“Star Trek”: Must-See Episodes of The Original Series

This is a list I compiled after reading many comments (IMDB and YouTube), listening to a few podcast episodes (focused on ST universe), and (of course) considering what I liked best. As w/ much of episodic TV, you don’t need to watch these in order. This should be helpful to those viewers who are not so familiar w/ TOS, but would like to start watching (or perhaps re-watching after many years). FYI: I watched the (remastered special effects) eps on Netflix first 6 years ago, then also over the past 2 months (during quarantine- when stuck at home). Enjoy, leave a comment, & stay safe!

Season 1

The Naked Time

The Corbomite Maneuver

Balance of Terror

Arena

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Space Seed

This Side of Paradise

The Devil in the Dark

Errand of Mercy

The City on the Edge of Forever

Season 2

Amok Time

Mirror, Mirror

The Doomsday Machine

Journey to Babel

The Trouble with Tribbles

A Piece of the Action

The Ultimate Computer

Season 3

The Enterprise Incident

Day of the Dove

The Tholian Web

“Star Trek”: Season 3, Episode 15 (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”)

Chekov: There was persecution on Earth once. I remember reading about it in my history class.

Sulu: Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century. There’s no such primitive thinking today.

This is one of those eps that I’m sure many non-Trekkers (or Trekkies) have read of/heard about. On the way to a mission, The Enterprise comes across a shuttlecraft stolen from Starbase 4 by Lokai (Lou Antonio- part of the chain gang in Cool Hand Luke), a humanoid who is half black and half white. Soon his pursuer, Commissioner Bele (Frank Gorshin- best known as The Riddler on the ’60s Batman series), arrives onboard (from an invisible ship- one of the biggest budget cuts in TOS). Bele demands that Lokai be turned over for transport to Cheron (their home planet) where Lokai has been convicted as a terrorist.

Spock: [referring to Bele and Lokai] Fascinating. Two irrevocably hostile humanoids.

Scotty: Disgusting is what I call ’em.

Mr. Spock: That description is not scientifically accurate.

Scotty: Mr. Spock, the word “disgusting” describes exactly what I feel about those two.

Kirk: That’s enough for today. Those two are beginning to affect you.

Bele regards Lokai as of an inferior race and claims that Lokai’s people were destroying their civilization. Lokai contends that Bele’s people enslaved his people, but then we learn that Lokai’s people engaged in mass destruction. Bele believes he is right (pursuing justice). Their hate for each other puts our heroes in danger; Kirk tries to convince them to stop fighting. Both men have superpowers and this pursuit has lasted 50,000 years!

Spock: Change is the essential process of all existence

The screenplay was based on a story by Lee Cronin (the pseudonym of Gene L. Coon). He had left Paramount and was under contract with Universal, so he was not supposed to be working for Paramount. The original story didn’t depict the aliens w/ bi-colored skin; one was a devil w/ a tail and the other was an angel. Director Jud Taylor came up w/ the idea of bi-colored skin shortly before filming. The plot was a (obvious/heavy-handed to critics and modern viewers) indictment of the discrimination/prejudice in the late ’60s. MLK, Jr. had been assassinated less than a year earlier. This was a few years after the Watts Riots (LA) and the events dramatized in popular movies: Ghosts of MississippiMalcolm X, and Mississippi Burning.

[1] This episode does have the marvelous self-destruct sequence initiated by Kirk, in which Spock & Scotty join in to voice the self-destruct codes. This sequence manages to squeeze out every bit of suspense possible for such a televised few minutes…

[2] There are a few good lines such as the scene where Spock tells Bele that his planet was once a violent world which the Vulcans eventually resolved through logic and cool reasoning. 

[3] All theories are suggested by Spock, incl. nature vs. nurture. Their hated has outlasted the population of their planet. The only writing flaw is their hatred spans thousands of years. Nobody lives than long, except the “Q” maybe! The stock footage used for the burning of the planet looks suspiciously like the burning of Atlanta from GWTW, don’t you think?

