Best episodes to include in a Star Trek primer for a non-Trekkie?
June 14, 2009 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Best episodes to include in a Star Trek primer for a non-Trekkie? There are Trek series (not movie) spoilers in my question.

A friend of mine was very excited by the recent Star Trek film and has decided she must explore the franchise further. I'm going to build a collection of episodes spanning TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager & Enterprise (and maybe even the animated series) as a primer for her.

To that end, I am seeking recommendations of specific episodes from any series which do one or more of the following:
-Convey a sense of the franchise as a whole (i.e. the mirror universe arc from TOS that resumed on DS9)
-Reveal/demonstrate significant traits or accomplishments of main characters (i.e. the episode where Dr. Bashir's genetic manipulation is revealed, or the episode where Riker & Troi's past is explored when his transporter double shows up)
-Deal really well with one of Trek's major recurring themes, like computer tech, holodecks, time travel, transporters, warp drive, alien romance, etc.
-Showcases an alien race pretty well

So, simply put: I want a nice, tidy collection of episodes which gives every main character a chance to develop & shine, shows off how the series all connect to one another, gives a good sense of the Federation and her neighbors and contains all the really unmissable bits.

Bonus points for time/universe traveling, space battles, flashbacks and characters in disguise.

If you recommend any episodes, I'd love to know specific reasons why. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
posted by chudmonkey to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Previously and previously.
posted by olinerd at 12:05 PM on June 14, 2009

Sit her down in front of Season 1 and Season 2 of TOS. 'The Naked Time' is George Takei's favorite episode.
posted by kldickson at 12:21 PM on June 14, 2009

Also, this is completely unrelated, but am I the only one who is irked at all the 'Enlist in Starfleet!!!' stuff? It would be much more worth your while to get a commission.

Oh yeah, while all you bitches are enlisting, I'm on my way to a CAPTAINCY. :D
posted by kldickson at 12:22 PM on June 14, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, I perhaps should have mentioned that I looked at those threads. I'd actually missed this response, which is great, but I can't help but notice those two threads barely discussed DS9, VOY, Enterprise or TAS, so I'm coming back to the well.

I hate to be this guy, and I'll totally understand if no one wants to repeat themselves. FWIW, my Trek knowledge is pretty comprehensive, so I'm looking more for additional opinions than details.
posted by chudmonkey at 12:23 PM on June 14, 2009

Oh, God, DS9. Where do I start?

Civil Defense--is a fun episode, I think, and has a good dose of the Garak/Dukat, introduction to Bajoran occupation, the space station itself. (Kira: "We prefer our containment fields to be NON-lethal.")
Trials and Tribbilations, of course, which will be enjoyable after TOS knowledge.
Rapture--is one of my favorite episodes, with Sisko being seized by visions of the universe as the wormhole aliens see it.
I personally also enjoy By Inferno's Light and In Purgatory's Shadow, but these two would be confusing without the entire changeling background.
Call to Arms--will they lose Deep Space Nine?
A Time to Stand
Favor the Bold
A Sacrifice of Angels--although this would need, I think, another Ziyal introduction, but I'm not sure which episode would be best for this.
Far Beyond the Stars is one of the best Trek episodes ever, IMO. "Maybe somewhere, far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us."
In the Pale Moonlight is a MUST. Probably one of the best DS9 episodes with the Romulan treachery, also brings up great questions about what's right and wrong in war.
Tears of the Prophets? to introduce Jadzia's death
Image in the Sand--introduction of Ezri ("I went on the operating table one person, and woke up another person--or should I say, EIGHT different people?")
Treachery, Faith, and the Great River--as an Economics major, I love the lessons presented here. And Nog is a great character, too. "The river flows from have to want and back again."
Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges--"in the time of war, the law is silent." Good spy episode, great questions raised by Julian.
When it Rains
The Dogs of War
posted by Dukat at 12:43 PM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is a pretty solid list of essential DS9 episodes, I think, although I don't altogether agree with the order (what else is new?). I'd add "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" to the list.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:45 PM on June 14, 2009

"The Doomsday Machine." Kirk doing what he always does, turning death into a fighting chance to live.
posted by Kirklander at 1:06 PM on June 14, 2009

For me, the episode that best exemplifies the Star Trek ethos is "Explorers" from DS9. In it, Cisco and his son build an ancient Bajoran craft powered by solar sails. It's a science fiction take on Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki expedition. And features some truly beautiful (for the time) CGI effects. There are no phasers and no hostile aliens (though there are some interesting political undertones), just a father and son sailing through the stars.

I cite this as one of the best moments in science fiction as a whole, let alone the Star Trek canon.

