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The five worst Star Trek episodes of all time

More than a few of Kirk and Spock's original voyages were (ahem) less than stellar. We round out the bottom five for your reading...pleasure?

Star Trek is arguably the greatest -- and indisputably the most influential -- science-fiction television series in history. That doesn't mean it's flawless. More than a few of Kirk and Spock's original voyages were (ahem) less than stellar. We round out the bottom five for your reading...pleasure?

5. Turnabout Intruder [Video clip]
This episode was the last and, by some measures, the least of the original series. It also has the distinction of being perhaps the most sexist Star Trek episode ever made, which, despite the series' relatively progressive reputation, is still quite the feat. The plot involves yet another ex-girlfriend of Captain Kirk, Dr. Janice Lester, who believes she has been denied command of a starship because she's a woman (and not because she's a narcissistic sociopath). Her solution is to murder her research team, lure the Enterprise in to investigate said murders, then switch bodies with Kirk to take over his ship -- all while embodying the worst stereotypes of "hysterical womanhood" the 1960s could muster. Girl power! 4. The Omega Glory [Video clip]
Even on its best days, Star Trek can be a bit heavy-handed in its allegories, but this 60-minute trainwreck had all the subtlety of a photon torpedo to the gut -- and it's painfully jingoistic, to boot. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt are lured by rogue Starfleet Captain Tracy to a planet overrun by savages with incredibly long lifespans. Tracy is helping the "Kohms" in their war with "Yangs" -- thereby violating the Prime Directive -- in the hopes of discovering the secret of their agelessness. It takes all of five minutes to reveal that A) the "Fountain of Youth" is a plot device that goes nowhere and B) the Yangs and Kohms are descendants of Yankees and Communists that fought a nuclear war on a hamfistedly parallel Earth. Oh, and Kirk actually saves the day by reciting the US Pledge of Allegiance. Yeah, seriously. 3. And the Children Shall Lead [Video clip]
Set aside the fact that this episode sees the Enterprise taken over by a gang of elementary school kids, it's also essentially a ghost story wherein the evil child-possessing demon Gorgan is defeated with home movies. It's as if the scriptwriting team from Scooby Doo tried to produce an episode of Tales From the Crypt, which would be bizarrely fun if it all wasn't somehow wrapped in inanity and crammed into a science-fiction show. 2. The Way to Eden [Video clip]
Otherwise known as the "space hippy" episode, this gem wastes an hour taking glaring potshots at 1960s counterculture in the most patronizing fashion possible. The Enterprise captures a group of -- I'm not making this up -- space hippies looking for the mythical planet Eden. Said space hippies manage to take over the Enterprise with the cunning use of a folk-music singalong. They then divert the Enterprise into Romulan space to find the otherwise unexplained planet which --while looking beautiful -- is covered in poisonous plant life. Basically, Kirk and crew fail but nonetheless succeed because the hippies are stupid, which again makes you wonder how they ever took over Kirk's ship. 1. Spock's Brain [Full episode video]
Generally considered to be the worst episode of any Star Trek series ever -- a title of disgrace that has endured despite the later invention of both Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. "Spock's Brain" involves the literal kidnapping of Spock's brain -- not Spock, just his brain -- by the Sigma Draconians, a race of aliens that has become functionally idiotic due to an over-reliance on technology. The antagonists actually steal the most intelligent mind they can find because they can't be expected to think for themselves, which would be an interesting metaphor if it wasn't so glaringly dumb. Leonard Nimoy spends most of the episode playing Spock's disembrained body that Kirk and McCoy operate via remote-control earmuffs.

Then there's the episode "plot" -- if this morass can be said to have such a thing. The Draconians are separated by sex for reasons never explained. Kirk "solves" the kidnapping-slash-failed-civilization crisis by basically wrecking the only functioning tech left on the planet and hoping the Draconians learn to make spears and fire (and little Draconians) before the extinction-level ice age they're enjoying wipes everyone out. Oh, and who can forget this famous line, which will haunt all Trekkies to the end of time: "Brain and brain, what is brain?" If you can avoid just one Trek episode for the rest of your life, "Spock's Brain" is the one to miss.

