The Star Trek franchise turns 50 this year, and the past decades have given us hundreds of adventures featuring exploration, excitement, and discovery for its many varied crews and iconic starships.
But the past half century has also been full of misfortune for our heroes. And while things usually turned out alright in the end (because that’s how series television usually works), some of these calamities have left lasting scars both physical and mental. And some ended up not happening at all, because Star Trek really loves its time-travel solutions.
Ahead of Star Trek: Beyond‘s voyage to theaters next week, here are 18 of the most terrible, traumatizing, and all-out unpleasant events to befall our friends in the Federation.
18. “Move Along Home” (Deep Space Nine)
The first season of Deep Space Nine is one of the better debut years of the whole franchise, but it still had its dead spots.
“Move Along Home,” the 10th episode, is one such stinker. It has the station’s Ferengi bar owner, Quark, running afoul of a delegation of Wadi, a species of game-loving aliens with whom the Federation is making first contact. Quark’s response, naturally, is to cheat to win his money back, and the Wadi respond by challenging him to one of their own games, Chula.
It’s a board game that uses almost the entire senior staff of the station as pieces, and every time Quark makes a mistake, one of them “dies.” Of course, no series is likely to kill off its entire principal cast partway through the first season, so it all turns out to be a ruse. Once Quark loses, the game ends and everyone returns to the real world.
17. Having the most boring and forgettable adventures yet (Enterprise)
We wanted to make sure that we were including all of the major series here, but when it came time to pick a representative from Enterprise, the most recent entry, we completely blanked.
It’s too bad; the show’s premise is sound. It takes place a century before the original series when Starfleet was just a few, relatively slow ships, and long-established concepts like the Prime Directive, transporters, and even the Federation were barely ideas yet. And it aimed to return the franchise to its roots of exploration and provided opportunities to show the Federation’s first run-ins with established species like the Andorians, Klingons, and even the Borg. And maybe that last one was a huge cop-out, but it was still some halfway decent fan service. Unfortunately, a combination of dull characters, lackluster writing, and squandered potential made Enterprise‘s four-season run somehow feel even longer and less eventful than Voyager‘s seven.
16. The Year of Hell (Voyager)
Voyager wasn’t all bad, however. Its fourth season gave us the two-parter “Year of Hell,” which features the stranded vessel caught in an alternate timeline in which it suffers 12 months of non-stop attacks.
Episode villain Annorax (Kurtwood Smith) creates the new reality with a powerful, time-based weapon that he uses to remove entire civilizations from history. His goal is to make a version of events in which his dead wife is still alive, but after 200 years of trying, he just can’t pull it off.
The ship limps along, suffering massive damage and crew casualties until Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) crashes it into Annorax’s vessel, turning its history-erasing powers on itself. This undoes every change that its captain had effected over the previous two centuries, which not only means that it fixes everything, but it also means that the entire year of history never occurred.
15. Video game addiction (The Next Generation)
Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “The Game” is a fifth-season episode that introduces viewers to a group of Ktarians who have an especially muddled plan to steal the Enterprise-D.
Commander Etana Jol hooks up with Enterprise first officer Commander Riker while he’s vacationing on Risa, an entire planet that is basically Star Trek‘s version of Tinder. In between “meetings,” Jol introduces Riker to a game that sits on his face like Google Glass but somehow looks even dorkier. The goal is to mentally coax floating discs into funnels, and doing so stimulates the some nice places in the player’s brain. What this means is that we have a lot of shots of the Enterprise crew making really awkward pleasure faces.
Riker takes the game back to the ship and passes it around, which ultimately causes the entire crew to somehow become mindless zombies who bow to Jol’s will. The only ones who can prevent the ship falling into Ktarian hands are Commander Data, who is immune to the game’s effects, and Wesley Crusher, who is visiting from Starfleet Academy.
Despite the general mediocrity of this episode, it’s still a scary idea that strips the otherwise capable Enterprise crew of their discipline and turns them into a bunch of terrifying pod people. Wesley’s paranoia and fear as he slowly becomes the last normal person on board and watches the people he trusts most turn on him is effective enough to make you forget that nobody likes him.
14. “The Visitor” (DS9)
Deep Space Nine‘s “The Visitor,” like “Year of Hell,” is one of those episodes that depicts heart-wrenching events that ultimately end up erased from history. But it’s a sufficiently moving episode that we don’t even care. And it accomplishes an even greater feat by making viewers care about Jake Sisko, who is easily the least important character in the series.
This episode begins with an elderly Jake (Tony Todd) telling a visitor to his secluded cabin about how his father, Benjamin (Avery Brooks) died. Well, Captain Sisko isn’t so much dead as he is stuck in subspace after an accident on the station. And that’s kind of like being dead, except he shows up every once in a while to keep Jake from truly coming to grips with his loss.
