Remember September: Top 5 Star Trek (the original series) episodes

I love Star Trek. I am not breaking new ground here. One of the first things that we (the Mustache and the Beard) said to each other when starting the blog was that we love most space operas and would try to refrain from arguing what is better or who is better, which leads to the creation of false dichotomies and needless polarization.

We did not want to create a site that forces fans to divide their loyalties. We can love two things at once. We also love making Top Ten lists, but because we usually have to split our Top Ten lists into two long posts, I decided to just make a Top Five list for Star Trek Day. This will post the day after, but that can not be helped. Believe it or not, we try to stick to a strict schedule. (Some months we do better than others.)

As a kid in the 1970s, the afterschool programming included Star Trek re-runs on WPIX in New York. It is here where I would watch episodes to the show I would fall in love with, and dream about for the rest of my life. There was something special about pretending I was Captain Kirk and my brother, Marc, pretending he was Spock. Playing in the street, the other kids were aliens and we would observe their oddities not realizing that we were the oddities.

Since Remember September is all about nostalgia and the things we loved, I decided that I would choose MY Top Five Star Trek episodes and why these made the cut and others did not. Recognize that this is a subjective list. As always I give the caveat that this is my list. If some other person would make a list some of these might make the cut and others would not. I invite you to make a list and submit it to the comment section at the bottom of this post. I chose these because I think that they are a good cross section of all the things Star Trek attempted to do in the realm of speculative fiction. I could have made a list with twenty great episodes and I would lament leaving some off that list.

5. Mirror, Mirror

Science Fiction holds with several tropes that have become endemic to the genre: parallel universes, artificial intelligences, super soldiers, suspended animation, time travel are just a few. In the episode Mirror, Mirror a transporter accident switches Captain Kirk, Chief Engineer Scott, Dr. McCoy, and Lt. Uhura to a parallel universe with evil counterparts to the Enterprise crew.

The peaceful Federation has become the Terran Empire, a conquering group of murderous thugs that thrive on fear and villainy, where honor is considered a dirty word and loyalty is a transient, pliable attribute. The Federation requires dilithium crystals and had sent the Enterprise to negotiate. They were unsuccessful at convincing the Halkan council to allow the Federation access. As the four Federation representatives attempt to beam back to the Enterprise an ion storm causes the transporter to flip and the four are now beamed a ship that looks like the USS Enterprise but is in fact the ISS Enterprise.

There are some really great aspects to seeing an evil Kirk, and crew. Spock in a goatee is memorable. Watching a scarred Sulu flirt with Uhura is awesome. The fact that the Federation is evil in the alternate universe stresses that there is a fine line between order and chaos. Spock’s struggles demonstrate that he is a rational being regardless of the universe. When Kirk and crew return to their respective universe, Lt. Marlena Moreau asks the Captain for his signature. Her evil counterpart was evil Kirk’s girlfriend. When she leaves, Kirk tells Spock that Lt. Moreau could become his “friend.” And we, the audience think, “You dog!”

4. Space Seed

In Space Seed, Star Trek fans are introduced to Khan Noonien Singh (ably portrayed by Ricardo Montalban) one of the most memorable villains of the show. Khan is one of 72 living humans that are genetically enhanced and found in suspended animation aboard the SS Botany Bay. Khan takes advantage of historian Lt. Marla McGivers’ intellectual curiosity and physical attraction to free the others aboard the Botany Bay and takeover the Enterprise. There is irony here in that one of Kirk’s own “weapons” is used against him.

When Khan tortures Kirk in order to get the crew to agree to follow him, Lt. McGivers realizes that she is a Star Fleet officer and frees Kirk. Spock and Kirk vent gas throughout the ship anesthetizing all aboard except Khan who has run to engineering to attempt a self-destruct. Kirk and Khan fight, but when Khan has the upper hand, Kirk uses a metallic tool to even the odds. During a hearing to decide Khan’s fate, they decide to exile Khan and his people to Ceti Alpha V, a harsh world that can be tamed by Khan.

Spock notes that he wonders what the planet would look like in one hundred years. It does not take a hundred years but in the Wrath of Khan movie, the story is continued.

3. Journey to Babel

There are several great things about Journey to Babel. Here, the audience gets a real treat because this is not only a murder mystery episode, but we get to meet Andorians and Tellarites for the first time. These two races along with Vulcans and Humans are the races that created the Federation. Oh, and this is the episode that we meet Spock’s parents, the Vulcan ambassador Sarek and his human wife Amanda.

The Enterprise has been tasked to transport the disparate ambassadors to Babel to discuss the admission of the Coridan system to the Federation. The Coridan system is replete with dilithium crystals and unprotected. Dilithium crystals are such an important mineral that wars could be waged in the name of such. An unprotected system is a sitting duck for all the vultures of the Star Trek universe.

In the mean time, the ambassadors have disagreements and one is killed, while Spock’s dad requires surgery. Kirk is stabbed which puts Spock in command. His father will need a blood transfusion and the only source of Vulcan blood would be Spock, but he can not relinquish command to provide his blood for Sarek. This episode is loaded with the dilemmas that make Star Trek so amazingly profound.

2. The Trouble with Tribbles

I have talked about this episode before and God knows I do not want to be redundant, but this episode is an amazingly fun Star Trek episode. The Enterprise has been summoned by a high-priority distress signal to Deep Station K7 to guard a shipment of quadrotriticale, a grain that is extremely important for economic solvency as well as the feeding of many.

Captain Kirk is annoyed that such a distress signal was used to summon the Enterprise on what Kirk deems such a trivial situation. He did not realize that there are Klingons on the station looking to cause trouble. He decides to grant shore leave as a way of flooding the station with Federation personnel.

A trader named Cyrano Jones arrives with furry balls of fluff that trill called tribbles. As a way of drumming up sales, he gives one to Lt. Uhura who brings it onto the Enterprise and then the tribble trouble begins. There are some silly moments as well as some serious moments, but it is truly one of the objectively best episodes of the series.

Before moving to my number one pick, I have some honorable mentions:

In Arena Captain Kirk faces the Gorn
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield has the last survivors of two warring races continue the senseless cycle of racism to extinction
In Devil in the Dark the Horta teaches miners a lesson in respect
The Menagerie is the first episode to win science fiction’s most distinguished Hugo Award

I will limit myself to just one more:

In A Taste of Armageddon the Enterprise gets involved in an anesthetized war that causes the participants to suffer few ills of actual war and threatens to continue in perpetuity

1. The City on the Edge of Forever

Whereas The Trouble with Tribbles is considered one of the lighter episodes of the series, The City on the Edge of Forever is considered one of the heaviest. Dr. McCoy has accidentally injected himself with a drug that makes him paranoid and delusional. He beams down to an unexplored planet. When a landing party that includes Kirk and Spock arrive on the surface, they see a stone arch and a voice who calls itself the “Guardian of Forever.” When McCoy jumps through, it causes the Enterprise that has been orbiting to blink out of existence. McCoy has changed the timeline.

Spock and Kirk go through the portal in order to attempt to correct the timeline. Along the way Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler, the woman who owns the halfway house. They find McCoy and a way to correct the timeline which is both, heart-wrenching and upsetting, but it is a perfectly balanced plot that is overflowing with irony and great characterization. Too bad that Harlan Ellison’s story actually had McCoy as Edith Keeler’s love interest and William Shatner “got his grubby little hands on it and ruined it.” Even ruined, it is still a damn good story.

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