And here it is folks, my #1 pick for the worst Star Trek episode of all time: “Spock’s Brain”. This is a legendary episode, and in every bad way possible. There’s a story around that Gene Coon, who produced Star Trek along with Roddenberry, and wrote many of the episodes, wrote the script of “Spock’s Brain” as a joke because he didn’t like the idea of Fred Frieberger replacing Roddenberry as producer. Prior to working on Star Trek, he was on Lost In Space. Personally, I have to disagree with this. Yes, Lost in Space was less serious than Trek, but I still consider it part of the sci-fi genre.
Gene Roddenberry wanted Star Trek to be an inspiration to the future. In fact, it’s one of the few optimistic visions in science fiction. It is a future in which all colors and creeds of the human race come together to explore the final frontier.
“Plato’s Stepchildren” is probably Star Trek’s most controversial episode. It features TV’s first interracial kiss. So, why do I place it here? Because I cannot let controversy make me give it a pass. I have nothing against the scene personally. But how we got to it is a path I did not like.
The story begins with Kirk, McCoy, and Spock beaming down to a planet, investigating a distress call. They are greeted by a friendly dwarf named Alexander. They meet the planet’s inhabitants, (called Platonians) who have created a society based on the ideals of the Greek philosopher Plato. These Platonians are ageless, and with the exception of Alexander, all are telekinetic.
The Platonians have actually lured the crew because their leader, Parmen, is ill. Parmen isn’t alone, but Kirk objects. The Platonians demonstrate their abilities on Kirk and McCoy, making them dance like jesters and imitate horses, with Alexander riding Kirk. This was the moment that made me hate the episode.
Before I unveil my top 3 worst and best Star Trek episodes, I thought I’d unveil what didn’t make the cut for worst and best. So, this post will be my “dishonorable” and honorable mentions for the countdowns. We’ll start with the ones that weren’t bad enough to be in the worst countdown.
- “The Man Trap”–when NBC started its run of Star Trek, they had three choices for the premiere episode: “Charlie X”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, (the true pilot, after “The Cage”, which was reworked into the two-part episode “The Menagerie”)and “The Man Trap”. The first two episodes would have been good choices, but instead “The Man Trap” was chosen. This had a bad monster with bad make-up on top of it.
- “Catspaw”–This was meant to be a Halloween episode, with all the trappings: a creepy castle, sorcerers, and monsters. In short–nothing that should be in a Star Trek episode! To be honest, this is really “so bad it’s good”.
- “Day of the Dove”–An entity powered by hate traps the Enterprise and Klingons. To eliminate the entity, Kirk proposes a wary alliance. And no, this has nothing to do with how the Klingons are actually allies in the Next Generation version.
The next three are my “honorable mention” for the best episodes.
*”Piece of the Action”–The Enterprise finds a planet with a society that finds a book on Prohibition-era Chicago. This episode is silly, but in a good way.
*”This Side of Paradise”–The Enterprise finds a planet on the brink of destruction, however none of the inhabitants wish to leave because they’re enthralled by plants that spray spores that make you content to remain on the planet. It’s another great story from DC Fontana, and one of her best character studies for Spock.
*”Errand of Mercy”–This was actually a contender for my favorite Klingon episode, but I liked the uncertainty in “A Private Little War” better. The Klingons made their first appearance in this episode, and it’s a great introduction.
As I said in my review of “The Way to Eden”, DC Fontana was one of Star Trek‘s best writers. So many great stories came from her, including this one. It’s also one of two episodes starring Mark Leonard.
This episode was a glimpse into Spock’s character and introduces his parents, Sarek (played by Mark Leonard) and Amanda. Sarek would later go on to appear in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in fact he was one of three characters from TOS to do so. (the others being McCoy and Scotty)
We also get some great world-building in this story, particularly in the introduction of the Andorians. While the Andorians did not appear in any more episodes of TOS, they did appear in the prequel series Enterprise. There is tension between the Andorian ambassador Thelev and the Tellarite ambassador Gav, leading him to assassinate Gav.
Sarek seems cold towards Spock, as if he rejects his joining Starfleet. Amanda, however is more compassionate towards her son. This dynamic is a great glimpse into Spock’s character, especially when Sarek goes into cardiac arrest and Spock is asked to donate his blood. He refuses because Kirk was attacked when he confronted Thelev.
When Star Trek was cancelled and rerun in syndication, Gene Roddenberry realized there may be a way to save the franchise. To test the waters, he brought the license to Filmation in 1973. It sadly only lasted for 22 episodes and two seasons. In fact, when I started watching it, I actually thought Netflix was unable to get the whole show until I did research on Wikipedia.
For the most part, there are notable differences between this and the original series.
- While most of the original cast reprised their roles, Walter Koenig was unable to reprise his role as Ensign Pavel Chekov. Instead, he was replaced by a three-armed and three-leffed Edosian helmsman named Arex (voiced by James Doohan). However, Koenig did write a script for an episode.