The Captain’s disappearance doesn’t just ruin his son’s life, however. Because Benjamin is an important figure in Bajoran culture, his loss destabilizes the entire region of space. This leads to a war that ultimately has the Federation turning Deep Space Nine over to the Klingons and splits up the crew.
Meanwhile, Jake lives his life until he realizes that he can stop all of this badness from happening by killing himself while his father is making one of his visits. This is how the episode ends, with Benjamin cradling his dead, much older son before snapping back to the moment of the incident and avoiding his original fate.
13. The death of Tasha Yar (TNG)
Star Trek crews have seen their share of losses, but these aren’t limited to the poor guys in the red shirts. Some major characters have gone off to join the Great Bird of the Galaxy, and it always takes its toll on those they leave behind.
The Enterprise-D’s original chief of security, Tasha Yar, didn’t even make it through the series’ first season. Actress Denise Crosby felt that her character didn’t have enough to do, describing Yar as “window dressing,” so she asked series creator Gene Roddenberry to let her go. Roddenberry complied by killing the character off in “Skin of Evil,” in which a being made of pure negative emotion unceremoniously murders her. It’s still one of the most surprising moments in all of Star Trek, but it all turned out alright for both Crosby and the fans because the Next Generation writers found plenty of ways to bring the actress back, both as Yar in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the finale, “All Good Things…” and as the chief’s alternate-timeline, half-Romulan daughter, Commander Sela.
12. “Parallels” reveals an infinite multiverse, proving that nothing that anyone does actually matters (TNG)
This entry isn’t so much about personal danger or a galaxy-endangering crisis — although it does risk filling up an entire sector of space with different versions of the Enterprise. But it’s really more about deep, existential dread.
“Parallels” introduces an idea that would ripple through the Trek universe for years to come, including the history-changing 2009 film reboot. That concept is an infinite multiverse in which every possible outcome exists across parallel dimensions. We see this in action when Lt. Worf spends the episode bouncing around between them. This leads to minor changes, like him coming in ninth in a fighting tournament instead of winning, or Captain Picard showing up for a birthday party when he’d already said he couldn’t make it. But some of the parallel universes are vastly different, including one in which cybernetic baddies the Borg have taken over the entire quadrant.
It’s cool seeing all of these different possibilities until you realize that this system makes any decision you make pointless. Why choose between chocolate and vanilla ice cream? An infinite (and therefore equal) number of versions of you chose one or the other, or neither, or both. And obviously not all decisions are as trivial as which flavor of ice cream to pick, but — no, they actually are in this version of reality.
11. Polywater intoxication (The Original Series/TNG)
Both the original series and Next Generation crews faced this crippling affliction, which manifests as extreme drunkenness. The writers came up with some hard-science explanation about complex water molecules reacting with the carbon in a host’s body to create the effects, but all the viewers needed to know was that their beloved characters just suddenly got super emotional and weird.
The change was more effective on Star Trek‘s “The Naked Time,” when we’d had a handful of episodes to actually get to know the crew before we saw the sudden changes in their personalities. And the scene in an which emotionally ravaged Spock bemoans his inability to tell his mother that he loves her is especially poignant, along with Captain Kirk’s similar examination of his deep, love-hate relationship with the Enterprise itself.
Sure, we also get a lot of Sulu running around shirtless with a foil and challenging people to duels, but they can’t all get maudlin.
In contrast, TNG‘s “The Naked Now” was the first episode after the pilot. We were looking at the crew acting “out of character” before the show had even established what their characters were. And we aren’t even sure how Data gets infected. He’s an android, and his brain doesn’t work like ours.
10. De-evolving into prehistoric animals (TNG)
“Genesis” is a nightmare-fueled Next Generation episode that has the entire crew (other than Data, who is immune to everything but space-drunk disease) infected with an illness that activates dormant parts of their DNA, transforming them into creepy monsters.
Mostly, this means that the human crew members turn into primitive men, creepy-looking ape women, and lemurs. But neurotic Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) transforms into a massive spider and leaves his webs all over Engineering. And the ship’s resident Klingon, Worf, basically turns into the Predator with the added ability of a sac of sprayable acid on the underside of his jaw.
Also, Data’s cat turns into an iguana for some reason. This is a weird one.
Data fixes everything like usual, and the episode ends with a joke about how much more therapy Barclay is going to need. But we didn’t laugh because we were thinking that the odds that some crew members had eaten others during the outbreak were pretty high.
9. Destruction of the original Enterprise (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
We don’t have any jokes about this event, which saw the destruction of the ship we’d been watching on TV and in theaters for 18 years. It was a pretty bad time, and then-Admiral Kirk and his crew feel lost and more or less homeless until they receive a nearly identical replacement in the next movie.
