All right, as promised – MORE STAR TREK!
But first! A quick recap. In my column of a couple of weeks ago, I introduced the notion of intra-Trek fanbase fighting. For example, someone who ranks Enterprise as the weakest is probably not going to get along well with someone who ranks it the highest. In many ways it’s like the Civil War. Except nobody dies, and there are five sides. Also, unlike the Civil War, it’s not tarnished by a lame Voyager episode where they ruin the Q by having the Continuum fight a civil war.
As promised, I will now go through my ranking and explain my reasoning. Reader be warned – some of these opinions by frighten or offend you. Or possibly bore you. Hopefully, though, they sway you to giving Trek a chance.
1.) Star Trek: The Next Generation
The original series is definitely the source from which all Star Trek is birthed. But, most modern Trek, and most modern Sci-Fi TV series owe a lot more to Next Generation. It took the basic concept of a ship in space and made it respectable. It’s the original space-procedural. Every episode a problem arises and one or more member of the crew has to solve it. The characters, while lovable and interesting they’re kind of shallow. They all had episodes that focused on them but, like CSI or Law and Order, what really kept you coming back was the weekly problems. And, I think it’s that reliance on simple weekly formula that got it the highest ratings of any Trek series.
But enough about why it was popular. The reason I like it is because that simple formula lead to some great episodes that explored really interesting ideas. The captain of the ship is captured and is essentially brainwashed into becoming one of their greatest enemies. How does the crew deal with having to fight a man that they respect and adore? Luckily, it’s neatly wrapped up in two episodes, so you get to see it all unfold pretty promptly! Not only is it neatly wrapped up, it’s barely ever mentioned again. (Unless you count that one movie.)
For many years, the show was in near constant reruns. You couldn’t avoid it, and because of that I sort of took it for granted. Now that it’s been a few years and I’m actually trying to find episodes, I appreciate it so much more.
2.) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The first spin-off of Next Generation, this show took everything that you thought about Star Trek and turned it on its head. Instead of a ship zipping across the galaxy, this was a (relatively) stationary space station. Everything was dirty and broken down, instead of shiny and new. There were story arcs that lasted seasons, and characters grew and changed. They talked about things that the other shows avoided, like religion and government corruption.
It’s a great series that predates a lot of the arc based shows that were popular a few years ago, like Battlestar Galactica and Lost. It took concepts like the fight between the Cardassians and Bajorans (something that was briefly touched on in TNG) and fleshed it out into something deep and interesting. That story played out over the course of the whole series.
There were shades of grey to everything, which is something you can’t typically say about Star Trek. It’s definitely the most mature of the Treks.
3.) Star Trek
Now mature is something the original series oftentimes was not. It was often silly and only sometimes intentionally. I’m sure you’ve heard how ahead of its time it was, and all of that is true. But, the show was also very much of its time. For every Khan Noonian Singh and Edith Keeler episode you got one or two evil Space Hippy episode, or Kirk switching minds with a woman and William Shatner being super sexist.
That is part of the show’s charm, though. No matter how ridiculous a concept was, everyone always seemed to take it seriously and try their best to make it work.
4.) Star Trek: Voyager
Remember how I said that DS9 took TNG concepts and fleshed them out and made them better? Voyager took TNG concepts and absolutely destroyed them. They’re goal seemed to be to humanize everything. And that’s fine, except their idea of “human” seems to be generically nice.
The concept is that the USS Voyager gets lost in space tracking down a Maquis ship. The Maquis are violent rebels who don’t like how the Federation deals with the Cardassians. So, when both ships get lost in space and have to learn to work together, you wouldn’t be out of line in expecting sparks to fly. They don’t. The Maquis integrate pretty smoothly and became as nice and generic as the rest of the crew.
That’s the first in a long line of missteps that the show made. They turned the Borg from an amazing, unknowable, unstoppable force of nature into people that could be turned and bargained with. They made the lovable, immortal space imp Q into a guy who wants to have babies and settle down.
It did so much damage to great Trek concepts that for the next series they couldn’t continue the series forward in time.
The series that wanted to be cool so badly that they dropped Star Trek from the title. Despite that, the first episode had an Enterprise, references to the eighth movie, and Klingons. It really couldn’t have been more Star Trek. Well, it could have also been good.
Now, my knowledge of this show is admittedly sparse, but that’s only because I gave up on it. I’ve seen a handful of episodes and it just doesn’t hold up. There aren’t cool storylines, just convoluted ones. Take, for example, the “Temporal Cold War,” a concept so dense that even typing it’s name is boring.
The last episode is a prime example of where the series went wrong. The entire episode serves as an hour long pep talk to Commander Riker as he prepares for a difficult decision in an episode of TNG. The whole thing so desperately wants to fit into Trek lore that they’ll drag stuff from the other series in entirely needlessly.
Anyway, that’s about all I can muster on this topic for now. Seriously, if you want to change my mind about any of this tell me some episodes I should watch. I love talking Trek even if it is with someone who violently disagrees with me.
Graham Becksted hopes you live long and prosper. Unless you like Enterprise. He is the author of Graham’s Grumbles the second blog by that name that is listed in Google results when you search for Graham’s Grumbles. If you would like to be his 64th follower (thank you, bots), he can be followed on Twitter @GrahamBecksted.