Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
Long running Sci Fi mega franchise Star Trek recently celebrated 800 episodes across 10 series (Discovery’s Short Treks is included). And as you guys know I am a huge Trekkie (hey, stop looking at my midsection smart alec) so I had to find a way to mark this milestone.
But instead of your typical “best episodes” or “best characters” list I thought I would go the period route, and thus I settled on an article ranking the five eras of Star Trek. Now I spoke about some of these eras briefly in my Seven Silver Age Trek Crossover Episodes list but I thought it warranted its own article. So let’s make it so and rank The Five Eras of Star Trek:
#5 The Dark Age
Stardates: May 14, 2005 to May 7, 2009
While there were years in between The Original Series and The Animated Series and between TAS and The Motion Picture this is before Star Trek became the massive global franchise that it is today. No, the true Dark Age was the four years from the Enterprise finale to the premiere of Star Trek (2009). We went from 18 years of having a Trek series on the air (and for long stretches two running simultaneously) and regular films to nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was a truly a dark time to be a Trekkie and many wondered (myself include) if they would ever see their favourite Sci Fi franchise on the small or even big screen again. The Dark Age is easily the worst Trek era ever.
#4 The Reboot Age/Kelvinverse Era
Stardates: May 8, 2009 to July 21, 2016
Films: Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Now the Kelvinverse Era of reboot films has long been divisive among fans and I get it. The movies dumbed down the cerebral aspect of the franchise and cranked up the big and loud action and the sex appeal. And yes, Into Darkness feels more like an ill-advised rip-off of the greatest Trek film The Wrath of Khan (feel free to fight me on that) than an homage. But there’s fun to be had in the other two installments and the crew casting is pretty spot on, especially Zachary Quinto as an alternate timeline Spock. And we got to see the late great Leonard Nimoy return as Spock Prime and more Leonard Nimoy is always welcome. There’s long been talk about a fourth film but if it actually materialises is anyone’s guess.
But the greatest contribution of the Kelvinverse Era are not the popcorn Sci Fi action films themselves, but the fact that they showed the Powers That Be there was still interest in the franchise outside of the Trekkie fanbase. And I strongly suspect it was the financial success of the first two films (sorry Beyond) that led to Discovery being greenlit. So love, like or loathe the lens flare-illuminated Kelvinverse films, but the part they played in ushering in the current Trek Renaissance on television should not be casually dismissed.
#3 The Bronze Age/Discovery Era
Stardates: September 24, 2017 and ongoing
Series: Discovery, Short Treks, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy*, Strange New Worlds* (*to be released)
Speaking of Discovery and divisive we reach the current franchise era, The Bronze Age or The Discovery Era. For the first time in history we have not two but THREE Trek series airing simultaneously, namely Discovery, Picard and Lower Decks (in this case we’ll leave out Short Treks). And we also have the Nickelodeon/Paramount+ animated series Prodigy and new live action series Strange New Worlds on the horizon. We may even get that Section 31 series at some point. That’s a whole lotta Trek! But not everyone is happy with the new content, and again, I understand. None of the new series so far follow the format and structure of the previous eras, some of the decisions in Discovery and Picard have proved alienating to fans, and some people are not too fond of the adult comedy nature of Lower Decks.
But what do I think of The Bronze Age? So glad you asked. It’s decent, though not as good as previous eras. Discovery started off very rocky but has grown from strength to strength each season. The first season of Picard was good if not great, and at the minimum scratched the TNG nostalgia itch. And Lower Decks may not be the funniest adult animated show ever but it is bursting with Easter eggs and franchise love and has been improving as it progresses. And Strange New Worlds does promise to be a return to a more typical Trek format so that should please hardcore fans of pre-Discovery series.
And I get why these shows are so diverse because multiple versions of the same type of show running simultaneously may work for procedurals like NCIS, CSI and Law and Order but not for Sci Fi and definitely not for Trek. And with all this diversity there should eventually be something for all types of Trekkies and new fans as well.
#2 The Golden Age/TOS Era
Stardates: September 8, 1966 to December 6, 1991 (intermittent)
Series: The Original Series, The Animated Series
Films: The Motion Picture (1979), The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Search for Spock (1984), The Voyage Home (1986), The Final Frontier (1989), The Undiscovered Country (1991)
There would be no franchise without TOS but that’s not the reason The Golden Age/The TOS Era (which does have some breaks in between and does overlap a bit time-wise with the next era) is number two on this list. The original show is just dang good Sci Fi television with iconic characters, thought-provoking storytelling, and quite a few masterful episodes. Sure TOS has it’s fair share of duds, especially in the third and final season (Brain? Brain? What is brain?), but even those still have a charm to them. And yeah, TAS is decidedly mediocre but there are some gems to be found there as well.
And this era also gets a lot of points for the TOS films. Aside from the best Trek film ever The Wrath of Khan (again, feel free to fight me on that) which helped save the nascent film franchise and solidify the franchise as a whole, we also had the epic drama of The Search for Spock, the infectious whimsy of The Voyage Home, and the delightful machinations of The Undiscovered Country. Even the plodding The Motion Picture has the most impactful visual effects of all Trek films (TNG-era films included) and The Final Frontier, well, there’s the sexy Uhura feather dance. So I guess that’s something. That Shatner-directed train wreck aside, the TOS films overall are pretty good and definitely better than the four films of the TNG era combined. And combine that with the mostly high quality run of TOS and you have the second best era of the franchise.
#1 The Silver Age/TNG Era
Stardates: September 28, 1987 to May 13, 2005
Series: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise
Films: Generations (1994), First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), Nemesis (2002)
And here we have it. The greatest era of the Trek franchise, the Sliver Age/TNG era. Do I even need to explain why? I do? Fine. We have the most popular Trek series ever in the groundbreaking The Next Generation and the best Trek series ever in the masterful Deep Space Nine (you all wanna fight me on that too, right? Let’s get all Amok Time up in here!). We also had the fun Voyager and the decent if slightly underrated Enterprise, grating opening theme notwithstanding. And imagine a time when both TNG and DS9 were showing together? Now that is peak Trek right there. Sure the shows had slow early seasons and a fair share of dull, dumb and even offensive episodes (*cough cough* Code of Honor *cough cough*) but there is a whole lot more good than bad, and in terms of overall quality surpasses both the Golden Age/TOS and Bronze Age/Discovery Eras.
And yes, the TNG films were a mixed bag. We had the second best Trek film ever in First Contact (Nobody wants to fight me on that? Are you sure? A few takers? Let’s go!) but there were also the mediocre Generations and the bloated episode feel of Insurrection. And Nemesis turned Trek into brainless popcorn action Sci Fi seven years before Star Trek (2019) but without any of the fun or energy.
But even with a middling film run we still had the best Trek on television ever and at least one series showing on our screens consecutively for almost two decades. If that’s not the finest era of the franchise, I don’t know what is.
So that’s my ranking. How would you rank the five eras of Trek? And you can boldly go to more great Star Trek content from RMR below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.