We take on a Doomsday Machine-sized task of ranking our ten faves from The Original Series.
Review by Matt Cummings
It goes without saying that STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES is a seminal piece of television history. To ignore its social and literary importance is to consciously deny yourself the joy of watching what I consider to be superior television. From Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock to The USS Enterprise itself, TOS was an in-your-face experience at a time when many shows desired to play it safe.
But with STAR TREK BEYOND opening on July 22, where would a new or casual fan want to start to understand the TREK mythos? It would be impossible to actually rank all 79 episodes, because a strong case could be made to elevate at least half of them to #1. Therefore, we simply offer this list of 10 episodes from where to begin your journey, many of which you might never find on another list. Watch them in any order you wish, as all of them are (for the time being) on Netflix streaming:
Season 2 – Episode 6: THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE
The Plot: The Enterprise crew discovers that Commodore Matt Decker’s wrecked starship has been trashed by The Doomsday Machine, an automated robot that destroys entire planets.
Why We Love It: A great episode dealing with obsession, THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE is also a wild action ride. Check out the Special Edition of this episode, as CBS did a bang up job adding new special effects to what’s a classic STAR TREK STORY.
Favorite Scene: As Kirk and Bones question an exasperated Decker, Kirk takes a moment to name the creature, comparing its importance – and the threat of total annihilation on both sides – to the tense environment of Earth’s Cold War. There’s a great music cue here as well by Composer Sol Kaplan that darkens the mood and focuses our crew on the real danger posed by the robot.
Season 1 – Episode 22: SPACE SEED
The Plot: After being unfrozen after centuries of sleep, Khan Noonien Singh wages war on Kirk and the crew.
Why We Love It: SPACE SEED introduces one of the greatest villains in TREK history, crashing his 20th Century values headlong into the higher principles of the futuristic Federation. When Kirk turns the other cheek, it reminds us of Creator Gene Roddenberry’s eternal optimism, that humans could see past their faults and work together for the common good.
Favorite Scene: In one of the many classic TREK throwdowns, Kirk and Khan do battle in Engineering while Khan attempts to blow up The Enterprise. The brutality of this fight must have shocked 1960’s-era television audiences who were probably used to simpler forms of violence.
Season 2, Episode 4: MIRROR, MIRROR
The Plot: Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, and Bones accidentally travel to a mirror universe in which The Federation uses ruthless tactics to enforce its will.
Why We Love It: The first time I can remember an episode using a mirror universe, MIRROR, MIRROR introduces us to -among other things – a savage Mr. Spock, who subscribes to The Federation’s tactics but doesn’t view them as very logical.
Favorite Scene: Just before Kirk and company return to their universe, he and Spock have a heart-to-heart in the transporter room. The moment should be taught in every film class, for the four aspects of a great production (acting, script, direction, and music) are on display. Just before beaming away, Kirk utters the now classic line, “In every revolution, there’s one man with a vision!”
Season 1, Episode 21: THE RETURN OF THE ARCHONS
The Plot: Kirk and his landing party encounter a cult-like society that is led by the mysterious creature known as Landru.
Why We Love It: The idea of freewill is a common theme in STAR TREK lore; here, the blind obedience to Landru is in direct conflict to the stated goals of The Federation and their venerated Prime Directive. The crew’s abhorrence to Landru’s ‘Festival’ – which films like THE PURGE would later adopt – sets Kirk and Spock on a deadly race to return power to the people of Beta III before Landru ‘absorbs’ them into his consciousness. It’s the first of many occasions in which Kirk – for better or worse – will destroy a machine in order to liberate a brainwashed people.
Favorite Scene: As Kirk and Spock engage an exposed Landru, the duo make it realize the damage it’s caused ‘The Body.’ It’s Philosophy 101, STAR TREK-style!
Season 2, Episode 10: JOURNEY TO BABEL
The Plot: While on a diplomatic mission to deliver a group of ambassadors to the planet Babel, the Enterprise is attacked by terrorists determined to upend the conference.
Why We Love It: BABEL represents one of the first times we get to see the complicated political structure behind The Federation. Not everyone gets along, and the murder of a delegate sends the ambassadors into a frenzy. We’re also treated to a terrific series of exchanges between Spock and his diplomat parents, as we learn more about Spock’s background including his decision to join Starfleet. There’s also a great action sequence between Kirk and an Andorian terrorist, as well as clever submarine-esque space battle at the end.
Favorite Scene: Although we had previously seen the Human/Vulcan conflict raging within Mr. Spock in past episodes, we see its effects first hand in a memorable exchange with his mother (Jane Wyman). It solidifies the bedrock on which Spock’s struggles to balance his Human and Vulcan sides.
SEASON 2, EPISODE 22: THE ULTIMATE COMPUTER
The Plot: While Kirk struggles with the concept of being replaced by a machine, he and the crew must keep the device from destroying a flotilla of unsuspecting starships during war games.
