Star Trek, throughout many moments of its many seasons, has been a prime example of superior science-fiction television, and has had a tremendous effect on not only fans of the genre, but curious outsiders who found themselves drawn into the well-developed world of our space-faring future, complete with wonderfully multi-dimensional characters, harrowing plots, and impactful commentary on any number of current day issues through the gaze of fiction.
The warp-powered franchise may have had many incarnations, timelines, and movies, but all have at least tried to remain reasonably faithful to the intention of series’ creator, Gene Roddenberry.
Unfortunately, for every tremendous success in that particular realm, there are often some Picard-styled face-palming failures. Trek has given us some of the greatest science-fiction episodes of all time, along with some of the worst, and we’ve dug through both sides of the spectrum and compiled a list that’ll set the record straight on the many ups and downs the franchise has produced.
In our list, we’re hoping to provide a definitive guide on what fans both new and old should dive right into, or what they should avoid at all costs. While reading through the list, try to keep in mind just how dramatic the hills and valleys of quality and garbage are. It’s simply staggering that a season can have an award-winning episode that is beyond brilliant, only for another to be equally awful.
With that said, here are the 10 All Time Best (And 10 Worst) Star Trek Episodes, Officially Ranked.
20 Best: The Trouble With Tribbles (TOS)
Sometimes being the “best” doesn’t just pertain to pure quality. For some things, being the best not only means being of high quality, but also being incredibly iconic and well-known, and “The Trouble with Tribbles” is all of the above. While there are certainly much better episodes of the original series, you’d be hard pressed to find one as widely beloved as this one.
In short, Kirk and crew need to deal with an infestation aboard the Enterprise, the Klingons, and even a scruffy bar brawl with Scotty after someone spoke ill of his beloved ship. Seriously, how could we say we’re ranking the best of the best and not include the episode featuring those incredibly cuddly (yet extremely dangerous) Tribbles and their impressive reproduction capabilities?
19 Worst: These Are The Voyages... (ENT)
“These Are The Voyages…” is an oddity. If we look at squarely as its own thing, there are far worse episodes in every series of the show, but when coupled with its intended context, it’s a perfect example of frustration and surrender.
Airing as the series finale for the Star Trek: Enterprise, the first mainline entry to cause a major schism in fan reception (with Discovery to follow), the show features a major crossover with The Next Generation crew, as they observe Archer and his comrades through an historical record in the Holodeck. Conceptually, this is alright, but you know your show is tanking when you need to bring back beloved cast members to help go out with dignity.
18 Best: Year Of Hell (VOY)
Voyager had an interesting concept, but it didn’t always take advantage its potential, nor the kind are storytelling that could have accompanied it, making the series sometimes feel like it was just “more of the same.” That said, every now and then we’d get an episode (or episodes, in this case) that really showed what the cast, crew and writers were capable of, and “Year of Hell” is that.
With stakes set incredibly high by the villainous Annorax after he erases a civilization from time itself, the drama only heightens, with a multi-day arc that left viewers on the edge of their seat, particularly following Janeway’s order to abandon ship. This episode proved what Voyager was capable of, and it’s a shame we rarely caught another glimpse.
17 Worst: The Fight (VOY)
While Voyager did have multiple stand-out moments and episodes (like the aforementioned “Year of Hell”) it also fell victim to less-than-stellar plots, by-the-numbers episodes, and sometimes genuine stinkers that embarrassed the entire franchise. “The Fight” is one of those.
In general, the episode is a bizarre, unfocused mess that features an unnecessary amount of mystique and pretentious meanings to pointless character moments from Chakotay, with an out-of-the-blue narrative conceit, who is plagued with surreal visions after a boxing match gone wrong on the Holodeck. In these visions, Chakotay finds himself in a boxing match, and he attempts to contact otherworldly beings… and its execution is more or less utterly inane. Despite its endlessly nonsensical veneer, the episode commits the worst crime of all by being extremely boring.
16 Best: Trials And Tribble-ations (DS9)
We feel like we’re kind of cheating with this one, considering how we already mentioned “The Trouble with Tribbles” as one of the franchise’s best episodes, but “Trials and Tribble-ations” is so beloved by fans that it’s also worthy of inclusion on this list.
In short, Sisko and other crewmembers from the Defiant find themselves on a mission back in time during the events of “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Our beloved Deep Space Nine cast members need to blend in to stop a certain time-travelling villain from altering the events of history, and the effect is so absolutely jaw-dropping -- you’d swear that Kirk and Sisko really were in the same room conversing with one another. It’s true that the episode was designed as simple fan service to celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly awesome.
15 Worst: The Omega Glory (TOS)
Star Trek was and is always at its best when it tackles current socio-political issues through its science fiction storytelling… but it’s also occasionally been at its worst, and “The Omega Glory” is one of those times.
