How to Start Watching (And Fall in Love with) Star Trek — The Conclusion!
We’ve arrived at the end of what history shall surely judge the most important blog series I will ever write: a guide to how a newbie should discover Star Trek! In part one, I recommended fifteen stand-out episodes of the Original Series. In part two, I recommended that, as a next step, a newbie watch the following four original Trek movies: the informal trilogy of Star Trek II, III, and IV, and then skip to Star Trek VI for the grand finale of the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the Original Series cast. In part three, I gave detailed instructions for what to watch and what to skip when diving into the first great Star Trek spin-off, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In part four, I gave a guide for watching my VERY FAVORITE Star Trek show: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!
After completing Deep Space Nine, you should definitely watch the 2019 documentary What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This beautiful, heartfelt look back at Deep Space Nine, overseen by DS9 show runner Ira Steven Behr, is a terrific salute to the show. Click here for my full review.
The Deep Space Nine series finale aired in June, 1999. There’s been a lot of additional Star Trek made in the subsequent years, but sadly there’s nothing that I can wholeheartedly recommend to you. (However, if you’re impatient, scroll down to see another sci-fi show that I STRONGLY recommend you watch after Deep Space Nine…!) Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the other Star Trek series and movies:
Star Trek: Voyager — The next Trek spin-off aired from 1995-2001. I don’t care for Voyager. For a long time, I considered it by far the worst of all the Trek shows (though the most recent Trek makes Voyager look great by comparison). The show had an interesting premise — enemy crews (the U.S.S. Voyager and the Maquis rebels they were chasing) are flung 70,000 light-years from home, and must work together in order to survive in an uncharted, dangerous area of space. The idea of throwing off the familiar to tell new stories with new aliens in an entirely new part of the galaxy seemed like a great idea, and the story conflict between the two crews seemed ripe. But the series immediately abandoned its premise. The Maquis rebels are all wearing Starfleet uniforms by the end of the pilot episode. The series never actually explored the realities of life all alone, decades away from home or support. The premise seemed designed to embrace the continuity of storytelling that had made DS9 so rich (I’d expected, for example, that if the ship took damage one week, that it wouldn’t magically be repaired the next week because the Voyager was all alone, without any source for support or repairs), but the show never went there, choosing instead to tell episodic Next Generation style stories. Except not only did that formula feel archaic after the richness of DS9, the flat characters were never well developed (tell me one thing we knew about Harry Kim in season seven that we didn’t know in season one) so watching these episodic TNG style adventures never felt as fun as interesting as watching TNG itself. (The only Voyager character who I thought was truly original and well-developed was the holographic Doctor.)
Voyager did have some fun episodes. I have fond memories of: “Basics” Parts 1 & 2 (a fun season-ending cliffhanger in which the crew loses control of the ship); “Before and After” (Kes lives her life backwards); “Scorpion” parts 1 & 2 (in which Voyager enters Borg space); “The Killing Game” (a wild two-hour episode in which multiple alien races go to war within a captured Voyager); “Living Witness” (in which a copy of the Doctor’s holographic program is activated a millennia after the events of the series); “Timeless” (the series’ 100th episode, which kicks off with an awesome special effects sequence); “Dark Frontier” (a fascinating exploration of the origin of Seven of Nine, involving the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact); and “Blink of an Eye” (Voyager encounters a planet on which times moves exponentially faster than it does on the ship).
I watched Voyager through from start to finish when it originally aired, but I’ve never revisited the series, so I cannot give a detailed guide as to what to watch or what to skip. I’m happy for the fans who like this show, but personally, I don’t think the show is worth watching.
Star Trek: Enterprise — The next Trek show aired from 2001-2005. Unlike Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, all of which ran for seven seasons, Enterprise was cancelled after four seasons, thus ending an amazing two-decade run in which new Star Trek was on TV every week. As with Voyager, I watched Enterprise from start to finish when it originally aired. Like Voyager, I think Enterprise is weak and not much worth watching.
I will say that the second half of season three, and most of season four, are actually pretty great!! Unfortunately, it takes so long to get to that good stuff, and because I’m not nearly as familiar with this show as I am with Next Gen or DS9. I can’t give good advice on what to watch or skip in the earlier seasons to get you to that good stuff at the end of the show’s run.
