What kind of fools would attempt to take over seven hundred hours of television spread out over five different series, review them and then distill them down to a list of the fifty best episodes? You're looking at them. What follows is Empire's breakdown of the best that Star Trek has had to offer over the past half century. Engage!
Here is a list of our favourite Star Trek episodes counting down from the 50th to the number one greatest. So sit back and get comfortable (this may take a while...)
50. Q Pid (TNG)
John de Lancie's Q is a recurring pain in the arse for the crew of the Enterprise, but no one can say he isn't any fun. This time, when Picard rejects his offer to help mend some fences with a lady friend, he transports a number of the crew to Sherwood Forest, planting them straight into a Robin Hood adventure. Standout moment? An indignant Worf proclaiming, "I am not a merry man!"
49. Lower Decks (TNG)
As The Next Generation was winding down its television run, the writers decided to shift gears and focus on a group of junior officers, following them as they interact with the primary crew while vying for promotions. An entirely different, very welcome change of pace that proves hugely enjoyable – despite a somewhat downbeat ending.
48. Endgame (VOY)
Cut through all the technobabble and what you're left with is an intriguing tale of an older Admiral Janeway, 10 years after Voyager's return home, deciding to go back in time to help her younger self defeat the Borg and get her crew home from the Delta Quadrant before history unfolds the same way. It's no All Good Things, but it wraps things up well and gives Kate Mulgrew a real chance to shine in dual roles.
47. Hard Time (DS9)
In what is a dark take on TNG's The Inner Light, O'Brien is found guilty of espionage by an alien race that implants the memory of years of harsh imprisonment, which in reality lasted just a few hours. Much of the episode is focused on his trying to readjust to his normal life. A bravura performance by Colm Meaney who sells the trauma spectacularly.
46. In A Mirror Darkly (ENT)
Oh, Enterprise, why did you wait so long to live up to your own potential? This episode from the final season takes place in the Mirror Universe, serving as a sequel to season three of the original series' The Tholian Web and a prequel to that show's Mirror, Mirror. Imaginative and most of all fun, it's just unfortunate that executive producer Manny Coto couldn't tie the show further into the events of the '60s series.
45. Sacrifice Of Angels (DS9)
War brings a price, and the price paid on Deep Space Nine is very real. The conclusion of a six-episode arc opening season six, it's all about Sisko and his people reclaiming DS9 from the Cardassian/Dominion alliance. Tremendous action, espionage and yet another example (collect them all) of the way this series the consistently the best of the entire Trek franchise.
44. Phage (VOY)
Executive producer Brannon Braga once said that Voyager should be The X-Files of space, and this episode shows it meeting that potential. An alien race in the Delta Quadrant, suffering from an incurable disease, prolongs the life of its people by transporting vital organs out of unwilling donors and transplanting them. It's chilling as hell, yet by the end – in true Star Trek fashion – you somehow end up feeling sympathy for them.
43. Balance Of Terror (TOS)
The Federation's (and our) first look at the Romulans in what is essentially a submarine thriller in space. Mark Lenard (who would go on to play Spock's father, Sarek) is the Romulan commander who recognises many of his own traits in Kirk, finding him a worthy adversary. The exploration of bigotry (the Romulans are an offshoot of Vulcans) underpins a piece of television that manages to conjure genuine suspense as one commander attempts to outmaneuvre the other with only one possible outcome.
42. Relics (TNG)
James Doohan reprises his original series role of Scotty in this Next Generation episode that sees Scott being rescued from the transporter of a long-missing transport ship and having to adjust to life in the 24th Century. The focus is strongly on Doohan and Levar Burton's Geordi LaForge, and serves as an effective exploration of ageism and the fight against obsolescence. One of Doohan's finest turns as Scotty, and while it's commonplace now (even in fan films), seeing Picard walk through a recreation of the original '60s bridge on the holodeck is very cool.
41. Arena (TOS)
An alien race forces Kirk to fight the lizard-like Gorn, theoretically to the death, but the good captain refuses to carry out the fatal blow. By showing mercy, Kirk demonstrates the superiority of humanity, impressing the aliens and showing how far his race has come. It sounds simple, but the execution (despite the now infamously bad Gorn costume) is first rate.
