TL;DR – We count down my favourite episodes of Star Trek that span the whole gamut from 1966 to 2020
Well, today at the time of writing it is May the 4th and I feel compelled to write about Science Fiction. However, I have spent a large chunk of the day trying to find an angle to look at its namesake without much luck, so when in doubt fall back to something you love. Well, there are few things I love more than Star Trek, at since that is a science fiction show and it is even has a ‘star’ in the title, I thought what the hay, I’m 50% of the way there.
So today I am going to count down my favourite 25 episodes from across all of Star Trek’s run, which at the time of writing is everything up to the end of Season One of Star Trek Picard but not including The Animated Series simply because I have not watched them and they are not really considered canon but maybe (that is a whole pandora’s box for another day). This means we have 743 episodes across eight series (The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Short Treks & Picard). Bringing them down you just a top 25 was a hard job with a lot of amazing episodes just missing out. Also, I should point out that this is my list if you have a favourite episode that didn’t make it on here let me know which one it was in the comments below. Well without further comment, let’s dive in
25. Bride of Chaotica! (Star Trek: Voyager)
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Written by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
We start our list with something fun because Star Trek is full of fun, indeed I went back and forth between this episode and Deep Space Nine’s Our Man Bashir for the last entry. This is an episode that delves into all those pulp sci-fi clichés and shines in the process, it also gives the cast, most notably Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) a chance to have some real fun in the abstract world.
24. The City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by Harlan Ellison
From one extreme to the next, we have a moment of heartbreak for Captain Kirk (William Shatner) when he has to watch a love of his life perish to keep World War Two on track. Time travel episodes can be a real hit and miss, but this grounded the conflict in a deeply good person Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) which makes everything that much worse when the times comes.
23. The Measure Of A Man (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
I have to admit, of all the modern series, The Next Generation is the one I have the least experience with, though Star Trek Picard has shown me that is something I need to fix. However, one of those episodes that do stand out for me has to be the one where Data (Brent Spiner) has to fight in a court of law to be considered a person and not property and well I think that is something that we all should be reminded of from time to time.
22. An Obol for Charon (Star Trek: Discovery)
Directed by Lee Rose
Written by Jordon Nardino, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Alan McElroy & Andrew Colville
One of the factors that draws me to an episode is where they set up a circumstance that allows the actor or actors to shine. In Star Trek Discovery’s second season we got just this when Saru (Doug Jones) is forced to confront his imminent death and asks Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to help ease his suffering in An Obol for Charon. In an episode about a big sci-fi set-piece going on, it is this conversation among two dear friends that sticks out.
21. Stardust City Rag (Star Trek: Picard)
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Written by Kirsten Beyer
One of the newest episodes on this list, and one of the few episodes of Star Trek that opens and closes on a gut-wrenching moment. In Stardust City Rag we start with Seven (Jeri Ryan) going through one of the most emotionally traumatic moments in her life, at some point Picard (Patrick Stewart) is a fake French bounty hunter, and it ends with a shootout in a bar, and it all works together in harmony.
20. What You Leave Behind (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
The first (and also the only) series finale in our list (and this could also be a place holder for any of the final Dominion War arc of episodes). This has the difficult job of ending a major war, ending seven seasons of build-up of Sisko (Avery Brooks) the prophet, and ending the storyline of not just the main cast but all of the supporting characters that had arrived over the years. It was bittersweet in all the best ways, and the finale scene always leaves a tear in my eye.
19. The Tholian Web (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Directed by Herb Wallerstein & Ralph Senensky
Written by Judy Burns and Chet Richards
The Enterprise is slowly being encased by the web of the Tholians while Kirk is lost in space and time. This is almost the quintessential Star Trek episode, with a new alien, a complex scenario, and a set up that there is no way that they can find their way out of … until they do.
18. The Forge (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Directed by Michael Grossman
Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Enterprise took a long time to find its feet, a long time, however, in Season four everything clicked together. Here we got stories that pushed the envelope or reframed things from the past. The Forge was in many ways a course correction, an acknowledgment that things had not gone as planned, and also an interesting look into the world of the Vulcans. The rest of Season Four would springboard off this episode, and make you wish we had gotten a Season Five.
17. Trials and Tribble-ations (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by Jonathan West
Written by Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Ronald D. Moore & René Echevarria
Another episode that is just fun and also gets me to squeak around the 25 limits by sort of including The Trouble with Tribbles, this is an episode full of promise that delivers. An episode that is surrounded by nostalgia can be a tricky balance to pull off, but here we get the joys of seeing the world of The Original Series again, the joy of the faces of the cast working in that timeframe, also the fact that they pulled it off on a TV budget is to be applauded.
