Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek ToS Season 1

Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek ToS Season 1

I think I’ve well established my love for Star Trek at several different points since I started this blog. So it might come as a surprise to my readers that I actually hated Star Trek the first time I tried to watch it.

Have you ever had a show you really loved and wanted to share with someone? But then you turn on the day’s episode and it looks like ninjas in space and makes no sense? (This actually happened to me once, by the way. Though the show in question was Stargate rather than Star Trek.) This is basically what happened with me and Star Trek.

I turned on the latest episode of The Next Generation, back when that was new, and saw Picard standing in a sea of white talking to some random guy who told him he was in Hell.

I noped right out of there.

About a decade later, I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch and, somewhat out of desperation, decided to give Star Trek another try. This time it was the episode where Data made his own child. And from that moment on, I was hooked.

I used to watch the 6 hour blocks of Next Generation re-runs they put on TSN on Sundays. And eventually, I saw the Picard in all white talking to Q episode in actual context and realized how hilarious it was.

So I can understand hesitation to watch something that looks all cheese and no substance. I actually decided to write this post for a friend who isn’t interested in the original Star Trek because… Well, it’s a lot of cheese and camp.

BUT there are some episodes in the original series that are sincerely worth the time. In hopes my friend, and the rest of you, will be willing to give those episodes a chance, I present Megan’s Must Watch Star Trek the Original Series Episodes (from Season 1)!

1. Miri

When I think of impressions the original Star Trek series left on me, this is the first episode that always pops to mind. If you watch one Star Trek episode and no other, make it this one. It’s so haunting, the concept just stays with you.

In this episode, the Enterprise encounters an exact duplicate of Earth on which all of the parents have died of some mysterious, unknown disease. The only inhabitants left are the children. As the crew investigate the situation, they realize that they are infected with the disease – which remains in the air. I don’t want to spoil everything, but the disease has a different affect on children than on adults. While it kills adults, it causes children to age incredibly slowly.

And by all indications, this disease took effect on this planet some 100 years ago.

Just pause and imagine the implications of 100 years of childhood without any parents.

Fans of South Park might recognize elements of this episode from the one where the kids reported all their parents as abusers, especially the references to ‘caregivers’ and ‘the before times.’

Apparently some audiences found this episode so upsetting, the BBC banned it from being re-aired for a few decades.

Personally, I think this episode is a shining example of what Star Trek is supposed to be all about – posing complicated questions that don’t necessarily have easy answers.

2. A Taste of Armageddon

Like the episode before it, this one contains one of the moments that always pops most prominently into my head whenever I think of Star Trek. It is, in my opinion one of the most profound examples of Star Trek as miniature morality plays.

In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise are transporting an ambassador to a little known planet. After arriving on the planet’s surface, the crew learn that this planet is at war with a nearby neighboring planet – and have been for so long. In order to make their war more ‘ethical,’ battles are conducted by computer simulation. However, the treaty between the two planets demands that the casualties of each ‘attack’ must still be executed.

Thus everyone killed in the most recent attack is ordered to report to the ‘eliminators’ for execution. Including Kirk’s crew who were ‘attacked’ during the most recent simulation.

You can imagine how Kirk reacts to that.

The center of this episode is a moral quandary: should the crew of the Enterprise respect the culture they have just started interacting with? Or should they try to change said culture to see the error of their ways? And what, exactly, is the value of a life?

3. The City on the Edge of Forever

This episode is largely considered to be the best episode in the original Star Trek series. Many of the original cast and creators list it as their favorite. So why isn’t it at the top of my list? Well… it didn’t leave as lasting an impression on me as the two episodes mentioned above. But like the other episodes, it presents a classic trek moral conundrum. I also particularly like that it focuses on the characters.

In this episode, a heavily drugged and confused McCoy falls through a portal that takes him back in time. Unfortunately, his journey has a profound effect on the timeline he came from. This forces Kirk to follow him back in time – not just to retrieve his friend, but to preserve the future (his present).

In true trek fashion, however, the answer isn’t that easy. In order to restore the timeline, Kirk must make a very difficult and painful choice. I don’t want to risk saying anymore, so you’ll have to watch to find out what that choice entails!

4. Charlie X

I’m not sure if you’ll find this episode on a lot of Star Trek lists. But it is one of the ones that sticks in my head a lot. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise take custody of a young man named Charlie, the sole survivor of a crash on a distant planet. Charlie, as it turns out, has been alone for a long time. He also, unbeknownst to the crew, has extremely powerful, nearly god-like abilities that let him manipulate his reality and the people surrounding him.

