of course, The Menagerie gives you a spoon fed version of The Cage, along with a fascinating sci-fi and character framework.

Fontana: This is a difficult question. I would choose The Devil in the Dark, though it is a later episode in the first season. The reason is, our captain and crew are presented with a situation in which “something evil” is killing miners — endangering the working people, their livelihoods and the production of the planet — and our team has to solve the problem. And then, through Spock’s mind meld ability (I believe that was the first time it was used), they discover the creature is not a murdering, mindless beast but a mother protecting its young. Pure, perfect Star Trek — and unlike anything anyone else would have done. (Thank you, Gene Coon.)

Gerani: Corbomite is a good choice, as it dramatizes the mission of the Enterprise and enables viewers to experience both the fear and wonder associated with first contact.

Gerrold: I have been told by many that The Trouble with Tribbles is a good start, but I disagree because it’s so different from many of the other episodes. I’d say start with The Man Trap, which was also the first episode broadcast. It hooked me.

Gross: I’ll be honest, the first episode that popped into my mind was The Corbomite Maneuver, which happens to be the first episode filmed after the pilots. It captures the mystery of the unknown, ultimately demonstrates that what we encounter out there isn’t necessarily dangerous, has Kirk make mistakes as a leader, there’s a bit of sniping followed by reconciliation between the captain and Spock, and Mr. Bailey — despite whiney personality — proves to be an appropriate surrogate for the audience.

Kraft: I would recommend The City on the Edge of Forever because it is science fiction that is at once so very human and so ethically complex. Sometimes science fiction seems abstractly remote, more about machines and ideas than about people. The City on the Edge of Forever proves that science fiction can be poignant and smart.

Pilato: I would say you can’t go wrong by watching Miri, Metamorphosis, City on the Edge of Forever, or Amok Time.

Snodgrass: I would probably use Tribbles.

Captain Kirk from The Trouble with Tribbles

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