40. The Offspring (TNG)
In what could unofficially be viewed as a sequel to the season two TNG episode The Measure Of A Man, Data creates an android "daughter" (Hallie Todd's Lal) and attempts to instruct her in the ways of life. Moving on a number of levels, most notably watching Lal evolve in ways Data could never hope to as he fights to keep her free of Starfleet's science division. Co-star Jonathan Frakes made his directorial debut on this episode, paving the way to his taking on 1996's First Contact.
39. Past Tense (DS9)
As conceived by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek was supposed to take modern social issues and examine them through the prism of the future. Embracing that philosophy, the writers of Deep Space Nine took on Los Angeles' growing homeless problem and postulated a frightening future (through DS9's past) in which the homeless are herded into city sectors and all but abandoned there. Avery Brooks' Sisko finds himself having to step into history to make sure the time stream stays on course.
38. Datalore (TNG)
Not everything in season one of The Next Generation felt like a retread of what had boldly gone before. Data's 'brother', an early model named Lore, shows up and Brent Spiner does a stand-up job portraying two very different versions of his character. Not dissimilar to the original's The Enemy Within.... which means that, yes, the plot is something of a retread, but in this case it's a very good retread. Okay?
37. Broken Bow (ENT)
Enterprise comes out of the gate swinging with this two-hour premiere that efficiently sets up the series and establishes that the early stages of Starfleet were very different from what it would ultimately become. The promise of the show is nicely set up (disastrous theme song notwithstanding), but, sadly, it would seldom live unto it.
36. The Andorian Incident (ENT)
The blue-skinned Andorians return for the first time since the original series and score in a big way. The plot – about a secret Vulcan plot against them – is interesting, but what crackles is the instant chemistry between Jeffrey Combs' (Weyoun on DS9) Shran and Scott Bakula's Captain Archer. It's a relationship that would serve Enterprise well for many episodes to come.
35. Little Green Men (DS9)
Now we know what went on in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947: A trio of Ferengi and a shapeshifter crash-landed in the desert and threw members of the US government into disarray. Deep Space Nine goes full-out comedy in what is this series' equivalent of The Trouble With Tribbles (aside from the episode that actually re-visits the Tribble episode, that is, but more on that later).
34. I, Borg (TNG)
When a member of the Borg, eventually given the name Hugh, breaks away from the collective, it raises issues of whether or not genocide (to be accomplished by infecting Hugh and returning him into the collective) for the greater good is warranted. Seriously, when is genocide a good idea?
33. Duet (DS9)
A highlight of Deep Space Nine's first Season, and essentially a two-person drama between Nana Visitor's Kira Nerys and guest star Harris Yulin as the Cardassian war criminal Marritza. Amazing back and forth moments between the actors, and riveting in the revelations that arise.
32. Time’s Arrow (TNG)
An audacious adventure that begins with the discovery of Data's head among relics from 19th Century San Francisco and goes on to include aliens sucking the life force out of humans in the past, time travel, Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan and Mark Twain(!). It's utterly insane, but imaginative and enormous fun.
31. The Wounded (TNG)
The Next Generation goes a bit Heart Of Darkness as Picard must stop a renegade starship captain from committing acts of war against the Cardassians, despite the fact that his military suspicions about them are true. Great tension as Picard is torn between his duty as a Starfleet officer and the grim reality of the political situation.
30. What You Leave Behind (DS9)
The two-hour series finale of Deep Space Nine. While far from the best series-ender ever, it's an exciting and moving close to a series that still had so much life left in it. Major arcs are brought to an end and entirely new ones are begun (and left dangling), but the most important thing is that the show left on its own terms and in its own way.
29. Unification (TNG)
Leonard Nimoy's Spock comes to The Next Generation in what was a tie-in to 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The plot, about Spock's political attempts to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan people, is fine, but the joy comes from watching Nimoy interacting with Patrick Stewart's Picard. It is, in a word, fascinating.
28. Home Front/Paradise Lost (DS9)
Paranoia about changeling infiltration provides Admiral Leyton with an excuse to manipulate the militarisation of Starfleet against its enemy. It's up to Sisko and O'Brien to reveal the truth and preserve everything the Federation stands for. Not a million miles away from the plot of 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, only better.