It turns out that the planet Charlie crashed on was inhabited by an alien species who wanted to help him survive. Unfortunately, that species isn’t very human and Charlie didn’t have a lot of the guidance and understanding usually provided to human children by their parents.

This episode raises a lot of interesting questions about nature versus nurturer. Kirk serves as a father-like figure to the young man as he struggles to find where he belongs in a society that doesn’t always react to him the way he wants it to. Is Charlie a spoiled brat? Or just a victim of circumstance? Watch and decide for yourself!

5. The Corbomite Maneuver

I’m pleasantly surprised to discover this episode is usually featured on lists of the best in the series. This episode is hard to describe in a way that doesn’t sound silly. The central focus involves an exchange between Kirk and a younger, less experienced officer that doesn’t appreciate his leadership style.

The central conflict involves an ultra powerful space ship that threatens to destroy the Enterprise. Though many of the crew suffer under the strain of the impending threat, Kirk never falters. The main point of this episode seems to be to prove why Kirk is such an extraordinary captain and, I must say, I feel it delivers spectacularly.

There’s a lot more to this episode than it initially appears, so make sure you watch all the way to the end!

6. The Menagerie

Last on my list of must sees for the first season, this is actually a two-parter. The Menagerie is clever in many regards. First because it features footage of the pilot episode filmed to get producers on board with the original Star Trek series. The captain featured in the story is Pike, not Kirk. Some familiar faces do appear, however, including Spock as a young first officer.

The Menagerie puts Spock on trial for the actions he took on an alien planet during his time serving under Captain Pike. This trial includes video footage, presented as flashbacks, of Spock’s activities (the aforementioned pilot episode footage). In addition to Spock’s continued service being on the line, the trial is meant to determine Captain Pike’s ultimate fate.

If you liked the Star Trek reboot, you’re going to want to watch this episode and find out what happened to Captain Pike in the original timeline. But it’s also just a really interesting episode that once again presents some of Star Trek’s core ideas. (Of course, since it was meant to sell the series). I rather feel like we’d all make Pike’s choice, but you’ll have to watch and see if you agree!

Honorable Mention

If you watch the episodes above and find yourself falling in love with Star Trek the original series, here are a few extra episodes worth delving into.

Space Seed isn’t one of the most spectacular episodes, in my opinion. But it does provide context for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by explaining why he hates Kirk so much. (Kind of, anyway.)

If you’re looking for a really good matching of wits between two captains, check out Balance of Terror, which introduces the Romulans. This episode features an epic brain-off between Kirk and a Romulan general.

And finally, give This Side of Paradise a try. I don’t have a lot of reasons for including this one except that there’s a Stellaris event based off of it, which makes me particularly fond of it.

What are your favorite episodes of Star Trek the original series? Drop them in the comments and come back in a few weeks for my must sees of Season 2!

9 Replies to “Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek ToS Season 1”

  1. Since you’re only doing season one here, I’ll pick out two favorites: The Devil in the Dark, which really speaks to how we need to tread carefully on our planet (or any planet), and Shore Leave. I read the background story for Shore Leave and thought it was funny–a script was written by someone who didn’t understand the show so they literally rewrote it as they filmed. And there was a sale, to rent a tiger and elephant at the same time but they never got to use the elephant. So sometimes someone would come up to them and ask, “Hey, when are you going to use the elephant?” LOL

    1. I didn’t know that about Shore Leave! That sounds hilarious! The Devil in the Dark was on my short list for this post, actually. I had to make some pretty tough decisions when it came down to the final choices, and I decided that one wasn’t quite as memorable to me as some others. But it’s still a really good one! I love hearing what other people think about the series too, it really proves how great the whole thing was that so many people have favorite stories about it!

  2. The Menagerie is my favourite Star Trek episode (well, episodes), too. I think I saw a few episodes of TNG before dipping into those TOS episodes, but they were among my first experiences with this franchise at any rate.

    No pressure, but I’d sure like to see posts from you about your favourite episodes from other Star Trek series (especially TNG and DS9) sometime if you have the editorial space for it here. :)

    1. One of my favorite things about the Menagerie is that they used footage from the pilot episode for it. That seemed to me like a really clever way to use all their work on the show, even though the critics weren’t fond of parts of the original pilot.

      You know… I was seriously considering doing TNG next. And my opinions on DS9 are certainly interesting. Maybe I’ll go for it! :D If nothing else, it reminds me how much I love Star Trek in general to look back at all my favorite episodes!

    1. Yes, I agree about Stargate! After I finished my TOS list I was actually severely tempted to start combing back through old SG1 episodes. Maybe I will next year! :D

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