The Star Trek universe is beloved by legions of people from all ages, walks of life, and origins. But for the unfamiliar, starting on Star Trek for the first time can be overwhelming with 700+ hours of TV, over a dozen movies, and novels and comics to boot. Wondering where you should get started? If you're looking to kick things off by watching The Original Series, here are some pointers.
Star Trek: The Original Series
Aired 1966-1969 -- 3 Seasons, 79 Episodes
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan
In the mid-60s, Gene Roddenberry had a vision of peace for humanity among the constant peril of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the looming threat of nuclear war that permeated the everyday American lives. His original television series, Star Trek, depicted a world where such issues as hunger, racism and inequality had been resolved. Humanity no longer struggled against these issues but worked toward a society of betterment, of intelligence and of collaboration. He created a science fiction show in which Captain Kirk (William Shatner), a cocky and confident but morally sound man led a group of mixed individuals on journeys across space as members of Starfleet, an Earth-based coalition of explorers and adventurers. Along with the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the three men represented typical powers of persuasion and fueled the core of Star Trek’s story promoting peace. Their comrades, progressively comprised of an African-American woman in a position of power (Nichelle Nichols as Uhura), an Asian man (George Takei as Sulu) and, eventually, a Russian (Walter Koenig as Chekov), presented people who were working together in unity to find common ground.
Do all of its messages hold up today? Of course not. Is it regularly goofy and melodramatic? Absolutely. And despite its inclusive intentions, is it still sometimes contextually offensive and frequently sexist? You bet. But at the time of its release, Star Trek was unlike anything anyone had seen before, and its cult success eventually birthed a widespread fandom that thrives half a century later, decades after its creator’s death.
Yes, the aliens all look curiously human. Yes, the guy in the red shirt usually dies. Yes, Star Trek inventions like the transporter were actually budgetary shortcuts that became science fiction icons. This is The Original Series.
Where No Man Has Gone Before (Season 1, Episode 1)
It's hard to suggest anyone break into Star Trek without watching the pilot episode. In reality, the episode isn't amazing, but it's the first of hundreds and hundreds of Star Trek episodes to come. That alone makes it worth the investment.
The Naked Time (Season 1, Episode 6)
In one of the series’ most famous episodes, The Enterprise crew finds they are under the spell of an intoxicating contagion that lowers their inhibitions and causes insanity all over the ship. We get a great look at how physically fit George Takei was in 1966. The episode was re-done on The Next Generation (1987) as The Naked Now, in a second-episode misstep for the new spinoff.
Star Trek: TOS - Balance of Terror
Balance of Terror (Season 1, Episode 8)
In The Original Series’ Cold War suspense thriller episode, The Enterprise comes in contact and does battle with a Romulan ship near the Neutral Zone. The plot of this episode is based on the 1957 movie The Enemy Below, with the Enterprise taking the part of the American destroyer and the Bird-of-Prey with its cloaking device taking the part of the submarine.
Dagger of the Mind (Season 1, Episode 10)
It’s the episode that introduces the Vulcan mind meld, a huge piece of Star Trek lore.
The Menagerie, Parts I and II (Season 1, Episodes 15-16)
Spock fakes a message from the Enterprise's former commander, Christopher Pike, steals the vessel, and sets it on a locked course for the forbidden planet Talos IV. This pairing of episodes is essentially a courtroom drama examining Captain Kirk, which is great Star Trek, and also features the famous dancing green girl, which is great laughable 1960s television.
Space Seed (Season 1, Episode 24)
In an examination of eugenics, The Enterprise discovers an ancient spaceship carrying genetically enhanced supermen from late 20th century Earth and their enigmatic warlord leader, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban). Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) is the sequel to this episode while Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) portrays a different set of events leading to Khan's introduction to the 23rd century.
Star Trek: TOS - The City on the Edge of Forever
The City on the Edge of Forever (Season 1, Episode 28)
After taking an accidental overdose of cordrazine, Doctor Leonard McCoy goes back in time and changes history. The episode is both an anti-Vietnam war statement and an episode filled with time travel, humor, and ethical content. It is also the most expensive episode of the series, save for the pilots, due to its sets and effects, and is often referred to as the best episode of Star Trek across all the series.
The Trouble With Tribbles (Season 2, Episode 13)
Not a good episode by any technical measure, The Trouble With Tribbles has gone on to become another enduring entry in TOS’s lineup for its goofy, comedy-hour styling. It’s a hard episode to find anything less than entertaining and is a favorite of any true Trek fan.
Amok Time (Season 2, Episode 5)
This episode both introduces Chekov (Walter Koenig) and the idea of the Pon Farr, the Vulcan mating ritual. It is an episode about culture, sexuality, and human ritual and one of the most memorable from the series’ second season.
Other notable mentions include Plato’s Stepchildren (Season 3, Episode 10), which featured one of television’s first interracial kisses; The Tholian Web (Season 3, Episode 9), one of season three’s only great episodes; and Mirror Mirror (Season 2, Episode 10), fun for its introduction of Evil Spock; Journey To Babel (Season 2, Episode 15), Spock's father Sarek is accused of murder and only Spock can come to his aid; and The Doomsday Machine (Season 2, Episode 6), in which The Enterprise discovers a weapon capable of destroying entire planets, along with a fellow crazed by ideas of revenge.
What are your favorite episodes for introducing beginners to the world of TOS?