With Star Trek Beyond barreling toward release, and with the mixed reception to the trailers & other promotional media, Trekkies must wonder if the new film will live up to the best of Trek. After 50 years, Star Trek has produced some of the best television and film in history…and some of the worst. It’s inevitable that such a long-running franchise would have some variations in quality. By turns, Trek has been smart, bold, fun, expensive, and adventurous. It’s also been dumb, formulaic, dull and very cheap.
Which brings us to this list. For all the lauds and praise, for as vast as the cult of Trek remains, there’s no shortage of godawful Star Trek to make viewers scream like the agony of a Klingon pain stick. The installments on this list are not ranked, per se, though some deserve mention above others. Hide the Tribbles, set phasers to snarky, and raise shields to maximum! Here come The 15 Star Trek Episodes And Movies To Avoid At All Costs.
15. Spock’s Brain (TOS)
This early season three episode of the original series heralded the decline in quality of Star Trek that ultimately got it cancelled. Today it remains a joke among fans – so much so, that the authors Paula Block and Terry Erdmann named an award after it! While there are worse episodes of Trek, even in the original series, this weird and unintentionally hilarious story about the abduction of – you guessed it – Spock’s brain by aliens has perhaps the worst reputation of any on-screen Trek outing. Behind-the-scenes lore holds that the episode had started out as a thoughtful story about organ harvesting, but somehow devolved into an alien heist tale that robbed the show of one of its most compelling characters. Both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner have expressed their dissatisfaction with the episode as did writer Gene L. Coon. Star Trek can get silly from time to time, but rarely, if ever, has it been this outright goofy.
14. Turnabout Intruder (TOS)
The final episode of the original series, “Turnabout Intruder” finds Captain Kirk’s consciousness swapped with that of a renegade female scientist, Janice Lester. Lester, posing as Kirk, then throws the real Kirk in the brig. Embittered over Starfleet passing her over for starship command, she’s plotted for months to highjack the Enterprise and take command! The veiled sexism in this episode comes off antiquated and hypocritical, while an uneven performance from Shatner, who had the flu at time, weighs down the story considerably. Also, given that the original series was the horniest of all Treks, “Turnabout Intruder” feels like a missed opportunity. The womanizing Kirk gets stuck in a female body, and he’s not even the least bit interested?! Given Trek’s penchant for kink, the writers could have had some real fun with the premise. Instead, they fall back on the cultural precepts the show became famous for smashing.
13. The Omega Glory (TOS)
Series creator Gene Roddenberry only contributed a handful of solo episodes he penned to Star Trek. Among them: “The Omega Glory,” a weird mix of cowboy & Indian tropes, heavy handed symbolism and just plain goofiness. The Enterprise investigates another starship ravaged by disease, and beam down to a nearby planet to investigate. There, they discover the all-white “Yangs” and the Asian-looking “Choms,” two warring factions. In the midst of it all, a former Starfleet captain has arrived to stoke the conflict in hopes of discovering a fountain of youth. Loaded with hideous acting, racial stereotypes and silly drunken barfight/kung fu fist fighting, the episode gets even weirder when Kirk discovers that the Yangs are a different version of the United States that naturally evolved on this distant planet, complete with a copy of the constitution and the flag! Writers of the series have often said Roddenberry used Kirk as a proxy for his own idealized image of himself, so that Kirk becomes worshiped as a god by the Yangs renders this outing all the more ridiculous.
12. The Child (TNG)
The Next Generation got off to a rocky start, courtesy of Gene Roddenberry’s deteriorating health, a revolving door of writers, and showrunners unfamiliar with Trek ideals. The second season suffered even more from cast changes and a writer’s strike, and the episode “The Child” exemplifies all of the above. Originally penned for the aborted Phase II second Trek TV series, the producers updated it and moved it into production when Next Gen needed speedy scripts. In it, Troi becomes mysteriously pregnant and gives birth to a little boy, only to discover that her child is actually an alien entity wanting to experience human life. The rape-y tone of the episode is enough to make viewers uncomfortable, while the ridiculous actions of the crew invite groans. “The Child” also introduces the character of Dr. Pulaski, played by Diana Muldar, a short-live addition to the series. Pulaski’s character grated on the nerves of viewers, enough so that many fans regard most of season two of Next Generation even weaker than the first.
11. Genesis (TNG)
As a general rule The Next Generation got better the longer it aired. By season 7, the quality of special effects and complexity of storytelling had vastly grown from the first season, and the audience tuning in had expanded enough so as to make it the biggest Trek series to date. Sad, then, that clunker episodes like “Genesis” still managed to slip through the pipeline. A strange virus infects the Enterprise crew, causing each member to de-evolve into some lower form of life. Apparently the writers never studied real evolutionary theory, since humans reduce to everything from a lemur to a spider! Bad makeup effects abound, and the unneeded addition of the character Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz), possibly the most annoying character in Trek canon, only makes the proceedings even more leaden. “Genesis” was penned by Brannon Braga, executive producer and story editor for every Trek series post Next Generation. Braga’s work on “Genesis” is so off the mark, it’s a wonder how he ever got the job in the first place!
10. Profit & Lace (DS9)
The Ferengi Quark became one of the breakout characters of Deep Space Nine, and in general, the episodes that focus on him & expand on the Ferengi culture make up some of the highlights of the entire series. On the other hand… there’s this episode. Infuriated that women on the Ferengi homeworld will soon be allowed to wear clothes, Quark invites a number of Ferengi governors to DS9 for a conference on gender. When his feminist mother has a heart attack, Quark decides to take her place at the conference… and has a sex change to do so! The premise probably sounds better than the actual episode treats it. While writers Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler intended the episode as comedy, director Alexander Siddig (who also played Bashir on the show) wanted to go for more of a dramatic approach. The result is a huge mess – not funny or serious, it feels more like a dishwater mix of bad ideas.
9. Move Along Home (DS9)
Speaking of Quark, this odd blending of telepathy, intrigue, and Jumanji also ranks as one of the lows of the otherwise groundbreaking Deep Space Nine. A group of telepathic aliens come to the station and find Quark running a crooked game. As retribution, they kidnap Sisko, Kira, Dax and Bashir to use them as pieces in a to-the-death game of a different kind. Hideous acting and sub-par effects bog the episode down, while the central premise feels recycled from other Trek episodes like “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” A first season episode, it also underlines the problem of DS9 in the early years: it had no real direction, and didn’t know how to treat its premise. Not until late in Season 2 would the Dominion arc provide a jolt of creativity to the series. The conflict with shapeshifting aliens would upstage the initial gods-in-a-wormhole concept, and would ultimately sustain the show all the way to the end.
8. The Fight (VOY)
Also known as Star Trek: Fight Club, this weird and boring episode finds perpetually boring character Chakotay suffering from visions in which he’s in a boxing match. It turns out a group of interspacial aliens are trying to communicate with the ship, and a rare mutation in Chakotay’s DNA makes him the only crewmember capably of making contact. The episode culminates in – you guessed it – a boxing match on the holodeck. Even the presence of beloved actor Ray Walston (as a holographic riff on Burgess Meredeth’s trainer in Rocky) can’t save this muddled, confusing and boring mess. Attempts at tying Chakotay’s Native American heritage into the plot, complete with a hallucinogenic journey and visits from ancestors, come off less sensitive than silly, as do long conversations full of technobabble. Of all the series, Voyager suffered most from techno-junk dialogue, with stories suffocated under breathless utterances of “rentrillic trajectory” or “gravitational coefficients.” Or whatever.
7. Threshold (VOY)
Like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Voyager got off to a rough start. One of the flagship shows of the fledgling UPN network, it became the only UPN show to return for a second season. Had it run on another network, it may not have even made it that far! Threshold represents the nadir of the entire Voyager series: boring, weird, inconsequential and just plain WTF. Strange enough, this odd tale about Paris and Janeway breaking the “Warp 10 barrier” and mutating into weird lizards became one of the most-watched outings of the second season. Penned by Brannon Braga (there’s his name again), it also featured one of the strangest plot points in all of Trek (which, let’s face it…says something): lizard-evolved Paris and Janeway mate and produce a series of offspring which the crew leave on a nearby planet! Negative viewer response to the episode resounded so much so that it’s often cited as the worst episode in all of Star Trek (which also says something)!
6. Regeneration (ENT)
Enterprise always struggled to fit with previous Star Trek series, as evidenced by a number of stunt shows which would feature familiar Trek actors and concepts in an effort to convince wary viewers to tune in. Case in point: “Regeneration,” a Season 2 episode which introduced the Borg to the Enterprise crew. Astute viewers will recall that the Borg were unheard of prior to the events of The Next Generation, which automatically makes the premise suspect. A group of scientists discover the wreckage of a Borg ship (which traveled in time in Star Trek: First Contact), and accidentally awaken some drones. Archer and the Enterprise defeat the Borg, though not before the race can send a signal to the Delta Quadrent for reinforcements.
Now, wait a minute. The episode indicates that records of the Borg exist prior to Archer encountering them and it implies that the reason the Borg come to the Alpha Quadrant is because the time-traveling Borg sent a signal. Isn’t that a weird continuity paradox? Moreover, if the Borg who signal their homeworld knew about the events of First Contact, couldn’t they have warned their fellow cybernetics? Would Federation records then also exist to warn Picard and future generations of the Borg threat? Talk about a desperate mess!