16. The Inner Light (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Directed by Peter Lauritson
Written by Morgan Gendel, Morgan Gendel & Peter Allan Fields
If there was one episode that musically resounded across the franchise it has to be The Inner Light. Picard lives out the life of man on a planet that is dying, it was a flash of light for everyone else, but for him it was real. There is a sadness that permeates the episode, but from that, we get this musical suite that is also filled with hope.
15. Sacrifice of Angels (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
This was the closing episode of what was at the time one of the boldest risks that Star Trek had taken, a six-episode opening arc for Season Six. Not only that, but we also get one of the largest space battles in the franchise’s history, one I don’t think has still been topped by anything that has come since. It was a bold sceptical the first time I watched it and nothing has changed in the time that has passed.
14. Mirror, Mirror (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Directed by Marc Daniels
Written by Jerome Bixby
There were a lot of episodes of Star Trek that have left their marks on the Science Fiction genre, but I don’t think anything has had the same impact as Mirror, Mirror. The Mirror Universe would be visited many more times across Star Trek, but the first episode provides the template for everything that follows. Heck, it would be on here for the legacy of Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) beard alone.
13. Duet (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by James L. Conway
Written by Lisa Rich, Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci & Peter Allan Fields
One of the bonuses of setting Deep Space Nine in a location where it cannot move is that you allow the show to explore the character’s past and mistakes. This was the first episode that took a solid look at Kira’s (Nana Visitor) past. The show had hinted about her past and touched a little bit on the terrorist v freedom fighter debate, but here everything got brought to the foreground. This is the best example of how a bottle episode does not need to be of lesser quality when you focus on story and emotion.
12. Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad (Star Trek: Discovery)
Directed by David M. Barrett
Written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander
Much of Discovery’s first season was one long season arc around the first Klingon-Federation war. However, the middle of all that is a standalone episode Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad that can’t help but stand out from among the crowd. Part of this was us getting more of Rainn Wilson as the legendary Harcourt Fenton Mudd, part of it is one of the few Groundhog Day type episodes that worked, and part of it was that it was a riot from start to finish.
11. Imperfection (Star Trek: Voyager)
Directed by David Livingston
Written by André Bormanis, Carleton Eastlake & Robert Doherty
This is an episode that revolves around sacrifice, Seven needs a new cortical node and only Ichep (Manu Intiraymi) has one to spare, but the procedure might kill him. This episode explores how you process getting help when you don’t think you deserve it, how can you let someone potentially sacrifice their life to save yours. There are a whole range of ethical dilemmas on view here, and if you don’t know Star Trek, ethical dilemmas are where it shines.
10. In a Mirror, Darkly (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Directed by James L. Conway & Marvin V. Rush
Written by Mike Sussman & Manny Coto
After Mirror, Mirror, there were many attempts to go back to the Mirror Universe, some were good, a couple were great, a lot was questionable, however, only one truly nailed it. From the opening that completely reframed the end of First Contact, to a whole new set of opening credits, you knew you were in for a ride. Every cast member is leaning in 100% to their new roles and it shows, you can feel the fun even before they answer the question as to what happened with the USS Defiant.
9. Terra Prime (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Directed by Marvin V. Rush
Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens, Garfield Reeves-Stevens, André Bormanis & Manny Coto
I mentioned a bit earlier that What You Leave Behind was the only season finale on this list, and that is technically true, but for me, this is the proper series finale for Star Trek Enterprise, and without a doubt its best episode. This episode shines a light on our xenophobia, the way fringe groups manipulate the media to elevate themselves, the wrong notion of mixed relationships are inherently flawed, and how in moments of strife we can give away our high morals in the face of uncertainty. It is a powerful episode of Star Trek and never more relevant today.
8. Latent Image (Star Trek: Voyager)
Directed by Mike Vejar
Written by Eileen Connors and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
There are a lot of great performances throughout the Star Trek universe, but none of them has hit as hard as The Doctor (Robert Picardo) when he discovers what he once did. There are real guilt and grief throughout this episode that makes it both hard to watch but also something that you need to watch. Picardo’s performance is devastating and you feel that loss. For me, Voyager never quite came together, but in moments like this, it shined.
7. Far Beyond the Stars (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by Avery Brooks
Written by Marc Scott Zicree, Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
When I first watched Far Beyond the Stars I didn’t get it. It was an interesting episode, where you got to see all the supporting cast out of their alien makeup but not a whole lot more. Now that I am older and wiser, at least that is what all my grey hairs tell me I can see weight this episode brings. This is dealing with the weight of racism and the structural effects it has on people. Avery Brooks who both directs and stars gives a performance that is almost haunting delving into the world as Benny. This is an episode that fits completely within Sisko’s arc as the Prophet of Bajor but also as a critique of societies of the past and present and that is such a difficult balance to pull off.
