Beloved as it is, Star Trek has some terrible episodes. Here are five of the all time worst.
Star Trek has had a storied history of over 50 years of storytelling to geeks, nerds, and of course Trekkies (or Trekkers for the more politically correct) all around the world.
And still, after countless iterations on film and TV, we’re getting another two Star Trek films – one to be directed by the first female director in the franchise’s history and one by loved and loathed director Quentin Tarantino. Star Trek shows no sign of slowing down.
However, like the stock market and Saturday Night Live, something that’s been going for so long is bound to have some low points. As wonderful as Star Trek is, it has produced some absolute television shockers.
We take a look back at each series (excluding the currently airing Star Trek: Discovery) and choose the most embarrassing Star Trek episode within each. Unfortunately, we were spoilt for choice.
1 – Spock’s Brain (The Original Series)
It’s amazing to think that all of Star Trek started from a show in the ’60s that was cancelled after three seasons. In fact, the show was only given a third season after an intensive letter-writing campaign from fans to NBC. ‘Spock’s Brain’ will make you wish it was cancelled.
‘Spock’s Brain’ helps you forget about the cultural and emotional impact that The Original Series has for people and makes you remember that it was a low budget cheesy corn fest.
In this episode, a generic race of aliens remove Spock’s brain, and, very creatively, place it in a jar, while keeping his body on life support.
For totally contrived reasons, this leaves Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty with only 24 hours to get Spock’s brain back into his body. But don’t worry, Spock’s disembodied brain actually gets to talk to our heroes from afar.
Of course, as in most Star Trek episodes, our Starfleet officers succeed and get the brain of their friend and compatriot back into his body, but not after showing you an episode so ridiculous it makes you wish Star Trek didn’t get a third season.
2 – Move Along Home (Deep Space Nine)
Each series has its detractors and its supporters. In this case Deep Space 9 (DS9) has devoted “Niners” who claim that this series is the best of all. They claim this is due to its darker tone, deeper subject matter, and a more serialised structure in its latter seasons.
‘Move Along Home’ is… well, not good. This first season stinker features yet again another generic and singularly featured alien species. The species hails from the unexplored Gamma Quadrant.
The aliens transform the majority of the executive staff, featuring (a bre-bearded, obviously not as cool as a post bearded) Sisko, Dax, Bashir, and Kira, into living board game pieces, where they must complete lame tasks and games, or seemingly risk losing their lives.
All the while the aforementioned generic aliens tease and taunt Quark under the guise of playing for latinum, and for the lives of his friends. Of course, when all is said and done and the game is complete, the crew gets transported back to the real world and everyone moves on with the rest of their lives.
If you ever wanted to imagine Starfleet’s finest stuck playing an hour-long version of ring around the rosy, here it is. But consider yourself warned: It is not something you can un-see.
3 – Unexpected (Enterprise)
It is common consensus that there are certainly a lot of terrible Enterprise episodes. Fans have stated that ‘Precious Cargo’ is one of the worst Star Trek episodes of all time. And there is also a lot of justified anger towards the Enterprise series finale, ‘These Are the Voyages’, which was basically a B-Side episode of The Next Generation.
However, there’s something special about ‘Unexpected’. And by special I mean ludicrous and cringe-worthy.
‘Unexpected’ could alternatively be titled ‘Female Alien Gets Trip Pregnant’.
Essentially, after the audience is teased with the canonically first version of a holodeck scene in Star Trek, yet another random member of an interchangeable and singularly-seen alien race gets Trip pregnant.
A sneaky alien shows Trip the proto-holodeck; they play a pebble “game” and telepathically link. Surprise! Trip gets pregnant.
Trip goes through the standard and stereotypical changes of someone going through a pregnancy. He experiences mood changes, is considered too emotional, and is even blamed and shamed by T’Pol for getting pregnant.
Of course, the crew of the Enterprise figures out how to safely remove the embryo, but not without the assistance of some Klingons, who help the Enterprise crew get back in touch with the aliens. The Klingons laugh at Trip for getting pregnant as much as your friends will laugh at you if you try to explain this episode to them.
I think the moral of this episode is, next time someone wants to telepathically link with you in a futuristic holodeck, consider yourself warned.
4 – Threshold (Voyager)
While Voyager episodes can often be considered hit and a miss by Trekkies, nothing is as completely ridiculous or laughable as ‘Threshold’.
In this episode, Tom Paris, desperate for a quick path back to the Alpha Quadrant, attempts to reach the unreachable Warp 10 (despite disregarding the fact that this has happened numerous times in previous shows and movies).
Paris eventually does cross the warp threshold (you get it?!?) and disappears with his shuttlecraft.
Paris and the shuttlecraft are eventually found. He likens crossing the threshold to being everywhere in the universe at once. He only came back because he sensed his crew looking for him. How nice of him!
For… reasons, Tom’s journey across the threshold somehow changes his DNA. The doctor eventually realises that he is evolving.
In this case, evolving apparently means turning into a giant space salamander with a strong desire to procreate. Yep, Paris kidnaps Captain Janeway, takes her through the threshold, and then they both turn into the space salamanders and have some space salamander babies.
You did not read that sentence wrong. Writers rooms in the ’90s must have been crazy.
In the end, naturally, the rest of the crew find space salamander Janeway and Paris, and figure out some way to change them back to their normal form. However, Chakotay thought it was best to leave their “evolved” children behind.
This episode is considered so terrible, so ridiculous, so beyond the pale for what a Star Trek episode can be, it has been officially disavowed from canon.
The fact that ‘Threshold’ was disavowed, while something like ‘Spock’s Brain’ – or indeed any of these episodes – gets to stick around, demonstrates how awful ‘Threshold’ truly is.
5 – Shades of Gray (The Next Generation)
The Next Generation certainly had its fair share of stinkers. For example, there’s Season One’s ‘Code of Honor’, lambasted for its racist connotations. Or ‘Sub Rosa’, where Dr. Crusher falls in love and “makes love”” with an alien ghost who has had relationships with the previous female members of her family (I did not make this up, I promise). So the choices for the worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation are plentiful.
Still though, I honour this esteemed title to ‘Shades of Gray’. The reason? It suffers the most sinful of TV cliches: It is a clip show.
This is Star Trek’s first and only legitimate clip show. The behind the scenes story states that this episode was made for budgetary reasons.
Essentially, the way they justify the episode’s clip show nature is that Riker gets infected with an alien parasite and Dr. Pulaski… Dr. Pulaski?!?! Yeccch. Dr. Pulaski figures out that Riker must relive painful memories of his past in order to kill the parasite.
Think this is a flimsy excuse for a clip show? Congratulations, you’re correct.
Perhaps they could have gotten away with a clip show later down the road, when the show was more established, had a deeper fan base, and actually had a plethora of clips to choose from. But the fact that it comes across so early in the series’ run (last episode of Season 2) is not just boring, but pathetic, cheap, and desperate.
They just shouldn’t have made the episode.
So there you have it, five truly terrible Star Trek episodes. What episodes of Star Trek do you think are the worst? Have any made you reconsider your fandom? Leave your episodes and comments below.
To keep the controversy flowing, check out this article on why Voyager is the best Star Trek series.