In an assault on the Cold War, which strongly gripped both America and Russia at the time, “The Omega Glory” features two allegorical races locked in a similar conflict, the Yangs and the Comms. Unfortunately, this perfect set-up fails to live up to its goals, and “The Omega Glory” descends into a clear-cut lesson on who is right and who is wrong, rather than leaving it as a stark example of the absurdity of ideological conflict. It’s also very boring.
14 Best: Measure Of A Man (TNG)
Data remains one of Star Trek’s most iconic and beloved characters. Data, as an android, is one of the most integral crew members of the Enterprise, with his fast knowledge and superior strength, but what makes him so adored within the franchise is his quest to better himself and become more than just the creation of a scientist.
In "Measure of a Man", one of the finest (and still incredibly relevant) episodes of The Next Generation, a debate rages regarding Data’s individual rights as a sentient being. It tackles issues such as what it means to be alive, the rights of an individual, the nature of creating artificial life, and much more head on. While the episode certainly isn’t heavily veiled with its allusions to real-world debates involving genuine human beings and their rights, it still left a powerful and emotional impact.
13 Worst: A Night In Sickbay (ENT)
As a prequel, Enterprise does a good enough job showing how humanity overcame the issues that lead to World War III and how they’d eventually grow to the society in the original series and The Next Generation, but it also had many ill-conceived elements, concepts and episodes that would mar an already average show. “A Night in Sickbay” is a combination of all the above.
After Porthos, Archer’s dog, gets sick, the crew of the Enterprise return to the planet he contracted the disease in order to acquire the cure, but they’re refused since Porthos peed on a tree that was sacred to the race. Yes, there’s a Star Trek episode where the primary issue is that a dog peed on a tree.
12 Best: In The Pale Moonlight (DS9)
Deep Space Nine was a major departure from the tried-and-true Star Trek formula. With the show’s dark, even bleak, tone, it wasn’t afraid to explore the underbelly of the “utopian” Federation, or the horrors and devastation of war.
In “In the Pale Moonlight”, Sisko, desperate to bring the Romulans into the war against the all-powerful Dominion, attempts to trick the stubborn race using forged evidence, but it backfires. Going with an unplanned back-up solution, Garak assassinates the visiting Romulans and makes it appear that the Dominion was responsible, successfully drawing a new ally into the fold. After the assassinations, espionage and subterfuge, you’d think that Sisko would feel guilt or remorse. However, he doesn’t. He did what had to be done.
11 Worst: The Way To Eden (TOS)
Despite the sci-fi nature of the original Star Trek, the show still can’t avoid the fact that it was made in the '60s. From the psychedelic backdrops on the Enterprise to grappling with social issues of the time, Star Trek is definitely a product of its era… and that’s most apparent with “The Way to Eden”.
“The Way to Eden” makes it blatantly known that it’s the psychedelic '60s, since the main plot involves none other than hippies -- or, in this case specifically, space Hippies. The episode is pre-occupied with disparaging the counterculture of the time, and it is as much of a pain to watch today as it was to watch back then. Not sold on space hippies yet? What if we told you that they take over the enterprise with groovy music? Yes, that’s what we thought.
10 Best: The Best Of Both Worlds (TNG)
“The Best of Both Worlds” doesn’t tackle any important social or political issues, but those elements aren’t what make an episode one of the greatest in the entire franchise, or even just great. No, sometimes Star Trek telling a story that deals with the characters you know and love is the cream of the crop, and “The Best of Both Worlds” delivers this in spades.
After many episodes’ worth of teasing, the Enterprise finally comes face-to-face for their ultimate nemesis, the Borg. In a jaw-dropping shocker of a season finale cliffhanger, Captain Picard is captured by the enemy and transformed into a member of their collective. The next season opens up with the explosive conclusion to this arc, and its effects would be felt throughout the rest of the series, and even TNG’s films.
9 Worst: The Savage Curtain (TOS)
Ah, “The Savage Curtain”. Let’s put it like this: Abraham Lincoln is in it, and he teams up with Spock, Captain Kirk, and Surak as they face off against historical evildoers such as Genghis Khan, all in the name of a sentient pile of rocks.
Does that sound like riveting science fiction content to you? Or does it sound more like a modern satire of the most poorly executed and hammy sci-fi of the '50s and '60s? We can’t really imagine why this episode was ever conceived as anything more than a joke, why pen was ever put to paper regarding it, or why it was eventually filmed and aired on television. It’s a bafflingly dumb and needlessly absurd episode that only makes the uninitiated think that Star Trek is nothing more than pure schlock.
8 Best: Far Beyond The Stars (DS9)
We’ve already stated that Star Trek is often at its best when it tackles complex issues, but “Far Beyond the Stars” takes this concept to an entirely new level, easily cementing it as one of the most meaningful, impactful and compelling episodes of not only Deep Space Nine, but the franchise as a whole.