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek”: Season 3, Episode 9 (“The Tholian Web”)

[Speaking over communicators aboard the USS Defiant]

Dr. McCoy: Jim, this ship is dissolving. My hand just passed through a man and a table.

The Enterprise enters a region of space where space itself phases in and out. Another starship, the Defiant, and her crew have already fallen victim to this interphase. Kirk beams over to the Defiant w/ Spock, McCoy and Chekov. We see the environmental suits for the first time. They were created by Costume Designer Bill Theiss and consisted of silver lamé w/ a fabric helmet w/ screen mesh visor. The ship’s crew appears to have killed each other; this space affects the brain, causing insanity. Scotty is able to beam back only 3 of them at a time, and the Defiant fades away before they can get Kirk back. They even hold a funeral service for Kirk later, thinking he is lost for good! Then the Tholians show up in patrol ships and start building a force field around the Enterprise. Spock makes the (controversial) decision to stay put and keep searching for Kirk.

Dr. McCoy: What did you have to gain by fighting the Tholians? You could have assured yourself of a captaincy by leaving the area. But you chose to stay. Why?

Mr. Spock: I need not explain my rationale to you, or to any other member of this crew. There is a margin of variation in any experiment. While there was a chance, I was bound, legally and morally, to ascertain the Captain’s status.

Dr. McCoy: You mean, to be sure if he was dead. Well, you made certain of that.

This is a (rare) good ep of S3 that shows the continuing rivalry (and begrudging respect) between Spock and McCoy. I esp. liked the touching/sad scene where Spock and McCoy hear the “Final Orders” (part of their obligation to Kirk) in the captain’s quarters. Nimoy and Kelley do a fine job; they have chemistry w/ each other (as well as w/ Shatner). They realize how important it is that they both work together to deal with the dangerous/unknown situation.

[Scott has just reported seeing the Captain, who is presumed dead, in Engineering]

Mr. Spock: In critical moments men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.

Dr. McCoy: Do you suppose they’re seeing Jim because they’ve lost confidence in you?

Mr. Spock: I was merely stating a fact, Doctor.

Chekov starts acting irrational and McCoy gets angry (at Spock); they are somewhat affected by the space sickness. When Uhura sees Kirk’s ghostly appearance in her mirror, she thinks she is going crazy. Scotty sees the image in Engineering. Later on, Spock himself sees Kirk floating throughout the ship. He manages to beam and hold onto the signature traces of Kirk’s latest appearance (before the captain’s oxygen supply is finished). Then, the ship warps out of danger just before the Tholian Web is finished.

Judy Burns (a freelance writer) co-wrote this story w/ her husband Chet Richards, to earn money for a study trip to Africa. According to a TV Guide interview from 1970, this was the first script that Burns ever wrote! Star Trek was nominated for an Emmy for the special effects in this ep. The remastered version contains some effects shots that are virtual recreations of the original footage; others are more dynamic and show angles of both starships. The Tholian ship retained the essential design elements of the original model, but more detail and interior lights were added. The scene involving Cmdr. Loskene was left intact.

“Star Trek”: Season 3, Episode 7 (“Day of the Dove”)


[1] Filled with action, intrigue, a dash of horror and mystery, along with a good deal of fret by both sides of the coin, this episode brings the awful truth of wartime drama to the audience.

[2] This episode delivers a few memorable scenes of our heroic Enterprise officers behaving in atypical fashion, recalling a few other episodes where they were subverted mentally somehow. In this case, it involved reversion to basic primal instincts such as race hatred and bloodthirst, allowing actors Kelley, Doohan, Koenig and even the usually placid Nimoy to tap into their inner rage. The intense quarrel between Spock and Scotty is especially startling.

[3] Michael Ansara’s Kang was superbly cast in his role as the Klingon commander who has no qualms about torturing Chekov or shutting off life systems in those sections of the Enterprise which the Federation crew still control. Bixby also gives an important role to Mara, Kang’s wife and one of the only Klingon women ever depicted in TOS, as the peacemaker of the show who ultimately convinces Kang to reach a truce with Kirk.

