Treknobabble #23: Ranking the Star Trek Series, Part 2

treknobabble23

Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.

From the tepid response (thanks, Marina) to Part 1, I can’t really make an assessment of what series is the most popular with Film Junk readers at this time. I know Henrik would rank The Next Generation (TNG) as his first choice. I have an impression that TNG would be ranked the first choice everywhere. It would be interesting to find that the favourite series varied across places in the world, and then link the reasons to politics, climate, cultural norms, or whatever.

You have to wonder how it was decided that the next Star Trek movie would be based on the OS. I’m wondering if there were any polls that the CBS marketing division referred to before giving JJ Abrams the green light for the upcoming OS motion picture. Or was Abrams given free reign to proceed with his own personal preference? I’ll get back to the movie in my concluding paragraph.

Let’s continue with my third choice, TNG. I must admit to being somewhat baffled as to how this series caught on with the general public even after reading Henrik’s article on 7 reasons why TNG is so great. Sure TNG offered family friendly, educational television, but it could also get weird at times, thanks in large part to Brannon Braga, a writer who started with TNG and would subsequently co-create later Star Trek series and write Star Trek movie scripts. Admirers of TNG all have valid points, but I’ll tell you what I liked.

Data was a great character. If you think about it, Data was the opposite of Spock and no less compelling. He didn’t have emotions, and yearned to be more human, whereas Spock tried to control his emotions, and yearned to be more android-like. It was great to see these characters meet in the episode Unification, although it would have been better if we could have had an episode with a plot that centered on Data and Spock.

The holodeck was a great plot device and I loved the episodes with Moriarty and the whole concept of a fictional character wanting an existence outside of the holodeck.

The Borg were interesting villains who weren’t evil in the sense of morally making a choice to be evil. I guess you could say they were just naturally evil because they paid no heed to other life forms’ right to an independent existence. But you really can’t blame them for their lack of compassion because they don’t even exist independently. I do think the introduction of a Borg queen was a mistake, but it does make sense in completing the insect analogy. (I never thought I could be aroused by a female without hair, but there’s something about the Borg queen…)

Besides Picard and Data, the rest of the characters are rather bland and uninteresting. I’m afraid I’m in the camp that doesn’t care much about Worf and the Klingon episodes. (I did love the DS9 episode that brought back three Klingons from the OS and the original actors who played them.)

I hated the construction of episodes with an A story and a B story. They did this a lot in TNG. I’d rather have the focus on one story and anything that may be related to it.

The second part of two-part episodes was always a let down. This was probably due to the fact that the writers would write part one without knowing what would happen in part two. For season ending cliffhangers, they would resolve the cliffhanger in a season premiere that they would work on only after the hiatus.

IMO, the visual effects, set design and cinematography are no better than the OS. The Planet Hell stage is an improvement over papier-mâché rocks, but it still doesn’t look like a real environment.

“Tapestry” is my favourite episode of TNG. This “A Christmas Carol” homage has Picard regretting his impetuousness that caused him to have an artificial heart. Courtesy of Q, Picard gets to find out what his life would have been like if he had instead played it safe during his life. Picard finds himself stuck as a lowly ensign without a chance of promotion. I identified with Picard’s imaginary life, and I almost quit my job the next day!

TNG’s last episode, “All Good Things,” is the best series’ ender ever of any television series I have ever seen. I loved the whole idea of bringing Q back to bookend the series. Having the mind-boggling concept of an effect occurring before the cause, and Q reminding us of all that there is yet to explore and discover… and then Picard finally joining his crew at the poker table as the camera rises and pulls back out into space… sublime!

Voyager (VOY) is my fourth choice. The holographic doctor was the breakout character and deservedly so for Robert Picardo. Neelix was annoying. I liked the introduction of Seven of Nine for obvious reasons. I mean, because Voyager needed an outsider character that is trying to fit in. This is a trademark character required by all Star Trek series. I regretted losing Kes though. Her species’ lifespan of seven years had not been explored. I thought Captain Janeway was a weak character. Her choice of a nanny character to play in the holodeck wasn’t appropriate, but the producers realized this and had Janeway confer with Leonardo da Vinci in the holodeck instead which was more interesting.

The conflict with the Maquis had not been maintained for long enough. The initial villains, the Kazon, were Klingon wannabes. The Viidians were sort of interesting in that they harvested other species for organs and parts because their own species were disease-ridden, but they were a one-note type of villain.

The visual effects were feature-film quality. There were a variety of planet environments attempted like ice and water.

No episodes really stick out in my mind. The series’ ender displayed an uncharacteristic restraint in sentimentalizing the return home to Earth. I would have preferred an emotional moment.

Enterprise (ENT) is my fifth choice. I had high hopes for this series. I loved the premise of seeing how it all started. I loved the Enterprise design. I loved all the characters, even the beagle Porthos because I’m a dog person. (I didn’t care much for TNG’s Data’s cat “Spot.” Are there any cat lovers out there who appreciated the scene at the end of Generations when Data finds “Spot” in the Enterprise wreckage?) Okay, the theme song took getting used to, but the opening credit montage was nicely done. I even liked the fact that the series was just called Enterprise without the Star Trek in front. Maybe this would be the cool Star Trek series that would make Star Trek respectable in the mainstream. But sadly no, ENT failed in its efforts in all accounts. But I did like the blatant sexuality of the rub-downs in the decontamination area.

