Sunday, 26 February 2012

Essential Star Trek — the original series

From time to time, people who know me as a devoted Star Trek fan ask me to put together a viewing list to help newcomers get a taste of the series. I’ve always found such requests really difficult, because different people like different things in a TV show. Furthermore, my own lists of what I consider to be the “best” and the “most significant” episodes of the series don’t entirely overlap, so I’m faced with the problem of which of those to privilege. And attempts I’ve made to list every episode that I consider a “must-see” end up being nearly half the series. ;)

Presented with another such request recently, I’ve decided to make a somewhat different recommendation: if you’re interested in delving into the original Star Trek and getting an insight into what has kept some of us addicted for decades to these 80 episodes of late-1960s programming, I suggest watching a run of six consecutive episodes from close to the end of the first season. Before I list them, though, a couple of things to note:

  • Episodes of Star Trek are almost entirely “stand-alone”. Twenty-first century television is dominated by season-long and series-long story arcs. Outside the soap opera genre, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Star Trek, like most of its contemporaries, is almost purely episodic. The total number of times that any episode refers back to anything else that has occurred previously in the series can be counted on your fingers. The upshot is: don't worry about diving straight into the middle of a season, or watching an episode that someone recommends to you. There’s no back story that you need to have already absorbed.
  • The series was remastered in HD with new special effects between 2006 and 2008. Star Trek’s effects were state-of-the-art for its time, but of course appear very crude and stagey by today’s standards. Unless you’re already quite sure that the antiquated effects won’t bother you, I strongly recommend that you find and view the remastered versions of the episodes rather than the originals.
With those things in mind, I suggest that the newcomer to Star Trek find and watch:

  1. “A Taste of Armageddon”
  2. “Space Seed”
  3. “This Side of Paradise”
  4. “The Devil in the Dark”
  5. “Errand of Mercy”
  6. “The City on the Edge of Forever”
I think these episodes are a good showcase for the series’ idealism and thoughtfulness, include strong material for the main characters, and explore the setting. I also consider most of them to be excellent TV storytelling.

I’d love to hear thoughts and reactions from any newcomer to the show who follows this recommendation.

Update, 11 August 2012: I’ve just written a companion recommendation for the classic series of Doctor Who.

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