By all accounts, Star Trek Beyond is the perfect gift for the 50th birthday of the fan-favorite sci-fi series — a movie that manages to harken back to the humanistic, optimistic tone of the original 1960s TV show without losing the appeal of the 2009 movie reboot.
For audiences that are already familiar with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto’s contemporary crew of the Starship Enterprise, that might seem like an unusual boast. After all, isn’t the current movie series just a makeover of the old TV show? Well, not exactly — and not just because no one listened to the Beastie Boys in the original. (But let’s be honest, you know that DeForest Kelley’s Bones McCoy probably would’ve.) In case it’s been so long since you watched the original series — or, gasp, you’ve never actually seen it — here are ten episodes that you should revisit on Netflix before heading to the multiplex for the latest adventure to the final frontier.
S1 E3: WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE
It took two pilot episodes for NBC to pick up the series, and looking back, it’s easy to see why the second attempt won over executives left cold by the first — not only did it bring in an almost all-new cast (Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was the only character to appear in both pilots), but with a plot that involves William Shatner’s Captain Kirk having to turn on his best friend after alien intervention changes the friend into something more than human, there’s a story that’s immediately understandable to everyone, even those who don’t like space stuff.
S1 E14: BALANCE OF TERROR
Another episode that demonstrated the political undertones that made Star Trek what it was, “Balance of Terror” brings some Cold War paranoia to the fore by telling a story about a submarine standoff and pretending that it’s all about space ships.
S1 E18: ARENA
Of course, Trek wasn’t just smart political allegories and empathetic stories about heroes forced to turn against their best friends. Sometimes, Captain Kirk just had to fight an alien that was clearly a guy in a rubber suit — and do it awesomely, as in this iconic episode.
S1 E22: SPACE SEED
Before there was The Wrath of Khan, there was “Space Seed,” the episode which introduced Ricardo Montalban’s genetically-engineered would-be despot to the series. For those who only know the villain from the movie, this episode is an eyeopener — Khan here is charming, smart and dangerous in a way that he never quite seemed in his more over-the-top return engagement.
S1 E28: CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER
A fan-favorite episode that showed both the scale of the cosmic forces at play in the Star Trek universe and the limits of the heroes who show up every week, “City” is an episode filled with pathos, tragedy and enough heart to transcend the clichés it embraces so eagerly.
S2 E4: MIRROR MIRROR
Talking of clichés, it’s the origin point of the “Evil Twin Has A Goatee” meme, thanks to Leonard Nimoy’s wonderfully dry alternate Spock from the “mirror universe” where evil rules, as long as it’s a sanitized evil that fits well on 1960s broadcast TV. Come for the beard, stay for everything else in this episode — including some wonderfully over-the-top acting from the regular cast as their mirror duplicates. It’s a classic for a reason.
S2 E6: THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE
Never afraid to steal from the classics in order to make something better, “The Doomsday Machine” of this episode’s title is literally what happens when someone thinks, “What if I re-do Moby Dick, but in space and it’s a machine that eats planets, like in that Legion of Super-Heroes comic from the 1950s?” Yes, it’s that good.
S2 E10: JOURNEY TO BABEL
Also known as “the episode where you meet Spock’s parents,” “Journey” has a lot going for it even beyond the parental angst — including a healthy suspicion and comedic disdain for politics, especially of the intergalactic variety, as well as multiple murder attempts. Shenanigans are afoot, and the wry tone of this hour is exactly right.
S2 E15: THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES
The longer Trek continued, the sillier it got. In the show’s final year, there are both space hippies and an episode where a remote-controlled Spock searches for his own brain — and that arguably gets it start here, in an episode about living fuzz balls who breed like rabbits. Yet it works, in part because everyone embraces the silliness, with some great performances from all involved.
S2 E17: A PIECE OF THE ACTION
Of course, you can’t talk about silliness and Trek without including the episode where everyone dresses and acts like a cliched 1920s gangster, but it’s done with such gusto that it feels like a lost episode from a classic sitcom. Sure, danger is theoretically around the corner, but has danger ever really been this much fun?