I usually insist on watching the show in production order because I’m all whatever like that, but it kind of really doesn’t make a difference for TOS so we just watched them in broadcast order since that’s the order literally every streaming service has them in and that way we don’t really have to think about it.
For what it’s worth, I actually think “The Man Trap” is a much better episode 1 than either of the pilots, so. There’s that in aired order’s favor at least!
Also sorry if I come across as overly harsh but TOS is really not my cup of Earl Grey anymore. For what it’s worth it was the first series I got into. I was pretty attached to the original Enterprise, and the characters–especially Spock–so it was “Star Trek” to me for the longest time.
1×01 “The Man Trap”
Absolutely classic Monster of the Week type stuff. A shapeshifting “salt vampire” just tears through the Enterprise’s complement one crewmember at a time. This is exactly the sort of stuff I come to TOS for.
1×02 “Charlie X”
(CW: Drug use, kink.)
The early days of TOS see two episodes about Captain Kirk and crew having to deal with humans that have gained godlike powers. The other one is “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which aired right after this but was actually TOS’s second pilot. Since I’ll have more to talk about regarding this episode’s status as the show’s second pilot (a rarity in television), I’ll go ahead and talk about the episodes’ similar theming here.
We kind of held off on watching this episode until we could do so while slightly intoxicated (high in my and my fiancx’s case, drunk in my boyfirend’s case), and it really did help get through it. I… also might’ve ended up put in a bondage harness by my boyfriend just a few minutes into it, which also helped. Ahem.
What’s interesting about these two episodes is that they’re… kind of equally bad? But they’re also bad in completely different ways. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is heavy and boring. “Charlie X” is… a lot of things, but “boring” is most certainly not one of them. Whereas “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is liable to put me to sleep, “Charlie X” is bad in a much louder, messier way and just super, super cringey.
(Quick but important sidenote: I don’t use that last word lightly, and I especially am not ever going to use it towards people to police their innocent enthusiasm for things I’m not into as has become increasingly in vogue. I kind of super hate that trend. Okay back to your regularly scheduled review.)
Whereas “Where No Man Has Gone Before” threatens to put me to sleep every time I watch it, “Charlie X” hits me in more of a “oh gods please make it stop” kind of place. A big culprit in this is one of the many rapey subplots involving Yeomen Janice Rand. The show sure did love putting her in that position, which is even more uncomfortable when you consider what she went through behind the scenes. (And was almost certainly not unrelated to that, so, uh, yeah. Yikes?) A lot of the episode’s conflict actually stems from this, with Captain Kirk doing an exceptionally bad job of trying to be a father figure to Charlie. There’s actually some pretty great acting by Shatner here, and he does come surprisingly close to telling Charlie he has to respect women and consent, but he doesn’t quite get there and also says some things that totally undermine any good he might have done. It’s also just thoroughly 60s and awkward.
I find myself wanting to say that I would rather revisit this one than “Where No Man Has Gone Before” because at least it isn’t boring, but I actually think we have found the exact level of this kind of messier, more interesting bad that turns me off just as much as something being boring.
1×03 “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
This was the second pilot for TOS, the one that replaced Christopher Pike with Jim Kirk. It was, regrettably, one of the few TOS episodes I owned on VHS, so I saw it plenty of times.
It’s just… it’s just not great, guys. Like, I found it interesting at the time because everyone’s uniforms are different and whatnot. It was cool to see how early in the show Scotty and Sulu showed up. And it’s pretty instructive that the very first scene of the second pilot featured an interaction between Kirk and Spock. Honestly, the expanded role for Spock is pretty much the only thing that improves on “The Cage” in any way. (Though, that green shirt looks awful on him. Glad they got him back in blue.)
Other than that, though, this is just so, so, so slow and overwrought. I’m glad the show ultimately developed into something sillier and more optimistic. This tone just really didn’t suit it.
