At some point in life, you learn to take the good with the bad. It’s not that you necessarily become better at dealing with the bad things in life, but rather that you learn to appreciate that the bad is simply a companion to the good. If you grew up a Star Trek fan, you likely got a head start on this valuable life lesson. Regardless of which Star Trek series you became hopelessly addicted to, you eventually learned that you had a roughly equal chance of seeing something truly great or something truly awful on a weekly basis. Eventually, you come to accept that the bad episodes add a little flavor to the great ones.
Just because bad Star Trek episodes are a vital thread in the franchise’s rich tapestry, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still some of the worst episodes to ever be broadcast on television. We’re not talking about episodes which stomp on the series’ continuity or ruin certain plot developments. These are the entries which Trek fans and non-Trek fans alike watch with their jaws agape. “How?” they say while struggling to reach some semblance of understanding. “How did this episode ever make it on-air?”
These are the 15 Worst Star Trek Episodes Of All Time.
15. The Fight – Voyager
Even when Voyager was at its best, the show struggled to replicate the brilliance of other Star Trek series. While Voyager’s highs may have rarely been quite as high as the best Star Trek adventures, its lows certainly rank among the lowest points in the franchise’s history. “The Fight” is an excellent example of how bad Voyager could get when the writers had to reach deep into the Star Trek playbook.
This episode has been described as Star Trek: Fight Club, which is a sadly accurate summary. It focuses on Chakotay, who begins experiencing some strange visions after he is knocked out in a holodeck boxing match. What follows is a mix of boxing film clichés, awkward encounters between crewmates, and some utterly bizarre attempts to add some kind of hidden meaning to the episode’s events, which only just adds nonsensical exposition to an otherwise boring adventure.
14. A Night in Sick Bay – Enterprise
If nothing else, “A Night in Sickbay” does deserve some kind of award for demonstrating just how a single plot point can send an episode right off the rails. This episode of Enterprise starts off interesting enough, as Archer’s dog Porthos contracts some kind of degenerative disease and must be quarantined. The crew then learns they need a particular item from the planet Porthos had contracted his illness from, but the residents of that planet refuse to give it to them because Porthos urinated on a sacred tree.
This kicks off a series of events which are not only emotionally cheap – the old “Is the cute puppy going to die?” storyline – but do irreparable damage to many of the show’s characters. There’s a real “eff it” attitude to this episode which leads to many of the Enterprise’s crew making decisions which feel completely out of character in order to advance a cheap storyline that reeks of desperation.
13. The Last Outpost – The Next Generation
If this entire list was comprised solely of season one Next Generation episodes, it would still be a fairly accurate representation of the Star Trek franchise at its absolute worst. Next Generation may be one of the best television shows ever, but its first season only contains the faintest glimpses of the brilliance the series would go on to churn out on a weekly basis. The rest of the season is comprised of episodes like “The Last Outpost.”
The biggest problem with “The Last Outpost” is its portrayal of the Ferengi. This is the first time we actually see the Ferengi race in Next Generation, and the last time the show’s writers ever portrayed the beings as the utterly annoying group of neer-do-wells that they are here. Even if this wasn’t the most annoying interpretation of the Ferengi that has ever existed, “The Last Outpost” would still suffer from the way that it subtly pushes a “pro-human/anti-alien” agenda that insults the core ideas the Star Trek series was built on.
12. The Savage Curtain – Original Series
In some ways, the worst episodes of The Original Series tend to get a pass. There’s an unabashed corniness to the ‘60s Star Trek episodes which is so lovable blatant that the worst episodes are sometimes written off as “charming.” But even those who subscribe to this logic would have a hard time arguing the merits of “The Savage Curtain.”
It’s rare that the official description for a Star Trek episode so perfectly summarizes why you should never watch it, but “Kirk, Spock, Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan legend Surak are pitted in battle against notorious villains from history for the purpose of helping a conscious rock creature” really does say it all. On a very basic level, “The Savage Curtain” fails simply because it dips back into the “supreme being forces members of the Enterprise to do combat” well without having anything new to contribute to the concept. It certainly doesn’t help that you’re asked to take the episode’s musings on good and evil seriously when Abraham Lincoln is squaring off against Genghis Khan for the amusement of a rock creature.
11. Precious Cargo – Enterprise
“Precious Cargo” is so bad that writer David Goodman later felt the need to apologize for the episode by stating that the “piece of crap that I wrote was not the piece of crap that aired.” Goodman’s argument was that he was new to the staff, hadn’t quite mastered the politics and processes of writing for Enterprise, and ended up turning in a half-baked idea that somehow made it to air.
