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9 classic 'Star Trek' episodes you should check out before watching 'Strange New Worlds'

Get comfy in your Captain's chair (or sofa) and check out these classic TOS episodes before beaming up to Strange New Worlds

By Vanessa Armstrong

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres in early May on Paramount+, and it's about time. Fans have been waiting for the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) ever since he and Ethan Peck's Mr. Spock showed up on Star Trek Discovery Season 2. 

Now, in Strange New Worlds, it's up to the guy who helmed the Federation's flagship before Kirk to take us into pockets of the Final Frontier from Kirk's era, but with bigger budgets and CG special effects. While the events of Strange New Worlds take place roughly a decade before the pilot episode of The Original Series, revisiting a few episodes of TOS will be a good primer for the latest Trek series. So get comfy in your Captain's chair (or sofa) and check out these classic TOS episodes before beaming up to Strange New Worlds

1. “The Cage” (Original Pilot)

Spock smiling in the cage

“The Cage” was the first pilot for Star Trek: The Original Series and it starred Jeffrey Hunter as Christopher Pike. This pilot was rejected by NBC and Gene Roddenberry went on to film another with Kirk as captain. This pilot is now available for all to watch, however, and is our first introduction to Pike and to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Here, the Enterprise crew heads to a now-forbidden planet called Talos IV, where Pike is abducted by a large-brained species that are able to use their minds to create illusions that humans cannot discern from reality. 

2. “Charlie X” (Season 1, Episode 2)

(L-R) Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and Robert Walker Jr. as Charlie Evans in in the STAR TREK episode, "Charlie X."

Strange New Worlds introduces us to a younger Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), who is a new cadet on her first rotation on the Enterprise. Uhura is obviously an iconic Trek character previously played by Nichelle Nichols, and “Charlie X” is a TOS episode that showcases her well.

During “Charlie X,” the Enterprise finds a volatile teenage boy who has been alone on a deserted planet since he was three years old. The boy, Charlie, also has telepathic and matter transmutation abilities, and takes away Uhura’s voice after she sings a memorable song about him (with Spock playing the Vulcan Lyrette, of course).

3. “The Menagerie, Parts I and II” (Season 1, Episodes 11 and 12)

Christopher Pike 2267

"The Menagerie" is a two-parter "clip show" that recycles a lot of the footage from the previously unaired pilot, “The Cage.” It’s been 13 years since Hunter’s Pike visited Talos IV, and the captain has recently suffered severe radiation exposure that makes him unable to move or speak and only able to communicate via a light to blink yes or no. With his former captain infirm, Spock enacts a plan to take Pike back to Talos IV and hijacks the Enterprise to do so.

Besides the replaying of “The Cage” footage, “The Menagerie” also includes a court-martial of Spock as he tries to get Pike (this time played by Sean Kenney) to a place where he can take advantage of the Talosians' mental projections and experience an illusory life where his body wasn't impacted by the radiation accident.

4. “Balance of Terror” (Season 1, Episode 14)

Lawrence Montaigne as Decius in the STAR TREK episode, "Balance of Terror."

Strange New Worlds goes back to the episodic, mission-of-the-week format that made TOS such a fan-favorite. Strange is the first of the new Paramount+ Trek TV series to actually embrace the episodic mission template that made the franchise what it is. And fans can expect an episode in the first season to remind them of this classic, "Balance of Terror". In this slow-burn, tension-filled hour, Kirk’s Enterprise is attacked by a cloaked Romulan ship and the two must engage in a cat-and-mouse battle where Kirk never directly communicates with his opponent until the very end. It's as chilling as it is emotionally stirring. 

5. “Arena” (Season 1, Episode 18)

William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk fighting the Gorn in "Arena".

In Strange New Worlds ,we’ll likely see Captain Pike and his crew face a series of familiar foes, and one of those is one that Kirk famously battled in "Arena": The Gorn. A member of this brutal, lizard-like species dukes it out with Captain Kirk when an advanced species called the Metron pit the two in combat. Whomever wins gets to leave with their ship and crew spared. Often parodied but never duplicated in its thematic ambitions, "Arena" is one of the best examples of Trek using sci-fi to hold up a mirror to humanity and asking what our race should do if we don't like the reflection. (Hopefully, it doesn't involve fighting a guy in a rubber lizard suit along various desert rock formations).

6. "A Taste of Armageddon” (Season 1, Episode 23)

Strange New Worlds is returning to TOS’ mission-of-the-week feel, and one of the best TOS episodes in this vein is “A Taste of Armageddon.” In this underrated hour, Kirk and the Enterprise finds itself in the middle of a war between the planets Eminiar VII and Vendikar. This war, however, is fought via simulations, with the two parties agreeing to kill in real life any ship that is destroyed in that program. The Enterprise was apparently destroyed in one such simulation, and Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew don’t take kindly to being asked to comply with the request for their execution. 

7. “Operation — Annihilate!”  (Season 1, Episode 29)

Operationannhilate Startrek Kirk

“Operation — Annihilate!” is The Original Series first season’s finale and it introduces us to some of Kirk’s family when the Captain must lead an away team down to a colony that seems to have been wiped out by a viral case of mass insanity. In reality, it's rubber frisbee-looking, amoeba-like creatures that stick to human hosts and cause them to go made. Kirk, and especially Spock, learn this the hard way when Jim discovers that his brother, Sam, along with his wife and son, are the creatures' latest victims at Deneva colony. 

8. “Amok Time”  (Season 2, Episode 1)

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and Arlene Martel as T'Pring, in the STAR TREK episode, "Amok Time."

The Original Series' Season 2 premiere also sheds a little light on Spock’s personal life, something we will see a lot more of as well from Ethan Peck’s Spock on Strange New Worlds. In "Amok Time", Spock is acting erratically and forces the Enterprise to head to his home planet, Vulcan. Spock’s odd behavior is a result of pon farr — a condition Vulcans get where they must mate or die. On Vulcan, Spock was bonded as a child to a Vulcan woman named T’Pring. T’Pring would rather mate with smoeone else, however, and demands kal-if-fee, where Spock and her champion must fight to the death. T’Pring chooses Kirk as her champion, and the episode moves on from there. 
The entirety of Star Trek: The Original Series is currently on Paramount+. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres Thursday, May 5, with additional episodes dropping weekly.