01 January 2008

My favorite Star Trek episodes

Here it is, the first blog entry of the new year . . . and I’m going to talk about Star Trek. None of that resolution stuff, or wishes for a great trip around the sun, or reflections about the trip around the sun that was. Nope, I’m going to blab about a forty-year-old television show.

Look, I was going to have to talk about Star Trek at some point on this blog. I’m a speculative-fiction writer, for Odin’s sake.

I am not a “Trekker,” even though using this correct term (instead of the fan-disdained “Trekkie”) marks me as being too aware of fandom to deny a connection to it. But I do like the franchise. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation regularly in high school, although I lost track of it in college. I never bothered with Voyager or Enterprise, but I came to really love Deep Space Nine from watching the season DVDs. I’ve seen all the movies, and even like some of them. And how can you not love Wrath of Khan?

But the original 1960s show is my favorite incarnation. It was trailblazing in its time, and it still has that feeling today, where the more modern versions have an aura of “comfort” to them. They were made in a time when adult-oriented science fiction was common, where the original show was an oasis in a desert. And there’s an all-or-nothing attitude to the original show (“SCOTTY! WARP FACTOR NINE OR WE'RE ALL DEAD!”) that you just don't find in the cautious programs of latter-day Trek. Maybe you get it a bit in Deep Space Nine with its anger and cynicism, but that’s why I like Deep Space Nine so much. Odo rules. But I digress.

The meat of this post, after making these ridiculous and damning excuses, is a list of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek. I am not going to include “The City on the Edge of Forever” because—well, duh—it is on everybody’s list of favorite Trek episodes. It takes up space for me to slot it in the list, so let's just say that it's one of the best episodes and get on with rest.

In broadcast order, my favorites are:

1. Tomorrow Is Yesterday
The first time-travel episode of the series—we’d see a lot of this in the years to come—and it’s loaded with terrific conundrums for the crew to face. This was the episode that sold me on the show when I was a child; it had me riveted from the beginning. Suddenly, Star Trek wasn't just a silly old program starring a guy with funny ears; it was genuinely great drama.

2. The Space Seed
It resulted in the best of the movies. Ricardo Montalban is the top villain in the franchise. ‘Nuff said.

3. Devil in the Dark
This is writer and producer Gene Coon’s finest hour. Shatner calls it his favorite episode, mostly for personal reasons, but it’s a solid choice. It demonstrates the adult nature of the show that moves past the “find monster and kill it” mentality of earlier filmed science fiction. And Spock gets to play a scene with a rock. Paaaaaaaain!

4. Mirror, Mirror
The crew of the Enterprise—but they’re eeeeeevil! This is an episode you can always get non-Trek fans to watch and guarantee a great time for all. The immense entertainment value aside (agony booth!), this episode’s vision of a Machiavellian Spock is immensely clever and “logical.”

5. The Doomsday Machine
The best action episode of the show, as the Enterprise takes on an invincible device on an endless quest of destruction. The drama aboard the ship is top-notch as well, as Spock must relinquish control to the vengeance crazy Captain Decker, who launches a suicide mission against the machine. As exciting as Trek comes.

6. Wolf in the Fold
This episode scared the hell out of me as a kid, and I still have a great fondness for it. The concept of discovering the entity behind Jack the Ripper is a superb one, even if “body hopping” baddies are an overused concept today. (But check out The Hidden for another fine use of it.)

7. The Enterprise Incident
The third season can’t be considered a complete train-wreck it includes a superb espionage caper like this one. Not only is it packed with suspense and makes the great use of the Romulans and their culture, but it also has an intriguing romance angle for Spock.

8. Specter of the Gun
No one else will agree with my praising this episode so highly, but I can’t help it: I love Westerns, and this surreal version of the Gunfight at the OK-Corral just gets my blood pumping.