It's been 50 years since the very first Star Trek episode and since then, 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!
To celebrate Star Trek's 50th anniversary, 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 very good 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 yall 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 Montalbn'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.
10. "Darmok", The Next Generation
The tale of Picard and a member of the mysterious, inscrutable Tamarian race forced to work together in order to survive is a brilliant exploration of language and the way it can be misunderstood. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra has since become of the most quoted lines in Trek history.
The episode took two years to come to fruition. It was well worth the wait this is Star Trek at its intelligent best.
9. "The Devil in the Dark", Star Trek
A classic Trek morality play. The Enterprise is despatched to a mining colony on Janus VI to investigate some deaths, and encounters the Horta - a mysterious silicon-based lifeform. They attempt to kill the creature, only to discover that it means them no harm, and - as the last of its species - is simply trying to protect its eggs.
It's a moving and funny episode, and contains the classic McCoy line, "By golly Jim, I'm beginning to think I can cure a rainy day!"
8. "The Inner Light", The Next Generation
This is Star Trek as proper science fiction, with a great central concept. Picard gets zapped with an alien ray and, in that brief moment, experiences 40 years as Kamin a scientist on another world.
Patrick Stewart gets some of his best ever material here, but a lot of the episode's beauty is down to its sheer sense of scale and the emotional punch when you realise that Kamin and his people are all long dead. The episode was so well regarded, it won a Hugo award and rightly so.
7. "In the Pale Moonlight", Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine was characterised by its often bleak look at the cost of warfare. That's never more true than with In The Pale Moonlight, with the cost here being Sisko's soul.
The war against the Dominion is dragging on, costing countless lives, so Sisko forms an unholy alliance with Cardassian spy Garak to help bring the Romulans over to their side. Garak's plan, however, involves a carefully targeted assassination something that Sisko is furious about but ultimately able to live with for the greater good.
This is where Deep Space Nine excelled. Kirk and Picard would not have made the same morally murky choices that Sisko does here. It's Trek at its most surprising and brave.
6. "Balance of Terror", Star Trek
The episode that introduced the Romulans adds a huge amount to Star Trek lore. A long time ago, Earth fought a space war against this mysterious race. No human or Romulan ever came face to face so, consequently, the Federation have no idea that their enemy are, in fact, an offshoot of the Vulcan people.
This is a brilliantly tense episode that pits Kirk against Mark Lenard's (who would later play Spock's pa, Sarek) nameless Romulan commander. As he points out towards the end, he and Kirk may have called each other "friend" in another life, but in this one they're merely soldiers in a galactic cold war.
5. "Yesterday's Enterprise", The Next Generation
Poor old Tasha Yar met an ignominious death in the season one episode "Skin Of Evil". "Yesterday's Enterprise", however, finds a way to get Denise Crosby back on the show without betraying that earlier episode's punch. Time is rewritten when the long-lost Enterprise-C emerges from a rift in space and time. In this new reality the Federation is at war with the Klingons and Starfleet has become a much more militaristic outfit. It's down to Guinan to figure out what's wrong.
The story for "Yesterday's Enterprise" was actually inspired by an unsolicited script sent in by a fan, Trent Christopher Ganino. While the script itself was not useable, the story was considered intriguing and it was bought from Ganino. It was a wise choice "Yesterday's Enterprise" is fantastic. A dark and daring episode that plays mainly to long-term fans, but in interesting ways. Peeking into a nook in Star Trek mythology is fun, and it's great to see Cosby back, if only briefly.
4. "Arena", Star Trek
AKA the one where Kirk is forced to wrestle a lizard. Arena is a truly iconic episode, homaged on Wayne's World and even JJ Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot. Vasquez Rocks in California are a stunning backdrop, a world away from the show's studio sets, and the Gorn captain is a fantastic adversary. What really makes it classic Trek however is the resolution, which relies on compassion and mercy, rather than brute force.
3. "Far Beyond the Stars", Deep Space Nine
Better than In The Pale Moonlight? We think so. Far Beyond The Stars is an unsubtle, but powerful allegory. A vision from the Prophets shows Sisko a world where he is Benny Russell a down-on-his-luck science fiction writer in the 1950s.
It's a story that cleverly weaves in aspects of Star Trek's own behind-the-scenes lore. With the regular cast playing different parts in Sisko's vision, Kira becomes Kay Eaton a writer who is forced to use her initials to hide the fact that she's a woman from her conservative readership. Sisko himself struggles with the racist attitudes of those around him. It's Avery Brooks' finest performance in the show, allowing him to be both commanding and cowed by the real life problems that surround him.
2. "The Best of Both Worlds, parts 1 & 2", The Next Generation
This two-parter was a gamechanger and not just for The Next Generation. Season 3's finale sees Captain Picard kidnapped by the Borg and converted into one of their own, ending on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that would provide the template for genre show season finales for years to come.
It's not just about the ending, though. Right from the off, there's something different about this story. The mood is dark and ominous, and there's a real sense that, in the Borg, the Federation have met their ultimate nemesis. It was the moment that, after three years of gradual improvement, The Next Generation finally became the show that it should be, and remains its best story.
1. "The City on the Edge of Forever", Star Trek
Everyone has seen this one, right? If you haven't, go rectify that right now. Star Trek's most legendary episode was written by science fiction guru Harlan Ellison is both a real SF classic and a hell of a love story. Joan Collins guest stars as Edith Keeler, a woman that Kirk falls wildly in love with when the crew are transported to New York in the 1930s. One problem, history has been changed by their presence, and for reality to be restored, Edith must die.
Kirk was such a ladies man that seeing him fall properly in love is genuinely affecting, and the ending is properly tragic.