50 years of Star Trek

2016 is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and with a new TV show & movie coming soon, there’s a lot of Trek to look forward to. But why wait? There’s 726 episodes and 13 movies out there for you to watch right now. This might seem overwhelming, but don’t freak out. Here’s a quick overview of 50 years of Star Trek to bring you up to speed.  Phasers on stun…


Star Trek on TV

The Original Series (TOS) 1966-1969



The adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise, travelling through space, meeting aliens and dealing with social themes & cultural issues along the way.

3 key characters

  1. Captain Kirk
  2. Mr Spock
  3. Dr McCoy

3 cool cameos

  1. Joan Collins
  2. Frank Gorshin (a.k.a The Riddler)
  3. Ricardo Montalban (as a young Khan)

Why is this the best Trek

This is where it all started.  TOS is unique, special and it’s genuinely iconic. For many people, when you mention Star Trek they immediately think of TOS, William Shatner, the pointy eared one (“what’s his name? Dr Spock?” FML) and the vibrant colours & music that came with it. TOS offers you something that no other Trek show can, in terms of the sheer wonder and spirit of each episode that captures the very best of 1960’s television.

After three seasons, the show was cancelled. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???!!! Let’s not go there. Anyway, they sort of brought it back in 1973 with Star Trek: The Animated Series which featured the voices of most the TOS cast. But other than that, there was basically no Star Trek on TV for nearly 20 years.

Fast forward to 1987, and Star Trek was finally back with its second TV show. And it didn’t stop there. As someone who grew up in the 80’s & 90’s, I could not have asked for more.  Star Trek aired non-stop from 1987-2005 across 4 different shows.

The Next Generation (TNG) 1987-1994



The adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise (again), travelling through space (again), meeting aliens and dealing with social themes & issues along the way (again). The ship is bigger than the original, the technology is more advanced and the human race has met show is set about 70 years after the adventures of Kirk, Spock & Co.

3 key characters

  1. Captain Picard
  2. Mr Data
  3. Worf

3 cool cameos

  1. Kelsey Grammer
  2. Stephen Hawking
  3. Famke Janssen

Why is this the best Trek

At first glance, TNG is TOS but with an 80’s & 90’s feel. And in many ways, that’s true… I mean, the clue is in the title of the show. The show is obviously more modern than TOS, the writing is perhaps a little sharper, the acting standard is higher across the board, the special effects are better etc. The real difference for me is that TNG created a broader universe; there are many known alien races, with defined borders, structures, governments, relationships etc. And it also created dangerous enemies that would feature throughout the series seven year stretch, most famously ‘The Borg’.

Deep Space Nine (DS9) 1993-1999



First and foremost, this show is the only Star Trek series not set on a starship. DS9 is a remote alien station located next to a planet that until recently had been brutally occupied by a tyrannous alien race called the Cardassians (not to be confused with those Kardashian bimbos).

The series is set in the same time period as the TNG. 

3 key characters

  1. Captain Sisko
  2. Constable Odo
  3. Mr O’Brien (Simon?) 

3 cool cameos

  1. Iggy Pop
  2. William Shatner (via time-travel)
  3. Patrick Stewart (in an epic pilot episode)

Why is this the best Trek

The show is by far the ‘darkest’ Trek series to date, it focuses on religion and war, it paints a much bleaker picture of the future, it has complex and tangled stories and characters and even as I write this I want to immediately start watching the whole thing again. The station is foreign, it’s dirty, the crew never truly get the chance to relax and their next door neighbour is likely to be an alcoholic, a thief or even a murderer. 

Voyager (VOY) 1995-2001



A relatively small ship, the starship Voyager, gets thrown across to a distant part of the galaxy that humans have never before explored. Stranded, alone, with no Starfleet, other ships or other humans, the show follows the crews mammoth journey home that, even at maximum speed, will take approximately 75 years.

3 key characters

  1. Captain Janeway
  2. The Holographic Doctor
  3. Seven of Nine

3 cool cameos

  1. Jason Alexander
  2. Dwayne Johnson
  3. Sarah Silverman

Why is this the best Trek

The real appeal of VOY for me Voyager for me is that right from the very first episode, you’re really wanting the crew to make it. You want them to get home. You make an emotional connection to a group of people who just want to get back to where they belong and be reunited with their families. But the galaxy is sometimes a cruel place, especially when you’re travelling through space that no human has ever explored before. Probably the best premise for any Trek series since TOS in my opinion. That said, to to be honest…it probably isn’t the best Trek, and at times the writing isn’t always great. But give it a go; Trek fans are harsh critics and Voyager sure is underrated in my opinion.

Enterprise (ENT) 2001-2005



Enterprise is a prequel series to all other Trek. Set before Kirk, Spock & co, the show follows mankind’s very first adventures in to the final frontier. With no previous experience for the crew to learn from, the show basically depicts what it would be like to be part of the first ship to go into deep space, facing the complete unknown.

