Star Trek has beamed onto Netflix UK, with the original series, TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise…even the Animated Series all now ready and waiting to be assimilated. Good news for Trekkers, a heart-sinking prospect for any long-suffering, non-sci-fi-loving partners.
But does it have to be that way? Can the uninitiated be won round when it comes to Star Trek? Where do you start when it comes to a person who wouldn’t know a Borg Queen from an Orion Slave Girl? Which episodes should you show to someone who has never boldly gone before. Remember, we’re not necessarily talking the BEST Star Trek ever here, merely the most ACCESSIBLE. In short, can you brainwash someone into liking Star Trek?
TNG has a reputation for being a philosophical, cerebral show. The West Wing in space, if you will, where Picard captains by committee and his ‘staffers’ get their own little subplots. But the whole formula went out the window with this high-stakes two-parter in which Picard got kidnapped by the merciless Borg and second-in-command Riker got to sit in the big chair. Action, bluff and counter-bluff follows – plus one of the best cliffhangers in TV history: “Mr Worf, fire!” If you aren’t engrossed by the end of part one, then you’re an emotionless drone.
2. The City on the Edge of Forever (Original series)
Try billing this one as, ‘A tragic Back to the Future’. Yes, it’s the one where the Enterprise discovers a portal through space and time, Bones accidentally alters history and Kirk is forced to sacrifice his love interest – pacifist Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins. And seeing as the bulk of the drama takes place during the depression of the 1930s, there’s not much in the way of sci-fi gubbins to confuse a newcomer…
3. Starship Mine (Star Trek: the Next Generation)
It’s Die Hard in Space, OK. Picard is fashioning weaponry, there are bad guys running amok and a lethal beam is sweeping through the ship. TNG could get bogged down in off-putting technobabble, but the message in this one is clear and simple: man must defeat terrorists or he will die.
4. The Trouble with Tribbles (Original series)
Trek does comedy – and it’s actually funny (unlike anything involving the words ‘Lwaxana’ and ‘Troi’). Who can resist the hijinks that ensue when some cute, purring fur balls start breeding exponentially? Kirk does some classic exasperated gurning, Scotty has a bar fight with the Klingons (try not to get into any hard-to-answer questions about the lack of head ridges) and there’s even a follow-up: the DS9 episode Trials and Tribble-ations (which contains some Forest Gump-style ‘digital inserts’)…
Yes, it’s a political story that requires you to tell the difference between a Bajoran and a Cardassian. Yes, it’s about as heavy and bleak as Trek gets. But for a pitch-perfect allegory on genocide and the Holocaust, you won’t find much better than this season one DS9er. Universal themes of desperation and forgiveness explored in a sci-fi setting – it’s basically what the genre was invented for.
If the nascent Trekker in your life is new to Voyager, then this tense two-parter is a decent intro: just explain that the ship is 70,000 light years from Earth and trying to make its way home and they meet the crew of another Starfleet ship that is also 70,000 light years from Earth and trying to make its way home. Only these guys – the crew of the Equinox – are definitely up to no good and harbouring a dark secret…A simple set-up and a neat exploration of what happens when good people in dire straits go bad.
7. The Visitor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
The knee-jerk reaction of a non-Trek fan is to label the show cold, dull and bogged down in sci-fi gibberish. And while Trek has – at times – admittedly been all three (though maybe not at the same time), there are a few genuine tearjerkers that tug on the old heartstrings. This understated classic in which a 40-year-old Jake Sisko reveals how his father died in an accident, only to suddenly reappear, will leave you a desiccated husk. Trust me.
8. The Inner Light (Star Trek: the Next Generation)
After Picard is struck by a beam from an alien probe, he experiences 40 years of life as scientist Kamin, while mere minutes pass for the crew of the Enterprise who try to revive their seemingly comatose captain. Here, you get a tender character study of a man who, as a Starfleet officer, can be perceived as a lonely, detached figure. But as Kamin is allowed to marry, raise a family…and play a flute. The genius is seeing TNG use a fantasy concept as a springboard to explore the pain of the human condition.
9. The Measure of a Man (Star Trek: the Next Generation)
So, Data’s an android. Trek fans accept him as an android. We love him for being an android. But to non-believers, he’s a guy with ridiculous white face paint who just cocks his head at awkward angles. Show them this season two highlight (and, as we know, there weren’t all that many highlights in season two) and they’ll reconsider their opinion. The perennial Star Trek question of ‘what exactly is sentience?’ is explored as Picard battles to save Data from being dismantled.
10. Space Seed (Original series)
Ricardo Montalban plays the ultimate baddie as Khan Noonien Singh makes his Star Trek debut. As well as being a TOS highlight, this episode also serves as a gateway to so much future Trek: the phenomenal Wrath of Khan (and sequels The Search for Spock and Voyage Home) and – if you really must – the JJ Abrams blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness, where Benedict Cumberbatch took on the Khan role…