15 'Star Trek' Episodes That Sell The Series To Newcomers Better Than The Pilot

Voting Rules
Vote up the episodes that will get newbies hooked on the franchise.

Star Trek has a rich history of devoted fans, and the franchise wouldn't exist as it does today were it not for them. It was the fan's love for the characters of the original series that launched conventions and kept the hope alive until Star Trek: The Next Generation brought the franchise back for a whole new era of fans. Of course, the movies didn't hurt, but it's likely Star Trek would have ended entirely had it not been for the fans.

Still, the franchise can be challenging to break into. Should a new viewer start at the very beginning, or would it be better to pick up somewhere in the middle? Doing so would expose someone to better episodes, as the pilot episodes haven't always brought people back for more. Most of the series needed some time to build up an audience, and plenty of exceptional episodes fell in various places throughout the franchise, many of which would work better as a pilot.

Bringing someone onto the franchise can be difficult and should be handled carefully. Show someone a crummy episode, and they won't be interested in returning for more. This list features some of the best Star Trek one-off episodes that perfectly depict Starfleet and its people. Whether you're a fan of Captain Kirk, Picard, or any of the others, you should probably put down that pride and show your friend one of these great episodes to get them into the franchise.

Photo: Star Trek: The Next Generation / Paramount Domestic Television

  • "The Measure Of A Man"
    Photo: Star Trek: The Next Generation / Paramount Domestic Television

    Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2, Episode 9

    Original Air Date: 13 February 1989

    Star Trek: The Next Generation spent a lot of time detailing Lt. Commander Data's desire to be more human. This was something the series latched onto from the very beginning, and the best example of the prejudice he faced made up the plot of "The Measure of a Man." In the episode, Commander Bruce Maddox arrives on the Enterprise, requesting that Data be transferred to him so he can access his positronic brain and find out how he works.

    The Commander's point of view was that Data was a brilliant piece of technology, but he wasn't a "person" and lacked the rights others enjoyed. This leads to a trial to determine whether or not Data was a sentient being, capable of making his own decisions and deserving the same rights as others. Captain Picard offered the defense, while Commander Riker reluctantly acted as the prosecutor.

    The episode is about what makes a person a person, or as the title implies, the measure of a man. Each point made by both sides is compelling, and it helps to define the nature of Data in a way that hadn't been done previously. This is an excellent episode and a good introduction to the primary characters. It also examines elements of Data's past, making it an ideal standalone episode you can show a prospective fan without having to offer up much backstory.

    74 votes
  • "The City On The Edge Of Forever"
    Photo: Star Trek: The Original Series / NBC

    Series: Star Trek, Season 1, Episode 28

    Original Air Date: 6 April 1967

    "The City on the Edge of Forever" begins with Dr. McCoy accidentally overdosing on a drug. He transports down to a planet, where he meets the Guardian of Forever. McCoy is then transported back to 1930s New York City, changing history so much that the Federation of Planets never existed. Kirk and Spock are able to follow McCoy through time to undo the damage McCoy did to the timeline.

    As you might expect, Kirk falls for a social worker (played by Joan Collins), and things don't go well. The only way to preserve the timeline is to allow his newfound love to die in a car accident, which represents a difficult choice for the Captain. This episode is one of the best-written from the first season, and it won numerous awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and several others.

    The Guardian of Forever is one of the franchise's greatest plot devices to rarely see screen time. It appeared once in Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973 and wasn't seen again on screen until 2020 when it played a significant role in a two-part episode of Star Trek: Discovery. This is a fantastic episode to show a prospective fan because the writing is exemplary.

    59 votes
  • "Balance Of Terror"
    Photo: Star Trek: The Original Series / NBC

    Series: Star Trek, Season 1, Episode 8

    Original Air Date: 15 December 1966

    Balance of Terror” is an important episode in the franchise, as it introduces the Romulans and the practice of cloaking as a plot device. The episode focuses on the Enterprise's investigation of recently destroyed Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone. The outposts were systematically destroyed, leading to a confrontation between the Enterprise and the Romulan vessel.

    The episode plays out as a cat-and-mouse game between Captain Kirk and the Romulan commander. Because of the cloaking device, the conflict plays out much as it would in submarine warfare, as each vessel has advantages and disadvantages over the other. Ultimately, Kirk outmaneuvers the Romulans, nearly destroying the ship.

