2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. Between five TV series, twelve films and five decades of footage, there are plenty of brilliant times to admire. But with so much screen time, nothing can be all good. Although it can boast phenomenal episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever“, weak episodes slip through from time to time. Let’s look at the ten worst to ever make it to air.
10. “The Alternative Factor” (TOS)
Although it is to be congratulated for what is possibly the first foray into parallel universe, “The Alternative Factor” suffered difficulty even before it made it to cameras. There was originally supposed to be a secondary romantic subplot between Lazarus and Lieutenant Charlene Masters but it ended up being cut and never suitably replaced. As a result, the episode is crammed with several sequences of Lazarus ambling around a desert planet and falling off cliffs just to pad out the time. Behind the cameras, things just kept getting worse. John Drew Barrymore was originally cast in the role of Lazarus but decided against it at the last second. Robert Brown was cast at the very last minute and didn’t have much preparation time. Between the lack of preparation and confusing script, the episode suffered deeply. It was such an incoherent mess that producers decided to push it back as far as possible and aired it as 27th episode of the season.
Following reports of a lost shuttle crew, the Enterprise is directed to Angel I on a search and rescue mission. Riker leads the away team to the female-dominated planet. The team discovers the planet treats men as second-class citizens while women wield all of the power. The missing crew members have dedicated themselves to overthrowing the abusive practices of the native womenfolk, and Riker is forced to sweet-talk the ladies for their survival. “Angel One” was supposed to be a commentary on apartheid in South Africa using gender instead of race. Instead, the idea of a world where gender roles are reversed is played out in the worst way. The episode makes the idea of a planet governed by women into a nightmarish dystopia, where men are helpless and used as sex objects. Because, of course, that’s what would happen if women ran things. This is another one of the few episodes that cast and crew spoke against. Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) called the episode one of the most sexist they ever had and executive producer Maurice Hurley called it ‘absurd’.
8. “Justice” (TNG)
Rubicun III is an apparently perfect planet. The populace, known as the Edo, is described as “Neat as pins, ultra-lawful and made love at the drop of a hat” and spend their days running around in underwear and playing games. A veritable paradise until young Wesley Crusher slips and falls into a flower bed and is immediately sentenced to death. It turns out the Edo has a randomly selected punishment zone that changes daily. There’s only one punishment if you break the rules: death by lethal injection. Somehow, the usually careful crew of the Enterprise forgot to read up on local law. Under Kirk’s command, Wesley would just have been beamed back up to the ship and all would have been well. Picard is a stickler for the rules and not only has to deal with the Prime Directive but a powerful trans-dimensional being the Edo recognize as their God. What follows is a bunch of filler plot that ends with the obvious: Picard beams Wesley up and they fly away.
Kes belonged to an alien race that only live for ten years and chose to spend three of those aboard Voyager. Along the way, she discovered that her race possessed psychic powers and worked with Commander Tuvok to develop them. In the first few episodes of season four, Kes’ powers suddenly erupted to new levels and she was forced to abandon ship to protect her crew-mates from the fallout from her metamorphosis into a being of pure energy. Her last act on this plane of existence was to catapult Voyager ten thousand light-years closer to Earth. That is until she was brought back two years later as an extremely enraged omnipotent being. After tearing apart several decks and doing some time-travel, Kes is eventually calmed down by her younger self and goes back on her way. Other than suddenly becoming corporeal again, the big plot-hole is that there is no real reason for her anger. It’s best to just forget ‘Fury’ and imagine her last episode as ‘The Gift’ instead.
6. “The Way to Eden” (TOS)
“The Way to Eden” originally began life as a much different story called “Joanna”. The original story would have reunited Doctor McCoy with his estranged daughter ‘Joanna’ and put the two on a path to eventual reconciliation. However, the season three producer, Fred Freiberger, insisted that McCoy wasn’t old enough to have a fully grown daughter. The script was drastically rewritten by Arthur Heinemann. ‘The Way to Eden’ ended up as a complete mess that failed to offer any meaningful contributions. It also turned the youthful and quite free Chekov into a conservative and rule-abiding officer. The main storyline centers around a misguided religious guru with fantastic powers of persuasion as he leads a cult of followers in search of Eden and is eerily similar to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. That says it all really. It may not be as bad as some other episodes but it comes amazingly close.