A close second (on consideration, I'd consider it an equal) has to be "Darmok" from TNG. It's a moving exploration of language and - more importantly - of storytelling. It ties together our entire mythology; from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Trek itself.
posted by aladfar at 1:08 PM on June 14, 2009

TOS - Balance of Terror, Mirror Mirror,
TNG - The Pegasus, Darmok, Preemptive Strike, Time's Arrow, I Borg, Chain of Command
DS9 - The entire series.
Voyager - Don't, but if you must Distant Origin, Bride of Chaotica.
Enterprise - The Andorian Incident, Carbon Creek, In a Mirror Darkly

I have to say that it's difficult to cherry pick episodes as they build on each other, particularly DS9.
posted by juiceCake at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2009

I'm far from a fan or even regular watcher, but a few TNG episodes from back in the day have stuck with me:

The one where that girl did something bad (doing flying stunts that got a classmate killed perhaps?) and then volunteered for what was basically a suicide mission.

The one where they found Data's head in an old cave, there was some sort of time travel thing happening.

The one where the whole ship became obsessed with that game and something bad almost happened.
posted by davey_darling at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2009

Is Deep Space 9 really that revered among fans? I watched the first 8 or 9 episodes back when it originally aired, and just lost interest...
posted by newfers at 3:21 PM on June 14, 2009

The one where they found Data's head in an old cave, there was some sort of time travel thing happening.

"Time's Arrow", a 2-parter.

The one where the whole ship became obsessed with that game and something bad almost happened.

"The Game." Strictly filler, and a bit of a cliched storyline, but I always thought it was kinda fun. And it has Ashley Judd.

My favorite episodes were the Twilight Zone-ish ones, like "Frame of Mind," where Riker finds himself in an alien mental institution, and "Timescape" where Picard and a few others return to the Enterprise only to find it's stuck in time (it's amusing to see the funny side of Picard here).

You obviously can't go wrong with "The Best of Both Worlds," another 2-parter. The heaviest episode was "The Inner Light," where Picard lives an entire lifetime on an alien planet, while time goes by for the "real" Picard in about twenty minutes. Very deep stuff.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:01 PM on June 14, 2009

Someone has already mentioned The Inner Light from TNG. Good, I can rest easy.

For TOS, I personally liked the "funny" episodes, and it may be good to throw in a funny one or two just for variety. The best option is probably The Trouble With Tribbles, because it's kind of a fan favorite -- plus, you can then show Trials and Tribble-ations from DS9 as a tie-in. (With Trials and Tribble-ations, they just took clips from The Trouble With Tribbles and used CGI to put characters from DS9 into the proceedings -- I think the framing explanation was something involving time travel.)

Speaking of tie-ins, Space Seed from the original series was the episode that Wrath of Kahn was inspired by, and parts 1 and 2 of The Menagerie are sort of tie-ins to the current movie (The Menagerie was actually taken from the original pilot, which featured a different captain and was never broadcast. They took the show and re-cut it, and added a whole other bunch of material, and turned it into a show about "Kirk is investigating something that happened on the Enterprise before he was captain").

I personally have a soft spot for Shore Leave from the original series because it had a fun premise, and I once was able to legitimately work a critical analysis of the episode into a college paper.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:27 PM on June 14, 2009

....Ah. Okay, just read the additional specifications. So towards that end:

The Trouble with Tribbles/Trials and Tribbleations fit the time travel bill as a two-parter.

Space Seed: ...dude, it's KHAN.

Shore Leave: Hm. Well, the whole premise is that they're checking out a planet because they're considering using it for shore leave, but they discover an unusual characteristic of the planet -- anytime anyone thinks of anything, that thing appears and starts interacting with them. (Think kind of like that moment from Ghostbusters when Gozer the Gozarian wants them to "choose the form of their destruction," and one of the guys slips up and accidentally thinks of the Sta-Puft Marshmellow Man, and thus...)

At the very end of the episode, though, after all sorts of mayhem has ensued, suddenly an old man comes running up to them and explains that his people MADE the entire planet, as a sort of amusement park for his own species. They came there and deliberately thought about whatever they wanted to do, the computers in the planets' core would do up a robot that would cater to that, and they'd have fun. Somewhere in the middle of the episode, you had Kirk suddenly "remembering" an old girlfriend, who then suddenly appears and they make out -- and at the end of the episode, when they discover what the planet is, that's the first thing Kirk does is think up that old girlfriend again and they go walking off into the sunset for the evening. So with that episode, you have a look at Alien amusement parks, and you have Kirk getting action.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:35 PM on June 14, 2009

five very very good eps from TOS:

- The City on the Edge of Forever (time travel classic!)
- This Side of Paradise (Spock in luurv!)
- The Trouble with Tribbles (Tribbles!)
- Tomorrow is Yesterday (another time travel classic!)
- Space Seed (Khaaaaaaaann!)
- Arnok Time (Spock kicks Kirk's ass all over the damn place! plus, Vulcan culture!)
posted by jammy at 4:52 PM on June 14, 2009

Is Deep Space 9 really that revered among fans? I watched the first 8 or 9 episodes back when it originally aired, and just lost interest...

