Before I get started on the second part here, I want to make sure I give an Honorable Mention to “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (3.15). Remember how yesterday I said I had this other list that somehow had eleven episodes on it not corresponding to my main top-25 list? And how I showed you that list a few days ago? Well, somehow “Yesterday’s Enterprise” didn’t make it on either of those lists, and the worst part is, I’m not sure why. It’s one of my favorite episodes.
So, instead of redoing everything, I’ll just give it a spot right here at the top of the article before continuing the countdown.
As you probably know, the plot of the episode was that a space-time portal pulled the Enterprise-C 25 years forward in time, preventing it from being destroyed while saving a Klingon colony that was attacked by Romulans. As a result, the Klingons and the Federation never made peace, and now, 25 years later, the Federation is about to lose the war… unless the crew of this reality’s Enterprise-D patches up the old ship and sends her and her crew back to die. And the Klingons are on the way…
What is there to say about this episode that would tell you why I liked it? It had almost everything I like — bottle show, alternate universe, time travel, space battles — and it brought back Denise Crosby for the first of several guest spots. Unfortunately, it also gave her the shiny-eyed tearful expression — “I’m supposed to be dead!” — that made me really doubt her character in both “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Hide and Q”. I’m really not sure why those writing and acting choices were made, but c’est la vie. Anyway, the episode featured the entire crew working together to save the Enterprise-C just so it could be destroyed again, and the self-sacrifice of the Starfleet officers and the way they accepted their fates was really powerful. Also, this led to a derivative (but enjoyable) episode of the Hidden Frontier fan series, “Yesterday’s Excelsior”, which you may enjoy watching.
And now, the top ten…
10. Datalore (Season 1 Episode 13)
Wesley: Have you got a cold?
Data: A cold what?
The Plot: While in the neighborhood, the Enterprise visits the planet where Data was found 26 years ago. A latent memory kicks in and Data opens a doorway to the underground portion of the colony. The crew finds evidence of the thing that destroyed everything and killed everyone… and they also find a disassembled android that looks a hell of a lot like Data. It turns out to be Data’s brother, who wants nothing more than to reconnect with his friend, the Crystalline Entity, and kill everyone aboard the Enterprise.
Notable Guest Stars: Brent Spiner as Lore; Biff Yeager as Chief Engineer Argyle
Why It Was Great: In addition to giving us a ton of backstory on Data — arguably the most popular character on the show — it also allowed Brent Spiner to show that he can do more than just be an emotionless android. It introduced the Crystalline Entity, later to return in “Silicon Avatar” and the novel Orion’s Hounds, and it gave us Lore, a thoroughly unlikeable villain who somehow we still wanted to be redeemed because, you know, he’s Data’s brother. Though there were some silly and clunky parts — the stuff with Wesley, Beverly’s arm being on fire, the off-switch — it was overall a very strong episode in a season that really needed them.
9. Disaster (Season 5 Episode 5)
The Plot: The Enterprise is just derping along, doing its thing, when it hits a quantum filament or cosmic string or some such technobabble speedbump. It causes the entire ship to be disrupted. Picard and three kids are trapped in a turbolift; Deanna, O’Brien, and Ro are stuck on the bridge; Worf and Keiko are in Ten-Forward; Geordi and Beverly are in a cargo bay; Riker and Data are trying to get to Engineering. While Picard tries to keep the kids safe and Worf assists Keiko in delivering her baby, Geordi and Beverly have to find a way to put out a plasma fire before they die of radiation poisoning. Meanwhile, up on the bridge, Deanna and company discover that the warp core is going to breach unless someone in engineering can stop it. It just so happens that Riker and Data are on the way there… except no one can communicate with anyone else.
Patterson: Can I be an officer, too?
Picard: Well let me see, uh, your science project involved radishes, did it not?
Patterson: Yes, sir.
Picard: Then I shall appoint you my Executive Officer in charge of radishes.
Notable Guest Stars: Rosalind Chao as Keiko; Colm Meaney as O’Brien; Michelle Forbes as Ro; Erika Flores as Marissa; John Christian Graas as Jay Gordon; Max Supera as Patterson
Why It Was Great: Five of my top ten episodes (“Yesterday’s Enterprise” notwithstanding) come from the fifth season, and it truly was a great one (except for the season finale). This episode was no exception. The writers got the entire crew a little screen time, put everyone in peril, added comic relief in a few places, and really made us think that the Enterprise might not come out of this one unscathed. It allowed everyone to showcase all their various and sundry talents both as actors and characters, and it did a fair bit of fish-out-of-water as well to show how versatile Starfleet officers really are. This is one episode I’ll always watch when it’s on.
8. The Measure of a Man (Season 2 Episode 9)
Philippa Louvois: It brings a sense of order and stability to my universe to know that you’re still a pompous ass… and a damn sexy man.
The Plot: A Starfleet scientist wants Data remanded to his custody so he can study him and hopefully produce more androids like him. Picard objects (as does Data), because Data is supposedly a sentient, sapient being. A trial occurs to determine if Data has free will.
