3 Lists of 3 Star Trek: The Original Series

Jim handed me two Star Trek 3 Lists of 3 last month and somehow your uncle Geekly only posted one of them. My bad. I don’t have a whip on hand, so I may have to flagellate myself with my back scratcher.

Thanks for the Trek article, Standard Issue Star Trek Geek Jim.

In my last Star Trek article, I listed The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine ahead of The Original Series. Lest some of our readers take that as a knock on The Original Series, I want now to give credit where it’s due and explore some of what makes TOS special.

Things to Love about Star Trek: The Original Series

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Optimism

Each Star Trek series reflects its time in a certain way. Now, with everything happening in our twenty-four-hour-news world, it seems the product of that is post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. In the 1960s, we faces race riots, the Vietnam War, and the threat of mutually assured destruction with the USSR. Somehow, Star Trek managed to imagine a future that had taken all of that and persevered onto better things. I know, in Trek canon, there is an apocalyptic war, but we survive it and we prosper.

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Diversity

In a time when Americans feared a communist takeover of the world, we see Chekov, a Russian, on the bridge of the Enterprise. Twenty years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we see a show put a person of Japanese ancestry, Sulu, on the bridge with Chekov. An African American woman, Uhura, is a bridge officer herself. This is the world we’re still striving for today.

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Philosophy

Star Trek has always had episodes that posed philosophical questions, but it all began with The Original Series. Yes, there were plenty of episodes that focused on seducing green women, but TOS questioned its viewers with what we might do in a situation where we found ourselves the inferior life form, and how we might respond should a superior life form treat us as indifferently as we, at times, treat our own planet’s less evolved animals.

Best Characters

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Captain Kirk

You knew he’d have to be here, so let’s skip the how and get into why he’s a special character without having to compare him to other Trek captains. James Kirk is the prototypical romantic idea of a starship captain. He’s young to hold such a high rank, he’s handsome and charismatic, but he’s also evolved in a way that fits with the idea of our future the show sets out. Yes, we can get into his sexual proclivity and criticize the character for that, but episodes like Balance of Terror and The Enemy Within do a great job of complicating Kirk as a character and showing an appreciation for his gentler nature, his respect for life, and the effects of the strain of command.

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Spock

Another one you knew would have to make the cut, but let’s talk about why. Spock introduces us to Vulcans on the show, but he’s only half Vulcan. In that way, he’s a surrogate for the audience in understanding the differences between the races, but in another, very progressive way, he represents the joining of worlds the show hopes for, and what is mirrored in the civil rights movement of that time.

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Bones

Doctor McCoy is gruff, old fashioned and at times, even a little backward in his thinking by comparison to the other characters aboard Enterprise. Somehow, however, there’s still a place for him. He’s still a part of that world, still thrives in it, and the crew is better for having him there. Maybe this is Roddenberry’s way of acknowledging there will always be holdouts where progress is concerned, and maybe that’s okay.

Things We Can Forgive

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It’s Pollyanna

I love the optimism in Star Trek. It’s probably my favorite things about the franchise, but there are some things that get a little too sugar-coated. One thing that comes to mind is Gene Roddenberry’s insistence that currency does not exist in the Federation, despite references to “credits” in the show. Who would volunteer to scrub plasma conduits, or wear a red shirt in a landing party if they weren’t being paid? What does the Federation do if not enough people aspire to mine dilithium on colony worlds? Do they force them? That’s suddenly a much darker world, isn’t it? Even so, I’ll take a little wishful thinking over mindless pessimism. The issue of currency rarely comes up in the show anyway.

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Retcons

For those who don’t know the term, “retcon” means retroactive continuity. In essence, it’s what happens when a story contradicts itself and needs to be explained away. The Klingons’ appearance, and the changing color scheme of crew members’ jerseys are examples of this in the show. Gene Roddenberry described himself as a notorious revisionist, and told fans whatever the most recent instance laid out should be taken as canon. Given that Star Trek boasts improvement and evolution as some of its major themes, can’t we accept a little revising now and then?

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It didn’t do more

Simon Pegg, in promoting Star Trek: Beyond, expressed disappointment in the fact that some fans bristled at Sulu’s portrayal as homosexual in the movie. This was meant as an homage to George Takei, who originally portrayed the character, and is homosexual himself, but I think this portrayal may have undercut Roddenberry. We may feel discouraged by the intolerance we see in our daily lives today, but there’s no denying that whatever bigotry exists in our world, it isn’t the same as the institutionalized intolerance of the past. Some have said Gene Roddenberry would have loved to portray a gay character, but we have to remember he was facing bans in the south for having an interracial kiss on screen (Kirk and Uhura). Roddenberry may have wished he could push the envelope further. Today, an interracial kiss on screen isn’t even noteworthy, so before addressing the social issues Star Trek didn’t tackle, it’s only fair to acknowledge that we today aren’t up against the same things Roddenberry was in the 1960s.