3 key characters

  1. Captain Archer
  2. T’Pol
  3. Trip Tucker

3 cool cameos

  1. James Cromwell
  2. Seth Macfarlane
  3. Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap reunion!)

Why is this the best Trek

This is where it all started. The true pioneer spirit.  Think Neil Armstrong, but now you’re the first humans to go to every other planet.  Set 100 years before TOS, the technology available is less advanced than what you’ll see in any other Trek show or movie. The real appeal to me about Enterprise is that from Season 3 onwards, the show takes on more of a modern day approach to TV, i.e. the episodes are less stand alone, and instead a whole story takes place over the course of an entire season.   


So, in terms of how all that fits together, here’s a simplistic timeline that pretty much sums it up, including the first 10 movies which I’m going to talk about next. 

Star Trek on the big screen

The movies are a great way to get into Star Trek, especially if you’re not keen on starting up another TV show.  


TOS movies

  • Star Trek - The Motion Picture (1979)
  • The Wrath of Khan (1982) – my advice, watch Space Seed first!
  • The Search for Spock (1984)
  • The Voyage Home (1986)
  • The Final Frontier (1989)
  • The Undiscovered Country (1991)

TNG movies

  • Generations* (1994) 
  • First Contact (1996)
  • Insurrection (1998)
  • Nemesis (2002)

*The 1994 movie Generations is in many ways considered a crossover movie between the TOS and TNG crews; whilst technically it is a TNG movie, it does feature Scotty, Chekov and crucially Captain Kirk, all of whom are played by the original actors. Shatner is superb in this movie and the scenes between Captain Kirk & Captain Picard are easily in my Top 10 Star Trek moments (I sense a list coming).

You’ll note that the producers decided against making any movies with the DS9, VOY or ENT crews. Thus, when Star Trek returned to the big screen in 2009 in the hands of Sir JJ Abrams (that’s right he should be knighted, I don’t care that he isn’t British, just get it done) a decision was made to go back to where it all started and re-cast Captain Kirk & the TOS crew.

This was all made possible by very cleverly creating an alternate timeline. The casting of the original Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) helped get the vast majority of Trek fans on board with this idea and to be honest, it’s been nothing short of a stroke of genius.

TOS alternate timeline movies

  • Star Trek (2009)
  • Into Darkness (2013)
  • Beyond (2016)

Grab some popcorn, close the curtains and get amongst these classic movies. My only advice is Star Trek II, III & IV are best watched together as they form something of a trilogy.  The rest are all fundamentally standalone movies. And if you’re looking for a classic bad guy movie, Star Trek won’t let you down. There have been some great actors play the villain over the years: Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lloyd, Idris Elba, Christopher Plummer, Eric Bana and of course the indisputable king of villains, Ricardo Montalban as ‘Khan’.

Star Trek Beyond


With regards to the current movie, Beyond, I don’t want to say much but I will say one thing:  It is officially my #1 Star Trek movie of all time. That’s a big call, but after seeing it a couple of times, it really is that good in my opinion. Tears, laughter, action, adventure.  Everything. A perfect tribute to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Beyond is still playing in cinemas today, so act fast if you want to experience this on the big screen.

And so to the future of Star Trek.

Sticking to movies for just a moment, JJ Abrams has recently confirmed that there will be a fourth movie featuring the alternate timeline TOS crew, with Chris Hemsworth set to reprise his role of Kirk’s father again (sorry, spoiler alert). But the big news, the news that inspired me to write this post is that (drumroll please)… Star Trek is returning to our TV’s. Yes. Oh yes. Are you excited? Me too.

Star Trek Discovery (STDISCO) 2017


After a 12 year hiatus, Star Trek is coming back to the small screen next year in the brand new series Discovery. Not a lot is known at this point, although we do know that it will follow the adventure of the starship Discovery, and that the series will be set between ENT and TOS. The show will feature a female lead, known only as ‘Number One’ at this point.  Her character featured in the pilot episode of TOS ‘The Cage’ and so the 50th anniversary is immediately paying homage to its roots.  

The producer of the show Bryan Fuller treated the world to a quick glimpse of the work-in-progress ship design, in this short test flight video.

And yes, Bryan Fuller has confirmed that DISCO is the abbreviation that we should be using for the new show. I guess STD wasn’t ideal…

The new show is due to hit our screens next year, and I have no doubt that it is going to be a hit. Bryan Fuller’s ‘Hannibal’ TV series was, in my opinion extraordinary.  I have faith the right man is at the helm of this show on this basis alone.

Anyway, the future of Star Trek looks great right now and I’ve rattled on for long enough. Go and watch Beyond at the cinema whilst you still can. Alternatively, check out the other 12 movies on blu-ray; I’ve ranked all 12 of them here (I did this before Beyond came out hence why it doesn’t feature in the list).

But what I truly recommend is getting a series under your belt.  For me, Star Trek at its purest when it’s on the small screen.  And if you want to trial a few episodes before you commit to a series, here are my #Top5StarTrek recommendations for TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY & ENT.  

My advice is to start with Enterprise; it’s 4 seasons instead of 7, and chronologically it’s where everything starts in the Star Trek universe. Just get your Trek on.

Happy 50th Star Trek. Live long and prosper.

Author: Paul Knauer - follow me on Twitter @ObiWanKnauer

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