Notable Guest Stars: Amanda McBroom as Philippa Louvois; Brian Brophy as Commander Maddox
Why It Was Great: There are a few episodes that I kind of felt forced to rank more highly than I’d like, and this is one of them. Not to say that it’s not a great episode, because it is — heavy-handed comparisons to slavery aside — but it seems to be on a lot of top-ten lists, and I like to avoid the consensus whenever possible. Maybe it’s the closet hipster in me. But I can’t deny that this episode, while being basically a courtroom drama, still managed to be tense and powerful, and when Riker really had to go all-out to fight against Data, I think Frakes sold it exceptionally well. In some ways, he had to communicate much more difficult concepts to the audience than Patrick Stewart did, and for that he deserves special mention.
7. Q Who (Season 2 Episode 16)
Q: If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires, both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.
The Plot: Making use of the “Enterprise slowly spinning in space” special effect, Q sends the ship thousands of light-years away so they can meet the Borg, an enemy unlike anything they’ve ever faced, and one they have no chance of defeating.
Notable Guest Stars: John de Lancie as Q; Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan
Why It Was Great: I think I covered it in the plot summary, but the concept that there’s an enemy out there that our heroes can’t defeat is a frightening thing. They’re coming, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. The only way the Enterprise survived was because Q used his powers to send it back to where they started the adventure. The Borg would later become one of the most compelling villains on the show, and would lead to several strong tie-in novels, including Vendetta by Peter David and the Destiny trilogy by David Mack. And, as we learn about a year and a half later, simply firing phasers won’t be enough to even slow them down.
6. I, Borg (Season 5 Episode 23)
Hugh: Resistance…is not futile?
The Plot: The Enterprise happens upon a crashed Borg scoutship. The away team brings the survivor aboard and begins restoring him to health, and in the process learn a little something about themselves. In the end, they must decide if he’s going to carry a computer virus that will kill all the Borg (via genocide) or just go back as an individual.
Notable Guest Stars: Jonathan del Arco as Hugh
Why It Was Great: Some of the best science fiction ever written holds a mirror up to ourselves and shows us our greatest flaws… as well as our greatest strengths. Up until now, we’d only experienced the Borg as a faceless, soulless, unstoppable assimilating machine, but as Hugh became more and more of an individual, we had to stop and remember that he’d once been a person. Each character who interacted with Hugh was another facet of the viewership: Geordi’s idealism (later echoed in Vendetta), Beverly’s “he’s an injured being” mindset, Guinan’s hatred-turned-understanding, and finally Picard’s pragmatism. In the end Hugh was allowed to return to the Collective without having the genocide virus implanted, but as Admiral Nechayev later says (and I’m paraphrasing), did he really make the right decision? Would it have been worth it to kill one person you know just to stop an onslaught that could kill every human in the galaxy without stopping to blink?
5. Cause and Effect (Season 5 Episode 18)
Picard: All hands, abandon ship! Repeat – all hands, abandon-–
The Plot: The Enterprise explodes. A lot. It eventually turns out that the first time it blew up it threw the ship into a temporal causality loop, and the crew must find a way to break the loop or be stuck repeating the same 24 hours (or so) forever.
Notable Guest Stars: Kelsey Grammer as Captain Bateson
Why It Was Great: Okay, seriously, how do you top a cold open where the ship blows up? I remember my dad and me watching that part, turning to each other, and just being completely speechless. The mystery was unfolded very slowly, as it was in “Clues”, and each time around the loop both the audience and the crew put together more and more of what was going on until, finally, Data managed to send a message to the next iteration of himself. In some ways I felt like the Dr. Crusher parts were the weakest in the show, as if they existed just to give her something to do, but taken in the grand scheme of things I really couldn’t complain. When I first saw this episode, it shot right into my top ten, and it’s stayed there pretty much forever.
4. Parallels (Season 7 Episode 11)
The Plot: On the way back from a bat’tleth tournament, Worf passes through a temporal anomaly that begins shifting him sideways through various possible universes. While nothing really bad is happening to Worf, per se, he still wants to get home to his own universe. Eventually the Enterprise that he’s on figures out that (a) Geordi’s visor is causing Worf to jump sideways and (b) there’s a way to fix everything. Something goes wrong, though, and Enterprises start appearing around the anomaly. A lot of them.
Wesley: Captain, we’re receiving 285,000 hails.
Notable Guest Stars: Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher; Patti Yasutake as Nurse/Dr. Ogawa
Why It Was Great: I’m going to confess something to you right now: I have written and submitted a story to the Strange New Worlds anthology contest that was held some years ago. It was based on this episode, and also on some of the original casting sheets for the show, and also on “Tapestry”. It didn’t win, but I had fun writing it. Anyway, this episode, like “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Cause and Effect”, takes place on the ship and explores alternate universes and timelines, both things that I really like. In addition, the small details aren’t actually explained — they’re just there. Wesley is a lieutenant; the helmsman is a Cardassian (or possibly a Ferengi; the memory escapes me); the uniforms are slightly different; Ogawa is a doctor instead of a nurse; and so on. It makes the episode both more immersive and stronger as a whole because we as viewers are treated to all of these details that everyone (except Worf) takes as normal. I truly believe this episode deserves its spot in my top five, and honestly, although it’s only number four overall, I probably would pick this one to watch right now if you held a phaser to my head. I like it that much.
