The upcoming Star Trek: Discovery offers an exciting new sci-fi series looking to entertain diehard Trekkies while also enticing new viewers. But for some, engaging with a TV universe with 726 episodes and 14 movies — not counting anything touched by Chris Pine — seems an impossible task.
Discovery should offer an exciting and accessible gateway for new viewers with or without any pre-knowledge of the Trek universe. Set a decade before the original Star Trek series, Discovery explores a tense time between the humans and Klingons as all-out space warfare erupts. Sonequa Martin-Green plays First Officer Michael Burnham aboard Starfleet’s USS Shenzhou alongside Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou. Fans familiar with the timeline might have some knowledge of the more important things that happen in the galaxy, but it’s largely untrod territory for Star Trek.
For anyone who wants to test the space waters before going to warp speed on the new series — or if they just want to revisit the most relevant Star Trek episodes — here are five episodes to binge before the new series.
(All of these episodes are available now, streaming on both Netflix and CBS All Access.)
1. “The Cage”
Broadcast in its complete form in 1988, “The Cage” was actually the first episode of Star Trek ever created in 1965. As such, it’s a decent place to start, especially for the uninitiated, even if it feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the series. The events occur roughly during the same time period as Discovery, making it an invaluable introduction of sorts.
Christopher Pike is captain of the Enterprise, and Kirk is nowhere to be seen. An overeager Spock is present, but not as first officer. NBC actually found the episode too boring and instead ordered a different story be developed as the first episode. As such, “The Cage” is remarkably different from the rest of the series.
It’s also worth considering “The Menagerie” (Season 1, Episodes 11 & 12), a two-parter that incorporates segments from “The Cage” as a series of flashbacks.
- Original Series, Season 0, Episode 1
2. “Balance of Terror”
In Discovery, Captain Georgiou is a war veteran, but it’s hard to know what war they’re talking about. “Balance of Terror” explores the most likely conflict that took place almost a century ago: the war with the Romulans.
In the “present day” of this episode, the Romulans are attacking distant outposts that the Enterprise is sent to inspect. The ensuing conflict is tense, and “Balance of Terror” is widely regarded as one of the best episodes from the original series.
Bryan Fuller — who has since left Discovery — once described “Balance of Terror” as a “touchstone” for the new show, but it remains to be seen how much of his original vision was kept.
- Original Series, Season 1, Episode 14
3. “Journey to Babel”
In “Journey to Babel,” the Enterprise transports various dignitaries to a peace conference. Notably, the episode marks the first appearance of Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek — a character who will be featured prominently in Discovery.
Star Trek canon tells us that Sarek was connected to negotiating peace treaties between the humans and Klingons before the events of the original series — events that we’ll probably see play out in Discovery.
- Original Series, Season 2, Episode 10
4. “A Private Little War”
On a planet with primitive species, the Enterprise crew discovers that those dastardly Klingons are providing the native species with advanced technology which violates the Prime Directive, the oath that Starfleet should never interfere with other cultures and civilizations.
As such, this offers a great introduction to Klingon culture and the fundamental nature of Starfleet.
“A Private Little War” explores the delicate balance of power between the Klingons and humans, one that will majorly factor into Discovery.
- Original Series, Season 2, Episode 19
5. “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
Discovery explores the human-Klingon war circa 2254, and The Next Generation examines the era from 2364 to 2370. One particular standout episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” explores what the galaxy might look like if the Klingons were still in a bitter conflict against Starfleet.
If you want to get a real taste for what the timeline might look like if things go south in Discovery, then this is your best opportunity.
- The Next Generation, Season 3, Episode 15
Star Trek: Discovery begins September 24, 2017.
If you liked this article, check out this video on why Klingons look different in Star Trek: Discovery.