On this date 50 years ago, Star Trek aired its first episode. A half-century of adventures ensued, to the furthest reaches of space and the deepest recesses of the soul. We could argue about who was the best Captain (Kirk), the best Enterprise (D), the best nemesis (the Dominion), or the best uniforms (late TNG ceremonial). Or we could just celebrate the series properly, by watching (or rewatching) some of its finest hours. Here are 10 episodes (with a couple two-parters) from Trek history that you can watch right now, whether you’re a newbie or an expert. (All Trek shows are currently on Netflix.)
‘Balance of Terror’
TOS season 1, episode 14
The Enterprise runs afoul of the mysterious Romulans, in a tense bottle episode that’s basically an outer-space submarine thriller. Guest star Mark Lenard plays the nameless Romulan commander, one of Trek‘s least villainous villains, an ethical warrior with qualms about his own war.
‘The City on the Edge of Forever’
TOS season 1, episode 28
A time-travel one-act about love and the butterfly effect, with Kirk and Spock hunting for a mad McCoy in the Great Depression. Featuring Joan Collins as Edith Keeler. Coincidentally, features one of William Shatner’s best line readings (“I believe I’m in love with Edith Keeler”) and one of Leonard Nimoy’s (“Edith Keeler…must die“).
‘The Trouble with Tribbles’
TOS season 2, episode 15
How we love these adorable tribbles! They’re fuzzy, they purr, they fit in your hand, they breed, they consume, they devour, they spread. Confound these adorable tribbles!
TNG season 4, episode 25
The Enterprise-D runs afoul of a nasty nebula carving a hole in space… but more importantly, Data learns how to date! Next Generation was the loveliest and loopiest of the Trek shows – brainy and family-friendly and always fundamentally curious – and though it’s easy to criticize the show’s hippie-kindergarten treatment of romance, Data getting advice from his crew mates about romance is an all-time TNG high.
TNG season 6, episode 18
Die Hard on the Enterprise, with Picard all alone trying to hold off space-terrorists. A great ticking-clock thriller, and proof that TNG could do muscular-space-action when it wanted to.
‘…All Good Things’
TNG season 7, episodes 25-26
Weirdly, one of the first episodes of Next Generation I ever saw was the series finale. It’s a great payoff for fans, but it’s a narrative feast no matter your Trek knowledge, with a saga that jumps between time periods. A great summation of Star Trek‘s Silver Age.
DS9 season 4, episode 3
Some kind of space accident leaves Captain Sisko somewhere beyond time. His son Jake ages before our eyes: Becoming a young man, a husband, a writer, a lonely old man obsessed with righting an old wrong. Playing the grown-up Jake, Tony Todd is maybe my favorite ever Trek guest star. It’s a bit like A Christmas Carol, with no Christmas and more tears.
‘Trials and Tribble-Ations’
DS9 season 5, episode 6
There are brilliant episodes in Deep Space Nine‘s later years which require a mandatory binge, telling a long-form story about the Dominion War that more or less invented serialization a decade early. Save that binge for a long weekend, and watch this sequel to “The Trouble with Tribbles,” an adoring work of in-universe FanFic that stitches together two generations with Gumpian special effects.
Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to Star Trek is available now.
‘Year of Hell’
Voyager season 4, episodes 8-9
Voyager couldn’t always follow through on the wild ambitions of its lost-in-space premise, but this bleak two-parter comes close. Trapped in disputed space between feuding aliens and a time-ripping scientist, the Voyager spends a year battling and slowly coming undone.
‘Bride of Chaotica!’
Voyager season 5, episode 10
Not everyone loves the holodeck, but the all-purpose simulator was a boon to writers anxious to tell a story without spaceships. Enter Bryan Fuller, credited with this episode’s story, who co-wrote the final teleplay with Michael Taylor. Trapped in a black-and-white pulp serial, a pair of Ensigns battle through a raucously off-kilter adventure. Witness Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway as Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. Fuller’s showrunning the new Star Trek show; can we pray for a sequel?