5. “Code of Honor” (TNG)
An almost entirely racist episode, Lt. Yar is kidnapped by an alien race that abides by a strict code of honor. The basic premise wasn’t exactly the worst idea in the world but the entire alien race was played by African-American actors. This took the clichéd story of Enterprise meets alien race and turned it into the racist stereotype of black men chasing white women. Director Russ Mayberry was fired (allegedly for casting only African-Americans as the aliens) before filming was even completing and Jonathan Frakes actively tried to keep the episode from being aired. LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge) admitted that it stunk in 2007 and Brent Spiner (Commander Data) decried it as “a racist episode” and that “it was fortuitous that we did our worst early on and it never got quite that bad again”. Even without the racist angle, the customs are lame and the cheesy fight scene makes this a poor episode.
4. “Shades of Gray” (TNG)
Cruising in at fourth is the inevitable clip show that comes when any series runs out of funding before they finish the season. On an unexplained away mission, Riker is infected by an alien parasite. The season step-in of Doctor Pulaski finds a way to cure him by forcing him to relive his most painful memories. Luckily, it turns out that they have all happened since Riker joined the Enterprise. What follows for the next forty minutes is a variety of horrifyingly boring and disjointed clips that star the bearded and otherwise Riker. Maybe as little as ten minutes of footage is actually original and some of the clips involve events that Riker couldn’t possibly have witnessed. Although Jonathan Frakes has several moments in The Next Generation that are worthwhile and well played, “Shades of Gray” is an episode that is so embarrassing it is best forgotten. For all the fans that had waited for a new episode, having to sit through this was several million times worse.
3. “Threshold” (Voyager)
The faster-than-lightspeed measurement in Star Trek is known as Warp. The Enterprise never makes it much beyond Warp 9.6 with Warp 10 being known as the trans-warp barrier. So it basically ends up as meaning faster-than-faster-than-light travel. Transwarp isn’t actually given a clear explanation in the Star Trek franchise. In “Threshold”, it’s described as moving so fast that the traveler is in every point of the universe at once but various future show trans-warp capable craft and the Borg have it nailed. ‘Threshold’ shows the first human trans-warp flight. After appearing fine for a few hours, the pilot suddenly begins going through a rapid evolutionary change into a weird lizard creature. Somehow, the holographic doctor finds a way to reverse several distinct evolutionary leaps but not before Captain Janeway is kidnapped and forced to go through the same treatment. The end result is them mating on a swamp planet and their kids being left behind when they finally turn back to normal.
2. “These Are The Voyages” (Enterprise)
The last episode of any Star Trek series to be made for television to date, this episode managed to be the second biggest tram smash in the entire franchise. Trying to make an important decision, Commander Riker replays a key moment of Federation History from the holodeck. Somehow, the actual cast of the show end up being supporting characters. It’s also set half a dozen years after the last episode of ‘Terra Prime’ but everything is still exactly the same. The ultimate low point in this episode comes when Commander ‘Trip’ Tucker dies. The events that eventually lead to his death is some of the most contrived writing in the entirety of Star Trek. The sheer amount of backlash from fans lead the death to eventually be reversed in the lesser known Enterprise novels. This episode is a total waste of air-time as everyone already knows what Riker’s decision will be.
1. “Spock’s Brain” (TOS)
An alien race needs a super advanced brain to power the computer that manages their city. From the passing Enterprise, Spock is attacked and his brain stolen. But it turns out that Vulcans don’t actually need a brain to live. They have the magical ability to live a full Earth day without a brain. Science may have advanced to the point that people can bounce from a spaceship beyond the pull of a planet to the nearest café but seeing Spock direct brain surgery on himself pushes past the boundaries of any sort of logic. Whilst Spock’s body is without a brain, Dr McCoy straps on a fancy headset and has him walking around by remote control. Setting the trend for the rest of the season, it was no surprise that NBC would go on to cancel the original Star Trek series. Before his passing, Leonard Nimoy revealed that he was embarrassed during shooting.