DS9 doesn't really get good until season 3, when the Dominion is introduced. In the first two seasons, they tried to make it all about the post-occupation Bajorans. In season 3, they scrapped that and made it about the Dominion vs. the Alpha Quadrant powers with the Bajoran politics just sort of in the background (although still a major element), and it got much better.

Everything I would have mentioned has been recommended already, so I'll just emphatically second DS9: In The Pale Moonlight (the essential Sisko episode) and TNG: The Inner Light (the essential Picard episode). Also, the whole 6-episode arc at the beginning of season 6 of DS9, where the Federation takes back DS9 from the Dominion, is definitely some of the best Trek ever, but you really have to watch all 6 episodes so it might be a little much for an overview of the whole franchise.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:55 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

DS9 doesn't really get good until season 3

Yeah, you definitely need to watch for longer. DS9 has great continuity and story arcs, but it starts more or less like a slightly slower TNG. Anyway, since I'm a Niner, I'm going to second "Far Beyond the Stars" and also recommend "The Visitor." If you want a good Ferengi episode (and who doesn't?!), try "Family Business."

When it comes to the Animated Series, "Yesteryear" is the way to go--for a long time, it was the sole episode that was considered canon.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:33 PM on June 14, 2009

nthing TNG, The Inner Light.

Beverly Crusher at her best: Remember Me. Meets your universe-traveling condition, in a way.

Chain of Command I and II, for sheer acting chops as well as torture topicality.
posted by Beardman at 6:07 PM on June 14, 2009

If you want a good Ferengi episode (and who doesn't?!), try "Family Business."

The best Ferengi episode is "The Magnificent Ferengi". It's a good story, funny but not ridiculous ("Profit and Lace", I'm looking at you), all the major Ferengi characters are there, and as an awesome bonus, Iggy Pop as a Vorta.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:26 PM on June 14, 2009

Oh, and no one has mentioned DS9: "Things Past"? That's one of my favorites. It gives some great background to the occupation of Bajor and the history of the station, and a dark side to Odo's character. If you want to go the route of including one essential episode for each major character of the different series, that would be Odo's essential episode IMO.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:29 PM on June 14, 2009

I like Voyager. In the context of your question, the episode I would recommend is "Eye of the Needle". It's one of the better episodes (written by Hilary Bader, a screenwriter better known for her work on Batman Beyond and Lois & Clark), and it's definitely one episode that somebody can watch and then say, "Okay, now I understand the premise of Voyager and how it fits into the Star Trek universe."
posted by cribcage at 6:33 PM on June 14, 2009

Some Next Gen editions:

Encounter at Farpoint, both because it's the pilot and because it sets up Q and what is the framing issue in TNG: the defense of humanity as fundamentally good. The Q arc does what good sci-fi should do - examine human beings by isolating their characteristics in "aliens" and pitting them against each other.

Justice is the essential young Wesley Crusher episode, and a key test for the Prime Directive to boot. Remember that idyllic societies always have their dark sides.

I'm shocked nobody's mentioned my favorite TNG episode ever, 11001001. A group of aliens hijack the Enterprise (!), get Picard and Riker distracted by an alluring Holodeck woman in a 20th century jazz bar (!), and force them to initate the self-destruct sequence by turning two keys at the same time (!). Mentioned here both because of the centrality of the Holodeck, and because it's one of the few places you'll see Picard fall prey to human weakness.

Finally, Elementary, Dear Data is another great Holodeck adventure, but one which explores the dangers of technology and Data's personality (if you could call it that).
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:28 PM on June 14, 2009

I gave a rather lengthly list of my TNG recommendations here, so I'll just incorporate that by reference.

DS9 is my favorite out of all the series, but I will agree with others here that it takes a couple of seasons to really get going. That said, not matter what else you skip from the first two seasons, but do not miss "Duet," the penultimate episode of the first season, which is one of the best episodes of the entire series. And the fourth season's "The Visitor" is IMO the single best episode of any television series (not just any Trek series) I have ever seen.

