Light Mode

Ranking All 79 ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ Episodes from Worst to Best

 Credit: Paramount Television
It’s hard to think of any other 1960s TV series with as much staying-power as Star Trek. 47 years after its launch it’s spun-off four live-action series, one animated series, dozens of videogames, and 12 movies. The latest, Star Trek Into Darkness, is on track to make $100 million its opening weekend. So why do we still care? Because The Original Series was just that compelling. Even when it was bad — and it could be a bad a lot — it was always interesting. It was always brimming with ideas about the universe and our place within it. Gene Roddenberry had one of the strongest visions ever brought to bear on the small screen. So in honor of the continuing voyages of the Starship Enterprise, we’ve ranked all 79 episodes of The Original Series from worst to best. We hate to be negative all upfront, but if we get the bad episodes out of the way first, we can spend more time relishing our faves. Guess what tops our list!
79. “Turnabout Intruder” — The very last episode of the original Star Trek series is also its worst, a dispiritingly sexist commentary on gender roles that sees Capt. Kirk switch bodies with a female scientist that makes incredibly bizarre claims: like that women are barred from being starship captains in Starfleet, something that has been disproven by almost everything else we know about Star Trek. Luckily, there’d be 25 seasons of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise to remove the awful taste in our mouths left by the end of The Original Series.

78. “Spock’s Brain” — The third season of The Original Series was a bit like the fourth season of Community. Its original creator, Gene Roddenberry, was marginalized so NBC could make Star Trek almost a parody of itself. That’s clear from the season opener, in which aliens remove Spock’s brain…because they can! Now, there are some good episodes in Season 3. But you’ll find that much of the bottom of this lost also comes from Star Trek’s wildly uneven last year.

77. “The Alternative Factor” — An early foray into the idea of exploring “parallel universes,” the Enterprise crew encounters a man named Lazarus who’s hellbent on tracking down his antimatter double from another dimension. When matter and antimatter collide it’s supposed to explosive, but the drama here certainly isn’t.

76. “Wolf in the Fold” — Scotty is accused of murder on an alien world! The kind of episode where you know he didn’t do it and you know he’ll inevitably be cleared so what’s the point? Stick around, though, for a supporting turn by the great John Fiedler.

- Advertisement -

75. “The Way to Eden” — Hippies in space! It could be a Muppet Show parody, but yes the Enterprise crew encounters 23rd century versions of the flower power set and have an incredibly reactionary response.

74. “The Paradise Syndrome” — Kirk is brainwashed into thinking he’s a Native American. Seriously.

73. “The Man Trap” — To his credit Roddenberry like to present non-humanoid alien threats as much as he did humanoid ones. But these parasites that leach off of the salt in human bodies (in the very first episode of The Original Series that aired!) are incredibly pointless.

72. “Elaan of Troyius” — Just from the title alone, you know this is going to be a bad episode. Kirk has to escort a spoiled princess through hostile terrain. A spoiled princess who loves to wear barely-there tinfoil jumpsuits.

71. “Mudd’s Women” — Jovial con man Harry Mudd is the kind of nemesis who only could’ve worked in the ‘60s. His introduction in Season 1 has him swindle dilithium miners out of their crystals in exchange for three beautiful women — three women who only appear beautiful when the miners are taking hallucinogens.

NEXT: Numbers 70-61 on our list.

Credit: Paramount Television
70. “Miri” — Children are the only survivors of a planet-wide calamity. Roddenberry really loved the kiddies (see also: Wesley Crusher on The Next Generation) but he never seemed to know how to integrate them compellingly into the drama.
69. “The Mark of Gideon” — Kirk is abducted by a race of aliens to help them solve their overpopulation problem. Uh, considering his interstellar bedhopping, Kirk is the last person qualified to deal with overpopulation issues. Which is why this episode makes no sense. 

- Advertisement -

68. “Bread and Circuses” — The Enterprise crew encounter a planet that’s patterned itself on ancient Rome. Not the first time they’d discover a planet modeled on a violent period of Earth history, nor the first time they’d be forced to fight in gladiatorial games, “Bread and Circuses” reveals the tremendous capacity of the creators of The Original Series to repeat themselves.

67. “Return to Tomorrow” — Ditto for this Season 3 episode about telepathic aliens taking over Kirk and Spock’s bodies to build stronger, mechanical versions for themselves. Another thing Roddenberry loved over and over again? Non-corporeal aliens that can take over your mind!

66. “The Lights of Zetar” — Probably most notable for introducing the Memory Alpha station that lends its name to the Star Trek wiki. Again, “energy-based” life-forms are the threat.

65. “The Omega Glory” — Kirk faces down both an insane starship captain and a deadly plague while trying to stop an intertribal war. The umpteenth episode about protecting a less-advanced civilization that appears to reside in the rolling hills of Southern California.

64. “Friday’s Child” — Again, the Enterprise crew intervene in a tribal dispute that’s gotten out of hand, this time because of Klingon meddling. Most notable for McCoy’s immortal “I’m a doctor, not an elevator!”

