Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
On July 30 news broke that Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols had passed from natural causes. She was 89. Best known for playing communications officer Nyota Uhura in The Original Series and six films, Nichols was a pioneer in the industry and has left a legacy that will last until the stars blink out. We at Red Mango Reviews would like to express our sincerest condolences to her family in this time.
After getting Discovery Season 4, Picard Season 2 and the first season of Strange New Worlds back to back it feels kind of odd not having any Star Trek to watch these days. And SNW had an awesome first season that was almost universally acclaimed, so yeah I’m not exactly complaining. But is the BEST first season of any Trek show? Well, let’s settle this with a good old fashioned ranking. One caveat though, I’m not including the three animated shows (The Animated Series, Lower Decks and Prodigy) as they are all very different from their live action counterparts and I don’t think it would be fair to include them in this list. With that out of the way and while we wait for Lower Decks Season 3 next month here are all eight Star Trek first seasons ranked. And a quadrant-sized SPOILER ALERT is included.
No first season of a Trek live action series was so bad that it made me consider quitting the show entirely, that is until the first season of Discovery. After a messy opening two-parter with horribly redesigned Klingons, an unlikeable, mutinous protagonist and lacklustre writing it was barely recognisable as a part of the franchise. This was then followed by a middling war arc that left me with little hope for the show.
But thank goodness for the delightfully dark Mirror Universe arc and the wonder that was Michelle Yeoh’s Empress Georgiou. The series finally became interesting and energetic. Too bad the show’s best character Lorca was turned from a morally gray hero to a one note villain and the arc was wrapped up in the most generic Sci Fi action fashion. And the finale was a complete yawnfest. Easily the worst. At least the show has been improving with future seasons, which admittedly is very on-brand for Star Trek.
Best Episode: Vaulting Ambition
Worst Episode: The Vulcan Hello/Battle at the Binary Stars
Like the average Trek fan, I was excited to see Patrick Stewart return to the role of the distinguished Jean-Luc Picard in his own sequel series. And it started off pretty promisingly with the mystery of synthetic organisms, a connection to Data, plotting Romulans (a bit of an oxymoron, I know), a motley crew, and even a Borg Cube! They even brought back fan favourite Seven of Nine, though an older and much more human version of the character.
But everyone treating Picard like a doormat wasn’t that great to watch, ex-Borg Icheb and Hugh felt disposable and killed just to heighten tension, the whole Borg angle felt unnecessary, the synthetic arc closed off with all the impact of a wet wipe, and Picard dying and coming back as a synthetic himself was gimmicky. At least we got some proper and touching closure for Data (way better than that nonsense in Nemesis) and it was pleasant seeing Riker and Troi again. There were many strong elements here but they never truly came together.
Best Episode: Stardust City Rag
Worst Episode: Et in Arcadia Ego
There is nothing particularly bad about the first season of Enterprise (it was just “Enterprise” then) but it all felt uninspired. Many plots felt like they were recycled from previous series and the overall character development was limited, an issue that would continue to plague the show throughout its four season run. And while the Suliban had a cool design and Silik was an enjoyably slippery big bad, the Temporal Cold War storyline lacked the gravitas they were going for.
But Trip was likeable (even when accidentally becoming pregnant), T’Pol was interesting, and Phlox, aka the show’s best character, was always a scene-stealing delight. There were some seeds of greatness though, with bangers like The Andorian Incident (gotta love Shran), Dear Doctor and Detained. And even though it played fast and loose with the canon, I even enjoyed the Ferengi-centric Acquisition. The series really picked up in the third season and then hit its stride in its fourth and final, but the first season is still relatively watchable.
Best Episode: The Andorian Incident
Worst Episode: Shuttlepod One
So much of what I said about Enterprise’s first season can apply to Voyager. Just a whole of lot of okay but not a lot of outstanding. From budget Klingons aka Kazon to wasting the potentially dynamic storyline of integrating the Maquis into the crew, the first season makes it hard to love it. The crew still makes things interesting thoigh and there are some good episodes like the Vidian tales The Phage and Faces. We also have the fun Heroes and Demons with the Doctor in the spotlight. But yeah, we were still far from the glory days of Voyager.
