Thursday, 8 September 2016

Our Top 50

So we made it! September 8th 2016.
Now for the past (almost) four years I have ardently avoided those "top" list because, well, I just have - but with this being the 50th year I felt the time was right to finally do something along those lines. If I don't do it now, I probably never will.
Let me present our Some Kind of Star Trek Top 50 Episodes of All Time starting at the bottom with...

50. Similitude

An incredibly personal episode that takes Star Trek back to its core and asks one of the most uncomfortable questions the franchise had asked for decades - could you kill to save another life? Connor Trinneer's greatest single Star Trek performance as the clone Sim.

49. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Frank Gorshin leaves the Riddler behind to tackle racism right on your doorstep. Like Similitude it doesn't shy away from the killer issue of the day and showed that Star Trek was still capable of saying what had to be said in its final, cheaper season.

48. Remember Me

If remembered for nothing more than the classic Beverly line; "If there's nothing wrong with the me there must be something wrong with the universe.". Remember Me offered the Dancing Doctor a rare chance to shine and carry a great story where you really don't know where everyone's going.

47. Yesteryear

Our only animated instalment in the Top 50 and certainly worthy of its place. Returning to the Guardian of Forever this Spock tale would influence many aspects of Vulcan society for decades to come in both the Prime and Kelvin universes. It proved that even a "kids cartoon" could raise a tear.

46. In Purgatory's Shadow/

By Inferno's Light

A true game-changer within a show that was all about changing the balance week in and week out. What's not to love about the return of Martok, the Breen, Worf versus the Jem'Hadar, Dukat changing with the direction of the wind (again) and the shock horror that Bashir on the station is a Changeling?! So much packed into what was one of the most even two-part stories ever.

45. Counterpoint

The musical score is enough to win it a place but you have to applaud the duel of words and minds between Janeway and the alien commander as he hunts for "illegal telepaths". With very obvious parallels to the plight of the millions during the Second World War, there is true terror and fear throughout the story and you just never know who to trust and for how long.

44. The Trouble with Tribbles

"This is my chicken sandwich and coffee." is just one of the lines you don't expect from an episode so great they did it again 30 years later. Tribbles have etched themselves firmly into not just Trekkies' affections but the hearts of geeks across the world and fandoms. There are so many great scenes that make it a great overall package realised from David Gerrold's script.

43. Conspiracy

Season one The Next Generation was never better. Aliens meets Star Trek in one of the most graphic stories ever filmed and one that deserved a sequel that never happened. For a moment you genuinely hope that this might have kicked off a recurring storyline since there were hints earlier in the year. Sadly that would never come to pass.

42. Timeless

Voyager is on ice and Harry gets a decent script that also allows Chakotay time to shine. The 100th episode of the show loaded all the guns and fired a big salvo across the franchise with some stunning CG and lots of time travel elements it showed that Voyager was best when it threw everything in and did its own thing.

41. Azati Prime

The third season Xindi arc of Enterprise is something that you either love or hate. Budget Dominion perhaps but this episode threw everything into disarray. Leading into this story there was a real sense that it was all about to come to a head however by the end you have zero belief that the mission could be a success as the NX-01 spins off into the unknown heavily damaged and Archer is captured. The show's most under-rated episode? Yes. Fact.

40. Family

Enterprise tried something similar with Home but came up light years short. Finally we got to see that events had repercussions and there wasn't a simple reset button before the next episode began. The Best of Both Worlds would continue to echo through many aspects of Star Trek but in Family Picard was never more human. Perhaps only Chain of Command would break him more.

39. Year of Hell

Despite that reset button getting punched this offers the only real chance to see what Voyager should have done - had the ship gradually degrading as the journey continued rather than being in virtually pristine condition each week (but budgets etc etc...). The Krenim Timeship is a beast of a weapon and commanded by one of the best opponents Voyager ever had to face in the geek-nod named Annorax. Time's up.

38. Distant Origin

Not perhaps one for anyone who is a strong believer in the Genesis process of creation it was a different spin to see a good portion of the episode from the perspective of the aliens rather than the Voyager crew. Gegen's beliefs are paralleled to those of Galileo as is his persecution and fall from grace. For Voyager it was certainly unusual to tackle such a massive subject but spinning it from the Voth side again showed the series' panache for the unusual.