63. “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” — An alien being the Enterprise is transporting must remain inside a black box because its physical form is so hideous. A Twilight Zone-style concept that could’ve been great in the hands of Rod Serling but just didn’t make a thought-provoking jump to the 23rd century.

- Advertisement -

62. “Plato’s Stepchildren” — So you already know one alien society patterned itself on ancient Rome. Here’s one that patterned itself on ancient Greece! But wait, wait, there’s more…

61. “Patterns of Force” — …Like this episode in which an alien civilization based its culture on Nazi Germany. At least here there’s some interesting commentary on how some ideologies are truly irredeemable, not just an opportunity to see Kirk wearing a swastika.

NEXT: Numbers 60-51 on our list.

Credit: Paramount Pictures
60. “Whom Gods Destroy” — There are two frequent career paths for starship captains that you’d do really well to avoid: One is to be endowed with god-like powers and try to take over control of the universe; the other is go insane and think you have god-like powers with which you try to take over control of the universe. The latter is featured here.
59. “The Cage” — The first pilot Gene Roddenberry shot starred Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike. He commanded the Enterprise before Kirk (much like Bruce Greenwood’s Pike in J.J. Abrams’ movies) but his first officer wasn’t Spock — who then was just relegated solely to science officer — but a woman, Majel Barrett’s “Number One.” By the time it went to series, Roddenberry rewrote the concept to fit more comfortably into the prevailing chauvinism of the era, with Barrett playing Nurse Chapel instead. But “The Cage” is a fascinating experiment in projecting a profoundly progressive view of the future, even if it’s ultimately a bit of an inert non-starter.

58. “Requiem for Methuselah” — Kirk discovers an immortal human living as a hermit. We liked this concept better in “Metamorphosis,” appearing higher on this list.

57. “The Squire of Gothos” — The god-like being Trelane, who patterns himself on an English gentleman from the 1800s, has complete control over the minds and matter of Kirk’s crew. We’d say it’s a whimsical concept, but it’s been done so often in Trek. All of these petty gods are building toward The Next Generation’s Q.

56. “And the Children Shall Lead” — There was an “evil imaginary friend” episode on Next Generation as well, but not nearly as crazy as this one, where a kids’ game of make-believe summons forces greater than Kirk could ever have imagined.

55. “That Which Survives” — A supercomputer is the only survivor of an alien race that succumbed to a deadly plague. It now chooses to represent itself solely as holographic projections of scantily clad women. Because it can!

54. “Obsession” — Kirk gets his Ahab on trying to track down the mysterious entity that killed much of the crew of his previous ship. A rare opportunity to go inside the good captain’s pre-Enterprise history.

53. “The Empath” — The Enterprise landing party are subjected to unfathomable torments to test an alien race’s empathic ability. The whole concept of “empaths” was another thing Roddenberry seemed curiously fixated on — see also the empathic Lt. Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

52. “The Gamesters of Triskelion” — The first and best of the episodes in which the Enterprise crew are forced to participate in gladiatorial games. The stuff Simpsons parodies are made of.

51. “A Private Little War” — Kirk tries to protect primitive aliens from Klingon interference. Not as exciting as “Errand of Mercy” or as unforgettably bizarre as “Friday’s Child” earlier on this list, it’s still really fun to see the Captain tangle with “those Klingon bastards.”

NEXT: Numbers 50-41 on our list.

Credit: Paramount Pictures
50. “Catspaw” — Two aliens with “magical powers” wreak havoc with the crew. This sounds like many others we’ve already mentioned, right? Wrong! “Catspaw” was Star Trek’s attempt at a Gothic horror episode to be released near Halloween. Stylish and silly. 

49. “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” — An asteroid hurtles toward a Federation world and our heroes rush to prevent the collision…only to discover that the interior of the asteroid is inhabited by aliens who are totally oblivious of the universe around them. An engaging Russian nesting doll concept. Also, how could you not love any episode with this title?

48. “The Ultimate Computer” — Federation computer genius Richard Daystrom (he gets a shout-out in Star Trek Into Darkness) tests out a new artificial intelligence onboard the Enterprise. Catastrophe ensues. But it shows just how much Roddenberry was ahead of the curve when it came to operating systems and computer networking — just as he was with cell phones and tablets.

47. “Day of the Dove” — In case you were wondering, this the point in our list where we start getting into the good episodes. An energy-based alien life form that feeds off anger amplifies the tensions between the Klingons and Kirk’s crew, until the two adversaries finally realize what’s happening and turn against their common enemy. An early glimpse of the détente that the Klingons and Federation will one day achieve.

46. “This Side of Paradise” — A Federation colony that should have been wiped out by lethal radiation is actually thriving, its members living in a state of euphoria because of mysterious spores. However, those spores rob those affected of ambition and self-discipline, basically making them an early version of the dream-fulfilling Nexus cloud that’s central to the plot of Star Trek: Generations.

45. “Shore Leave” — One of Trek’s more hallucinatory episodes, “Shore Leave” presents the crew getting a few days of R&R only to find a white rabbit, a sword-wielding samurai, and Don Juan menacing them. Also, we learn Dr. McCoy really loves showgirls who wear rabbit-fur bikinis.