Even though pretty much everyone who has ever worked on “Precious Cargo” has apologized for it, that still does little to make you feel better about the fact that this is an official part of the glorious Star Trek universe. “Precious Cargo” starts as a simple story about a mysterious woman found in a forgotten stasis pod and quickly devolves into a ‘30s screwball comedy. “Precious Cargo” essentially ignores every character trait the series has established thus far in favor of telling a romance story in which two people find love over their shared fondness for wretched dialog, mundane acting, and jokes that you didn’t even know were supposed to be jokes.
10. Spirit Folk – Voyager
At a certain point, Voyager just degraded into the weekly adventures of the Holodeck. While Next Generation got quite a bit of mileage out of the mythical Holodeck, Voyager’s writers came to rely on the Holodeck as a way to round out seasons once the five or six episodes that mattered were in the bag.
“Spirit Folk” is a tragic example of just how desperate these holodeck episodes could get. The “plot” involves the Voyager crew taking a holodeck trip to the village of Fair Heaven. The inhabitants of this village begin to question why the crew is able to manipulate their world at will, and a good old witch hunt soon begins. In order to care about this premise, you have to accept the fact that the inhabitants of a holodeck program actually matter. While Voyager’s writers may have come to love the Holodeck and its people for all the actual work it saved them, the rest of us are left wondering why the crew doesn’t just reprogram the thing and get on with their lives.
9. Profit and Lace – Deep Space Nine
“Profit and Lace” tries to follow in the footsteps of great Star Trek episodes of the past by addressing a hot-button issue which plagues our own world. In this case, that issue is women’s rights. The episode sees Quark undergo a sex change in order to convince a commissioner that Ferengi women deserve better treatment. It’s supposed to be a Tootsie type deal in which Quark learns about the struggles of women by becoming one himself.
Instead, Quark acts in ways that simply reinforce every negative idea about women that he went into the episode believing were true. The female version of Quark is obsessed with body image, prone to emotional outbursts, and overly dramatic. It’s a slapstick portrayal of women ripped straight from the era that contained the very beliefs that this episode is supposed to be condemning. Despite all of this, Quark still somehow learns a lesson and starts to treat women better. Maybe getting to see first hand how bad women are portrayed in entertainment gave him perspective.
8. The Omega Glory – Original Series
“The Omega Glory” is a historically significant episode of Star Trek for a couple of reasons. At a time when the Cold War had two nations living in fear, “The Omega Glory” attempted to directly address the absurdity of this conflict with a thinly veiled allegory involving a race known as the Yangs (wink) and a race known as the Comms (wink, wink) that are embroiled in a conflict of ideas. It was bold stuff.
The other thing that makes “The Omega Glory” significant is just how awful it is. Let’s skip past how boring the episode is and get right to the point where the episode takes a huge moral nosedive by subtly suggesting that the Yangs (America) are superior. It’s not clear if Gene Roddenberry was intentionally trying to push this message or if he was so over his head in boiling this complicated issue down to a 40-minute episode that he churned out a confused mess of a plot which accidentally sends the wrong message. We’d believe either.
7. Shades of Gray – The Next Generation
Hey, not every bad Next Generation episode aired during the first season. Actually, a little bit of chronological context is needed here to understand just how awful “Shades of Gray” is. The story goes that the Next Generation production crew went way over budget and needed to turn in a season finale under extremely limited conditions. Their solution was to air a glorified clip show designed around the premise that Riker has been infected by an alien and needs to relive his memories in order to be cured.
Clip shows are bad enough, but a clip show season finale for a series that isn’t even two seasons old? That’s downright inexcusable, regardless of budget issues. Because the crew had so few meaningful clips to actually work with, they end up re-airing a series of seemingly meaningless moments poorly tied together by the excuse that they each represent a different emotional state. Meanwhile, viewers simply maintained the emotional state of “blind anger” throughout this insulting mess.
6. Sub Rosa – The Next Generation
We suppose “Sub Rosa” deserves some credit for being an actual episode as opposed to a clip show. Then again, the term “original story” is more of a technicality in this instance. “Sub Rosa” opens on a funeral for Dr. Crusher’s grandmother; a character that’s never been shown or mentioned before. While viewers are trying to understand how long they should care about the death of a character they know nothing about, Dr. Crusher lights a magic candle that kicks off her sexual encounters with a ghost.
The episode arrives at that highly bizarre plot point so suddenly that it’s almost like nobody involved with the episode thinks such things require a proper explanation. From there, “Sub Rosa” becomes a dime store erotic novel with all the vulgar sex scenes edited out. By the time “Sub Rosa” decides to put the re-animated corpse of Crusher’s grandmother into play, you’ll be too busy dwelling on how your life led to you wasting your time watching this episode to even try and understand the reason for everything else that’s happening.