6. Nepenthe (Star Trek: Picard)
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski
Written by Samantha Humphrey & Michael Chabon
Given Nepenthe is the latest episode on our list, I had to go back and forth a bit to think about if this high placing was because it was just fresh in my mind or if it was that good and well from its placement I think you can see it is the latter. This is an episode that juggles being both a nostalgic look to the past but also an episode that is propelling the story of Star Trek: Picard forward. The moments of reconnection with Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Deanna Troi) were a joy to watch as were the moments when they put Picard in his place. However, there is also moments of sadness because they are such old friends that they intuitively feel that Picard is on his last mission and they are supporting him like it is the last rite. This was the highlight of the season for me, if for no other reason than Riker making bunnycorn pizza.
5. The Visitor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by David Livingston
Written by Michael Taylor
One of the common critiques of Deep Space Nine that I hear is that the character of Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) does not do anything throughout the series which I think is an unfair stance which can be clearly shown by The Visitor. Why Jake is important for the show is that he shows something that Star Trek has not explored before and since, the strong bond between a father and their child. This is a bond that in a science fiction setting stretched through space and time, but more than that it is a story of the love that you have between members of a family where you would lay down your life to save one another. Even in rewatches when you know what is coming in the final act, it still is a powerful episode and that speaks volume for the cast but also the bond between Jake and Benjamin.
4. The Best of Both Worlds (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Directed by Cliff Bole
Written by Michael Piller
When you think back on episodes of television that shock audiences and fans to their core then you can’t go past which might be the biggest cliffhanger in Star Trek’s history. Not only was Picard now a member of the Borg, but it also ended on such a moment of despair that the cut to black as that musical cue played over the top and the realisation that it would be months till you knew what happened had the impact that few moments can match. This is an episode that many shows have tried to capture (heck even a couple of Star Trek episodes as well) but none one has yet topped this for the dramatic impact alone. As well as the two-part episode, I also want to add the follow-up Family into this mix as well, which is the emotional epilogue to the two-parter.
3. In the Pale Moonlight (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by Victor Lobl
Written by Peter Allan Fields & Michael Taylor
What do you do when you make a deal with the devil for the greater good? This is the question that In the Pale Moonlight asks as Sisko has to go out of his way to act duplicitously to get the Romulans to enter into the Dominion War on the side of the allies. While this episode might be better known for the Senator yelling “It’s a FAKE!” it is an episode that looks at the murky nature of war and the sacrifices some people make to see the victory come to pass. This is also one of the best episodes to focus on what might be my favourite supporting character in all of Star Trek, Garek (Andrew J. Robinson). He is almost everything the Federation isn’t, yet he is also one of the most compelling characters written in the series. Every moment he is on screen is electric, so having this episode where he is in a deadly dance with Sisko is just so compelling to watch.
2. Space Seed (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Directed by Marc Daniels
Written by Carey Wilber & Gene L. Coon
When you think back to The Original Series, there is one episode that stands out above all others. Maybe it is because it served as the starting point for The Wrath of Khan, maybe it was the episode that looked forward to the future that we have now surpassed, maybe it was the classic showdown of minds between Kirk and Khan (Ricardo Montalban), or maybe it is a combination of all of this. Whatever the case may be, no episode better encapsulates The Original Series and its power to spawn eight successors and counting (there are at least two more confirmed Star Trek series in the works). It is hammy but delightful, exploring important themes though also that little bit silly, it is an episode that is bold and one that resonates. It showed just what a potential this show had and what a legacy that is.
1. It’s Only a Paper Moon (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Directed by Anson Williams
Written by David Mack, John J. Ordover & Ronald D. Moore
When you have 743 episodes across eight series to draw from narrowing it down to a top 25 is hard, so finding the best out of those 743 episodes must have been even harder, yet the moment I started writing this list I immediately knew which episode was my number one pick. Star Trek has always touched on war, indeed this was not Star Trek: Deep Space Nine first foray into the ramifications of war and it would not be its last. But out of all of those episodes, this sits out on top. That is because when the battles stop, and the guns cease, the war is far from over. This is an episode that explores the pain that a returned service member has to go through working through the traumatic events that lead to here. What highlights this episode, even more, is that its main focus is on two of the supporting cast Nog (Aron Eisenberg) and Vic Fontaine (James Darren). Their relationship is the core of this episode and it is heartbreaking to watch. Aron Eisenberg gives an award-winning performance as he explores the pain that losing a leg would be and how few people can truly understand what he is going through. This episode shows the emotional depth that Star Trek can go to but also how it can be a mirror on people’s lives. It is by far the best episode of television the franchise has created and I am not sure it can ever be outdone.
Well, there we go, my top 25 episodes of Star Trek. There are a lot of episodes that I wanted to add but could not fit in, so I would be interested to hear about what are your favourite episodes of the show? What episode made you cry? What episode made you laugh? What episode stays with you to this day? Let me know in the comments below.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
What are your favourite episodes of Star Trek?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Star Trek The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Short Treks & Picard