After my recent Ode to an Outpost piece about Deep Space Nine, I had several readers tweet me asking for an “essentials” guide to the series. Basically it would be all the episodes of the DS9 that I would recommend to a newbie so they could become familiar with the show, watch very best parts and leave the questionable bits behind.
I actually think this is a great idea, kind of like the iTunes essentials playlists that Apple puts together for a particular genre of music. Given the fact that my friend Louie is attempting to familarize himself with Star Trek before the big movie hits next spring, I thought it best to start with Star Trek: The Original Series. If things go well, I’ll write similar guides for other Trek series, including DS9.
What follows are my bare bones suggestions for anyone who has never watched the Original Series. They are the absolute minimum a Trek newbie should watch to get a sense for the show and its characters. Of course, as with anything, your milage may vary so let me know if you found this post helpful. Thanks!
Balance of Terror
Although the episode is a bit clunky due to the fact that it’s one of the earliest scripts, it’s a must watch for any Trek newbie. The story introduces the Romulans to the Star Trek universe and defines their place in future stories. It also highlights Leonard Nimoy’s early emotional portrayal as Spock, something that quickly changes.
One of the best episodes of the entire series, it lays out the foundation for the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Kahn. Filled with great drama and even a few action scenes thrown in for good measure, Space Seed helps define the history of Star Trek’s future.
Devil in the Dark
A classic haunted house tale that is the first time Kirk and Spock start to develop the friendship that carries them through the next 40 years. The episode is filled with mystery and suspense and features some nice interplay between Nimoy and Shatner. Devil in the Dark is also the first time McCoy utters his famous tag line “I’m a doctor not a…” in this case, “bricklayer”. Classic!
City on the Edge of Forever
Regarded by many Star Trek fans to be the very best episode of the Original Series, City on the Edge of Forever is a powerful love story that gives Shatner the rare chance to under-act. It also strengthens the bond between Kirk & Spock, while serving as a wonderful example of how to write an effective time travel story. Definitely a must see.
Amok Time gives us a small glimpse into the history of Spock’s home planet, its culture and more. The story revolves around the “big three” – Kirk, Spock & McCoy and features a number of great scenes between the lead actors. Aspects of Vulcan revealed in Amok Time pop up in numerous places throughout all of Star Trek.
The Doomsday Machine
Not a whole lot of character development here, but that’s okay. The Doomsday Machine is one of my all-time favorite episodes and is basically an action/suspense story in space. The writers cleverly put Spock & McCoy in the middle of the action, and at each other’s throats which always makes for the best episodes.
Journey to Babel
If any new fan is looking to understand the character of Spock as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy and created by Gene Roddenberry, then Journey to Babel is your best guide. The story introduces his human mother, Amanda, and his Vulcan father, Sarek as murder breaks out aboard the Starship Enterprise. The episode features terrific character development and gives fans an understanding of the future events of The Next Generation as well as Star Trek III, IV & V.
The Trouble with Tribbles
Although this episode doesn’t contain the strongest story, or the best acting, it is a rare funny episode of Star Trek. This, plus the fact that if you get asked about Tribbles by a Star Trek fan, and you’re not familiar with them, you’re libel to get some nasty looks. It is also necessary viewing for appreciating the brilliant Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribulations. Trust me on this one.
The Ultimate Computer
Many episodes of Star Trek toss out the name “Daystrom” in reference to the character portrayed by William Marshall from The Ultimate Computer. Daystrom is the Star Trek equivalent of Albert Einstein, and the story showcased here reveals where the character originated. It also serves as a wonderful example of how Kirk’s love of the Enterprise effects his decision making, here and in the movies.
Requiem for Methuselah
One of the best episodes from the third season, Requiem once again gives the big three the chance to develop their character’s relationships as they attempt to solve the eternal riddle of the mysterious Mr. Flint. The final scene in this episode serves as a sign post to understanding Spock’s ongoing relationship with Kirk, both as First Officer to Captain as well as one friend to another.