Star Trek is awesome. But every once in a while...it makes mistakes. Give a franchise enough time, and it’ll occasionally slip up. Trek is no exception. Here are the ten moments from the final frontier (some of them pretty entertaining anyway) that make us respectfully wonder: what were they thinking?
10. The Enterprise Finale (2005)
Enterprise, ultimately the final television incarnation of Star Trek, was devised as a prequel exploring the early days of the Federation. It grew a small-but-devoted fanbase that was fascinated to see how the crew figured into Trek prehistory.
Instead, the Enterprise closer, “These Are The Voyages,” jumps forward hundreds of years in the future to find Commander William Riker from The Next Generation dithering about whether to come clean about a dark event in his past (in a callback to the NextGen episode “The Pegasus”). In a quest for inspiration he turns to a holodeck program telling the tale of the final mission of the Enterprise NX-01, effectively making the entire cast of Enterprise guest stars in their own finale. What was intended to be a tribute to all of Trek turned into a giant raspberry to Enterprise fans.
9. The Ligonians, Next Generation (1987)
Star Trek is famous for its progressive attitudes. Gene Roddenberry’s universe is one that postulates a future with absolutely no prejudice, a philosophy that presumably extends to the entities that produce every episode. So it makes it more odd that in 1987, the third episode of Next Generation involved beautiful, blonde Lt. Tasha Yar being kidnapped by the Ligonians, a race of honor-bound, pillow-pants clad warriors who pit their women in battles to the death, speak entirely in tribal clichés and…wait for it…are all played by African American actors. (To Roddenberry’s credit, he was horrified as anyone about this choice, and then moved to salvage the episode as best as could be done.)
8. Spock’s Brain is Stolen, Original Series (1968)
So. The Enterprise crew is knocked unconscious, and they’re boarded by a group of female aliens who look like go-go dancers, and then one of them, during a commercial…steals Spock’s brain! The crew then goes on a galactic Easter Egg hunt to track down Spock’s missing grey matter, while Spock is brought along as a zombie controlled by a metal hat, leading to the priceless scene where Spock’s brain tries to tell everyone the procedure to get him back into Spock’s body. This episode was chosen as the third season premiere for the original series, perhaps because NBC wanted to take the term “mindless entertainment” to new heights. They only got the first part right.
7. Kirk Meets God, The Final Frontier (1989)
Shatner was given his chance to direct for Star Trek V. The pitch: Kirk and company are hijacked and taken to a paradise planet that turns into an inferno, as Kirk valiantly tries to rescue Spock and McCoy from a being who claims he’s God, but is actually the devil. But the concept was aborted in midstream, and what we get is a shoddy, plotless mess filled with padding and lame jokes that climaxes with an omnipotent alien encounter that crosses Wizard of Oz with the environs of a bad spaghetti western. Then “God” throws a hissy fit and grows violent, but all is saved by a puny Klingon disruptor blast, leaving the characters to wonder aloud what the point of the movie even was.
6. Kirk and Spock Turn Into Fish People, Animated Series (1973)
Star Trek loves a little device called “Fun With DNA,” which posits that a person’s genetic code is like a rewritable CD. This of course is probably ludicrous, but occasionally it makes for some refreshingly bizarre storytelling. In one of the first instances in Star Trek history, “The Ambergris Element” has the enterprise orbiting the water planet Argo. Kirk and Spock land and go missing, and are soon discovered with gills in their necks, subject to a bizarre mutation. Much underwater shenanigans ensue. The sight of seeing proud James T. Kirk contemplating captaining his starship from an aquarium is a highlight of a surreal episode.
5. Meet The Ferengi, The Next Generation (1987)
One of the selling points of Next Generation was the promise of new stories told in Gene Roddenberry’s universe, with new characters, and, yes, new aliens! Enter the Ferengi, a Capitalism-run-amok adversary that was built up to be a horrifying threat. And then we met them, and when we finally see them in action, they’re downright goofy: flailing their arms and jumping around spastically, they’re as frightening as angry, ugly Chihuahuas. The Ferengi, with their clownish behavior and grotesque greed, were promptly shuttled to being supporting players in the Star Trek universe, frequently popping up as comic foils, since their one and only audition to be vicious antagonists turned out to be, let’s face it, a huge dud.
4. Quark Cross-Dresses, Deep Space Nine (1998)
Speaking of the Ferengi….
Pound for pound, Deep Space Nine had the strongest batting average of any Trek show. But they weren’t all winners, and the show’s missteps can often be traced back to Ferengi-centric comedy episodes that grew increasingly insufferable. In the nadir of Deep Space Nine’s throughline of exploring Ferengi culture through humor, Quark (through circumstances too tedious to recount) must undergo a sex change operation to pose as a woman and secure a business deal, leading to agonizing moments when Quark must be taught “female” (read: grossly stereotypical) behavior. Cross-dressing comedy can be funny, such as in Tootsie and Some Like it Hot. The production tried to recapture some of that comedy magic, but as it turns out, nobody’s perfect. No, not by a long shot.
3. Holographic Hostage Situation, Voyager (2000)
The USS Voyager, despite being stranded far from home, never hurting for resources. Case in point: the holodecks were always working, leading to an endless parade of episodes where the crew had crazy holographic adventures. In season 6, the crew’s favorite hangout was a quaint pre-war Irish village, one where Captain Janeway actually fell in love with one of its inhabitants (which is kinda sad). In one installment, the holodeck malfunctions (again) and the villagers take crew members hostage, leading to the demented moment where Janeway is confronted with the choice between her crew and her holographic boyfriend, a choice that she approaches with indecision that borders on psychotic. Holograms aren’t people, everybody. Got that? Ok. Good talk.
2. Space Hippies, Original Series (1969)
Star Trek has always taken joy in commenting on present-day trends within a futuristic setting, so it probably seemed like a good idea to do an episode where the Enterprise encounters a group of hippies who want the ship to take them to the mythical paradise planet Eden. En route they have a little jam session with Spock, which is most illogical. Eventually the hippies learn that the planet Eden is real, but its surface is poison. So many of them disperse, having learnt that paradise isn’t real, it has to be made, like, in your heart and stuff. And also: get a haircut.
1. Tom Paris Goes to Warp 10, Voyager (1996)
Warp speed is one of those things in Star Trek that we don’t want to think about. It’s a device to travel the galaxy, that’s all. But in the oddest moment in Star Trek ever, Lieutenant Tom Paris is working on an experiment to get Voyager home: breaking the warp barrier, and going to warp 10. Warp 10 is infinite speed, which means traveling through every point in the universe simultaneously. He does so. Then he starts having convulsions, mutates into a scary monster, rips out his own tongue, kidnaps Captain Janeway and takes her to warp 10. They fully evolve into lizards and land on a planet, where they have sex and make lots of lizard babies. The Doctor reverts them back to their human selves, and Paris gets a promotion. The end.
Wait. What? Star Trek has always been about going where no one has gone before, but I humbly submit that lizard sexcapades with Kate Mulgrew was a detour we could have avoided.