Bringing Scott Bakula in to play the captain was a safe choice. He handled the role competently.

So what went wrong? I think the stories were too ordinary. I thought the third season story arc of going into the Expanse to chase the aliens that attacked Earth was admirable, but there was no suspense or tension established. I didn’t find myself looking forward to the next episode. The set-up in the pilot with the Suliban talking to an indistinct character wasn’t even resolved because the mystery was such that no one really cared.

I must admit liking the last season very much with Manny Coto producing, but there were no standout episodes for me even in that season. Oh, altering the opening credits for the mirror episode was way cool. I do wish ENT had gone on for seven seasons.

The Animated Series (TAS) is my least favourite series, but there may be a bias on my part, because I prefer to watch live action. It doesn’t help that the animation was primitive, and not particularly artistic, and that this series has the fewest number of episodes of all the series. Telling stories palatable for children in a half an hour doesn’t leave room for nuance either. The episode that everyone acknowledges is the best is “Yesteryear,” which has Spock visiting his younger self on Vulcan. For children, it had the controversial plot element of a pet (never mind that it was a sehlat, a large cat with fangs) dying. The concept of a holodeck does get introduced in TAS. The writing talent was impeccable with writers such as Dorothy Fontana, Walter Koenig (Chekov), David Gerrold, and Larry Niven.

Through syndication, I was hoping that DS9 would be reassessed by the fans and have a greater following by now. This looks not to be the case (though, it was interesting to see that recently, no less an authority than a Sporting News writer placed DS9 in his Top-10 Best Dramas in the History of Television; he thought the OS was only good in the first two seasons, and the characters in TNG were too unnaturally perfect). Perhaps the declining cost of the DVD season sets for all the Star Trek series may cause a reassessment.

For the next Star Trek movie from a conservative standpoint, I would have gone with an early speculation of putting together some of the favourite characters from all the series. How about a CGI Arex? (Arex was a non-human character in TAS with three arms.) Even with the logistical problems that a script would need to deal with in bringing together the characters from possibly different time periods, I’m sure some writer could cobble together a story since the Star Trek universe offers various storytelling devices. Some people thought that the actors’ salaries when combined together would make this a cost-prohibitive scenario. Judging by the budget for this latest Star Trek installment, I’m sure the entire casts from all the series could have been put together. But I’m guessing the powers-that-be are putting their faith in visual effects rather than character interaction. This could be an oft-repeated fatal mistake, especially with the appeal of Star Trek being the human adventure.



  • 1. Original Series
    2. TNG
    3. The rest

  • Emperor Fabulous

    1. DS9. (just!)
    2. TNG.
    3. VOY.
    4. TOS.
    5. ENT.

  • SJU

    TOS and Voy (tie)
    TNG
    DS9
    ENT

    I’ve watched DS9 over the last few years as it’s been rerun on Spike. I appreciate it much more than I did originally.

  • 1. TNG
    2. Voyager
    3. TOS
    4. DS9
    5. ENT.

  • Polybus

    Although I watched TOS back in the 60’s, I only liked parts of it and found most of it laughable. Recently, I had a chance to catch a few episodes and my original opinion was confirmed.

    Of course, you must give it credit for kicking off the whole run, but if you watch some of the science fiction films of the 50’s, you can see where Roddenberry got many of his ideas. “Forbidden Planet” was a major influence.

    The Star Trek series that really blew my mind the most of DS9 and for the present it gets my Number 1 Ranking. It was edgy, with great characters, great secondary characters and many stories that really stretched the imagination.

    My second favorite would have to be VOY. I thought some of the stories in this series were absolutely top of the line (“Muse” and “Blink of an Eye” come immediately to mind), although the writers were not consistently great.

    TNG comes in third for me. When I view the series as a whole, it was even more ragged than VOY, with more forgettable stories and with very few really excellent stories.

    The fourth best series for me is ENT. I thought that many of the stories had quite a bit of merit, I really liked the continuing story concept of the third season, and I liked all of the characters. I agree that it should have continued for the full seven year run.

    Coming in last (since I do not count TAS) is TOS. I’m sorry, but it is still mostly laughable. The movies were much, much more successful in every way, and I like most of them, but the series (which I didn’t care much for on original viewing) has not stood the test of time. Only one episode, “City of the Edge of Forever” can compete with the best episodes of the other four series.

    That’s my take.

    PB

  • Reed Farrington

    Thx for ranking the series everyone, and thx, Polybus, for your additional explanations.

    I think the only thing we can agree on is that Enterprise failed in its mission. Not only did it not expand the Star Trek audience, but it alienated the Trekkers (assuming all of you reading this are Star Trek fans).

    The creators and personnel working on Enterprise would lead us to believe that people got bored of Star Trek and didn’t even give Enterprise a chance. Can we safely assume that these people were wrong and that Enterprise was subpar? Or has enough time not passed to be able to reassess Enterprise?