1×04 “The Naked Time”
Everybody gets space drunk, TOS edition! It’s just super strange that both TOS and TNG decided to do this sort of plot so early on in the show when you barely know the characters, but at least in TOS’s case the characters are so broad and surface-level that I’m not sure it actually makes that big of a difference.
The TNG version of this is honestly a better all-around episode, but this one has the benefit of some of the most wonderfully campy scenes in all of Trek. The first is literally how the infection starts. Spock and a random redshirt (well, blueshirt technically) beam down to a planet wearing “isolation suits” that look basically like bubble mailers. To make matters even more hilarious, the random blueshirt TAKES HIS GLOVE OFF and sticks his hand UNDER HIS HOOD TO RUB HIS FACE. It is hilariously dumb on this character’s part, but also demonstrates how thoroughly useless the suits are.
Later, this same blueshirt loses his shit and threatens everyone with a fucking butter knife? But the other characters and show take this completely seriously? And my fiancx cracked up and said ve was picturing Jett Reno from Discovery in that same situation looking at the guy and just deadpanning, “Seriously? You’re threatening me with a butter knife?” Anyway, the character stabs himself, and eventually fucking dies??? And McCoy says it makes no sense because “his wounds were not that severe” and like… I know, my dude. It was a butter knife, how did he even have wounds???
There’s plenty more camp to be had throughout the episode, but the other one that really left a lasting impression for me was Kirk smacking Spock around. I guess we now canonically know that Spock is a sad drunk and Kirk is an angry drunk.
Oh, wait, one more! McCoy dramatically ripping Kirk’s sleeve to give him a hypospray was B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
1×05 “The Enemy Within”
This is one of the episodes I had on VHS so I’ve seen it so many times. It’s a strong concept with plenty of campy acting and camerawork/makeup.
The idea that some emotions are “good” and some are “bad” doesn’t hold a lot of water obviously, but the overall idea of being split into two by a transporter accident is pretty great. Just, the two halves instead of being “good” and “bad” are, I don’t know, aggression and cooperation, or dom and sub. Either way, the fact that Kirk (and by extension, everyone) needs both sides of himself is at least pretty terrific. I just think the framing around it could use some reworking.
Unfortunately this episode also has yet another rapey plot line with Yeoman Rand, and this time there is a much more graphic depiction of an attempted sexual assault. And then there’s that bizarre interaction between her and Spock at the end of the episode, and just, ICK.
Back on the positive side, that dorky little “alien” horned dog that’s clearly just a dog in a costume is fucking hilarious and adorable.
Also, this never really jumped out at me before, but late in the episode they talk about how they tried to beam some heaters down to the landing party who’s freezing on the surface, but the devices duplicated and won’t function. And before I was always just like “oh okay that makes sense,” but this time I cracked up and was like “… wait. Does that mean the heaters split into a GOOD HEATER and an EVIL HEATER???” We got a good laugh out of that idea.
1×06 “Mudd’s Women”
I enjoy Mudd as a character and the nail-on-chalkboard quality of the misogyny does need to be somewhat contextualized by this airing in 1966, but that only goes so far. There are parts of the episode that entertain, especially the more direct confrontations between Kirk and Mudd, but once they get to the mining planet things really take a nosedive and it never really pulls out of it.
1×07 “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”
Snoozefest aside from the parts that are unintentionally hilarious. These are my least favorite kinds of episodes, and TOS does them pretty frequently.
The parallel earth thing is so stupid and doesn’t contribute to this episode’s plot at all and I just don’t get why they did it? Like, there was literally no reason for this planet to look exactly like earth. You could have done this exact plot on literally any terrestrial planet. It does make it pretty hilarious that the Enterprise randomly orbits the planet along a vertical axis rather than a more conventional horizontal one, because an even passing familiarity with the earth’s magnetic field will tell you that this means they’re flying through the Van Allen Belts for no apparent reason??? And like, I’m sure it’s not a problem per se, I’m sure the Enterprise has plenty of radiation shielding, but like… why would you do this if you didn’t have to?
