It's been more than 50 years since the very first Star Trek episode. There have been an astonishing 701 episodes of the various series (and that's not counting the animated series, which ran for 22 instalments). Just let that number sink in for a moment... 701. And there's more on the way with Bryan Fuller's Star Trek Discovery, which is set a decade before the first TV series!
As a tribute to this amazing show I've ranked my favourite 20 episodes, aka the best ever episodes. It was a tough decision and sure there have been some stinkers, but most of Trek is excellent and I decided to include stories from each of the shows (rather than just concentrate on Original or Next Gen). No doubt there will be lots of disagreement about which episodes did and didn't make it in, so let me know your favourites in the comments below.
20. "Family", The Next Generation
Family is a defiantly low-key, but quietly radical Star Trek story. Set in the aftermath of The Best of Both Worlds which saw Picard forcibly transformed into one of the Borg our favourite Earl Grey-loving captain returns to his ancestral home and comes to blows with his surly brother. Boring? Not a bit of it. This is Trek as a character drama, and intelligent one at that. It's lack of plot only serves to emphasize how attached we have become to Jean Luc over the last few years, and how traumatised he has been by his recent fight.
19. "Broken Bow", Enterprise
Enterprise (note the lack of Star Trek in the title) struggled to find its identity over the years, being alternately diet Next Gen, 24 in space and a well-realised original series homage. It had some great episodes and a lot of confused fluff, but there's no denying the confidence and strut of its pilot. Broken Bow sees the launching of the first Warp 5 spaceship, the Enterprise NX-01 and therefore the true beginnings of Starfleet. Captain Archer and his crew must take an injured Klingon back to Kronos but get drawn into a mysterious time war that would go on to become an essential (if poorly wrapped up) element of the series.
18. "This Side of Paradise", Star Trek
Lampooned in the years that followed, this is the famous "hippy" episode, where Spock comes under the influence of some local spores and falls in love with lovely Leila. Here's the thing, though. There's loads more to this episode than just the sight of Leonard Nimoy playing a very different sort of Spock and a drug metaphor. The love story is sensitively handled, it's conclusion very affecting. There's some great dialogue (McCoy bellowing "Hiya, Jimmy boy! Ive taken care of everything. All y'all gotta do is relax!" is a treat) and writer DC Fontana hones in on Spock's loneliness when he returns to "normal". And what could be more perfectly '60s than Star Trek meeting flower power?
17. "Year of Hell, parts 1 & 2", Voyager
This one lives up to its name. This season four two-parter focusses on the Voyager as it is caught up in a running battle with the Krenim race. Over the course of months we begin to see the ship worn down and its crew put through a string of disasters. It's almost, almost Voyager's equivalent of "The Best of Both Worlds" with its dark tone and high consequences. Alas, it hits the reset button at the end of the story.
16. "Space Seed", Star Trek
Khaaaaaan! What more is there to say? This is the episode that introduced Roberto Montalban's devilish genetic superman the man who would prove to be Kirk and co's greatest foe in the second Trek movie. It's more than just a dry run for that movie, though. There's a real sense of the crew being thoroughly tested by their new enemy. The episode ends with Kirk giving Khan a second chance. However, as we would later discover, the world of Ceti Alpha V that he is exiled to proves to be rather harsher than anticipated. That will come back to bite you, Kirk...
15. "All Good Things...", The Next Generation
Wrapping up a series as beloved as The Next Generation is a seriously tall order, but "All Good Things..." manages it with aplomb. It cleverly ties back to the very first episode, with John de Lancie's Q presenting the crew with another puzzle to solve this time one that takes place in multiple time zones. The episode has an appropriate sense of closure, but with the movie series ahead of the Next Gen crew this wasn't so much a goodbye as as a graduation.
14. "Caretaker", Voyager
It's safe to say that Voyager doesn't have the best rep among fans. New Star Trek had become such a part of the TV furniture by then that the shock of the new had worn off, and the franchise was badly in need of new ideas. That's not to say that there weren't good episodes, however, including the excellent pilot. Caretaker quickly sets up an intriguing status quo where Starfleet loyalists and a faction of rebel colonists called The Maquis are forced to work together when they find themselves trapped on the other side of the galaxy. Kate Mulgrew impresses as Captain Janeway, and the ship's medical hologram, played by Robert Picardo, is hilarious.
13. "Trials And Tribble-ations", Deep Space Nine
Designed to celebrate Star Trek's 30 anniversary, this glorious episode steps away from Deep Space Nine's traditional gloom and doom by flinging the cast back in time and into the original series episode The Trouble With Tribbles. The modern day cast appear to interact with the original icons in a hilarious, nostalgic and brilliantly realised tribute to the show's origins.
12. "Where No Man Has Gone Before", Star Trek
OK, so it's technically not the real pilot that's actually The Cage which was rejected by NBC but it marks Kirk's first appearance, and therefore the start of Star Trek as we know it. The Enterprise encounters the SS Valiant a starship lost 200 years previously. Kirk's friend Gary Mitchell and the ship's psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner are rendered unconscious as they fly through a magnetic storm, but when they awake, begin to demonstrate peculiar psychic powers. It's a funny one, Where No Man Has Gone Before. It looks a bit ropier than the main show and not all of the regular cast are in place yet, but it does show just how much of Star Trek was in place right from the start.
11. "Chain of Command, parts 1 & 2", The Next Generation
"There are four lights..." Haunting words for Next Gen fans. This two-parter sees Picard, Worf and Beverly go undercover to take out a Cardassian weapons facility, while the Enterprise comes under the command of Ronny Cox's Captain Jellico. The mission goes awry, however, and Picard falls into the hands of the Cardassians who proceed to torture him for information. David Warner (at this point a Star Trek stalwart having appeared in both The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country excels as Picard's tormentor Gul Madred, and this haunting story plays out as Trek's take on 1984.