As we continue the celebration of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, it’s only logical (pun intended) to countdown the top 10 episodes of the original Star Trek series. Strange as it sounds, it was both hard and easy to pick out the ten best episodes from the most phenomenal sci-fi TV series of all time. While the episodes listed in the three-part Top 50 countdown were classics in their own right, these particular ten stood out from the rest time and time again, and will probably continue to do long into the future. Most of these rankings may seem natural and obvious to many readers, but it’s just a testament to the strength and timelessness of these Star Trek episodes.
10. “Shore Leave” Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), commanding officer of the starship Enterprise, leads a landing party to an unusual planet where one’s private thoughts become reality. While this leads to many wish-fulfilling moments, such as Kirk’s reunion with a lost love, the planet’s nature creates dangerous situations like attacks from a medieval knight, a samurai and a fighter plane.
At times whimsical with a generous dose of the perilous “Shore Leave” was one of the more unique episodes of Star Trek and predated the ubiquitous holodeck shows of the spinoffs, but better done. Not only did the episode place our heroes in offbeat scenarios, but “Shore Leave” provided some curious insights of our heroes.
9. “The Corbomite Maneuver” This episode is a classic example of how a First Contact scenario might play out between human and alien and how it can potentially lead to disaster. In reality, this was the second Star Trek episode produced for the actual series and it shows. The production of Star Trek looked a bit different like the velour uniforms and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) harsher makeup.
Despite that, “The Corbomite Maneuver” is a standout classic because of the strength of its script. Upon encountering a mysterious alien presence Captain Kirk is forced to play a guessing game with the unknown alien who tests the Enterprise and its crew. Even though Kirk’s strategies are indeed impressive, what’s more unforgettable is the episode’s conclusion when the nature of the alien and its motive are revealed.
8. “The Trouble With The Tribbles” As one of the most popular episodes in any Star Trek, “The Trouble With The Tribbles” is also the funniest and for good reason. It’s still as much fun to watch today as it was 50 years ago (well, 49 to be exact, it first aired in 1967).
The Enterprise arrives at a Federation space station visited by belligerent Klingons feuding with the Federation over the claim of a nearby planet. As Kirk tries dealing diplomatically with the Klingons and the bureaucratic station heads, adding to his headaches is an infestation of furry animals called tribbles. Loveable at first, the balls of fur over-multiply and besiege the station and the Enterprise. The episode is famous for its many humorous moments, especially the iconic scene where Kirk is buried in a pile of multi-colored tribbles as he gets to the bottom of a mystery involving the station’s contaminated grain stores.
7. “Space Seed” Here’s the landmark episode that introduced Star Trek’s greatest villain, Khan Noonien Singh, played with great aplomb and gusto by Ricardo Montalban.
Khan and his cohorts were genetically enhanced superman/despots from the 20th century who were cryogenically frozen and revived by the Enterprise crew. Once thawed out, Khan’s ambitious nature drives him into an escalating battle of wits with Captain Kirk. This culminates in Khan with his allies seizing control of the Enterprise and capturing the ship’s crew. Of course, it’s up to Kirk to free his people and defeat the genetically superior despot.
Due to Montalban’s captivating performance, Khan clearly left a huge impact in Star Trek mythos and is why the villain was the clear standout in “Space Seed”. Kirk has faced many villains but Khan was his most dangerous and mesmerizing opponent. As we all know, Khan was so unforgettable that he had to return to Star Trek years later with the most popular Trek film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
6. “This Side of Paradise” What starts off as an intriguing mystery and quickly turns into a romance with an unlikely lead: Mr. Spock. “This Side of Paradise” opens with an Enterprise landing party investigating how colonists on a radiation-filled world are still alive. The answer soon comes in the form of symbiotic spores that infect the Enterprise crew.
The spores give the infected a feeling of unproductive bliss, including Spock who is now able to express his feelings with an unrequited love, Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland) who he reunites with on the planet. Meanwhile the rest of the crew quickly abandon their duties and plan to spend the rest of their lives on the spore-infected world.
The focus on Spock and his newfound romance was an outstanding highlight thanks to Nimoy and Ireland’s excellent performances and a wonderful, romantic score. It was truly heartening to see Spock finally letting his hair down and experience a brief moment of happiness even though the plot’s conclusion was poignantly bittersweet.