    BTW, I can understand why Polybus would find the OS laughable with the actors playing things straight and in earnest. Especially in scenes where you have to pretend to be in pain, the actors were overly dramatic, but underplaying the pain wouldn’t seem natural either, I don’t think. When people say the OS actors were terrible, I always say, imagine Al Pacino as Captain Kirk, Robert De Niro as Spock, and Dustin Hoffman as McCoy in pyjama uniforms, emoting the OS dialogue and tell me if they could have done any better.

  • Enterprise turned Star Trek into an actionshow. Boring.

    TNG is the series that is the most different from anything else that has been on TV. It is the most unique, and has the most bold things to say, and is the least concerned with its audience. It is the best series. Picard is the best captain. I agree that the supporting cast for the most part was weak, everything was at its best when it played off of Picard. For instance the klingon episodes were the best when Picard was heavily involved. He is the reason Star Trek ever resonated with me, and continues to do so. Spock would be the second best character I think, but he is more of an idea than an actual human being.

  • Here’s my list.

    1. TNG
    2. DS9
    3. TOS
    4. Enterprise
    5. Voyager

    I have to admit I didn’t really give Voyager much of a chance, and I’ve only seen the first season of Enterprise. But I do think DS9 was pretty great in its own way.

  • Sean, how do you feel DS9 was great specifically? I think Avery Brooks was pretty embarrasing.

  • I like Avery Brooks actually, but mostly I like the fact that it breaks from the Star Trek mold by putting everything on a fixed space station and not having each episode as a one shot adventure. I liked the continuing storyline and the whole Bajoran/Cardassian war thing. It helps that they kept on some TNG characters like Chief O’Brien and Worf as well.

  • I haven’t seen much of Enterprise. A few scattered episodes none of which left any impression. A lot of them incorporated elements from the earlier shows like the borg and romulans which seemed to defeat the premise of the show.
    Also the art direction, costumes and ship designs were ass ugly. And that opening song was the wtf moment of the century.

    However there was a two part episode I caught that was an homage to the Original Series, set entirely in the mirror, mirror universe. It had the giant lizard guys, and the tholian web spinners, blue phasers and the vulcan chic in the miniskirt get up. Awesome episode!

    I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve seen almost all of DS9. Shit was rank.

  • I love the Cardassians, but I hate the Bajorans. Aesthetically I mean. The bajorans disgusts me, but I think the Cardassians always looked awesomely smug and hardcore. I love the TNG episode with the rogue starfleet captain that has the cardassians visit the enterprise.

  • In my opinion DS9 is by far the best of all the series. I do agree with Reed that the series ender All Good Things is one of the best ever shows to finish a series.

    My ranking would be:
    DS9
    TNG
    Voyager
    OS
    Enterprise (I could only manage watching the first two series.)

  • Necron_99

    Voyager – Yes, shocking, I know. Loved the doctor and 7. Found Paris, Torres, Kim, Janeway and Chakotay tolerable. Tuvok sucked as a character though – totally wasted. Still, I find this to be the most re-watchable of the series with less “hmm.. gonna skip this one” episodes compared to the other series. Yes 7 started as a sex object, but really enjoyed her later story development and characterization. She became a stubborn and effective foil to Janeway and all the Starfleet dogma.

    DS9 – A close second. love the later arcing storylines, never liked the characters. Hated Odo, bored to tears by Kira, Bashir,Dax etc. Quark was the best character by far.

    TNG – many episodes do not hold up. When it was good it was effing great, when it was bad.. man it was BAD. Best series ending ever though. I think Data is the best character in all of Star Trek outside of Kirk/Spock/McCoy.

    OS – A mixed bag as well. Brings back feelings of my youth and nostalgia when I see them, yet I rarely feel the urge to pop them into the DVD player and see them again. A lot of slow/corny episodes.

    Enterprise – tired and ho-hum. ridiculous pandering T n’ A scenes. It was starting to get good by season 3, but then it ended so abruptly.

  • Justin

    DS9
    TNG
    TOS
    ENT
    VOY
    Voyager was so bad, I would rank it lower if I could.

  • dashape80

    TNG
    TOS
    VOY
    ENT
    DS9

    I’m shocked so many rank DS9 so high. That show as the worst of Star Trek by far!!! It was so Boring and pointless until they finally got the Defiant.

  • Wes Stover

    DS9 – easily. Yes the first 3 seasons were slow, but when they added Worf, The Defiant and Sisko’s goatee it was bad ass. Seasons 4 – 7 of DS9 were the best of any Sci Fi Series with the intensity of the Dominion war.
    TNG- Great cast w/solid stories and of course Q and the Borg
    TOS – The most socially relevent of the series
    ENT – Cancelled before it had a chance to really find it’s footing
    VOY – Good, but misunderstood b/c of it’s unfamiliar setting w/all new races.

  • What’s interesting about DS9 for me is not the war, but the politics of the different cultures interacting around the space station. Through the run of the series, it dealt with the issue of terrorism before 9/11 made terrorism a reality for everyone.