Voyager, on the other hand, is my least favorite of the series, but I will note the final six episodes of season three were generally strong, and "Real Life" is a particular favorite of mine.

With Enterprise, may I go out on a limb? I'd like to recommend the entire third season of Enterprise (and also including "The Expanse," the final episode of the second season in that arc) which generally follows a single arc for the entire season.

Let me explain: I'm working my way through Enterprise myself right now. There used to be a time, well into Voyager's run, when I used to be able to say I had seen every episode of every Trek series, but I kind of lost interest towards the final few seasons of Voyager, and stopped watching Enterprise regularly sometime during its second season. Recently I decided I should get caught up, and I'd start over with Enterprise from the beginning to refresh my memory. It took me several months to get through the first two seasons of Enterprise. I started the third season of Enterprise a few weeks ago. I finished it earlier today, which included watching the last fourteen episodes of the season over the past 48 hours. It's just that gripping. Never mind I had a hundred other things I should have been doing this weekend. There's a few weak episodes, but overall it's probably the single best season of any Trek series, and even though DS9 remains my favorite series overall, there's no season of any of the other series which was as consistently good as the third season of Enterprise. To address a few of your specific criteria: plenty of space battles, great character development for most of the major characters, and a bit of time travel. And it goes into great depth on an alien race (which is really five races), the Xindi. Although the Xindi haven't been seen outside of Enterprise so maybe that's not the best as far as getting a sense of the Trek universe overall, I think they're just as well developed as any of the "major" races which are seen across several series.

TAS: "Yesteryear" is widely considered to be the best episode out of this series, and rightfully so, IMO. (And deals with one of the themes also addressed in the recent movie.)

TOS: My favorites are "The Corbomite Maneuver," "Balance of Terror" (first appearance of Romulans) "The Conscience of the King," "The Galileo Seven," "Court Martial," "The Menagerie" (two-parter, and probably of particular interest to people drawn in by the recent movie as it features Captain Pike) "The Squire of Gothos," "Space Seed," "Amok Time," "The Changeling," "The Apple," "The Trouble with Tribbles," "Journey to Babel" (first appearance of Spock's parents, probably also of interest to those drawn in by the movie) "A Piece of the Action," "The Enterprise Incident," "The Tholian Web," "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

Movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (which features the first appearance of the Kobayashi Maru test which also features in the new movie) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (not just a great movie, but also touches on the difference between Federation-Klingon relations between TOS and TNG) are the two must-sees, IMO.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:15 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd throw in some more DS9 episodes, but then I'd probably end up just recommending the entire series, more or less. I think that I'll take on Voyager, even though that series was deeply flawed--most of the character arcs were pretty weak, and the show would set up interesting premises and plot points, then either ignore them or at most give lip service to them. (I suspect that the latter was due mostly either to some weakness in the producing/writing team of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who were also in charge of Enterprise which had the same problem, or to interference by UPN executives.)

One of the exceptions to the weakness of the characters was the Doctor, who ironically didn't have a name throughout the show (they finally gave him one in the series finale; although it's a pretty simple joke, it's one of the few good points in what's otherwise a really bad finish to the show). It's as if the writers took a look at the character of Data from TNG, figured out all the ways that he failed, and used that to make the Doctor a better example of an artificial intelligence trying to be more human. (It helped that Robert Picardo is such a great actor--nothing against Brent Spiner, of course.) "Heroes and Demons", "Projections", "Lifesigns", "Darkling", "Real Life", "Revulsion", "Latent Image", "Someone to Watch Over Me", "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy", "Virtuoso", "Living Witness", "Critical Care", "Body and Soul", "Message in a Bottle", "Life Line", "Flesh and Blood, Part I and II", and "Author, Author" are all good Doctor episodes, and "Blink of an Eye" also has a great Doctor scene--in fact, there are great Doctor scenes in many other episodes of the series.

Also look for episodes featuring Seven of Nine, who was originally brought in as fanservice but turned out to be a surprisingly robust character; not too surprisingly, Jeri Ryan and Picardo play off each other very well.

You can go to and browse through episode listings for all of the series.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The one where that girl did something bad (doing flying stunts that got a classmate killed perhaps?) and then volunteered for what was basically a suicide mission.

Just for reference, this is two separate episodes, although you are correct that it is the same character. In "The First Duty" she's at Starfleet Academy and involves the death of a classmate. By the time of "Lower Decks" she's serving as an ensign aboard the Enterprise.

"The First Duty" is a good episode. "Lower Decks," on the other hand, is one of the best of the series.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:36 PM on June 15, 2009

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