Got a Star Trek trauma you think outranks these atrocities, or just want to commiserate with your fellow Trekkies over the fandom horrors you've endured? Misery awaits company in the comments section.

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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

164 comments
sissy sue
sissy sue

That episode would have worked if mental instability instead of sex had been the factor that eliminated Lester from consideration for the captaincy. I never saw Uhura lose her sh*t.

todd.mcmahon
todd.mcmahon

Cat's Paw is without a doubt my least favorite episode. I am shocked that it didn't even make the list.

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

All of the Star Trek movies, episode, spin off's, etc are nothing more than a whimsical bit of fantasy. They all try and make it look like there is no class distinctions in the future but each and every one of them have different color uniforms representing the command class, the technical class, and of course the plebes.. I found the most entertaining parts of this genre, was to bet on which one of the security team would die first. Come on, everyone knew that someone of this class was bound to die. Of course, each of the ST episodes tried to deal with or highlight our own failings of a society and sometimes tried to provide alternative solutions no matter how bad they were. I guess no-one remembers the Scott Backula episodes when they tried to resurect the beginnings of ST. The only saving grace was to see how skimpy Jolen Blalock outfilts could get, similar to 7 of 9... Nothing else mattered when they came on the set.. LOL

penngwyn
penngwyn

The email announcing this item specifies, in its subject line "5 worst STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Episodes" -- apparently inaccurately.... At our house, the catchphrase for TNG became "DNA doesn't work that way this week." Like, for instance, the episode where an energy being decided to experience what it is to exist materially by invading Counsellor Troi's body and using her DNA to construct a foetus and be born. Blonde, blue-eyed, and male. From HER DNA??? Other catchphrase? "What branch of science shall we botch this week?"

jose.noriega
jose.noriega

And the Children Shall Lead episode may look a little 'corny' but when (and if) we grow up and have children, we as parents should we sure we are doing our part in educating values to them. Only those teachings and the effort we put in teaching them will give them some of the tools to discern what is reasonable and unreasonable and let them be ready to go 'where no one has gone before".

femtobeam
femtobeam

I can't remember the name of it... but it was the episode where the original Trek cast all went on vacation and were puffed in the face by those flowers. They became giddy and totally out of character. Spock started smiling and Scotty was upside down, hanging from a tree branch. Kirk was trying to keep everyone in line and fight off the skimpy clad women with 60's style puffed up hair, while under the influence of those flowers. That had to be the worst one.

mustang84
mustang84

What made this show was the special effects, which for a 1-hr TV show were pretty good. It's sooooo much better with the sound off.

bobc4012
bobc4012

They were all pretty good, considering the time period. How many of you are over 60? If you were at least college age back in 1966 (to 69), you would understand (as long as you weren't spaced out on that "wacky-tabacky" as many students were back then). Those of you who have only seen reruns in much later years, haven't a clue as how that era was. You had the Viet-Nam war going on, Kennedy had been assassinated (1963), the cold war was still going strong with both Russia and China as adversaries. MLK and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated. The mind set of people in this country was totally different than today. We were also on our way to the moon as the space race was on. While there was still political sniping, it was nowhere near as vitriolic as it is today. The original Star Trek was a "period" series. Roddenberry was able to address a lot of the hot topics of the time period by "moving them to outer space". Captain Kirk kissing Uhura - that just didn't fly too well in many parts of the country back then, but the way Roddenberry handled it made it acceptable. Remember too, this was not a "big-budget" series. A lot of the props were totally hokey. In the world of computers, IBM had just transitioned its customers from the 1400 series to the 360 series (now Z series) and still gave software away for free and no Copyrights nor patents at that time. Yes, if you compare what was done back then to today's time frame, some of those shows would seem lame, but not back then.

hheightman
hheightman

Go back and watch the end of this episode. Kirk recited the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, NOT the pledge.