37. Devil in the Dark

Reportedly William Shatner's favourite episode it will always be known as the one with the Horta. The silicon-based lifeform showed the potential for Star Trek early on without the reliance on actors dressed up as aliens every week. Spock's mindmeld and McCoy's solution to the Horta are brilliant sparks of storytelling that are still Grade A today.

36. Endgame

The first of three finales in our selection, the last episode of Voyager brought the Borg, time travel and a glimpse of a possible future all to the table. It could only end one way - with the return of the ship to the Alpha Quadrant - but just what leads to that point and the resolutions that are also included here make it a very well rounded package. Shame they didn't make it home a bit quicker than the end titles however as that might have boosted its ranking.

35. Twilight

Ceti Alpha V pops up again although a memory-handicapped Archer doesn't remember exactly what's going on. Another story that lifts the lid on potential future events if the Xindi succeeded in destroying Earth it doesn't rely too heavily on the season arc to focus on the captain and his predicament. A lovely touching story that was a subtle break from the oncoming Xindi armageddon.

34. Equinox

A magnificent "What if..." story that used Voyager's ability to do "concept" better than any other series. Introducing the Nova Class starship we got to see how the show might have evolved if Janeway had ditched the rules and focused on getting back at any cost. A sublime, evenly-paced two-part story where there was some fallout at the end. However in true Voyager style the use of the remaining Equinox crew was sadly lacking thereafter.

33. Past Tense

A very out of water Deep Space Nine story where the station is nowhere to be seen for the full 90 minutes except for the title sequence. Trapped in the 21st Century, Sisko grows a pair and shows the first signs that he could be a true force to be reckoned with. Goatee and shaved head were put on order for the end of the season. The name's Bell...Gabriel Bell.

32. The Measure of a Man

The "Picard Speech" is a true Star Trek classic of monolithic proportions but for me it's the big moment in a courtroom drama episode hence it's not further up the list. It is brilliant and both Stewart and Frakes are magnificent as defence and prosecution to decide Data's fate. Like Conspiracy it highlighted just how strong the cast of the fledgling series were when they were allowed to do exceptional character stories.

31. Space Seed

Fifteen years before Shatner would be screaming his name, Ricardo Montalban was woken up on the Botany Bay and set about making one of the series' most revered bad guys. It's not as good as the subsequent movie but who can argue with a show where the guest chews out every scene he's in and then some. Sitting and entertaining him: optional.

30. The Way of the Warrior

With the Changelings everywhere as related to Odo in The Adversary, tensions are high and paranoia comes as standard in the opener to season four of Deep Space Nine. Worf's arrival might not seem like it's too welcome or necessary but you'd soon be wondering why he'd been wasted on the Enterprise for the past three years of the show. A clear game-changer that may well have saved the show and allowed the series to truly forge its own path.

29. Q Who

The omnipotent alien might get the episode title and be the cause of the Enterprise's arrival in sector J-25 but the arrival of the Borg and their geometrically perfect craft was a chill that I still enjoy to this day and has De Lancie attending only to bookend events. Had Maurice Hurley remained they may have evolved very differently but here we get to see their raw malevolence and relentlessness. Q's speech to Picard at the end is very telling indeed.

28. Cause and Effect

Effectively a 15 minute story retold many times, it's the refreshing way each cycle is retold and the gradual realisation through each repeat that something isn't quite right that make this episode a classic. The appearance of the Bozeman and just how long they've been in the loop is a bitter sweet conclusion.

27. In a Mirror, Darkly

While Deep Space Nine did the most with the Mirror Universe - and ultimately messed it up, Enterprise stepped completely into that parallel existence even down to a reworked title sequence. Prequelling Mirror, Mirror and sequelling The Tholian Web, it's as near a homage to The Original Series as you could get with a uniquely dark perspective on the main characters. Great shame that we never got a fifth season to see the aftermath.

26. Children of Time

The crew of Defiant populate a world in the past when there's no chance to get home. Heavy on character and especially the relationship between Odo and Kira, Children of Time slows the pace but doesn't hinder the final sucker punch of the episode. Well written, well acted and a great story.

25. The Pegasus

Conflict? In The Next Generation? That would never have happened under Roddenberry but in the later years there were some electrically charged moments. The Pegasus revisited a huge elephant in the room around cloaking technology and put Picard at loggerheads with his first officer. The arrival of Riker's former CO, Admiral Pressman just adds fuel to the fire as his loyalties are tested to breaking point.