The children are annoying as hell (especially the ones played by like barely disguised 30 year olds), the little girl having a crush on Kirk is super uncomfy even though it isn’t reciprocated at all by Kirk, and since Jancie can’t end up in a rapey subplot she ends up “tied” to a chair. And while you might expect me to see that as at least a bit of consolation in this turkey of an episode, they can’t even do that right. It’s the laziest bondage ever, I think she might be literally holding the rope in place.
The plague was kinda cool I guess, and it was cool seeing Spock and McCoy do some science together even though there will be much better examples of this throughout the series.
1×09 “Dagger of the Mind”
The hypnochamber coulda used more bondage and hotter people operating it, but it was still pretty hot conceptually.
This episode is kind of a mess, though. And by kind of I mean extremely. Spock beaming down to save his boy was hella cute, though.
1×10 “The Corbomite Maneuver”
I don’t hate this episode or anything, and I kinda love the dorky-ass alien puppet, but everything … is … dragged … out … so … long … and the ending is just kind of an enormous slide whistle.
This was the first non-pilot episode filmed, though, so I should say I at least like the look and tone of this so much better than either pilot. Just a huge relief.
1×11 “The Menagerie, Part 1”
I’m sorry but sometimes clip shows are good, actually. This was a great way to get TOS’s first pilot included in the show’s canon, and on top of that they made a great framing narrative around it that shows Spock carries a similar loyalty to his first captain as he did his second.
This first episode of the two-parter is actually a bit light on the clipshow part, with a lot more time devoted to the set-up. It’s chock full of great character moments for easily my favorite TOS character, and consequently it’s one of my favorite episodes of TOS’s early run.
1×12 “The Menagerie, Part 2”
This is unquestionably a bit weaker than Part 1, with quite a bit more of its runtime devoted to simply replaying the events of “The Cage.” And at times the tribunal’s willingness to just keep passively watching the signal from Talos IV (once they realize that’s where it’s from) feels a bit weak. Like, you guys can just… go to another room? You don’t just have to stay there and watch a thing you’re canonically angry to be watching. But I still like the overall idea, and I especially loved the ending (with Commodore Mendez informing Captain Kirk that Starfleet has waived General Order 7).
1×13 “The Conscience of the King”
What if the real genocide was all the friends we made along the way?
1×14 “Balance of Terror”
The Romulans have kinda always been my favorite Star Trek bad guys, and this is universally recognized as one of the best episodes of TOS, so it’s pretty obvious where I stand on it.
The scene with Kirk and McCoy in Kirk’s quarters is like a drastically better version of the scene between Pike and his doctor in “The Cage.” McCoy’s little speech is hella Star Trekky, and genuinely moving to boot. “In this galaxy, there’s a mathematical probability of three million earth-type planets. And in all the universe, three million million galaxies like this one. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us.” Legit chills. Probably my favorite McCoy moment ever.
I also love how like… TOS’s reputation is that it’s much more of a cowboy show and much less restrained than Golden Age Trek, and that reputation is admittedly deserved… but look how fucking seriously Kirk takes the possibility of opening hostilities with the Romulans. Even in the sillier, more action-oriented early years of Star Trek, there’s still room for healthy anti-war sentiment.
1×15 “Shore Leave”
You know kind of immediately if you’re going to like this episode or not. It’s incredibly silly, but I’m here for it.
Also, while the episode as a whole is pretty disposable in terms of Trek lore, there are two absolutely essential Kirk/Spock moments in here for shippers, so if that’s of interest to you at all I wouldn’t recommend missing this one.
1×16 “The Galileo Seven”
This is a Spock-heavy episode and I’m almost always game for Spock-heavy episodes. His commitment to peace and nonviolence is admirable, and for all the complaining everyone around him does, his logical approach really does give them the best chance of getting out of this extremely desperate situation. I might like more recent development of the character better than what we get here, but this is still one of the early TOS episodes that has aged the most gracefully. In spite of the foam spears and styrofoam rocks.