disaacs0514
disaacs0514

in order of movie release: 1) Star Trek the movie - in search of work for the Enterprise Actors 2) Wrath of Kahn - the search for a job for Ricardo Montalbahn (too many mistakes made (i.e. kahn couldn't have remembered Checkov - he wasn't in the crew on 'Space Seed') 3) The Search for Spock - Love Labours Lost (Vulcan Style) and the 'Exodus of Genesis 4) The Voyage Home - aka The Search for Whales (although it had great shots of the Monterey (not San Francisco) based Aquarium 5) The Search for God (and Sybok - Spocks never beforementioned long lost brother) 6) The Search for a home for the Klingons - what - FEMA had no extra Trailers (with tractor beams and environmental force felds) to pass around? I'll leave the "joint" movies [original and next generation] for another post. Not sure if it was deliberate - but Kirk's directive 'Second star to the right and straight on til morning" probably cost Paramount a fair chunk of change to the holders of the 'Peter Pan' copyright. Live long and prosper! \\ //,

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

I find the better series are those that have an actual story arc life cycle plan. Babylon 5 was the first I know of that had a planned start and finish, with episodes building on each other, as well as a sprinkling of stand alone episodes. ST:TOS didn't have one. ST:TNG didn't have one. ST:DS9 appears to have been the start of seasonally planned story arcs in Star Trek. ST:VOY had some planning, but seems to have forgotten it halfway through each season. The feel is more like being in a mad galactic pinball machine than an actual trek back to home. ENT isn't even in the same Star Trek universe. I was really disappointed by the collection of what should have been very good actors deliver a boring and disjointed product.

David.Len
David.Len

I would bump out "The Omega Glory" for this one. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy at the OK Corral. DeForest Kelly actualy played one of the Earp brothers in "Gonfight at the OK Corral". The 3rd season was the worst. Did you know Gene had no involvement with Star Trek production during the last season. NBC screwed him on a time-slot deal. The guy driving the show in the 3rd season basicaly wanted "t*ts in space" and that is what he did. Read David Gerold's book "The Making of Star Trek" for the full story.

DainSt.John
DainSt.John

Such a pity that this continues to make the worst eposide list. The interaction and dialog between Spock and McCoy is classical. We may have come to see Kirk womanizing, but we stayed for the exchanges between Spock and McCoy.

verd
verd

That list is not any good... the worst one is "The Empath" I see that there are not any "TRUE" Trekkies here

pseudopygrapha
pseudopygrapha

...they were fun to watch. Heck I was only 16. StarTrek beat most of the other cr*p on TV then.

d_baron
d_baron

The pilot-episodes were really the best ones, classic sci-fi. A lot of these shows regular episodes suffer when they have a whole hour to tell a half-hour story but the pilots rocked. Trek went up the boob-tubes when Kirk started getting on to every female that moved on alien and not-alien worlds. I never got into the future generations. However, some things never changed: Pajamas.

kblack1a
kblack1a

I enjoyed every show of every program. NG, Original, Enterprise, DS9, Voyager. I knew this period of nothing in production would come. It would be nice to see something new, even if it's some variation of a time parallax. As my son always points out the stupid technical mistakes, I just respond "just watch the show".

LYosko1903
LYosko1903

You dare compile a list of the 5 Worst Star Trek episodes and you leave off "Miri"?!? It featured Kim Darby, Michael J. Pollard, and that goofy kid who seemed to be channeling Jerry Lewis. I mean, even the writer regrets writing it! His own wife screams in terror whenever it airs

nemesis77
nemesis77

I think some of the problems on TOS were due to budget constraints, especially in Season 3. They seemed to have had to use existing costumes and sets from other TV shows or movies like gangsters ("A Piece of the Action"), Nazis ("Patterns of Force") and westerns ("Spectre of the Gun"). As laughable as it was, "The Turnabout Intruder" is one of my favorite episodes, featuring some of Shatner's "finest" acting ("I am Captain Kirk! You will obey my orders!"). Even the worst of TOS is better than 95% of the crap on TV these days.

erik.langeland
erik.langeland

How can "The Alternative Factor" - the worst episode of all time - not be on this list? Is it so bad everyone refuses to even acknowledge it exists?

jcsnet
jcsnet

I happen to like the space hippie episode, although your synopsys is pretty much right on. "Are you one?"