Why We Love It: Another theme in STAR TREK – that of the dangers inherent in giving machines too many responsibilities – plays itself out brilliantly throughout the episode. M5’s quicker thinking first replaces Kirk, then sets off to attack the flotilla when it realizes that it’s superior to them.
Favorite Scene: While everyone enjoys the ass-kicking which M5 delivers to the Lexington, Excalibur, and other boob starships, it’s the instantly classic scene of Kirk and Bones doing what they do best. Over drinks with Bones, Kirk quotes Shakespeare and also extols on man’s love for exploration. The idea that M5 could replace that love and even Kirk himself is a bitter pill for our leader to swallow.
Season 1, Episode 18: ARENA
Plot: While pursuing an alien race after a savage attack on a Federation starbase, Kirk is forced to battle their captain on a distant planet.
Why We Love It: It’s quite possible that ARENA was the first TREK episode I ever watched. The idea of man being tested by a superior alien species in such a violent manner was an idea my young mind never considered. And even though Kirk wins the day, he’s also forced to swallow a ton of Humble Pie over his arrogance in pursuing the Gorn in the first place. ARENA represents an important moment of growth for Kirk, the series in general, and myself.
Favorite Scene: The shelling of a Federation outpost represents some of the best practical effects of the series. Watch as Kirk is taken aback by the close-quarters explosions and the excellent staging of the entire attack. The Remastered Edition added to the effect by CGI-ing in some great backgrounds to give the scene an almost filmic quality. In a moment of levity, the Gorn cause Spock’s tricorder to overload, forcing him to unload it before it explodes.
Season 2, Episode 25: BREAD AND CIRCUSES
The Plot: Kirk’s landing party encounters a race who’s modeled themselves after the Roman Empire, prompting Kirk to question who violated The Prime Directive in the process.
Why We Love It: If your inner geek crushes on the concept behind Parallel Earth Development, CIRCUSES’ rather twisted premise will be of instant appeal. Once again, The Prime Directive is up for clarification here, allowing both sides to argue its merits, while fierce gladiatorial games threaten Kirk and his crew. We also get a great moment between Spock and Bones, as the good doctor uses his unique bedside manner to thoroughly break down Spock’s Vulcan house of glass. It won’t be the last time such a battle of wits will rage against these two, and it serves as a classic literary triangle, with Kirk straddling a unique intellectual middle ground.
Favorite Scene: Could it be Kirk getting his groove on with a slave, or the climactic gladiator battle cut short by a power outage? Nope, it’s that discussion about The Prime Directive, as both sides argue its merits and Spock almost losing the argument for his captain. That’s not very nice, but it is very Vulcan.
Season 3, Episode 15: LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD
The Plot: Kirk must decide if two races from the same planet should be allowed to continue their long-standing war against at the cost of their planet’s survival.
Why We Love This: Race played a huge role in TOS, from Creator Gene Roddenberry’s choice of a diverse crew to the many exceptional stories written by some of the top science-fiction writers of the time. In BATTLEFIELD, we witness the gut-wrenching effect which a long-standing race war has wrought upon the planet of Cheron. Frank Gorshin played the excellent Bele, a being of immense power who has pursued the ‘terrorist’ Lokai across the galaxy for many years, and whose blind hatred for Lokai is based solely on the color of his skin. The ending is gut-wrenching for both Kirk’s ‘guests’ and for the captain himself, demonstrating that not every episode saw The Enterprise actually win.
Favorite Scene: When Kirk realizes that Bele has taken control of the ship, Kirk initiates the self-destruct sequence. One of the best shot sequences in the entire series, we get extreme closeups of several of the cast’s facial features, as they either provide codes to begin the destruct sequence or begin to sweat out Kirk’s absolutely mesmerizing version of poker.
Season 2, Episode 18: THE IMMUNITY SYNDROME
The Plot: The Enterprise encounters an immense energy-consuming organism whose very existence threatens the entire universe.
Why We Love This: Although TOS fed us a steady diet of ground-breaking social messages, episodes like SYNDROME was a straight-up engrossing drama about sacrifice and tenacity. Faced with the prospect of this organism devouring the entire universe, Spock, Bones, and Kirk himself struggle to identify what measures each can perform in order to save the crew. Their unswerving adherence to duty is equaled only by their strong friendship for each other, willing to sacrifice themselves by any means necessary, even as the organism literally drains the life from them and the crew.
Favorite Scene: In another memorable sequence, Kirk is forced to choose between either Spock or Bones to pilot a shuttlecraft into the organism, in an attempt to destroy it. By doing so, Kirk is condemning one of his friends to die. When one realizes that the other has ‘won out,’ the two exchange bitter words before the shuttlecraft departs.
Not the typical TOS list, but one that will bring you 10 hours of pure television joy, as you prepare for BEYOND’s eminent release. Why not join the party below and give us your top 10 STAR TREK TOS episodes?
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