-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

After receiving a distress call, the Enterprise goes to a Federation colony; when the landing party beams down, they find no one. Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and the Enterprise have to deal w/ a nearby Klingon ship which they believe to be responsible. When the Klingon ship is disabled, they assume the attack came from the Enterprise. Commander Kang (Michael Ansara) argues with Kirk about who attacked who, then holds Kirk and his party hostage. Kirk sends Spock (Leonard Nimoy) a signal before they’re beamed up. Spock beams the landing party up and keeps the Klingons de-materialized until a security team is ready to subdue them. Kirk imprisons the Kilngons (about 40 in total). Kang wears the same golden sash that would be worn (on the opposite shoulder) by Lt. Worf in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Spock informs Kirk that the Klingons were too far to attack the colony. After some Klingon plotting and waiting to take over, the Enterprise crew loses control (the ship starts warping in a random course). A large portion of the crew becomes trapped on an isolated area of the ship, leaving 40 men. The usual phasers we see turn into swords; this ep has sword fighting. Kirk uses a US Model 1860 cavalry saber. Scotty finds a type of sword in the armory which Scots are very proud of- a basket hilt Claymore (from the Elizabethan era or later).

Mr. Spock: [deflecting Scott’s maniac temper from Kirk] Easy, Mr. Scott.

Scott: Keep your Vulcan hands off me! Just keep away! Your feelings might be hurt, you green-blooded half-breed!

Mr. Spock: May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with Humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.

Scott: Then transfer out, freak!

An alien creature of unknown origin has come aboard; it feeds off hate and violence! A wild-eyed Scotty (James Doohan) nearly gets into a fight w/ Spock (who is also changed) on the bridge; the captain has to intercede. Chekov (Walter Koenig) wants revenge for the death of a brother (though Sulu explains that he’s an only child). He nearly assaults Mara (Susan Howard), Kang’s wife/science officer, but is stopped by Kirk and Spock.

Dr. McCoy: Gentlemen, if we are pawns, you’re looking at one who is extremely sorry.

Mr. Spock: I understand, Doctor. I, too, felt a brief surge of racial bigotry. Most distasteful.

I was looking up reviews for this ep when I found a (hilarious) Trump parody.

“Star Trek”: Season 3, Episode 2 (“The Enterprise Incident”)

D.C. Fontana’s initial inspo for this story/title was the Pueblo incident which involved the capture of an American intelligence-gathering ship, the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), by North Korean forces during the Vietnam War. North Korea claimed, w/o evidence, the ship had violated its territorial waters. The incident occurred on January 23, 1968, just two mos. before Fontana completed her first draft story outline. Although the crew was released after nearly a year, North Korea still maintains possession of the vessel as a “war trophy.”

This smart, tense, and dramatic ep has some romance- something not often done well in Star Trek series. As w/ shows like The West Wing and Law and Order, the characters’ personal lives (love) take a backseat to their work (duty). It begins w/ Dr. McCoy recording his medical log (something we’ve never heard before). He explains that Capt. Kirk has been acting unlike his usual self these past few weeks. In the next scene, we see Kirk snapping at officers on the bridge. Kirk decides to fly into the Neutral Zone, which threatens the cease-fire between the Romulans and the Federation. The Enterprise is quickly surrounded by three ships. Why were Klingon ships used in this ep instead of Romulan ones? The Romulan Warbird model was accidentally broken by a PA.

Lt. Uhura says there is a call from one of the ships. Subcommander Tal (Jack Donner) somehow knows exactly which Federation ship this is and who is in charge. Tal declares that they surrender or be destroyed. Kirk retorts that if the Romulans board, he’ll blow up his own ship! Tal notices that Mr. Spock is a Vulcan; he then takes a call from his commander. Tal gives Kirk one hour to decide what to do w/ communication channels left open. Kirk had Uhura send a sub-space message to the Federation, but Tal knows that will take 3 weeks. Wow, they must really be far out in space!