24. Arena

Kirk versus Gorn - the ultimate one on one fist fight in what is actually a very ABC episode if you really look at it. Indeed, that's just what makes it such a classic as well as the captain's ability to talk down yet another alien race. As for the fight - it's either pure genius or total hokum but still works. Bizarrely.

23. Tapestry

Q in bed with Picard, the captain just a science officer on the Enterprise and Nausicaans playing dom-jot all crammed into an hour of TV. Yet another brilliant "what if" episode that explores an incident we'd already heard of back in Samaritan Snare from season two. There's more than a hint of It's a Wonderful Life here although whether the Enterprise is better off without Picard as captain is never truly explained...(!)

22. What You Leave Behind

Second of three finales in the SKoST list and one that has the most to tie up of any of the series closers. Perhaps also the saddest of all of them given the finality of the story and the nature of Deep Space Nine itself however it's brilliant from start to finish and everyone gets a moment. A final episode that really does close the book and satisfies every arc. Sniff...

21. Blink of an Eye

One world and hundreds of lifetimes in just 42 minutes. Blink of an Eye is a generational story that explores not just the history of one world but its obsession with the "Sky Ship" and their near-religious devotion to the dot in the sky which has been there for millennia. A concept that does nod to a certain The Original Series episode through that title and remains an enthralling watch.

20. Living Witness

Another Voyager entry and another one which pushed the boundaries of the show past it's "planet/phenomenon of the week" standard that tended to creep back in on occasion. The nearest we got to a Mirror Universe Voyager episode, it's incredibly bleak even when the truth outs. Certainly a moral tale on history being misinterpreted and retold by the winners. Does the Doctor really have a backup? After this you won't care.

19. Hard Time

Ah Miles, you do get the worst of the worst. After Tribunal and Visionary he was probably due a holiday but then we get Hard Time. O'Brien's super-condensed prison sentence nearly wrecks his life in every sense and you believe every second of it thanks to Colm Meaney's sublime performance in what has to be his best episode of the franchise without question.

18. Call to Arms

How many times do I hark on about this one? Sisko, Dukat, baseball. The captain's speech which brings us back to Emissary and his original reluctance to stay is touching, the decision to give up the station is unprecedented in Star Trek but those last few minutes are some of the most dramatic and edge-of-seat thrills ever. The fleet assembles, Dukat is back in his office and the galaxy has gone to pot...

17. The Tholian Web

Star Trek without Kirk and it works just as effectively. A rare highlight of the final season, it includes one of The Original Series finest villains (whom we would only get to see again in Enterprise) cause havoc for the crew as they attempt to retrieve their captain when the USS Defiant disappears into a rift. Spock and McCoy putting aside their differences and later full out lying to a recovered Kirk that they viewed his final orders is priceless.

16. Duet

Copied by Waltz but never, ever bettered. Harris Yulin and Nana Visitor nail it to the wall in every scene and made sure that Deep Space Nine would be remembered even at this early stage in its life when the first season had been such an uneven journey. There's a spark in this episode that sizzles and crackles between the two leads every time you watch it - and you can watch it a lot.

15. Mirror, Mirror

Amazing how one goatee can influence generations and indicate an "evil" version of a character. While there were sequels - and a prequel - nothing comes close to knock this as the best of the Mirror Universe episodes and a bona fide Star Trek classic. Aside from Spock there's the sadistic, scar-faced Sulu and the slimy Chekov to contend with as Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura tackle the ISS Enterprise...

14. Relics

Complete with a retro transporter sound we welcomed back Scotty. The story is fairly basic around the Dyson Sphere but it's all about the former Chief Engineer, his place out of time, his memories and that scene on the holodeck that would bring even a fledgling fan close to tears. The best The Original Series crossover done to an exceptional and heartwarming level and still the only Star Trek episode I've ever watched twice in one day.

13. Trials and Tribble-ations

Talking of crossovers, where Flashback failed, this one succeeded in spades. Compositing footage from 1996 and 1966, Deep Space Nine went back in time to interact with Kirk and crew for this 30th anniversary show. Every scene on K-7 and the Enterprise is brilliantly staged but as for favourites check out the post-fight lineup and Sisko and Dax throwing Tribbles on Kirk as they search for Arne Darvin's bomb.

12. For the Uniform

Sisko turns badass and takes out his frustrations on a punchbag and then later on a whole planet when Eddington comes back to torment him. Shades of The Wrath of Khan in here as we go man-to-man but while you might expect Starfleet captains to be all diplomatic, Sisko has a whole different way of dealing with things. The episode that forged a whole new way for the captain and cemented him as one never to be crossed. More to come on that...