1×17 “The Squire of Gothos”
Kirk matches wits with a proto-Q who has been observing humanity from afar and doesn’t realize that because of the speed of light he’s actually observing humanity from hundreds of years ago. So he has the personality of some imperialist General (retired). And like, I get that this isn’t any worse than a lot of episodes I like, but for this kind of silly bullshit it just kind of either clicks for you or it doesn’t, and for whatever reason this one has never clicked for me.
Maybe I have this one rated too highly, I won’t fight anyone on that. But I look forward to it every time I rewatch the series. And it’s not just because the Gorn captain is hot af (but wow he’s hot af), but… yeah, okay, it is largely because the Gorn captain is hot af. That’s fair. But come on, this episode is so iconic.
1×19 “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”
The time travel is stupid and makes no sense, and it’s highly implied that it’s easy and they can casually use it again in the future (which does actually happen in a later episode). Honestly this episode isn’t the worst or anything, and parts of it are pretty genuinely entertaining, but it’s definitely not one of my favorites or one I ever look forward to.
It’s fine, though. It’s light and silly. The shot of the Enterprise in the earth’s atmosphere being perceived by 20th century people as a UFO is adorable. It’s fine.
1×20 “Court Martial”
Star Trek is pretty much always good at courtroom episodes. This one is no exception. The beats are very predictable, and there isn’t anything groundbreaking and thematically brilliant here like in “The Measure of a Man” or essential to the franchise’s mythology in ways that are still reverberating 50 years later like “The Menagerie,” but I still love a good courtroom episode.
1×21 “The Return of the Archons”
The first of many entries in the saga of Captain Kirk lawyering a computer to death! Plus, The Purge Lite.
This is your pretty typical TOS “well, it’s not bad by this show’s standards but it’s certainly not good” messes, and maybe you think I’m rating those too low, but the fact is I’d rather watch a bad episode of TNG or any post-TNG series than a middling episode of TOS.
1×22 “Space Seed”
Probably more famous for being the only TOS episode to get a direct movie sequel than for the episode itself, “Space Seed” is nevertheless a pretty great episode in its own right. I don’t think it would be considered such a landmark episode if it weren’t for The Wrath of Khan, and it certainly doesn’t have the operatic scope of its movie progeny.
You know what? I’ll go even further than that. As written, the episode is fine, and based on what can be seen on the script page, the character of Khan wouldn’t have been particularly memorable in and of himself. The only reason this episode, and this character, endured in the annals of Trek history and got their movie sequel is because Ricardo Montalbán is a fucking beast of an actor, holy shit.
Thing is, the episode is a sum of its parts and Montalbán being the most essential part sure does do wonders for it. Just seeing him, Kirk, and Spock verbally spar over dinner was sublime.
Oh, and his relationship with McGivers was just explicit power exchange, holy shit. (Also a point in its favor as far as this reviewer is concerned.)
1×23 “A Taste of Armageddon”
Kirk just straight-up shoots the computer this time instead of lawyering it to death. Probably because he used up all his patience for lawyering on the Eminians while figuring out what the heck was going on.
There’s a lot not to like about this episode, but unlike our last Evil Computer episode there’s also quite a bit to like? The entire idea of General Order 24 is extremely un-Starfleet, though the scene where Kirk ordered it by briefly overpowering his guards and yelling loudly enough for Scotty to hear him during his conversation with the Eminian leadership was pretty cool. I also think this is the first time we saw Scotty in command, and he did a pretty great job! I also liked the sequence where Kirk and his crew try to figure out what the heck is going on while the Eminians tell them they’re under attack by fusion bombs and literally nothing is happening.
This wasn’t a particularly good episode, and I oftentimes don’t like the “Kirk & friends show up to a planet, tell them their culture sucks and beat the shit out of them to make it better” episodes. Like, it makes the worst hand-wringing Prime Directive episodes of TNG seem somewhat reasonable by comparison. But at least this one wasn’t boring!
1×24 “This Side of Paradise”
Worthless. Easily one of the top 10 worst episodes in the history of the franchise.