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky. They who lived in a cylindrical spacecraft and had forgotten the nature of their environment. Climbing to the sky was possible, but taboo, remember?

loidab
loidab

I've always wondered, in "The Doomsday Machine", it's cone shaped, has only one point it can shoot from & they attack it from the front? I like the episode but have to wonder about the logic of that

CoderDonna
CoderDonna

NextGen - Data's Day - one of the best, imho. Voyager...well...pretty much best forgotten. And then there's Deep Space Nine...

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

Balance of Terror - the Romulan attacks on the outposts with the cloaked ship. Aside from Spock's dad playing the Romulan commander (oops), it examines racism and the weight of leadership where lives are involved, and throws in courage, honor, and certainly a sense of duty, if not also a misplaced sense of duty. Plus we get a close up of Yeoman Rand. Voyager completely jumped the shark in the first episode of season two - the one when Janeway expresses indecision in a combat or near combat situation. Star Fleet IS a military organization, folks. Chakotay should have immediately relieved Janeway of command. That failure at least relieved me from having to watch any more episodes. Ed Woychowsky is right about TOS's writers.

cgist
cgist

Jay, got a question for you. I have seen most of all the series, but I must have missed where they explained why the klingons in the original series do not look like the ones in the later series and movies. Do you know?

Korvis
Korvis

No. The WORST one ever was the story with the shootout at the OK Corral. That one is so bad that most people have blocked it behind a wall of amnesia. Once again the senior command of the ship have been kidnapped by godlike aliens who force them into some ridiculous charade for the aliens' amusement and/or the humans' enlightenment. I was 14 when I saw that one, and even then I knew it was wretched.

IrvineITGuy
IrvineITGuy

Yes, many of the TOS episodes look campy and lame when compared to today's use of movie-making technology. That aside, pioneering a new era of SciFi is an accomplishment unto itself. Believe it or not, I never took notice of Star Trek when I was a pre-teen (yes, I'm also that old) until a day my parents were took me to a friend's house and I caught a glimpse of the TV and someone was transporting down to another planet... I was hooked instantly! These are my all-time favorite episdes, and yes these usually involve time-travel): "The City on the Edge of Forever", "Yesterday is Tomorrow", "Assignment Earth" (Teri Garr was Hot!), and "A Piece of the Action". Okay, A Piece of the Action was one of those questionable episodes that wreaks of a writier struggling to find a plot so they cave by adapting some James Cagney flick and try to call it "original". However, it did bring to us card players the immortal game of Fizbin!

stevec
stevec

is actually from "Errand of Mercy." It's the Klingon commander Kor's comment on the war the Organians wouldn't let them fight.

aer
aer

I personally liked "Spock's Brain" I think they knew how hilarious that one would be, and I still sing the melodies from "The Way to Eden" (especially around the holidays)

P.F. Bruns
P.F. Bruns

Heck, Lester could have been male. In fact, much as happened in the novel Uhura's Song, circumstance could have forced Uhura to take command. She's either third or fourth in line, if I recall, since she's a department officer.

