Best Second Tier 'Star Trek' Episodes from The Original Series

Plenty to Ponder and Enjoy at the Next Level of Star Trek

Photo by Prayitno

Yeah, we know. "Space Seed", "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Trouble" are among the classic Star Trek episodes that get all the accolades. And well they should, but how about a look at some of the greatest episodes on the next tier down? You won’t be disappointed, and maybe there’s a little new insight that you might have missed.

'Assignment: Earth'

The first time most of us saw "Assignment: Earth", we wondered what became of the spin off that Star Trek obviously had in mind. Gary Seven had all the indicators of a man about the universe who could bend its curve and inhabitants to a more enlightened course. The comic relief would have put this worthy off shoot of Roddenberry’s vision in good Star Trek standing too. Teri Garr, a demur black cat, and the stoic Seven might have given Spock, Kirk, and Bones a run for their money.

Unfortunately, a single Star Trek wasn't sustainable in the eyes of less enlightened television executives, but this stand alone also had more vision than those hapless suits. On January 25, 1995, a stray missile was hurtling toward earth, and Russian military officers were certain Moscow was the target. 

No Gary Seven in his corner, Boris Yeltsin only had a bottle of vodka and prayer to go on. The nuclear suitcase out, he decided the US was not launching an attack, and the global catastrophe passed when the rocket diverted towards the sea. A scientific rocket of Norwegian origin, maybe that’s where Gary Seven ended up. Of course, he left earth after realizing that we are a lost cause and took his better halves with him. 

'The Conscience of the King'

Long before Spock laid down his precept about the needs of the many, Kudos the Executioner invoked the doctrine and didn’t quite get the universal acceptance with his results. Of course, the early arrival of the supply ships rendered his math suspect and putting qualifiers on individual survival didn’t help either. “Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony.” Kudos took Spock’s logic to the next level.

But was the straight up number’s game flawed. “History has made it’s judgement,” Kirk skips the semantics. Still, every time a bomb is dropped to further supposed freedom, the same equation is used. 

As such, the ability to make such a decision is often equated with strength and polls numbers always signal approval. That is unless the leader loses and then history lines up to sort out the worts.

Kudos’ daughter represents not only the trait among us that is drawn to strength but the apologists who put the greater good intent above the actual carnage. Is she wrong?

There are still many Stalinist holdovers in Russia who would say no. They view the 20 million killed on a lower ledger than the slaughter Nazi Germany would have put on Russia without Stalin’s hyper-industrialization. A lot to think about but Star Trek won’t judge you no matter how long you ponder.

'The Changeling'

"The Changeling" was such a good second tier episode that they actually made a movie about it called Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I contend that the second time the chickens came home to roost, it was different enough for me to still love the first movie installment. Well, that’s was one for the courts, but 'The Changeling' may just get the nod for its endearing ending.

Yes, Kirk exhibits mastery in showing man’s mettle by firing off our less efficient synapsis. “My congratulations, Captain. A dazzling display of logic,” Spock begrudgingly offers credit. But it’s the old story of how we always win over machines.

However, James T. gets another one for our side by throwing in a little foolish human emotion to get the upper hand on Spock. “Well, it thought I was its mother, didn't it? Do you think I'm completely without feelings, Mister Spock? You saw what it did for Scotty. What a doctor it would've made. My son, the doctor. Kind of gets you right there, doesn't it,” Kirk leaves Spock at a loss and sends us all away laughing.

Fortunately, Spock would get a second chance in 1979 and was able to join fully in the human adventure by the time it was over.

'The Cloud Minders'

"The Cloud Minders" really comes down hard on the dominant culture of Ardana, and the ivory towers they live in. Of course, they have no pretense about knowing better for their inferiors or even caring.

In this case, art and intellect make no room for considering the sweat that provides their exalted position. Nonetheless, Federation air filtration devices stand in as the real world elixir for education, housing, and equality of opportunity. Unfortunately, wars on poverty are never so straightforward. This may mean the gap that needs to be bridged has less to do with altitude or wealth and more with seeing eye to eye.

For our purposes, the Troglytes cannot accept that any member of the ruling class or outside force could possibly take up their cause. On the other side, scientific evidence falls flat in comparison to the racial prejudice that provides justification for keeping the sky dwellers aloft.

So understanding might be the missing piece and meaningful communication must take place to keep any diverse society from crashing down. 

'By Any Other Name'

"By Any Other Name" has it all. Star Trek humor, applied logic, and a message that sat perfectly with the contemporary time. Captain Kirk working his charms against an unsuspecting lady doesn’t hurt its standing either. 

When the far superior Kelvins make off with the Enterprise, they find occupation proves to be more difficult than expected. The same goes for the form it comes in. Inhabiting human hosts, the Kelvins simply lack the capacity for navigating human weakness, and the skeleton Enterprise crew logically applies the screws. 

Scottie is the first to put his go to flaw to the test, and in attempting to get a leg up on his counterpart, he goes bottoms up. But Captain Kirk has no equal in his galaxy, and there’s no getting to the next one until he decides to let it roll off his tongue.

The amusing window dressing aside, the sixties provide the perfect backdrop. The Vietnam War demonstrated how a superior force can easily succumb without taking the time to know their adversary. The US had little interest in seeing the world through the history of that nation and paid dearly for it. The Kelvins were fortunately to suffer a far less painful defeat. They thought they could walk in the shoe’s of their human hosts and exercise control without comprehending the most basic facet of human existence — emotion.

Rich Monetti can be reached at [email protected]

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Best Second Tier 'Star Trek' Episodes from The Original Series