The senior officers meet in the conference room. Spock figures that the Romulan ships are equipped w/ a “cloaking device” (which made them undetectable to sensors). However, Spock says they wouldn’t be in this situation if Kirk hadn’t ordered it! McCoy is shocked and angered; w/o orders directly from Starfleet, Kirk had “no right” to enter the Neutral Zone. Kirk yells at McCoy to get out- another unusual display. Tal calls again, saying that his commander wants to meet w/ Kirk and Spock in person. While they are away on the Romulan flagship, two of the centurions will stay on the Enterprise.

Capt. Kirk: What earns Spock your special interest?

Romulan Commander: He is a Vulcan. Our forebears had the same roots and origins. Something you wouldn’t understand, Captain. We can appreciate the Vulcans, our distant brothers.

It turns out that the Romulan Commander (Joanne Linville) is a woman; both Kirk and Spock are surprised by this revelation! She speaks first to Kirk, who says that his ship made “a navigational error” (which she doesn’t believe). Then she calls Spock in, who she knows (as a Vulcan) “can’t tell a lie.” We see that she is interested in Spock; he may be somewhat intrigued. It looks like Spock has betrayed his captain to the enemy- whoa! Two guards take Kirk away, but not before Shatner does some scenery-chewing dramatics.

When they are alone, the Romulan Commander praises Spock and wonders why someone as “capable” as him doesn’t command his own starship. Nimoy has his arms folded, yet is listening intently as if he might consider her ideas. Meanwhile, Kirk attempts to escape his cell, he is zapped by some lasers. McCoy is called to attend to his injuries right away.

Romulan Commander: I neglected to mention. I’ll expect you for dinner. We have much to discuss.

Spock: Indeed.

Romulan Commander: Allow me to… to rephrase. Will you join me for dinner?

Spock: I am honored, Commander. Are the guards also invited?

They go to Kirk’s cell where McCoy explains that he is “unfit” (at the moment) to be in command of the Enterprise. The commander and Spock discuss what should be done next for “the safety of the crew.” Kirk (seething w/ rage) suddenly attacks Spock, who grabs his face and applies “the Vulcan death grip” (not real, but Romulans don’t know that). McCoy declares that Kirk is dead! We soon realize that Kirk has his own plans (while Spock is on his dinner date).

Romulan Commander: Romulan women are not like Vulcan females. We’re not dedicated to… pure logic, and the sterility of non-emotion. Our people are warriors. Often savage. But we are also many other pleasant things.

After this flirtatious speech, Spock leans back on the lounge- closer to the commander. Spock has some good lines, which Nimoy delivers in a dry, suave manner befitting a Vulcan. Cunning, smart, and tough, this female seems like the perfect match for Spock. I loved her off-the-shoulder dress (second outfit); the pattern on it even matched her statement earrings. In the original script, the characters were supposed to kiss, but Nimoy and Linville came up w/ a (creative) alternative. They had some amazing chemistry, too. What about this line? It’s ambiguous, just as we’d expect from Spock!

Spock: [to the Romulan commander] Military secrets are the most fleeting of all. I hope that you and I… exchanged something more permanent.

There are several plot holes in the ep, which you may notice on the second viewing. Transporter beams can’t penetrate shields, but Kirk is able to beam to the Romulan flagship and back again. So, the Enterprise and the Romulan warships had their shields down the entire time. After the Romulan commander leaves Spock alone, he pulls out his communicator to contact Kirk. It makes no sense that she would’ve allowed him to keep this (as a non-Romulan). In order for Kirk’s plan to work, he would’ve had to have prior knowledge that the Romulan Commander was female, would take an interest in Spock’s Vulcan heritage, and have romantic attraction to Spock, so that he could go through w/ the whole charade of Spock being a “traitor.” Otherwise, he would have just been winging it. He was lucky that everything worked out in the end!