1×25 “The Devil in the Dark”
I might be ranking this one too high, but I mean, come on. It’s Star Trek and it’s basically a silly monster movie. Of course I like it. The creature design is cool, eventually everyone sympathizes with the Horta. Basically my only real complaint is that Spock’s mind meld goes on a bit too long and gets a bit overly mournful considering the tone of the rest of the episode.
Oh, also, this has some choice of Kirk/Spock shipper moments. Like Jim wanting to leave Spock behind because it’s dangerous and he doesn’t want anything to happen to him. Or Spock yelling “Jim? Jim!” after a cave-in. Or him asking if he should cut his way to him with his phaser after said cave-in despite that being far dumber than anything he’d ever normally suggest. Or, after spending the whole episode advocating against violence towards the Horta, the second Kirk is in danger urging, “Kill it, Captain! Quickly!”
… yeah. Kinda gay.
1×26 “Errand of Mercy”
A landmark episode since it introduces the Klingons, though the circumstances are somewhat underwhelming. Still, Kor is an incredible antagonist and it would’ve been nice to see him recur! His chemistry with Kirk is sizzling even if you don’t decide to read anything into him asking if the Enterprise’s captain has a tongue upon first meeting him.
Though the Klingons were treated largely as an allegorical parallel to the Soviet Union, we aren’t given any kind of coherent political ideology at any point in TOS, and none of their later fleshing out in that regard will ever particularly resemble communism. Their early portrayals are also uncomfortably racist, with many white actors in brown/red-face and given fake facial hair of the kind generally used for “evil Asian” characters at the time.
Although the episode as a whole is somewhat underwhelming, Kor is such an effective antagonist that it still makes for a compelling watch even today.
1×27 “The Alternative Factor”
“What is the worst episode of any Star Trek series?” is not the kind of question you expect to have a definitive, obvious answer but if you think it isn’t “The Alternative Factor,” I’m going to assume it’s because you haven’t seen “The Alternative Factor.”
I always worry I’m overhyping how good the good episodes are and how bad the bad episodes are but I worry about that 0% with this one. This is the WORST one.
1×28 “The City on the Edge of Forever”
I know my ho-hum reaction to this episode is tantamount to sacrilege. It’s cited by many fans and critics as the best episode of TOS, and I kinda get why that is, but it just ain’t it for me.
Like, it’s a good episode. Captain Kirk nervously stumbling through an explanation of himself and Spock to a police officer was cute and hilarious. “I see you’ve noticed the ears…” I just think a lot of people’s more enthusiastic reactions rely on Kirk’s romance with Edith Keeler and the necessity of Kirk allowing her to die to avoid supposedly allowing the Nazis to win World War II.
I mean, for the record, the Nazis were not going to win World War II, and the United States did not belatedly enter the war to stop that from happening. By the time the U.S. entered the war it was clear that the Soviet Union was going to singlehandedly defeat the Nazis. The United States joined the war because they were terrified that communism would spread uncontrollably if they allowed the Soviet Union to liberate all of Europe. This parallels their decision to commit the first (and, thankfully, so far only) acts of nuclear war against the people of Japan to force a decisive surrender just before the USSR was going to enter the Pacific Theater.
The thing is, this isn’t even why the story falls flat for me. I can’t say I found their romance especially compelling anyway. Even when I was more credulous about the surrounding context, I never really found Edith to be Kirk’s most compelling whirlwind romance of the week.
I’m not saying this is a bad episode. There’s plenty about it that I enjoy. I just think it’s one of the top, say, 15 or 20 or so best TOS episodes rather than at or near the top of the list.
1×29 “Operation: Annihilate”
This is so silly and dumb, it’s one of those “either it clicks or it doesn’t” episodes, and for me it totally clicks. Giant flying brain cells attacking a colony? Hell yes. I’m here for it.
We even get some continuity/deep lore with Kirk’s brother having been mentioned in previous episodes and finally appearing, albeit as a corpse. And there’s plenty of Kirk/Spock shipping fodder to be had.
Average: 2.38 (C-Rank)