    Kirk finally contacts the Romulan captain for the first time in a face-to-face conversation and offers to beam aboard the survivors. The Romulan refuses, choosing instead to activate his ship's self-destruct. The episode is a fantastic example of Kirk's military strategic capabilities while simultaneously showcasing the advantages and disadvantages of starship combat. The acting is exceptional, especially Mark Lenard's performance as the Romulan captain, making “The Balance of Terror” one of the highest-rated episodes of the original series.

    56 votes
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    85 VOTES

    "Yesterday's Enterprise"

    "Yesterday's Enterprise"
    Photo: Star Trek: The Next Generation / Paramount Domestic Television

    Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 3, Episode 15

    Original Air Date: 19 February 1990

    Tasha Yar was killed during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but her time on the series wasn't at an end. She returned in "Yesterday's Enterprise," which brings some time travel shenanigans into play centered around a fascinating 'what if' scenario. In the episode, the Enterprise-D encounters the Enterprise-C in a rift in spacetime. The vessel was believed lost two decades earlier during the Federation-Klingon war.

    When the ship appears, Tasha Yar is back at her post on the bridge, everyone's Starfleet uniform is different, and both Worf and Counselor Troi are absent. Guinan is the only person onboard who senses something has changed, and she informs the captain of her concern. Through her intuition and an encounter with Yar, Guinan becomes convinced that the only way to return to the proper timeline is for the Enterprise-C to return to the past and be destroyed.

    Ultimately, that happens, but Yar chooses to accompany the vessel since she's not meant to be alive in the timeline once it resets. Like any episode that challenges the concept of a 'what if' scenario, much thought, and care went into writing to ensure everything made sense and aligned with Star Trek canon. That makes it an ideal episode to show someone, as it helps bridge the gap between the Federation's militant and diplomatic concepts while detailing many of the characters' backstories.

    85 votes
  • "The Trouble With Tribbles"
    Photo: Star Trek: The Original Series / NBC

    Series: Star Trek, Season 2, Episode 13

    Original Air Date: 29 December 1967

    The Enterprise begins "The Trouble with Tribbles" by going to a Deep Space Station to guard a shipment of grain. Their arrival resulted from a high-priority distress call, which upsets Kirk. Still, he offers the protection of his vessel and allows his crew to take shore leave on the space station. There, they find Tribbles, living puffballs that appear completely benign and as adorable as possible.

    It doesn't take long for the Tribbles to reproduce at an insane rate, threatening the ship. At the same time, the Enterprise crew gets into a bit of a brawl with some Klingons, resulting in the cancelation of shore leave. Eventually, Kirk and his crew uncover a Klingon plot to poison the grain they were protecting, forcing the Klingons to leave the space station, but not before Scotty beams the troublesome Tribbles onboard their ship.

    “The Trouble with Tribbles” is a fun episode, as it shows a completely benign thing turned into a threat to the ship. Kirk's reaction to finding them (pictured) is classic Trek, and the episode is often found on top 10 lists online. It's a good episode to show a newbie because it's lighthearted on the surface, while still filled with subterfuge and a nefarious threat underneath.

    107 votes
  • "In The Pale Moonlight"
    Photo: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine / Paramount Domestic Television

    Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 6, Episode 19

    Original Air Date: 15 April 1998

    Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured a lot of exposition related to religion and politics, as they were the basis for many storylines on the show. Captain Sisko often found himself caught in the middle, as he was the Emissary to the Bajorans and a Starfleet captain to the rest of the galaxy. In "In the Pale Moonlight," Captain Sisko crosses a line he never thought he'd cross, which he explains by narrating the story, which is told as a flashback.

    As the Federation continues to suffer losses in the ongoing Dominion War, Siski and others become desperate for assistance from the Romulans. Through some back channels (and an unscrupulous Garak), he lures a powerful Romulan Senator to Deep Space Nine with the hope of convincing him to come to his side. He does this by giving him falsified "evidence" meant to steer him in the right direction.

    The Senator soon uncovers the fraud and promises to do the opposite of what Sisko wants. Ultimately, that doesn't happen because Garak manages to destroy the Romulan's ship, killing him and implicating the Dominion in the act. Captain Sisko knew the truth of what happened and found himself at a crossroads: should he do the right thing and tell the truth, or let the Romulans join the Federation in the war against the Dominion on false pretenses? He chooses the latter and ultimately declares that it's something he can live with.

    82 votes