5. These Are The Voyages (ENT)
Enterprise never quite found an audience beyond the most die-hard of Trekkies, and it’s easy to see why: Star Trek had run continuously in one form or another since 1987, and with the rise of original cable shows which could use more adult content, Enterprise looked quaint next to shows like Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica. The show also suffered from creative burnout: Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had served as custodians of the franchise since Next Gen, and by 2001, their tight grip had begun to strangle the life from the Trek universe.
No better episode exemplifies the dearth of creativity in Enterprise, or the hubris of Braga and Berman than the show’s finale, “These Are The Voyages.” In a bizarre twist, Enterprise is revealed to be little more than a holodeck simulation viewed by Commander Riker & Counselor Troi during a Next Gen episode! Johnathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis had visibly aged and felt out of place in the episode, which offered little in the way of closure to the series. Rather, it’s best seen as a swan song for Berman & Braga… and a wildly off-key one at that.
4. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
No discussion of the lows of Star Trek is complete without mentioning Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. William Shatner’s lone feature directorial project for the series suffered from franchise exhaustion, budget constraints, and a problematic premise. Spock’s half-brother hijacks the Enterprise to try and discover God, who supposedly lives on a planet at the center of the galaxy. Corny jokes and a meandering story don’t help matters, and while Nichelle Nichols, at age 57, still had great legs, watching Uhura perform a naked fan dance seemed out of place, to say the least. The strained budget made several action and effects sequences look glaringly cheap, while hanging the entire plot on a question – the existence of God – with no answer, made for an unsatisfying conclusion. Shatner expressed his frustration on the film, as the production scrapped a planned climax due to budget issues and to date, the events of the film have not been referred to in any subsequent Trek entry.
3. Star Trek: Generations
After giving the original crew a loved and appropriate send-off with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Paramount decided to send them off yet again with disastrous consequences. Rather than allow the Next Generation cast to have their own first film, the studio insisted that Kirk “pass the baton” so to speak on to the new crew… and die in the process. Generations is a mixed-up film: the portions involving Picard & co. feel like an overlong, unfocused episode of the Next Gen TV series, while those involving Kirk come off ham-fisted and forced. Moreover, fans weren’t eager to see Kirk die, nor did they enjoy seeing the Enterprise-D destroyed in such an off-hand manner. Plot holes abound in the script, and Kirk’s decidedly anticlimactic death hampered the story as a whole. Given that the Next Gen film cycle kicked off with this abysmal entry, it’s little wonder the cast didn’t have the longevity of the original crew.
2. Star Trek Insurrection
On the subject of awful Next Generation movies, Star Trek: Insurrection, despite the great title, might well mark the nadir of the Next Gen crew on the silver screen. Picard and company embark on a mission to equivocate a dispute over a “fountain of youth” planet between two species. The alien villains, led my F. Murray Abraham, look like snot balls thanks to too many facelifts (yes, really), and extended scenes of Data singing showtunes add a goofiness to the otherwise boring proceedings. Following the success of Star Trek: First Contact, Paramount reportedly wanted a lighter-toned film, but Insurrection went too far! The movie never quite escapes feeling like a slow and overlong episode of the series, with none of the adventure Trek movie fans had come to expect. At one point, Picard muses “remember when we used to be explorers?” Fans sure did, which could explain the reception of this cheap, dull dud of a film.
1. Star Trek Into Darkness
The Star Trek 2009 reboot signaled a new era in Trek history, if a divisive one. While the rebooted films have their admirers, some long time Trekkies have derided the movies as noisy, dumb nonsense that take the Star Trek title but none of the imagination or thought of the television series, or even the earlier movies. The 2013 follow up, Into Darkness, would seem to prove their point: the movie makes little to no sense, even on its own terms. Instead it rehashes scenes from other (better) movies and epitomizes Hollywood’s habit of screwing over minorities and women. Instead of a brilliant scientist, Carol Marcus becomes a spoiled daddy’s girl with a habit of stripping to her underwear for no reason. The Indian prince Khan, once a supergenius, becomes the ultra-pasty white Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s traded heightened intelligence for superhero-type strength and agility. Granted, original Khan Ricardo Montalban wasn’t Indian either, but at least he was a person of color! Even worse, the film uses scenes and dialogue from The Wrath of Khan almost word for word, without any of the drama or adventure of the original film. No actions in the film—fights or deaths—have any lasting consequences; in essence, the film is nothing more than a noisy, lazy, overproduced self-renewing loop. It fails as entertainment, and marks the absolute worst moment in Star Trek history. Critics attacked Into Darkness and its many rip-offs as overindulgent fan service, but they were wrong: only a real Trek fan can appreciate what a disservice the movie is.