On Sept. 8, 1966, a show that was originally pitched as “Wagon Train to the Stars” first premiered. While the show never grabbed a wide audience in the three seasons before it was canceled by NBC, Star Trek gained a following through reruns. Several attempts were made in the 1970s to get a second series or film on air, and the franchise took advantage of the upswell in popularity of science fiction films in the late 1970s when its first film, 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture,' premiered in December 1979.
Thursday marks 50 years since the franchise’s first episode, “The Man Trap,” aired. Through the highs and lows, the Star Trek series and films are still viewed by millions of people each year through syndication, DVDs and online. Its creations on the shows have influenced modern technology, namely cell phones. The characters of Kirk and Spock, as well as Picard and Data from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ are part of pop culture. Conventions are held around the world each year for the shows and films, and many actors have made appearances on one of the franchise’s shows or movies (Kirstie Alley, Ashley Judd, Tom Hardy, Christian Slater, Seth MacFarlane and Christopher Lloyd, just to name a few).
To commemorate this milestone, here are 10 original series episodes that fans and non-fans alike can enjoy. These are in no particular order.
“The Trouble with Tribbles,” first aired Dec. 29, 1967
If you’ve never seen Star Trek, you’ve probably seen an image of Captain Kirk up to his elbows in balls of fur. Those balls of fur are tribbles, all of whom started from a single one brought onto a space station in the episode by a trader. The episode also showcases a frequent foe in the Klingons and has a few lighthearted moments.
“Space Seed,” first aired Feb. 16, 1967
This is another episode non fans may know of, mainly due to the introduction of Khan Noonien Singh, portrayed by the late Ricardo Montalban. The future movie villain and his crew of augments are discovered by the Enterprise crew and revived, and the events of the episode set up 1982's 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.'
“Arena,” first aired Jan. 19, 1967
While it hasn’t gone down in history as one of Trek’s best, “Arena” provides a bit of camp from the action to the makeshift cannon Captain Kirk uses in the episode. While chasing a Gorn ship responsible for the destruction of a Human colony, Kirk and the Gorn captain (a big green lizard) are taken from their ships to fight on a planet with their ships and crews on the line.
“Amok Time,” first aired Sept. 15, 1967
The show’s second season started with an episode focusing on Spock and the Vulcan culture. Returning home to marry and mate as part of a biological need, Spock's relationship with his home world and his crew are tested.
“Journey to Babel,” first aired Nov. 17, 1967
The show’s lore states the Federation was founded by four planets: Earth, Vulcan, Andoria, and Tellar. This episode gives the audience its first look at both Andorians and Tellarites, as well as explores Spock’s relationship with his parents.
“Balance of Terror,” first aired Dec. 15, 1966
An homage to classic submarine films like 'The Enemy Below' and 'Run Silent, Run Deep,' this first season episode introduces a new alien species in the Romulans and shows the physical similarities between them and the Vulcans. It is also Mark Lenard’s first appearance in the franchise, though subsequent appearance would be as Spock’s father Sarek (and a brief appearance in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ as a Klingon).
“City on the Edge of Forever,” first aired April 6, 1967
An episode regarded by many as the best in the original series, “City on the Edge of Forever” examines how changing one moment could lead to dramatic changes in the future. Dr. McCoy, suffering from an overdose, uses an ancient device and travels to the 1930s New York. His actions erase the Enterprise from time, leading Kirk and Spock to follow and try to repair the timeline.
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” first aired Jan. 10, 1969
Star Trek was known for tackling social issues of the time, and this season three episode was one that tackled persecution and racial equality. The Enterprise is caught in a 50,000-year-long chase between a convicted revolutionary and an official from their planet’s Commission on Political Traitors.
“The Menagerie,” first aired Nov. 17 and 24, 1966
The only two-part episode from the original series, “The Menagerie” introduces the audience to Kirk’s predecessor and shows footage from the first unaired pilot. Clips from that original pilot, “The Cage,” is shown in Spock’s court-martial after he kidnaps Fleet Capt. Christopher Pike, hijacks the Enterprise, and directs it toward a forbidden planet.
“Mirror Mirror,” first aired Oct. 9, 1967
Another familiar episode to non fans, this second-season episode introduces the Mirror Universe and puts an evil spin on the crew (notably Spock’s goatee). Kirk, Scotty, Dr. McCoy and Uhura are transported to the Terran Empire's ISS Enterprise after a transporter mix-up, and must work to make their way home while dodging assassination attempts.
CBS Television Studios announced a sixth live-action series, titled 'Star Trek: Discovery,' in 2015. That series is set to take place 10 years before the original series, and premiere in January 2017.
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