27. For The Uniform (DS9)
Once again the writers and Avery Brooks prove that Sisko is unlike any other Starfleet captain, as a tense game of galactic cat-and-mouse plays out between him and his former head of security Michael Eddington, who revealed himself to be a traitor and member of the rebel organisation the Maquis.
26. Future Imperfect (TNG)
Jonathan Frakes gets to shine as Riker when he awakens sixteen years in the future in what are very different circumstances. Initially trying to adjust to this new life, inconsistencies lead him to try and discover the truth. As it turns out, nothing is as it seems. Certain elements play like an homage to Star Trek's first pilot, The Cage.
25. Year Of Hell (VOY)
A glimpse into what Voyager could (and should) have been: a gritty two-part adventure that follows the starship over the course of a year where it's constantly fighting for survival, and barely being held together. Disappointingly, It all gets reset at the end, but it's an incredibly dark journey and features a delightfully villainous Kurtwood Smith as Annorax.
24. This Side Of Paradise (TOS)
Spock is able to reveal the depths of his emotion thanks to alien spores that have affected most of the crew, who are enjoying life on an idyllic planet. This also serves as a rare love story for Spock, and his final moment, once he's been restored to his logical self, is heartbreaking.
23. Our Man Bashir (DS9)
The name's Bashir. Julian Bashir. This homage to early Bond films sees the station's doctor in the role of a suave super spy, playing out a spy story in the form of a holosuite adventure (with very real consequences). The cast clearly had a whale of a time throughout, and with good reason.
22. Way of the Warrior (DS9)
For anyone who may not be enamoured with the early episodes of Deep Space Nine, this one should be your starting point. It's where the show becomes far more serialsed, tensions increase between the Federation and the Klingon Empire (paving the road towards the Dominion War), Michael Dorn joins the show as TNG's Worf and Avery Brooks comes to life like never before as Sisko after he shaves his head and grows a goatee.
21. Space Seed (TOS)
There's not much that needs to be said about this one beyond the fact that it marked Ricardo Montalban's debut as 20th Century genetic superman Khan Noonien Singh, and ultimately planted the seeds for what would, fifteen years later, become The Wrath Of Khan. The scenes between Montalban and Shatner (outside of a dopily resolved fist fight) are gold.
20. Q Who (TNG)
From the imagination of executive producer Maurice Hurley came this Season Two episode that had John de Lancie's Q propel the Enterprise to the Delta quadrant where they encounter the Borg for the first time. One of the few episodes of TNG to reveal space to be a genuinely scary place.
19. Brothers (TNG)
Brent Spiner does triple duty as Data, his brother Lore and their "father," Dr. Soong. The story itself — an attempt by Soong to provide Data with an emotion chip that Lore ultimately steals — is not half as memorable as the actor's three distinct performances.
18. Trials And Tribble-ations (DS9)
Now this was the way to celebrate Star Trek's 30th Anniversary as the producers of Deep Space Nine crafted a story that took Sisko, Dax, Bashir and O'Brien and dropped them right in the middle of the original series' "The Trouble With Tribbles." Great fun and top-notch effects work that allowed this crew to interact with that one.
17. The Measure Of A Man (TNG)
The first real evidence that The Next Generation was establishing its own identity as a series came in this Season Two episode. Picard defends Data's right to self-determination against a scientist who desires to dismantle him to create a number of similar androids. An insightful script by Melinda Snodgrass, and a standout performance by Brent Spiner as Data.
16. Chain Of Command (TNG)
In this instalment of Keeping Up With The Cardassians, Picard is made a prisoner of war during a covert operation against the alien race. He's ultimately tortured by David Warner's Gul Madred, and the psychological machinations that follow provide some of TNG's most powerful moments, and arguably Stewart's best performance in the role. "There are FOUR LIGHTS!"
15. The Enemy Within (TOS)
Yes, you have to look beyond some stereotypical Shatnerisms, but overall William Shatner is stunning to watch in this episode as Kirk is, as a result of a transporter malfunction, split into good and evil duplicates of himself. A psychological study of the requirements for an effective starship captain. Written by Twilight Zone scribe Richard Matheson.