3. The Inner Light (Season 5 Episode 25)
Eline: Remember… put your shoes away.
The Plot: The Enterprise comes across a probe and, when they scan it, it possesses Captain Picard and he is somehow transported to the planet Kataan, where he lives the life of a man named Kamin. Only minutes pass on the ship, but on Kataan decades go by. Kamin has a wife, children, friends, and eventually is part of the team that sends the probe into space because all life on the planet is going to cease due to ecological factors.
Notable Guest Stars: Margot Rose as Eline; Richard Riehle as Batai; Jennifer Nash as Meribor (as an adult); Daniel Stewart as Batai (Kamin’s son, as an adult)
Why It Was Great: As with “The Measure of a Man”, I know this is a stellar episode, but it’s not one of my personal favorites. Sure, it was well-written and allowed Patrick Stewart to stretch his acting muscles (and get off the ship for a while), but it seems to be on TV a lot and I’m kind of tired of seeing it. The old-age makeup is pretty awful, and Kamin-as-an-old-man doesn’t seem to explore any new ground. However, the fanfic-y element of someone being transported from their life and into another’s and having to learn about the new world and fall back in love with someone who’s supposedly his wife definitely appeals to me*. This is definitely one of the best episodes of TNG, regardless of my personal feelings.
2. Darmok (Season 5 Episode 2)
The Plot: The Enterprise makes contact with the Tamarians, an enigmatic race that the Federation has never been able to fully communicate with. In an attempt to get their peoples to see eye-to-eye, the other captain beams himself and Picard down to a planet. While Riker and the crew try to talk to the Tamarians, Picard and the other captain, Dathon, must work together to fight a common enemy and learn how to communicate.
Dathon: Darmok, and Jalad… at Tanagra.
Notable Guest Stars: Paul Winfield as Dathon; Ashley Judd as Robin Lefler
Why It Was Great: Hey, Picard got a spiffy new uniform! Also, the episode itself was probably one of the best in all Trek anywhere. It was at once about communication and understanding (something stressed by Roddenberry) and also had action and adventure (both in space and on the planet). Not only did Picard and Dathon have to work together — both to make each other understood and to stop the inviso-beast — but the crew of the Enterprise had to work together as well. If I have a criticism of the episode, it’s that when the crew finally figures everything out it just feels forced and a bit campy the way they tell the stories to the Tamarians. Still, this is what Star Trek should be about: seeking out new life-forms and new civilizations. Kind of like the way I play Civ V, come to think of it.
1. The Best of Both Worlds (Season 3 Episode 26 and Season 4 Episode 1)
The Plot: The Borg are back. Commander Shelby, Starfleet’s expert on the subject, comes aboard the Enterprise and makes waves. The Enterprise finds the Borg ship and attempts to stop them, but they kidnap Picard and turn him into one of them. When Riker’s plan to destroy the Borg achieves Epic Fail — as does Admiral Hanson’s — the crew re-kidnaps Picard in an attempt to use him to infiltrate the Borg and stop them that way.
Locutus: I am Locutus… of Borg. Resistance… is futile. Your life, as it has been… is over. From this time forward… you will service… us.
Notable Guest Stars: Elizabeth Dennehy as Commander Shelby; George Murdock as Admiral Hanson
Why It Was Great: I really do think that Part 1 was far better than Part 2 — I mean, how are you going to top Picard being turned into a Borg and Riker telling Worf basically to blow him to hell? You certainly don’t do it by spending the first 15 seconds of the conclusion building up the power to destroy your opponent. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about this episode that hasn’t already been said by countless commenters, but I will tell you that my dad and I disagreed on what would happen, and said disagreement lasted all summer**. He said Picard would either die or become an admiral, and that Riker and Shelby would remain Captain and First Officer of the Enterprise. I don’t remember if he thought that Riker’s deflector beam would work or not. I, on the other hand, was absolutely certain that Picard would be back and the good guys would win the day. At the time, I wasn’t as well-read as my dad was, and as someone who’d been reading sci-fi and mystery and spy novels for more than twenty years, he had a greater breadth of knowledge to guess what might happen. I, being twelve, could only go with what I knew, and all the media I’d consumed by then had had easy endings — the good guys lived, the bad guys either died or got their comeuppance, and I was blissfully unaware of the concept of the anti-hero. In any case, we both made the Season Four premiere appointment viewing, and while I was technically right, I don’t think I would’ve minded if either of his predictions came true.
Well, there you have it. The top 25 (or 26). Use the forums (or the comments) to agree or disagree.
Only one more article left in the series. See you on Halloween for the grand finale.
* I think you can guess why.
** That sounds worse than it is. We didn’t come to blows or shout or anything; we just disagreed on how the show would progress when it came back on the air.