The original Enterprise’s final voyage was in one of the series’ weaker movies, but it was at least memorable. The senior crew steal the vessel to return to the Genesis Planet and retrieve the regenerated body of Spock so that they can reunite it with his soul, which he stashed safely inside Dr. McCoy’s head before he headed off to his death at the end of Wrath of Khan.
It makes more sense when you’re watching it, honest.
Rogue Klingons led by Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) are also interested in Genesis, and they disable the Enterprise as soon as it enters orbit. Kirk anticipates the end of Die Hard by four years, pretending to surrender to lure the Klingons into a false sense of victory. Then, when the boarding party beams over to secure the ship, the Enterprise crew transports to the surface, leaving the self-destruct countdown running behind them.
8. Stranded in the Delta Quadrant (Voyager)
The entire premise of Voyager is that the crew of the eponymous vessel finds itself 70,000 light-years from home. Even at high warp speed, it will take them 75 years to return to Earth, and the series is about the journey through dangerous, uncharted territory and conflicts with dangerous enemies. This includes villainous cybernetic beings the Borg, who happen to have a sizable presence in that part of space.
It’s an interesting set-up, forcing the heroes far outside of established space and making them rely on improvisation, diplomacy, and solid tactical thinking to survive on their own. And while the series itself is mostly disappointing, this is nonetheless a good basis for a show and a pretty unfortunate thing to happen on your first voyage. And that’s doubly true when you lose valuable crew members and have to make up the difference with members of a terrorist splinter group and a sassy, holographic doctor (Robert Picardo).
Star Trek has had ships and characters stuck in time, suspended in transporter beams, and even frozen for extended periods of time, but Voyager manages to get the most raw of deals: an express ticket to Borg Town.
7. Blowing up repeatedly for two and a half weeks (TNG)
We only see the Enterprise destroyed a few times in the fifth-season episode “Cause and Effect,” but by the time the ship breaks free of the temporal loop that causes it to repeat the same disastrous events over and over, the crew discovers that their clocks are 17.4 days off of where they should be.
Since Captain Picard’s initial log entry takes place on Stardate 45652.1, that puts the start of the loop at around 2:24 a.m. (0.1 “days”). The ship explodes just after 7 a.m., which means that the loop is only about four hours and 36 minutes long. This means it repeated as many as 90 times in those 17.4 days, all but one of those repetitions ending in the ship exploding and killing everyone on board, and that’s just a bad time no matter how you look at it.
The Bozeman, which is the ship the Enterprise collides with, has an even rougher time considering it’s been stuck in the anomaly for 90 years. We assume its loop doesn’t end in destruction until the Enterprise shows up, but that’s still not a great deal. Even Voyager wasn’t looking at doing that much time.
6. The Dominion War (DS9)
The war between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants dominates the last two seasons of Deep Space Nine, and it results in billions of casualties on each side. But more immediately, it puts the crew of the space station in the most dangerous position in the galaxy because it’s closest to the wormhole that bridges the two warring sections of space.
Somehow, the only death in the senior staff is Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), who goes out pretty similarly to Tasha Yar when a villain just shows up and blasts her with pure evil. But even that loss is short-lived because Dax is a joined Trill, and that means that while her body dies, the gross, black slug that lives in her stomach retains her entire life’s experiences and knowledge and just gets implanted into a new body (Nicole de Boer).
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a worm memory ark in their bellies, however, and the Dominion War affects the balance of power and politics of the Alpha Quadrant for years to come. And throughout the entire conflict, Deep Space 9, originally built as a mining platform and modified to a more diplomatic, family-friendly station with a mall and everything, becomes the most valuable military installation in the quadrant. It got pretty grim.
5. “The Enemy Within” (TOS)
In this classic episode from the original series, a transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk into his good and evil halves, Army of Darkness-style. It does the same to an unnamed alien creature which is literally just a terrier wearing a costume to give it horns, antennae, and a long, rat-like tail, and we mention that not because it’s relevant but because it represents what we both love and hate about Star Trek.
Evil Kirk roams around the ship, hits Dr. McCoy up for some booze, and tries to assault Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney). Good Kirk, meanwhile, goes about his business with no real trouble other than a sudden inability to make important decisions. Apparently, it’s the jerk part of us that is also the most decisive.
This is a very confusing and troubling time for the Enterprise crew as it finds itself completely unable to trust its captain. Eventually, Good Kirk gets on the ship-wide intercom and announces that he has not, in fact, gone crazy, but it happens that a guy who looks exactly like him has been wandering around being super mean to everyone. We’ve tried to use that excuse in our lives, but nobody has ever bought it. So good on you, Kirk.
It looks like things go back to normal once the Kirks are shoved back into the same body, but we’re assuming crew morale took a pretty hefty hit once they’d seen their captain weaving drunkenly through the halls, pistol-whipping people for no reason.