- As hinted above, the animators took full advantage of the freedom of animation that could not be replicated in live-action, resulting in characters who probably wouldn’t have existed in any live-action format (like Arex.) In addition to Arex, we also have anthromorphic aliens such as Communications Officer M’ress, (voiced by Majel Barrett) who occasionally took Lt. Uhura’s position.
- The theme from the original series was still under copyright from NBC, and thus couldn’t be used. Instead, a similar theme was composed, with Kirk still giving the narration.
It is the first two differences that have caused many fans to exile this series from the franchise’s continuity, much like the spin-off novels and comic books. However, I don’t think the series shouldn’t be watched. I was entertained and found the writing almost on par with that of the original series, despite a somewhat lighter tone as the series was intended for children. It was a welcome sight to see guest characters from the original shows such as Cyrano Jones and Harry Mudd, two antagonists from the original series.
To close this article, I thought I’d list my top 5 best/worst Star Trek Animated episodes. The series can be viewed on Netflix and is also available on DVD. If you’re curious, check it out.
Top 5 worst episodes:
5. “The Practical Joker”–A mysterious disturbance causes the ship’s computer to develop a penchant for pranks.
4. “The Ambergris Incident”–While exploring the watery planet Argo, the crew is transformed into water-breathers.
3. “The Terratin Incident”–A supernova causes the crew to continuously shrink in size.
2. “The Counter-Clock Incident”–An unusual spaceship causes the Enterprise to enter a dimension where time flows backwards, causing the crew to slowly revert to childhood.
- Beyond the Furthest Star–A malevolent entity possesses the ship’s computer.
The top 5 best episodes:
5. “Mudd’s Passion”–The Enterprise once again meets Harry Mudd, who has been peddling an aphrodisiac.
4. “The Slaver Weapon”–The crew is captured by the K’zinti, a race of cat-like slave traders in pursuit of a superweapon.
3. “The Jihad”–A quest to retrieve a stolen artifact may be integral in preventing a warlike race of bird people from taking over the galaxy.
2. “More Tribbles, More Troubles”–Cyrano Jones has stolen a creature that preys on Tribbles from the Klingons.
- “Yesteryear”–Spock is almost erased from history and must return to the setting of “City on the Edge of Forever”, where we also get a glimpse of Spock’s childhood. Spock must repair the damage done to his timeline or risk never existing at all.
It’s widely known that Gene Roddenberry was an atheist. For the most part, Star Trek didn’t show this. “The Apple” is one exception. Here, his atheism is on full display.
The story begins with the Enterprise arriving at Gamma Triangula VI. Despite seeming like a tropical paradise akin to Eden, the environment is hostile, claiming the lives of three away team members. However, they cannot return to the Enterprise because an energy field is draining the ship’s energy reserves.
Kirk orders the away team towards a primitive village, where they meet the planet’s inhabitants. They refer to themselves as the “Feeders of Vaal”, and are led by a man named Akuta, who wears antennae that allow him to communicate with their deity, Vaal. While conversing with Akuta, Kirk learns they are not permitted to procreate or even fall in love.
While exploring, Kirk and Spock come across a stone idol, which Kirk discovers is Vaal. Vaal is displeased with the crew, especially since they are exposing its Feeders to intimacy (they happen to see Chekov and a woman kiss) and orders Akuta to teach his people how to kill. Kirk realizes that he must now destroy Vaal and free Akuta’s people.
Like many atheists, Roddenberry misrepresents Christianity in this episode. To him, Vaal represents God. (Note: I know he didn’t write this episode, but he did approve it, so he still has some responsibility.) It’s obvious the planet is supposed to represent Eden, even though the vegetation attacks the crew at the beginning. In fact, after he destroys Vaal, Kirk wonders if humans were even meant for paradise at all.
Many episodes of Star Trek have Kirk and the crew unknowingly being given a secret test of character by a superior alien race. “The Corbomite Maneuver” is one such episode.
The story begins with the crew finishing a day of star-mapping when navigator Lt. Bailey spots a strange spinning cube. (This was a very early episode. Pavel Chekov, who would normally have Bailey’s bridge position, wasn’t introduced until the second season episode “Amok Time”) Spock puts the crew on alert.
Kirk receives the alert and orders the ship to turn away, but the cube emits radiation and Kirk has no choice but to destroy it.
Later, the Enterprise encounters a glowing sphere and are hailed by an alien Balok, who tells them that the cube they destroyed was a buoy. He announces that they will be destroyed in ten minutes.
After discussion, Spock suggests that the crisis be approached like chess, keep advancing until the enemy reaches an impasse. Kirk has a better idea: approach it like a game of Poker. He threatens Balok by telling him that they do not fear death because their ship is made of “corbomite”. He tells Balok that if he tries to destroy the Enterprise, the “corbomite” will destroy his ship in the process. Balok apparently falls for the ruse, but not before asking for more details on this “corbomite”. Kirk continues his bluff and reveals noting.