Hopefully giving a little love to The Original Series assuages some of the perceived shade my last Trek article may have thrown in that direction. If you’re a die-hard fan of TOS, and you still feel I’ve wronged the classics, just remember that all I’ve really said is Star Trek is a franchise that has improved on itself. Would Gene Roddenberry have wanted it any other way?

Star Trek Series 3 Lists of 3

Jim walked into the Geekly office, and it looks like he has a new 3 Lists of 3. You have the floor, man.

Who thinks it’s time for a 3 Lists of 3 on Star Trek? No one? Well, we’re doing one anyway. Firs thing I should admit is that Star Trek Discovery isn’t even up for consideration here, because I haven’t watched it. I don’t want to support that business model of endless streaming services, and also I’m cheap. Without further stalling for word count, here are the three best episodes of the three best series in all of Trek-dom.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

I said it, so fight me. I’m a TNG guy. You think you’re mad now? Keep reading. The Original Series isn’t even #2 on my list. Here are the three best episodes of The Next Generation.

The Best of Both Worlds

Okay. This is a cheat, since it’s a two-parter, but I’m going to count it. This/these episode(s) saw Captain Picard assimilated by The Borg and turned against the Federation .The experience changes Picard, and also feeds into a couple other crucial plot points in Star Trek lore.

Chain of Command

Now I’m doubling down on two-parters. Hey, the series did this quite a bit, and more often than not, when they did it, they did it for a good reason. This story is another great bit of character development for Picard as he’s tortured in the captivity of the Cardassians. You may have seen the gif of a traumatized Patrick Stewart shouting, “There are four lights!” This is from this episode. It addresses the psychology, efficacy, and morality of torture, and also puts Deanna Troi in a proper Starfleet uniform, so there’s that.

The Measure of a Man

Starfleet decides to study Data and orders him to submit  trial is held to determine if Data is a living being, and has the right to refuse. It’s Star Trek at its best, an examination of philosophy and ethics applied to characters we love.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Did you think I was bluffing about the TOS not being #2? Well, I wasn’t. Truth be told, ask me to do this list again tomorrow and I might put DS9 ahead of TNG. DS9 shows the Federation at war, challenging so much of the doctrine Gene Roddenberry laid out for this franchise, but doing it thoughtfully. It’s not just great Trek, it’s great storytelling.

In the Pale Moonlight

Remember what I said about DS9 complicating the morality of the franchise? No episode in all of Star Trek does this better. It also features Garak, one of the most complex and interesting supporting characters the franchise has ever seen. Here, Captain Sisko manipulates the Romulans to get them to enter the war on the side of the Federation. We’ve seen Starfleet officers compromise their ethics before, but these are depicted as traitors to the uniform, or at best, men who’ve lost their way. This episode makes no such judgment, and it’s truly refreshing.

The Siege of AR-558

This episode shows us a side of Starfleet we haven’t seen often. Sure, we’ve seen ships explode, and even some shootouts on the ground, but this episode depicts a long, ugly battle in the trenches. Here we see the cost of the Dominion War in action, and it’s made personal when Nog is wounded in combat. This is also an important episode for adding depth to the Ferengi, who have too often been given the one dimensional alien monoculture treatment.

Duet

Kira was a great second in command in this series. She’s smart, capable, and continues this series’ legacy of complicating moral questions. In this episode, we get glimpses into Kira’s past as a member of the Bajoran resistance, as well as her experiences under Cardassian occupation. Here we see her come face to face with a man she remembers as the commandant of an infamous forced labor camp. Her relationship with Sisko is challenged, as is her willingness to operate under Federation protocol.

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Okay, so The Original Series does make the list. It has to, really. Without the original, nothing that came after would have been possible, and that’s a debt always owed to what came first. This show had plenty of misfires, but also some truly classic moments.

Balance of Terror

Star Trek was, like all art, a product of its time. In this case, the cold war left its mark in an exceptionally clear manner. We have the neutral zone enforcing a delicate peace, and two groups who can’t even see one another prepared to destroy one another. It parallels the story of the film, The Enemy Below, and gave us the famous Trek quote, “…I might have called you friend.”

Space Seed

This episode explores the history of The Eugenics War, a critical point in the fictionalized version of Earth’s past within the Star Trek universe. It addresses the consequences of genetic engineering and, most importantly, it introduces us to Khan. Without this episode, Wrath of Khan, the best of the Star Trek films, would not exist.

The City on the Edge of Forever

What I like about Star Trek is that it takes an optimistic look at humanity’s future. Yes, things get bad. They’ll get even worse still, but someday we will get things right. That feels rare in science fiction. This episode has Kirk and Spock chasing a delirious Dr. McCoy into the past to preserve their future. There, amid rampant crime and poverty, Kirk meets a woman who is an almost insufferable optimist. She predicts eventual harmony and prosperity for mankind. In short, this episode functions as a sort of metafictional look at itself, at the sort of hopeful person who creates a better future by believing in it.

There you have it. There’s Jim’s take on the three best episodes of the three best series in Star Trek history. Do you disagree? Throw on a red shirt and we’ll fight about it.