4. The destruction of the Enterprise-D (Star Trek: Generations)
Here’s another death of a beloved ship, but this time, we’re looking at the final moments of the craft that took us through seven seasons of The Next Generation. It was the flagship of Starfleet, it made first contact with the Borg and Ferengi, it discovered the origins of humanoid life in the galaxy, and it went out like a complete chump.
Near the end of Generations, the disgraced Duras sisters discover a way to get their ship’s torpedoes through the Enterprise’s shields. This lets them destroy the superior vessel with relative ease, although they also die in the fight. With the Enterprise heading for a catastrophic warp-core breach, everyone piles into the top, saucer section and separates from the damaged secondary hull, which is about to blow up. Unfortunately, that explosion knocks the saucer off course and causes it to crash on the planet below which, moments later, also explodes when a shockwave from the solar system’s destroyed star takes out everything in the system.
This is a less than noble way for such a proud and accomplished ship to meet its end. And while some time-jiggery from Captain Picard prevents the destruction of the star and the death of his crew, it can’t undo the fact that the most powerful vessel in the fleet goes down in a fight with a couple of lame Klingons in an obsolete warship.
3. “Threshold” (Voyager)
Ships in Star Trek can travel several times the speed of light through warp drive, but later series establish an upper limit to that speed: Warp 10. According to the series, an object moving that quickly achieves infinite velocity and occupies all points in the universe simultaneously. And that’s really quite fast.
The Voyager episode “Threshold,” however, has helmsman Tom Paris achieving this speed in a shuttlecraft as part of an experiment to get the ship back to Earth sooner, and it has some unintended consequences. Specifically, he begins to evolve at a rapid rate, eventually achieving the next step in human evolution. And while some science fiction supposes that that will be resplendent, shimmering beings made of pure light and thought, free of our limited, corporeal vessels, “Threshold” has Paris eventually transforming into a giant salamander.
Even worse, he goes crazy, kidnaps Captain Janeway, and takes them both off in the experimental shuttle to parts unknown.
Days later, the remaining crew tracks their two missing, fully mutated friends to a distant world, where they’re hanging out in the mud… with their children. The ship’s doctor restores the two officers to normal, and then Paris and Janeway have to live the rest of their lives knowing that the entire crew knows what they did on that planet.
This is a bad episode for several reasons, not the least of which being that it provides Voyager a quick route home – and the single most important advancement in space travel since the warp drive itself – that the crew immediately ignores because of a few salamander babies. Sure, highly accelerated evolution is a problem, but it’s one with a tested and effective cure. So why not just use the new tech to get home first, and then administer the anti-newt treatment? The last five and a half seasons of Voyager need not have happened.
2. Captain Picard’s Assimilation (TNG)
Two-part Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds” is one of the most popular storylines in all of Star Trek, and that’s for good reason. It marks the return of the Borg and their assault on the heart of the Federation. The first part (the season three finale) ends on a massive cliffhanger that has Captain Picard taken and converted into Locutus, a “spokesman” who will oversee the Borg’s assimilation of Earth.
The crew takes it pretty hard, and rightly so. Part 1 ends with Riker making the difficult decision to use the Enterprise’s new, Borg-slaying weapon on his own former captain, but that all kind of fizzles out because the cyber-zombies had absorbed Picard’s knowledge of the device and came up with ways to counteract it.
Ship morale has to dip when your former leader is on the viewscreen, pointing his face-laser threateningly at the camera and talking about how he’s going to put chips in your brain and make your years of piano lessons irrelevant. Luckily, the crew manages to launch an elaborate rescue mission to retrieve Picard and return him to normal – although the psychological damage will follow him throughout four more seasons and at least two movies.
1. Spock’s Death (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
Star Trek Into Darkness is a disappointing movie, and one of the several reasons why is because it rehashes this iconic scene from the original-cast film series but manages to do so without any of the emotional weight or resonance.
At the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock enters the Enterprise’s irradiated engine room to repair the ship and save the entire crew. He knows full well that this will kill him, but as the line goes, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” It’s a sacrifice as noble and heartbreaking as it is coldly logical, and it culminates in Captain Kirk, powerless to do anything, watching his old friend die right in front of him.
This is not only one of the most emotional moments in the franchise but one of the best scenes in all of film, the payoff to a 15-year relationship between these two characters who have journeyed into the unknown and done the impossible. But Kirk, the man who beat the unbeatable Kobayashi Maru scenario, ultimately has to accept that no-win scenarios can and do occur, and Spock confronts the fact that despite his aspirations of logic and rationality, his final act stems from an absolute love for his ship and friends.
Spock’s death is Star Trek at its best, and it’s one of those scenes that still gets to us no matter how many times we see it.
Which other terrible misfortunes did we miss? Be sure to let us know in the comments.