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Photo courtesy of CBS Television

The 20 Best Episodes of ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

12. “The Trouble with Tribbles”

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“Do you know what you get if you feed a tribble too much?”

“A fat tribble.”

“No. You get a bunch of hungry little tribbles.” – Bones and Kirk

In one of Star Trek’s most enduring episodes, drama unfolds on the space station K-7 when the Enterprise suspects that the Klingons will disrupt a grain delivery to an Earth colony. All is complicated when Uhura purchases a Tribble, a small, furry, purring creature resembling a hairball (somewhat like a less talkative Furbie). Bones soon discovers that Tribbles are born pregnant. It’s too late: Federation politics take a backseat when they begin to multiply exponentially and the ship has to deal with its surplus of uninvited critters.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the franchise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine returned to “The Trouble with Tribbles” with an episode called “Trials and Tribble-ations”, where the crew of DS9 travel back in time to prevent a plot to assassinate Kirk. The fan-favorite was nominated for three Emmy awards and is notable for its digital insertion of Deep Space Nine actors into the background of the original “Tribbles” episode, expanding the Star Trek universe while paying homage to the legacy of the original series. A Tribble also plays an important role in the film Star Trek Into Darkness.

11. “The Naked Time”

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“This vessel. I give, she takes. She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.” – Kirk

George Takei’s favorite episode of Star Trek. When Spock and a red shirt named Tormolen (Stewart Moss) beam down to the planet Psi 2000 in environmental suits to investigate a frozen laboratory full of dead scientists, they become exposed to a dangerous contagion that strips humans of their inhibitions. After beaming back aboard, Tormolen ends up killing himself in a fit of madness. Another crewman named Riley (Bruce Hyde) suddenly begins acting especially Irish. Most famously, Sulu begins to parade around the ship with a sword before being subdued by Spock in the first appearance of the “Vulcan nerve pinch.” Riley ends up taking over the engineering room, shutting off the ship’s engines, and serenading the crew with an Irish ditty, “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen.” Suddenly the Enterprise is in a state of total chaos.

Eventually, Kirk is infected by the euphoric contagion. Fighting back his desire for Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), he must regain his self-awareness through sheer force of will. In a thrilling escape from the planet’s orbit, Scotty and Spock discover that they have sent the Enterprise back three days in time. This is Star Trek at its comedic best, but the episode is also cherished for Leonard Nimoy’s performance as a tormented Spock. “I could never tell her I loved her,” Spock laments about his mother. According to his autobiography, Nimoy told writer John D.F. Black that he had the following in mind for that particular scene: “It’s about emotion versus logic, love versus mathematics, grief versus pi-r-squared.” Based on Nimoy’s suggestions, Black went back and rewrote the scene, transforming it from a simple sight gag into one of Nimoy’s finest acting achievements on Star Trek.

10. “Amok Time”

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“What thee are about to see comes down from the time of the beginning, without change. This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way.” – T’Pau

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” – Spock

The premiere episode of Star Trek’s second season takes us to the Vulcan homeworld, where mysteries of the Vulcan way of life are revealed. When Spock suddenly suffers from pon farr, a Vulcan mating cycle occurring every seven years, he must return home to take a mate or face imminent death. On Vulcan, Kirk and McCoy are invited to attend Spock’s marriage to his betrothed, T’Pring (Arlene Martel), and to witness the Vulcan marriage ceremony led by T’Pau ( Celia Lovsky), the Vulcan master of ceremonies. Shockingly, Spock’s would-be wife invokes kal-if-fee, her right to have Spock fight for her. What’s more, she picks Kirk as her unwilling champion!

“Amok Time” boasts a thrilling gladiatorial battle between Spock and Kirk while revealing the mystical secrets of Vulcan rituals. The episode features one of Leonard Nimoy’s very finest performances as Spock and brings Spock and Kirk closer together than ever before. Nimoy’s performance is nuanced and moving, culminating in a scene in which Spock believes he has killed not only his captain but his dearest friend. In addition to establishing the concept of pon farr, which later appears in Star Trek: The Search for Spock, the episode introduced the Vulcan salute and the immortal phrase: “Live long and prosper.”

9. “The Corbomite Maneuver”

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“Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker! Do you know the game?” – Kirk

While developing star maps of a distant region of space, the Enterprise is confronted by a powerful spherical alien ship called the Fasarius, the flagship of the First Federation commanded by a ruthless, sophisticated being named Balok. When Balok threatens to destroy the ship, Kirk comes up with a cunning bluff to convince the alien that the Enterprise is harboring a deadly substance called corbomite capable of destroying both ships.

“The Corbomite Maneuver” is arguably the first Star Trek episode to tout Kirk’s daring during a face-off with another ship in space. It’s also the most classic example of the importance of bluffing in the original series. Kirk bends the rules for the greater good and turns a potentially fatal situation into a victory, laying the foundation for similar events in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek: The Search for Spock. Through the power of imagination, a better outcome than violence is achieved. Kirk’s bold move to break with Starfleet regulations and make the wrong decision at the right time solidifies his place as a leader who thinks outside the box to protect his crew. Another way “The Corbomite Maneuver” surprises in its reveal that appearances can be deceiving in a final act featuring Clint Howard in an early role.

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