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The 35 Greatest STAR TREK Episodes of All Time: Part 1

A primer in the best of all worlds from "the world's foremost Trekspert" celebrating TREK's 35th anniversary

By Mark A. Altman     September 29, 2001


William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk on the original STAR TREK
© 2001 Paramount
In his book, The Primal Screen, British sci-fi critic John Brosnan says Star Trek has become more than just a subgenre of science fiction; it has become its own genre. Never have those words been more true. With a total of five series having been broadcast in the last 30 years and another one hitting the airwaves this week, Star Trek is one of Paramount's most important assets and a show that has provided hours of endless enjoyment to its fans. Of course, episodes like "Masks," "Spock's Brain," "Equilibrium" and almost every episode of Voyager have provided many hours of head-scratching agony, but that's not what this list is about. Today we come to praise Star Trek, not to bury it.

As the Star Wars juggernaut re-emerges as sci-fi's 10-ton gorilla, it seems only fitting to reflect on the moments that comprise Trek's most sterling hours. For those who haven't been won over by the series' many charms, here's a primer on why so many of us choose to continue boldly going where no man has gone before. Because, my friend, Star Trek at its best can be nothing short of brilliant, groundbreaking television. May it continue to live long and prosper.


You read the top ten in CINESCAPE's print magazine, now here's the rest of the list:


1. THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER (Star Trek): The "Stairway to Heaven"

Edith Keeler in "The City on the Edge of Forever"

of Star Trek episodes. The one you always expect to find at the top of the list. But there's no doubt it belongs there. It has all the ingredients for classic Trek: a clever sci-fi plot, great character interplay, humor and pathos.


2. THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE (Star Trek): As good an argument for why sci-fi writers should be writing Star Trek as any. In the case of Norman Spinrad's "Doomsday Machine," Spinrad was able to service the Star Trek characters without sacrificing the science-fiction quotient as Kirk squares off against a deadly interplanetary planet killer.


3. AMOK TIME (Star Trek): Another great episode by a sci-fi luminary, Theodore Sturgeon. Established Spock's alien mating patterns and provided some of the series' best fisticuffs ever.


4. JOURNEY TO BABEL (Star Trek): Like The Next Generation, which couldn't go wrong with the Klingons (if you conveniently ignore "Aquiel"), Classic Trek always delivered with their Vulcan episodes. Here we learn Spock's parents are Sarek and Amanda Grayson (a descendant of Dick Grayson, perhaps?) as intergalactic intrigue ensues aboard the Enterprise. Why couldn't subsequent Trek series have character development like this?


5. THE MENAGERIE

Rigel VII, as seen in "The Cage"

/ THE CAGE (Star Trek): If you doubt Gene Roddenberry was a genius, check out the way he neatly worked the show's brilliant pilot, "The Cage," into making the two-part episode "The Menagerie." Jeffrey Hunter is superb as Pike and there's some stirring drama as Spock engineers the abduction of his former captain and the Enterprise.


6. THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS (The Next Generation): Michael Piller's triumphant season-ender, which finally earned TNG its space legs and served as the prequel to the fun First Contact and umpteen thousand unmemorable Borg episodes of Voyager.


7. ROCKS & SHOALS (Deep Space Nine): The DS9 crew finds itself stranded on a planet with Jem'Hadar soldiers and an injured Vorta. Marked by striking location photography and a brilliant Ron Moore script, "Rocks & Shoals" is the show at its best.


8. MIRROR, MIRROR (Star Trek): The landing party comes face-to-face with a universe of evil doppelgangers in Jerome Bixby's marvelous and inventive story. Well shot and deliciously overacted, "Mirror, Mirror" inspired a myriad of inferior sequels on DS9.


9. BALANCE OF TERROR (Star Trek): The futility of war and a great cat-and-mouse game in the episode that introduced the Romulans to the Trek lexicon. Another great performance from the brilliant Bill Shatner.


10. YESTERDAY'S ENTERPRISE (The Next Generation): Although TNG has done time-anomaly

Tasha Yar returns from the dead in "Yesterday's Enterprise."

stories ad nauseam, this was by far the best and most clever as the Enterprise finds itself in an alternate reality at war with the Klingons.


11. IN THE PALE MOONLIGHT (Deep Space Nine): Sisko uses Garak to manipulate the Romulans into joining the war effort against the Dominion in one of the darkest and most surprising Star Treks ever.


12. ARENA (Star Trek): Kirk battles the Gorn and refuses to kill him, making a great "thou shalt not kill speech" when Trek's "can't we all get along" polemic was still fresh. The teaser and the fight on Cestus III are among Trek's greatest set pieces ever.


13. CHILDREN OF TIME (Deep Space Nine): Once again, DS9 lays the emotion on thick when a Runabout crashes on a planet and the DS9 crew comes face-to-face with its descendants. The only hope of getting back home is at the risk of destroying the civilization that was spawned by the accident. The Odo/Kira relationship has never been more subtle or effectively addressed.


14. THE MEASURE OF A MAN (The Next Generation): Does an android have rights? That is the question that consumes the Enterprise crew in Melinda Snodgrass' exceptional courtroom creation in which Picard must keep Data from becoming scrap metal.


15. Q WHO? (The Next Generation): Spooky

The Borg debut in Q WHO?

sci-fi which introduced the Borg to the Trek mythology. One of the moodiest and most malevolent Treks ever.


16. SHORE LEAVE (Star Trek): An imaginative extrapolation on Disneyland ages before the creation of the holodeck. Delightful from start to finish.


17. THE VISITOR (Deep Space Nine): Another DS9 milestone, rich in deep emotion and, ultimately, tragedy as Jake Sisko looks back at his life in the wake of his father's death.


Look for the rest of our list tomorrow in Part 2 of the greatest Treks of all time.

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