So You Think You Can Trek Part II: Where, or Where do you Start?

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Having read my first article on Trekdom, you’ve decided you really have a craving to try Star Trek, but you’re not sure how to begin. Don’t worry! Everyone is a bit nervous about their first time. Rest assured, with this simple guide, you’ll know exactly the right places to go, what to do, who to watch, and where to put your hands.

What are my options?

Myriad! A myriad of options await you! There are five series (technically six) and an even dozen films. Here’s what we are working with:

The Shows

  640px-TOS_headStar Trek: The Original Series. Kirk. Spock. McCoy. The classic, in all its 60’s glory. If you’re looking to start at the beginning, this is where you ought to go. Classic morality tales and the inestimable William Shatner make this series what it is.

Appended to TOS is The Animated Series, which ran for only one season, and featured the voices of the entire original cast. Terrible animation but occasionally worthy tales.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation. For the upscale, classically liberal Trekkie. Sir Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard makes this series, and he never has a bad moment. Some of the best episodes ever are part of this series, and some of its most intelligent.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The ‘dark’ Trek, DS9 takes the classic Trek model and gives it a good shake-up by introducing moral grey areas, new topics, and a serialized format that covers war in a very real way. Excellent for fans of the new Battlestar Galactica and shows with more of an edge.

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Star Trek: Voyager. Something of the red-headed stepchild of the family, this series stands out because of Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Kathryn Janeway, Robert Picardo’s Emergency Medical Hologram (The Doctor), and later, Jeri Ryan’s Borg-turned-human Seven of Nine. Though of a more varied quality then previous series, the good episodes more than justify its existence.

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Star Trek: Enterprise. Though not as well liked by most Trekkies, I find this series to be a refreshing return to roots for the franchise, especially given the affable Scott Bakula has the lead. The ship is simpler, the universe less explored, and many unexplored aspects of The Original Series are explained in fun ways by this series. Season 3 is a serialized story, while season 4 is two to four episode mini-arcs, both of which prove successful formats.

The Films

The first eleven Trek films. Missing is Into Darkness, released May 2013.

The first eleven Trek films. Missing is Into Darkness, released May 2013.

Trek films can be divided into three different categories based on the cast they involve: The Original Series (Films 1-6), The Next Generation (7-10) and the new J.J. Abrams cast films (11-12).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

The Kirk/Spock films are mostly excellent. The Wrath of Khan is broadly considered the best of them, and a newbie to Trek would be well served by watching it early on. Built upon an episode of the original series, this film adeptly balances the drama, humor, and intelligence of the best of the original series, and provides the most memorable villain in perhaps all of sci-fi cinema.

Beyond Khan, The Undiscovered Country is your next best bet. A Cold War allegory, it is the swan song for the original series crew, and it tells a compelling narrative about trust between former enemies. Plus, Klingons reciting Shakespeare.

The Voyage Home is excellent if only for the pure comedy of our heroes stuck in 1980’s San Francisco; certainly the most lighthearted of the films. The Motion Picture is slow, steady, sometimes ponderous, but deeply philosophical, and is a film for the more intellectual adventurer.  Search for Spock is well regarded, but probably not your first film to go to; it has to be watched after Wrath if it’s going to be understood.

You’ll notice I’ve not mentioned The Final Frontier; it is unequivocally the worst of all Trek films. Though it has an intriguing idea (Spock’s half-brother has become a religious fanatic who steals the Enterprise to find God at the center of the galaxy) it is directed in a meandering, painfully bland fashion, and ultimately fails to engage. Avoid until you’re ready for it.

Star Trek: Generations

Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Nemesis

The Picard films are not as well regarded as the Kirk ones; however, First Contact and Insurrection are both top quality Trek material. First Contact is often cited as the Khan of the Picard years; it’s success hinges on the personal conflict it explores between Captain Picard and the Borg. Action, adventure, a SEXY new Enterprise, and more than a few cues from Herman Melville make this a winner. Insurrection also largely succeeds for similar reasons, though I love it more than most.