Portraying the cast of Deep Space Nine as writers for a science fiction magazine in the '50s, it shows the struggles for equality faced by Benny Russell (played by Avery Brooks) as he attempts to get his story, featuring a certain space station and commander named Benjamin Sisko, published. Directed by Avery Brooks himself (and by far his favorite episode), “Far Beyond the Stars” is an emotional rollercoaster ride that leaves viewers with few answers to problems that continue to plague our own era.
7 Worst: Threshold (VOY)
Voyager’s “The Fight” was a poorly conceived and even more poorly executed episode, layered in a healthy coating of pretentiousness with a thick and creamy center of absurdity. “Threshold” is on a similar plane of existence, but trades most of the pretentious ideals for extra helpings of weirdness and baffling, mind-bending bewilderment.
By the time this episode ends, you, as a viewer, will be so thoroughly and violently confused that you may decide to call it a day and head straight to bed. “Threshold” is that bad. It’s not even worth it for us to describe it to you, since it lacks any form of logic, but we’ll just say that apparently going past the warp-threshold turns you into a lizard.
6 Best: The City On The Edge Of Forever (TOS)
Star Trek is no stranger to time travel stories. In fact, the concept is one of their most used (or possibly overused) plot devices. While most of the episodes featuring temporal manipulation are great in their own right, very few can stand up to the original series’ excellent “The City on the Edge of Forever”.
Dealing with the catastrophic consequences of altering history innocuously through the so-called “Butterfly Effect,” viewers are treated to a mesmerizing and emotionally-crushing entry that displays the significance of sacrificing oneself for the greater good. Most interestingly, despite “The City on the Edge of Forever” being one of the most celebrated episodes of the entire series, Harlan Ellison, its writer, absolutely abhorred how they translated it to screen.
5 Worst: Shades Of Gray (TNG)
Everyone’s favorite kind of episode in any series are clip shows, right? Wait, what’s that? No one likes clip shows? Well, if no one likes clip shows, why would an episode of the beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation have one, and why would it be the season finale, no less? The answer is because the universe hates us, as that can be the only real justification for having a lazy and downright awful clip show be the bookend to an entire season.
Apparently caused by budget ways, “Shades of Gray” was hastily thrown together, and it shows. With an idiotic plot justification, and little worthwhile footage to use, “Shades of Gray” is an exercise in disappointment.
4 Best: The Visitor (DS9)
Sometimes, an episode of a television show is so good that it doesn’t require any previous knowledge of the series or characters to be appreciated. Episodes like these are of such high quality that they could almost pass as a stand alone short film. Deep Space Nine’s “The Visitor” is one of those episodes. It’s not just good Star Trek, it’s outstanding science-fiction.
The episode presents an alternate reality where Sisko is sucked into another time and place, and life goes on for the main characters… except for Jake. Jake devotes his life to finding a way to rescue his father, tossing just about everything else to the side. Eventually, the two are able to briefly meet again, face to face, and it’s one of the most emotionally impactful and poignant scenes in all of Star Trek.
3 Worst: Spock's Brain (TOS)
Easily the worst episode of the original series, “Spock’s Brain” requires that viewers to turn off their own brain and attempt to make sense of a plot so overwhelmingly dumb, that you might feel physical pain while you attempt to power through the episode’s entire runtime.
According to William Shatner himself, this awful episode was crafted in retaliation after the network started to mistreat the series, but that doesn’t exactly excuse the garbage-tier plot, since fans are the ones who truly suffered. In the episode, Spock’s brain is stolen, and, somehow, this event doesn’t immediately end his life. Couple the preposterous storyline with generally awful writing and production value, and you’ve got a masterpiece of pure trash.
2 Best: All Good Things... (TNG)
A satisfying series finale is always the goal, but it doesn’t always happen. It’s even rarer for it to not only be fully satisfying, but the best episode in the entire run. Miraculously, The Next Generation’s “All Good Things…” accomplishes both of those feats.
Bringing back the deliciously omnipotent Q, mirroring the first episode, and putting the existence of all humanity at stake are just some of the elements that makes this masterpiece of an ending such a spectacular finale. Better yet, we get to see three distinct realities for the Enterprise and her crew, and the three must work together to prove the humanity’s worth and potential to Q in order to save their entire species. It’s a wonderful example of things coming full circle while also proving that, yes, all good things do come to an end.
1 Worst: Code Of Honor (TNG)
Coming off the single best episode of not just The Next Generation, but the franchise as a whole, it’s maddening to have to discuss the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and the fact that it’s also from The Next Generation makes it that much worse.
Here’s the thing: some episodes of certain seasons might actually be worse than “Code of Honor” technically speaking, but there’s something that sets this stinking turd apart from its cripplingly terrible peers and makes it far worse than the sum of its parts. See, “Code of Honor” isn’t just bad -- it’s blatantly offensive and unabashedly racist. While that’s an awful, disgusting way to be in general, it’s almost worse when it comes from Star Trek, a series which paved the way for social progress. “Code of Honor” is inexcusable.
Are there any other incredible (or awful) Star Trek episodes that we forgot to mention? Sound off in the comments!