P.F. Bruns
P.F. Bruns

1) Star Trek the movie - in search of work for the Enterprise Actors There were some nice touches, especially, as was pointed out above, the classic naval tradition of taking the skipper around the refit Enterprise. Also, the Director's Cut, edited by director Robert Wise, shows the skill of the man who edited "Citizen Kane." It's not too bad, on balance, except maybe for the uniforms. 2) Wrath of Kahn - the search for a job for Ricardo Montalbahn (too many mistakes made (i.e. kahn couldn't have remembered Checkov - he wasn't in the crew on 'Space Seed') Khan (He's Indian, not German Jewish) could easily have remembered Chekov: remember that the original Enterprise had between 400 and 430 crewmembers at any given time. You could have pointed out that giving each starship a FIVE-CHARACTER CODE that would allow anyone to disarm her shields was an incredibly bad idea, or something like that. Either way, this one is still my favorite OG Trek film. 3) The Search for Spock - Love Labours Lost (Vulcan Style) and the 'Exodus of Genesis Don't forget "Losin' It." 4) The Voyage Home - aka The Search for Whales (although it had great shots of the Monterey (not San Francisco) based Aquarium Hey, you made it through this one without a Scotty joke! More than I could do. 5) The Search for God (and Sybok - Spocks never beforementioned long lost brother) Half-brother--and I hardly ever talk about mine either. 6) The Search for a home for the Klingons - what - FEMA had no extra Trailers (with tractor beams and environmental force felds) to pass around? Now I'm thinking of the Klingon equivalent of the 24-hour news cycle ("You have not heard Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room until you have heard it in the original Klingon.") Not sure if it was deliberate - but Kirk's directive 'Second star to the right and straight on til morning" probably cost Paramount a fair chunk of change to the holders of the 'Peter Pan' copyright. Pretty sure the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which owns the copyright by bequest from the J.M. Barrie estate, let this one go; then again, other than Disney, much of the U.S. is largely ignoring the Great Ormond Street Hospital's exercise of those rights. Alan Moore even published a porno comic called "Lost Girls" with a porn version of Wendy Darling. But I digress. Live long and prosper!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

In defense of TOS, in the 1960s nobody had story arcs. The concept didn't exist, at least on US network television. It wasn't around much in the 1980s when NG was spawned, outside of limited 'mini-series' (Roots, etc.).

svpaladin
svpaladin

Patterns of force was one of my favorite episodes, once you get past the names of the "space-jews". The way they moralized "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and "even the best of intentions can go awry" sure left quite an impression on me when I was a kid. I was excited when I found the book with this episode novelized, I hated the period where "all things nazi" was quietly banned from the airwaves and I never saw this episode...

mustang84
mustang84

I kinda liked the underlying concept, even if the plot and budget were well minimized.

seanferd
seanferd

I like the episode, it's just that the hippies (and that guy's ears!) are really poorly done. The story is good, they just make it difficult to watch. :^0

svpaladin
svpaladin

The doomsday machine was built with some "plot-onium" metal that was completely invulnerable to everything... So, the "logical" method of attack was to find the only holes in the plotonium, which, as scientifically figured in the 60s, was where the guns stick out of the hull. Of course, the only way to get an explosion big enough to affect the ship was to, well, blow up a cruiser. And, it couldn't be a functioning cruiser (since the automated systems would detect the threat and use it's anti-planet cannons), which is why the conveniently crippled USS Constitution was sent to her doom with Kirk doing a last minute getaway...

seanferd
seanferd

Balance of Terror is a pretty fine episode. Very submarine-warfare-like. No comment on jumping the shark. Starfleet is only partially a military organization, and Chakotay is a former Starfleet officer turned* terrorist. Not sure how the crew would really react to such an action. But you have to realize that nearly every secondary crisis in any flavor of Star Trek is brought about by Starfleet personnel letting someone get the drop on them, right after executing there duties very effectively. (Nearly all popular TV writing and/or directing pretty much sucks when viewed at all critically, at least in the end-product. You just have to ignore the constant fail and follow the well-done bits.) * Edited because TR thinks Latin is a foul language.

seanferd
seanferd

During the Long Hiatus, the semi-canonical version was that there were human-klingon "fusions", and romulan-klingon fusions. (Sort of a genetic engineering thing.) This, of course, was before anyone ever saw what the new canonical klingons looked like in STNG. In DS9, there is a funny episode where they go back in time to the Trouble With Tribbles incident. Worf is asked what is up with the Klingons, to which he replies, "We do not speak of it."

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

That the Klingons don't talk about they are deeply ashamed of that period of their evolution. ;) Col

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Tribbles, Devil in the Dark, Piece of the Action, Balance of Terror, and I, Mudd.

Robiisan
Robiisan

Reeks? As in "stinks to high heaven," as opposed to the present tense of "wrought?"

cme2c
cme2c

ENT had a totally different one. Mind you, nothing unusual about ENT ignoring canon.

seanferd
seanferd

I think I'll go with your interpretation. I'll even go with "writer wreaks unholy struggling plot!", whether or not I agree with the assessment created by my word jumble.

seanferd
seanferd

Retconning is the name of the game in the Star Trek franchise.