5. Threshold – Voyager
For years, Star Trek fans have had to accept the fact that there are certain aspects of the final frontier that are only justified through inane technobabble. However, there is no episode of Star Trek which leans harder on technobabble and suffers more because of it than “Threshold.”
As the episode itself proves, it’s impossible to break down this plot in any logical way. What you need to know, though, is that the core concept involves Lt. Paris’ attempt to achieve the theoretically impossible speed of warp ten. The consequences of his doing so begin to alter his physical form. “Threshold” not only contradicts the entire concept of warp speed in this universe as it has been explained thus far, it goes so far as to portray the very real idea of evolution in a dangerously false way. The worst part is that the characters unfortunately involved in this tragedy of a plot are reduced to spewing out a flood of entirely nonsensical technobabble in an effort to both advance the story while also trying to constantly justify what just happened.
4. Turnabout Intruder – Original Series
There are times when you can’t help but remember that “Turnabout Intruder” is the last official episode of the Original Series. During those moments, we encourage you to not fight your urge to lie down in the corner and weep.
“Turnabout Intruder” brings an end to both the Original Series and Star Trek’s infamously awful third season with a story seemingly designed to comment on the feminist movement of the late ‘60s. Here, Captain Kirk’s ex-lover takes over his body in order to finally serve as captain. What could be an interesting examination of gender roles takes an unfortunate twist when it is revealed that Kirk’s ex-lover is both certifiably insane and completely unfit to lead. Much like “The Omega Glory,” it’s not clear whether or not Roddenberry is actually trying to argue that women are inherently inferior to men or if the episode itself is so poorly written that the audience is simply left to assume that is the case. Remember kids, story structure matters, even when you’re making radical political statements.
3. Spock’s Brain – Original Series
So we come to “Spock’s Brain.” “Spock’s Brain” has come to serve as the poster child for bad Star Trek episodes. Does it deserve that status? Well, it’s not the absolute worst episode of Star Trek – clearly – but it was the episode which should have alerted Star Trek fans everywhere that the show’s third season was going to be a historic run of truly awful content.
“Spock’s Brain” insults your intelligence right from the start by assuming that you’re just going to buy into the idea that Spock can lose his brain and not instantly die. Then, you are not allowed to question that said brain can be used to essentially run an entire society. Even if you don’t really care about all this plot logic and just want to enjoy the episode for what it is, there is still the matter of the laughably bad props, inane dialog (“Brain…what is brain?”), and casual sexist undertones. In case you’re wondering how this whole thing came to be, William Shatner has long implied that this episode was the crew’s response to the show’s budget getting slashed and Star Trek being moved to a head time slot. Ultimately, the joke was on the fans.
2. Code of Honor – The Next Generation
Throughout this article, we’ve looked at a few Star Trek episodes that make questionable political statements. Of course, ultimately their place on this list is less about the nature of those statements and more about the overall quality of the awful episode that contains said questionable statements.
“Code of Honor” is certainly a bad episode, but it earns its lofty position on this list by arguably being the most blatantly racist piece of entertainment to ever be broadcast on national television. What you need to know about “Code of Honor” is that it stars a race of people known as the Ligonians who are the living embodiment of every African tribal stereotype you can imagine. Now you may say to yourself, “Oh come on! The episode is clearly just depicting one very specific section of supposed African culture,” but then you arrive at the scene in which the Ligonian leader kidnaps Tasha because he’s fascinated by the idea of a strong white woman. There’s not even a message at the end of the episode. The Ligonians only assist the Enterprise when Tasha uses her sexual prowess to exploit a loophole in their cultural code.
1. These are the Voyages… – Enterprise
Had “These are the Voyages…” aired sometime in the middle of Enterprise’s run, it wouldn’t be number one on this list. It would still be on here, mind you, but not as the worst episode of Star Trek ever. So why is it number one? Well, because “These are the Voyages…” wasn’t just another episode of Enterprise, it was its series finale.
A series finale, mind you, that is almost entirely devoted to the adventures of Riker, who is most certainly not a regular member of the Enterprise cast. The idea was that Riker could use the Holodeck to view the final adventures of the NX-01 crew and fans could get a better idea of how the actions of the crew echo throughout time. The problem was that this process involved drastically cutting the screen time of Enterprise’s primary characters. What you’re left with is an episode that feels like Next Generation fan fiction which so happened to air the night that Enterprise’s final installment was supposed to be on. There have been some insulting episodes of Star Trek over the years, but “These are the Voyages…” boldly goes where no episode went before by choosing to take aim at some of the franchise’s most loyal fans.
Did we miss any of the absolute worst Star Trek episodes ever? Sound off with your least favorite adventures in the comments!
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