11. Amok Time

Amazing to think that this was such an early episode in the big scheme of things but yet told us so much about the Vulcan culture. Containing a musical score that has been used and used and used in more shows than I care to recall, Amok Time showed the series really could go to exciting alien worlds and be more than a phaser fight. It all makes good sense and all of what we learn here is still applicable to the franchise 50 years later.

10. The Doomsday Machine

William Windom is absolutely on the edge of sanity thanks to the destruction of his ship at the hands of the titular nemesis. For the first time there's a sense that there may be no way to win against such a thing. Shatner's performance is particularly commanding here which only enhances the madness of Commodore Decker and the belief that he has failed as a captain.

9. The Inner Light

Guaranteed a place in any "best of..." list it has a similar note to Hard Time in the life-in-a-flash-of-reality spin but while that has darker tones, The Inner Light is a personal story for Picard where he can see the possibility of enjoying a life as a family man with everything he can never really have as the captain of the USS Enterprise. Guarantee there's not a dry eye in the house for the final two minutes.

8. The City on the Edge of Forever

Without doubt The Original Series' greatest but in this list not the number one episode. Kirk and Keeler are a mesmerising couple and, like The Inner Light it's a chance for the captain to see what could be if he stepped off the bridge of the Enterprise and took a different path. "Edith Keeler must die." announces Spock and by god do we know about it.

7. Darmok

The late Paul Winfield is buried under layers of makeup and gives a landmark performance as Captain Dathon. Language is a boundary but he and Picard finally work out their differences to combat the Beast at El-Adrel and forge a new future for relations between their two peoples. One of those stories that gets quoted all the time; Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra. Picard's cool new jacket debuted here but that's not quite as important...

6. The Best of Both Worlds

Probably the story with the biggest single impact in the history of Star Trek. Returning the Borg in the best two-part story of all time, it has both an A and B story that are just as interesting as each other and explored as they could possibly be. The last beat of part one continues to leave a lump in the throat to this day. Life as you know it is over. Resistance is futile, Number One.

5. Yesterday's Enterprise

Yar is back in the most believable of her returns post-Skin of Evil. Seeing the Enterprise-C was a massive highlight of the show as well as the impact that its removal from the original timeline had on the Enterprise-D and her crew. A true masterpiece of the series that had so many writing credits they filled the screen. Still a triumph over 25 years after it first aired.

4. The Visitor

Personally an episode that had the emotional impact of a sledgehammer and eclipsed anything I'd felt during The Inner Light. Tony Todd and Cirroc Lofton are superb at every step as the obsession to save Captain Sisko takes precedence over every aspect of Jake's life leaving him alone in his home waiting for the last chance to rectify the past. While the chance to see the crew of Deep Space Nine as possible future versions is a wonderful tease, the show is utterly stolen by Todd and Lofton. Exemplary.

3. Far Beyond the Stars

When Star Trek made a statement it made a statement and in this episode we hark right back to the things that made the show great. While there is a story in there about the Prophets contacting Sisko and a chance for the cast to act without their usual uniforms or alien makeups, it's the underlying tale of 1950's American racism that's the real gut blow here. The wrongdoings are deep and raw with the ending truly tragic.

2. All Good Things...

The first and best real glimpse into the "future" of the franchise came in this, the finale to The Next Generation. A triumph in itself, All Good Things... marked a high point of the show concluding under its own steam after seven years rather than being cancelled after just three as had happened with its illustrious and legendary predecessor. Joining the three time periods together and wrapping the series up by returning, in some form, to the heady days of the pilot would be something repeated in both What You Leave Behind and Endgame. Stewart is in every scene of the full 90 minutes and puts in a masterful performance to hold the show in place for one final adventure.

1. In the Pale Moonlight

A controversial choice for our top episode and not everyone agreed. In the Pale Moonlight, some would argue, is perhaps not even a "proper" Star Trek episode since it deals with the lead character lying, cheating, deceiving and ultimately being an accessory to murder in order to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War with the cheery assistance of Garak. Sisko had a few episodes before this which indicated the darker path the character was taking in comparison to Picard and Kirk but we couldn't have expected this. Can the captain live with it? He thinks so. Computer; erase that entire personal log.

So that's our 50 for 50! Hope you've enjoyed the run through and that there are some surprises in there - if not the episodes then the order we've placed them in!

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