Generations is mediocre, but is well carried by being the only movie to put both Captain Kirk and Captain Picard on the screen at the same time.  The supporting cast, including Whoopi Goldberg as ship’s bartender, and Malcolm McDowell as the villain, helps make this one worth your time.  Similar things might be said for Nemesis, where mediocre writing and directing is carried by the usual quality performance of Patrick Stewart, and this time a very young Tom Hardy as the villain Shinzon.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

The J.J. Abrams films, recently released, and with a younger cast in the classic roles. Excellent action-adventure romps with high production value and a solid grasp of lens flares and character moments. These are for the casual Trekkie or viewer, as they lack the moral panache and intelligent stories of true Trek.

Those are my options. BUT WHERE DO I START?

Great question! The best place to start is by helping yourself to a sampling of some of the best episodes across all of Trek.  Hopefully, this will give you a taste for the shows you like, and will have you coming back for more of the same.  Here are some of my recommendations for the best episodes Star Trek has to offer. You’ll notice a bias towards TOS and TNG; this isn’t a mark against the other shows; but the originals are simply good places to start. Season and episode numbers will follow in parantheses to help you locate the episode on Netflix or Amazon Prime, both of which carry the entire Trek empire.

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The Original Series

The City on the Edge of Forever (S1x28) – Considered the best episode of the Kirk years, this simple but powerful story has our heroes traveling to Depression-era Earth and facing a stark sacrifice.  The quality of this episode cannot be overstated.

Balance of Terror (S1x14) – The great submarine episode; a showdown with a Romulan warbird becomes a game of cat and mouse that is fraught with tension.  A well put together piece of drama.

The Devil in the Dark (S1x25) – Miners are being killed by an unknown force on a backwater world. Yet what the Enterprise crew discover is more than a simple bloodthirsty monster. William Shatner’s favorite episode.

Amok Time (S2x01)– A look into the culture of Spock’s homeworld, this unique episode ultimately pits Kirk against Spock in ritualistic combat.  Exciting and well crafted, a few unique twists make this episode one of the best.

The Trouble with Tribbles (S2x15) – If any of your Trekkie friends have ever thrown a little furball at you that cooed, this episode will explain why cuddly ol’ Tribbles are so popular. A well told story, but broadly comic, it displays Trek’s capacity to be lighthearted and fun as well as serious and dramatic.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Measure of a Man (S2x9)– This episode, more than any other, solidified the moral grounding of the new series.  When Data, the ship’s android officer, is forcibly reassigned for experimental disassembly, Captain Picard must wage a courtroom battle to prove that Data is not property, but a person. A powerful discourse on what it means to be a sentient being.

The Best of Both Worlds (S3x26/S4x01)– The most celebrated cliffhanger two part episode in all Star Trek, this episode pits the Enterprise against its greatest enemy – the Borg.  When the first part originally aired as the season 3 finale, the cliffhanger reportedly drove fans to distraction all summer.

Unification (S5x05/06)A two part episode in season 5, not only is it an excellent story of civil war in the vein of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it features the highly anticipated return of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.  Not to be missed.

Darmok (S5x02)An intriguing tale about the fundamental nature of communication, Captain Picard is stranded on a planet with an alien captain who he cannot understand, and an enemy neither of them can see.  In order to defeat their nemesis, the two suspicious captains must learn to communicate and survive.

The Inner Light (S5x25)– The episode of Trek nearest to my heart, this is a beautiful, emotional tale.  After Captain Picard is attacked by an alien probe, he forgets his life as a Starfleet Captain, and begins living the life of a simple alien man.  The end result is tragic and powerful, and Stewart’s acting is never better.

If you’ve tried these episodes out, and are ready to venture into the latter series, go for it! Here are some episode titles I’d recommend, though I won’t review them here.

Deep Space Nine: The Visitor (S4x03), In the Pale Moonlight (S6xx19), Duet (S1/19), Emissary (S1x01/02), Call to Arms (S5x26), Nor the Battle to the Strong (S5x04)

Voyager: Caretaker (S1x01/02), Latent Image (S5x11), Flashback (S3x02), Scorpion (S3x26/S4x01), Year of Hell (S4x08/09)

Enterprise: Broken Bow (S1x01/02), The Expanse (S2x26), Carbon Creek (S2x02), Twilight (S3x08), Borderland/Cold Station 12/The Augments (S4x04/05/06), The Andorian Incident (S1x07)

Soon you will be one of us....err, them. Right.

Soon you will be one of us….err, them. Right.

 

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