14. Scorpion (VOY)
Often referred to by fans as 'The Breast Of Both Worlds', this two-parter introduces Jeri Ryan as Borg crew member Seven Of Nine, though her sprayed-on silver uniform wouldn't make an appearance straight away. Despite being a transparent attempt to 'sex up' the show, it was a tremendous introduction for the character and, more importantly, gave Voyager a much-needed kick up the arse in terms of both drama and conflict.
13. In The Pale Moonlight (DS9)
Starship captains have a tendency to bend the tenets of the Federation (we're talking to you, James T.!), but in this one Sisko pretty much snaps them in half as he manipulates the Romulans into joining the Federation in war against the Dominion. A powerful personal dilemma with no easy solutions.
12. Mirror, Mirror (TOS)
Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura find themselves in a parallel, more savage universe where the Federation is the Empire and is essentially feared like the Klingons. Be sure to check out alternate Spock, who wears the goatee of evil.
11. All Good Things (TNG)
The series finale of The Next Generation bookends its premiere, Encounter At Farpoint, as Q (John de Lancie) continues humanity's trial. Taking place in three time periods (the pilot, the present and the future), its scope is epic, its themes powerful and it's all so well executed that it probably should have been TNG's first feature film.
10. The Inner Light (TNG)
To ensure that memory of a civilisation survives its passing, a probe affects Picard's mind to make him live an entire lifetime among its people, while only minutes pass on the Enterprise itself. In three quarters of an hour, Patrick Stewart somehow makes you really believe in the love and loss of a life well lived – all in the blink of an eye.
9. The Doomsday Machine (TOS)
A tense thriller that serves as a contrast in command between Kirk and Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom). After losing the crew of his ship, the Constellation, to a galaxy-roaming doomsday device, Decker is so driven by vengeance that he could very well sacrifice the Enterprise in its pursuit.
8. The Trouble With Tribbles (TOS)
For the first time, Star Trek proved that it could be funny without losing any of its integrity. Purring furballs, Klingons, bar fights and great comic bits for Shatner to play all combine to make up a true classic. Remember: don't feed them!
7. The Visitor (DS9)
Jake Sisko grows up to be Tony Todd in this tale of Jake attempting to cope with the seeming death of his father, while being filled with the lingering hope that he may somehow be able to set things right. A stirring study of a father/son relationship and the weight of a guilt that spans decades.
6. Darmok (TNG)
Quite possibly the perfect embodiment of the Star Trek philosophy. Two races, represented by Picard and the Tamarian's Dathon (whose people only speak in metaphors and cultural references), must bridge a language gap to establish relations between their people in what becomes a life and death struggle. Paul Winfield (The Wrath of Khan) guest stars as Dathon.
5. The Best of Both Worlds (TNG)
After floundering for a couple of seasons, The Next Generation came into its own with the arrival of exec producer Michael Piller and this tale of the Enterprise's battle with the Borg, which features Picard's transformation into Locutus. From this moment on, resistance to TNG was futile.
4. Far Beyond The Stars (DS9)
Emotionally fragile, Sisko abruptly finds himself as science-fiction writer Benny Russell in 1950s New York. A tour de force performance by star/director Avery Brooks as Benny deals with the racism of the time. We're given the suggestion that the events of DS9 (and therefore the entire Star Trek universe) has sprung from his imagination. Added bonus: seeing much of the cast out of makeup.
3. Yesterday's Enterprise (TNG)
The Federation is getting its arse soundly kicked by the Klingons in this time-altered universe, and Picard must figure out what to do with the Enterprise-C, a ship out of time whose arrival seems to have changed the course of galactic history. This (alongside Chain Of Command) is about as gritty as TNG ever got and is hugely enjoyable as a result.
2. The Devil In The Dark (TOS)
It looks like a shag carpet and has a vicious streak a mile wide, but it's actually a mother protecting its young from Federation miners. An episode that perfectly encapsulates the Trek philosophy of overcoming our differences and the personal favourite of Shatner, whose father died during filming.
1. The City On The Edge Of Forever (TOS)
Starship captain meets social worker in the past. Starship captain falls in love with social worker. Starship captain sacrifices social worker for the sake of the universe. Social worker happens to be played by Joan Collins. Writer Harlan Ellison hates it, everyone else loves it. Star Trek at its absolute best.