Enterprise is set about a hundred years before the events of the Original Series. But like Voyager, the show immediately ran away from its premise. I was excited to see stories about how the Federation, and other aspects of the Star Trek universe, came to be… and to see a more rough and tumble version of a Federation starship, with no experience or established procedures to aid them. But like Voyager, the show quickly fell into a pattern of Next Gen-lite type stories. There were a few decent episodes in there, but unfortunately, those first two seasons were very weak. The season two finale started a new storyline, which led into the third season that was designed as one continuous storyline (as the NX Enterprise ventures into uncharted space to track down the alien race that launched a vicious first-strike attack on Earth). I liked that idea and was excited by the series’ decision to embrace a stronger episode-to-episode continuity. But the execution of the first half of season three didn’t much impress me. However, the end of the season (from episode 18, “Azati Prime,” to the end) suddenly took a huge step up into greatness. Out of nowhere, the show was intense and exciting; we got a lot of awesome action and some cool character stuff, and a lot of interesting new alien races. I really loved that run of episodes! Then, in season four, a new show runner (Manny Coto) took over, and for the first time the series embraced its prequel nature, and we got a terrific series of stories that embraced Star Trek lore. That final season also found a new format, of two and three-part episodes throughout the season. That was a great idea, as the multi-part format gave each new story an epic feel, without having to sustain one single story across an entire season. We got several incredible storylines in that final season: a terrific Vulcan-focused three-parter, a thrilling three-parter about a Romulan attack that led to the first alliance between Earth, Vulcan, Tellar, and Andoria (the founding members of what would become the Federation); a two-parter that provided a canonical explanation for why the Klingons looked different in the Original Series; a three-parter starring Brent Spiner (Data) as a scientist involved with a Eugenics program (shades of Khan); and a spectacular two-parter set in the Mirror Universe that was a loving salute to the Original Series. So there is a lot to enjoy in season four. I wish the show hadn’t been cancelled — if it had been allowed to run for a full seven seasons, it might have developed into a really great show. (TNG also didn’t start getting good until its third season, and is now considered one of the strongest Trek series.) But as it is, I think this show is only for the hard-core fans. There’s not enough great stuff here for me to recommend watching it.
The J.J. Abrams films — in 2009, J.J. Abrams directed a new Trek film simply titled Star Trek. Set in an alternate timeline, the series told a new story of the first adventure of the Original Series gang: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc. I enjoyed that first film, even though plot and story-wise, it’s a huge mess. (Click here for my full review.) The sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, is a disaster of epic proportions and an enormous disappointment after the potential of the first film. (Click here for my full review.) The third film, Star Trek Beyond, directed by Justin Lin, is — like the first film — enjoyable, but it’s also far more flawed than I’d hoped. (Click here for my full review.)
Ultimately, I can’t recommend any of these films. They’re beautifully made (it’s awesome to see Trek executed on such a large budget for the first time) and they can be fun, but they just don’t feel like Star Trek to me. The tone is off, and the stories are disappointingly thin.
Star Trek: Discovery — In 2017, Star Trek returned to TV (well, sort of: the series is available on CBS All Access) with Discovery, a new show overseen by Alex Kurtzman (who was involved in the three J.J. Abrams films). The series is, like Enterprise, again a prequel — albeit one set much closer to the Original Series era, about 10 years before the events of that show. This series started out with great promise. I liked the cast, and the production values were spectacular. But after two seasons so far, I strongly dislike the show. It’s a prequel that has absolutely zero interest in being a prequel. The show makes a hash of established Trek continuity; contradicting what we know left, right, and all over. Every aspect of the show’s production (the sets, the costumes, the make-up effects, the visual effects) have a complete disrespect for the design style and look of the Original Series, with no attempt whatsoever to fit into the established look. (I cannot fathom why they decided to set this show in the Original Series era when they clearly had no desire whatsoever to be consistent with the Original Series in any way.) Even more problematically, the show doesn’t work at all even when judged completely on its own (ignoring continuity). The characters are thin, the plots are nonsensical, there’s little emotional heft to anything on screen (despite the show’s efforts to have Big Dramatic Moments in every episode). This show makes me very sad. (I reviewed every episode, but for a summary it’s best to click here for my overview at the end of season one.)
Star Trek: Picard — It was a huge shock that Patrick Stewart agreed to reprise his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard for this 2020 series, which ran for 10 episodes on CBS All Access. (The show has bene renewed for a second season.) It was incredible to see Patrick Stewart back on 0n-screen as Picard, and like Discovery the series had terrific production values. The show started off well but, in my opinion, quickly fizzled. Like Discovery, it makes a hash of established Trek continuity. The show’s choices in terms of what happened to the beloved TNG characters (and the Star Trek universe as a whole) in the decades after TNG make me sad. The cast of the series was strong, but ultimately the characters were flat, with little substantive character development. And, like Discovery, even when viewed on its own (ignoring whether it did or didn’t fit into established continuity), the show is a mess. If you think about the stories for more than two seconds, they quickly fall apart; there are plot holes a parsec wide. (For a deep dive into my thoughts on this series, take a look at my episode reviews.)
So, unfortunately, I cannot really recommend ANY of the Star Trek series or movies that came after Deep Space Nine! That stinks. However, what I can recommend is what feels to me like a logical next step after watching DS9: the reimagined Battlestar Galactica!
Please come back on Monday, for my guide to watching Battlestar Galactica, one of my favorite TV shows of all time! Don’t let the title stand in your way — it’s not just an amazing sci-fi show, it’s an amazing TV show, full stop.
And that, my friends, is the end of my guide to Star Trek! For long-time Trek fans, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at the depth and breadth of this franchise. And for newbies, I hope this proves helpful! If you are new to Trek, you are about to discover an incredible universe of stories! Enjoy!
Peace, and long life…
Click below to discover my complete blog series, describing how best to start watching (and fall in love with) Star Trek!
Top image: Tobias Richter — The Light Works
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