44. “The Savage Curtain” — The third to last episode of The Original Series is actually really thought-provoking as aliens force Kirk and Spock to join forces with figures of good throughout history (Abraham Lincoln, Surak) vs. historical figures of evil (Hitler, Genghis Khan, Col. Green).

43. “Spectre of the Gun” — Aliens force Kirk & Co. to play the losing side in a reenactment of the Gunfight at the OK Corral! Like “The Savage Curtain” it’s a challenging examination of the nature of monstrosity and whether it’s something that’s fated or learned.

42. “The Cloud Minders” — Star Trek created the original Cloud City, 11 years before The Empire Strikes Back. A vicious class disparity plunges a floating mining colony into full-blown civil uprising, all while the Enterprise crew race against the clock to recover resources they need to fight a plague.

41. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” — Roddenberry’s second pilot introduced Shatner’s Kirk and established the idealistic tone of the series: exploration of the universe as discovery of the self. Do you use the accumulation of knowledge for wisdom and self-improvement? Or for vulgar power like Gary Mitchell? Writ large, that choice could determine humanity’s destiny.

NEXT: Numbers 40-31 on our list.

Credit: Paramount Television
40. “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” — Nurse Chapel sure knows how to pick ‘em! Her fiancé, exobiologist Roger Korby, discovered an alien machine that creates android replicas of living people and uses that machine to replace Kirk with an identical robot and try to take over the Enterprise. Nice going, Christine. 

39. “I, Mudd” — What does Hary Mudd do when he has unlimited power? We find out in his second appearance on Star Trek, in which he has now become the king of a planet of androids.

38. “By Any Other Name” — More god-like beings! This time from the Andromeda Galaxy! They’ve taken over the Enterprise and modified it for the long, long journey out of the Milky Way. Shows how, even on The Original Series, Roddenberry and his writers understood the vastness of the universe.

37. “Who Mourns for Adonais?” — So guess what about all those Greek gods from mythology? They were real! Except they weren’t gods, but omnipotent aliens who passed through our solar system during the days of Priam and Achilles and meddled a little too closely in Earth affairs. Kirk & Crew encounter the last survivor of those wanderers, Apollo, who had been worshipped as the sun god. And trust us, it really went to his head.

36. “Operation: Annihilate!” — This is another time we actually delve into Kirk’s personal history. Unlike J.J. Abrams’ reboot, he grew up with his father, George, and brother, Sam. Only in this episode Sam gets killed by flying amoebas at his space colony. Remember what I said about things that like to leach off human bodies for their salt! Always a worry in the 23rd century.

35. “The Immunity Syndrome” — Speaking of space amoebas, the Enterprise almost runs smack into a giant, asteroid-sized paramecium floating in the void. It’s also draining power from the ship and threatening to suck it in, and the only solution is for Spock to try to meld with it. Okay, writing this right now, it sounds like the worst thing ever. But trust me, it’s unquestionably awesome!

34. “The Deadly Years” — Kirk & Crew are afflicted with a disease that causes rapid aging. For my money, if the producers of the current Trek franchise ever want to bring back William Shatner for a movie without a time-travel twist they’d infect Chris Pine’s Kirk with this disease and suddenly it’d be $#*! My Captain Says.

33. “The Changeling” — The Enterprise runs into a 20th century NASA space probe that may have already wiped out a couple worlds deep in the interstellar void. It overcame its crude 20th century programming and developed sophisticated, if psychopathic, artificial intelligence. I know, I know, it’s the plot of The Motion Picture, right?

32. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” — A powerful allegory for racial discrimination about a race of white-and-black aliens that shun certain members of their species depending on which sad is black and which is white. It may be a little heavy-handed for today’s sensibilities, but it was groundbreaking in 1969.

31. “Dagger of the Mind” — The ninth episode of the series is notable for being the first time Spock ever performs a mind meld. But it’s also a tightly-wound psychological thriller about a madman running an insane asylum.

NEXT: Numbers 30-21 on our list.

Credit: Paramount Television
30. “Court Martial” — It’s a shame that it aired just a few weeks after an even better courtroom procedural, two-part ep “The Menagerie,” but when Kirk is court martialed for negligence after a crewman was killed during an ion storm it’s still slow-burn pressure cooker. 

29. “The Conscience of the King” — Unlike Pine’s Kirk, Shatner’s grew up on the Earth colony at Tarsus IV. A colony that, in his youth, was ruled by a murderous governor who became known as Kodos the Executioner. Decades later in “The Conscience of the King,” Kirk suspects that a Shakespearean actor is actually Kodos in disguise. Also, yes, the name Kodos inspired one-half of the cannibalistic alien duo, Kodos & Kang, on The Simpsons. And just so you know, Kang was also a Kliingon on The Original Series.

28. “The Return of the Archons” — The Enterprise reaches the planet where the USS Archon was reported lost a century earlier and discovers that a society modeled on 19th century Earth civilization has sprung up. Unlike 19th century Earthlings, however, th