Best Episode: The Phage
Worst Episode: Nothing really stands out
#4 The Next Generation
Sorry Picard, but you’re back again. The Next Generation’s freshman outing has become the poster child for weak Trek first seasons, and yeah, it is VERY rough. We started off okay, with Q spicing up the bleh Encounter at Farpoint, but this was followed up with several stinkers, including Justice, Angel One and the highly offensive Code of Honor.
It’s not all bad news though. There was the awesomely dark Conspiracy (those parasitic aliens really need to come back) and standouts like The Battle, Datalore and even the controversial Skin of Evil (which I will defend). While easily the iconic series’ weakest season (though the mostly phoned-in final season is not far behind) there are still some diamonds in this rough.
Best Episode: Conspiracy
Worst Episode: Code of Honor
#3 Deep Space Nine
On Trek Facebook groups when someone says they don’t like Deep Space Nine or can’t get into it Niners like me would encourage them that things really pick up by the third and fourth seasons. And yeah, DS9 just keeps getting better and better, ending as the best show in the franchise. But the first season is slow. Really slow. There are things happening but it doesn’t really feel like we are going anywhere, which is not helped by the setting of a stationary space station.
But upon closer inspection you would see very early character development of the thoroughly enjoyable crew (excluding early Bashir, who is a little incel-ish) and plot threads that would be paid off in future seasons. And there are some very good episodes like the romp that is Q-Less, the insightful Dax (the episode, not the character), and the minimalist brilliance of Duet, easily one of the best of the franchise. There is the dud of Move Along Home (Allamaraine, Allamaraine, Allamaraine) but other than that decent watching is to be had. And it truly benefits when taken as part of a fantastic tale.
Best Episode: Duet
Worst Episode: Move Along Home
#2 Strange New Worlds
When I came up with the idea for this list I initially had Strange New Worlds as number one. It was just THAT good. I know people don’t like comparisons, but SNW had better overall crew character exploration in one season than Discovery has had in four. I love all of these folks, from the supremely charismatic captain to younger but still logical Spock, from tough as nails La’an to wide eyed Cadet Uhura, from grumpy Hemmer to wisecracking Ortega, from tragic M’Benga to loyal Number One. And I adored the return to episodic storytelling, making everything feel fresh and new. While there was no overarching arc we saw the crew changing and growing with time.
And while every episode is above average, some are better than others. On the better, we had the excellent Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach (the show really put on its big boy pants there), the exciting The Serene Squall, and the thrilling Memento Mori. On the other side of the coin, The Elysian Kingdom was a tad too whimsical and only felt worth it because of the end payoff. All Those Who Wander was a tad too close to Alien. And did they have to kill Hemmer? I really liked that dude. Hoping he comes back in some form. And yes, I know most folks loved the Balance of Terror homage A Quality of Mercy, but I just found it an average episode with an average version of young James T. Kirk. But even with those issues I had a blast with the first season of SNW and I was always excited to see what would come next. It is easily the best opening season of any modern Trek series (both Silver and Bronze Eras) and came out phasers and photon torpedoes blasting right out of the gate.
Best Episode: Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach
Worst Episode: The Elysian Kingdom
#1 The Original Series
If we were going just by quantity then The Original Series would win with a whopping 29 episodes. But it also stands out in the quality factor as well. There are some many iconic episodes to choose from, including The Naked Time, The Enemy Within, The Corbomite Maneuver, Balance of Terror, Shore Leave, Arena, The Space Seed and Devil in the Dark. And, lest we forget, arguably the best Trek episode of all time, the cinematic and unforgettable The City on the Edge of Forever.
Sure, there are some just decent episodes but none of them I would call outright bad (we’d have to wait until the next two seasons for “gems” like Catspaw, Spock’s Brain and The Way to Eden). But in terms of best first seasons it remains unmatched. That is how you kick off a franchise with almost six decades under its belt.
Best Episode: The City on the Edge of Forever
Worst Episode: None really
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.
So that’s my ranking? Do you agree? Disagree? How would you rank the first seasons? And you check out more Trek-tastic lists below: