When fans think of Star Trek, they naturally think of the best the show has to offer. Not just in great storylines but also the social commentary and how it speak to the human condition. The best Trek episodes entertain but also make you think and backed by a top-notch cast. The show was great in all its versions with some gripping storylines and a reason it’s still such an iconic franchise. However, it’s simple math that it doesn’t always work out well. With a total of nearly 500 episodes spread across six major series, it’s only logical there’s been more than a few duds across the way. Some episodes are just poor and don’t work nearly as well as they’re supposed to. And some are….just really bad.
We’re not talking the usual “oh, let’s ignore this episode.” We’re talking horrible on a level unheard of. An episode that is such a train wreck that you can’t help but watch in fascination. Indeed, there’s a contingent of Trekkers who actually love mocking these horrible episodes and marvel how they were ever created, let along made it to air. That the cast and writers openly talk of how terrible they were just solidifies their standing as wretched TV. They’re historical for the wrong reasons as showcases for what happens when Trek goes badly. The entire first season of TNG may qualify but every Trek series has more than a few such notable “gems.” Here are 20 Star Trek episodes that must be seen just to marvel at how wretched they are and that you have to take the bad of the franchise with the good.
20 AND THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD (TOS)
After surviving cancellation, the third season of TOS was not what fans had hoped. Some poor show running led to some rough episodes that are not fondly remembered. This is a key case. The Enterprise discover the population of a planet has been wiped out and only five children remain. They take the kids on board the ship as orphans…only to realize the kids possess major psychic powers. They’re actually being used by a demonic alien as part of his own plot for power.
The sight of the kids shaking fists to take control of the Enterprise just looks downright silly. Even before the kids’ powers are revealed, Kirk comes off a total meat-head ordering them about and showing no consideration to their trauma. The writing is terrible and the acting not much better with Scotty emoting as much as Kirk does. There’s no explanation for Kirk and Spock not affected by the kids and the conclusion is anti-climactic. It’s a bad showcase for how poor the final season of the show was.
19 SHADES OF GRAY (TNG)
Ah, the clip show. Whenever a TV series is under deadline or a tight budget, they pull out an episode using a framing device to showcase clips of the past. You can excuse it for sitcoms or the occasional drama and the device isn’t used as much today. But it was very jarring to see it as a season finale for TNG. To be fair, this was because they had run out of budget by the end of the second season and couldn’t do an epic story. Yet it comes off very bad as Riker is poisoned on an away mission. He’s put into a device to stimulate his mind, causing him to remember events of the first two years.
To have a clip show after only two seasons was a bit much. The clips are just random as the device figures having pleasant memories are bad so it gives Riker negative ones. Poor Jonathan Frakes has to lie there reacting in supposed pain to all this while the rest of the cast just stand around. Everyone on the show is united calling this a travesty and prefer no clips of it be played
18 THE FIGHT (VOY)
It had long been shown on Voyager that Chakotay was a boxer who loved the “sweet science.” But did we really need an entire episode about it? Chakotay is doing a holodeck program on a boxing ring when he’s knocked out by alien energies hitting the ship. Chakotay is soon hallucinating his late grandfather and realizes somehow the aliens are trying to communicate with him. The only way to handle this is to train himself for a big boxing match with an alien opponent that also tells him how to help Voyager escape a spatial trap.
In other words, it’s Star Trek meeting Rocky. Fans see the story as amazingly muddled despite Robert Beltran’s good performance. Ray Walston was wasted as his holographic trainer and the attempt to mix this fight with a “first contact” came off just too confusing to understand. There’s a reason fans nickname this episode “Trek Fight Club” only not as good as that movie. The whole episode is a storytelling TKO.
17 THE MUSE (DS9)
It’s a shame the final appearance of Laxwana Troi had to be this terrible episode. Majel Barrett was always great as Troi’s eccentric mother who shows up on the station to reveal she’s pregnant. She needs help from Odo as her husband wants to raise the child in an all-male environment. That alone could be rough but even worse is that the secondary plot of Jake trying to improve his writing. He finds himself falling for a woman who turns out to be an alien banshee who intends to make Jake’s writing immortal…by killing him in his prime.
Either plotline could have been bad but mixed together? The Odo/Laxwana plotline has some fun banter but falls apart under the weight of the drama of Laxwana’s husband and doesn’t come off as important as it should. It’s still better than the horrible other plot of an alien woman enthralled by Jake writing and using him. The writers admit that trying to mix these stories together ended up being one of the most disappointing episodes of the entire series.
16 UNEXPECTED (ENT)
For years, a plotline had been suggested in various Trek writers’ rooms and was shot down for being a bad idea. Leave it to Enterprise to decide to finally use it. Only the fifth episode of the show, it has the crew discovering a cloaked ship has been feeding off their energies. Trip heads over to help them out and grows close to a female crewmember. When he returns, Trip discovers that thanks to a psychic bond, he is now…pregnant.
Yes, Enterprise actually went for the “man getting pregnant” story trope. This leads to the obvious “comedy” of Trip experiencing mood swings, major appetites and more. The show tosses in a Klingon threat but it’s Trip with a child that’s the real focus. He manages to get the embryo out of him and write it all off to a bad experience. Yet, most fans agree on this being one of the single worst episodes of Enterprise’s entire run and why this trope rarely works well in any medium.
15 JUSTICE (TNG)
A major problem for TNG when it started was that Gene Rodenberry seemed intent on just turning it into a TOS clone. This episode has Rodenberry’s fingerprints all over it. The ship is taking shore leave on a planet where the inhabitants prance around in ridiculous “futuristic” swimsuits and enjoy nature too much. It isn’t a truly bad TNG episode without Wesley getting the spotlight. When he falls into a flowerbed, he learns the Edo answer to such an act with capital punishment.
Yep, we’re getting a death penalty debate amid this episode. That’s without the bit of a globe hailed as the Edo’s “god” interfering. The episode fails to go into depth on this sphere or why it’s so scary for the Edo, instead concentrating on the stupid plot about Wesley. It’s yet another case of why the first season of TNG is mostly unwatchable
14 A NIGHT IN SICKBAY (ENT)
Look, many of us love dogs. They’re good pets, loyal friends and loveable in many ways. Yet using that affection for such a manipulative episode isn’t a good idea. Archer has come back from an away mission to find his dog, Porthos, has developed an alien affection. Archer thus spends the next few hours hanging around sickbay, refusing to leave his dog’s side. He gushes about how he rescued the pup and has raised him for years. He also has a major hate for the alien race below, blaming them for infecting his pet.
To have an episode revolve around the well-being of a dog is just downright silly. Archer, meant to be a bold commander, turns into a wimp who can’t go on without his pooch. The banter between him and Phlox doesn’t connect as it should. It just comes off too manipulative playing on viewer emotions by putting a puppy in danger. There’s no other way to sum it up but to say this episode truly is for the dogs.
13 RESURRECTION (DS9)
DS9 had a lot of fun bringing back the Mirror Universe from the original Trek series. It was a dark reality where Kira’s double was the wicked Intendant serving a Cardassian/Klingon alliance. Sadly, this episode was a major misfire. The crew discover someone has crossed barriers to enter their reality. It’s the Mirror Universe version of Bareil, Kira’s long-dead love. This universe’s version is a thief and Kira naturally feels a connection to him. It turns out he’s working with the Intendant to steal an Orb from the station.
Given the real Bareil had been a rather bad character, trying to bring him back didn’t win fans over. The story was cliché and even wasted the fun of Nana Visitor in her dual role of Kira and the Intendant on DS9. The story is totally predictable down to the ending and doesn’t have much importance for Kira or the overall plot. This is one case where the Mirror Universe should have just stayed on its own side of reality.
12 SPIRIT FOLK (VOY)
Voyager really went overboard with holodeck-themed episodes. A couple could be fun (“Bride of Chaotica” is comedy gold) but others could be bad. This falls firmly in the “bad category.” The show had introduced Fair Haven, a recreation of a late 19th century Irish village. As this episode begins, the inhabitants of the town notice the odd things going on from magically repairing cars to Paris pranking Harry by turning a woman into a cow. The villagers thus jump to the conclusion the crew are “demons” and start going after them.
That this episode was written by Bryan Fuller, a man known for some terrific scripts, makes its awfulness even worse. Trying to make these holographic villagers actual characters was annoying and the script wastes the potential of “what makes a person real?” storytelling. That’s without the clichés of Irish life and ignoring Torres’ perfectly sound idea of just rebooting the program. Thankfully, the poor fan reception to the episode made this the last time we saw Fair Haven and how the holodeck was a storytelling crutch Voyager leaned on too much.
11 THE OMEGA GLORY (TOS)
This episode is almost a parody of Star Trek. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam to a planet to investigate a disease that wiped out a starship. They find that ship’s captain, Tracey, has violated the Prime Directive aiding a local tribe. Tracey defends himself on how the planet allows its inhabitants to live for centuries and if they can find a way to harvest their energies, it would be a boon for the Federation. The episode doesn’t even bother to hide its politics as one tribe is called the Yangs and the other the Comms…and the Yangs are said to be the “better” species.
It’s a terrible episode that muddles its politics and a cheap cop-out solution to the long lifespans of its inhabitants. It all culminates in one of the biggest cases of William Shatner overacting as Kirk reads the Constitution to the planet’s inhabitants to make peace. Here’s a key reason why some episodes of TOS can come off pretty bad to watch today.
10 PROFIT AND LACE (DS9)
A subplot on DS9 was how Quark’s mother (Andrea Martin) was defying Ferengi culture not only by wearing clothes but making profit on her own. It got more complicated with her dating the Grand Nagus. When the Nagus attempts to redo Ferengi law to allow women equal rights, it throws the planet into chaos. He comes to DS9 hoping to get some Ferengi authorities to see how a woman can be smart in business. When Quark’s mother falls ill, he decides there’s only one thing to do: Have himself altered into a female for the meeting.
It was intended to be Quark understanding women by the experience. Instead, he comes off a total cliché of female behavior, ranting about his appearance and having horrible mood swings. A major complaint is how Quark seems to learn nothing from the experience as he continues to be a terrible misogynist. The fact that a story meant as high farce is treated as serious drama makes it worse. It showcases that sometimes “doing drag” doesn’t quite work for Star Trek.
9 SUB ROSA (TNG)
Whenever this episode is brought up at fan conventions, Gates McFadden can’t restrain rolling her eyes. Crusher attends the funeral of her grandmother on a colony that resembles an Irish village. Crusher is soon taken by a handsome man who appears to be a ghost haunting her family estate. Crusher is soon falling in love with the man to the point of wanting to leave the ship to be with him. Of course, the “ghost” is really an alien using the Crusher family for its twisted ends.
Some of the writers claim that McFadden’s performance was good but the actress isn’t a fan of the story. You can’t blame her for how it reduces the smart and capable doctor to a love-struck woman throwing away her career for a spirit out of a lamp. The “romantic” scenes just come off utterly laughable. Fans contend this is one of the worst TNG episodes despite the lovely charm Crusher usually has.
8 FURY (VOY)
For the first three seasons of Voyager, Kes was a regular character as a powerful psychic. She had been written off at the start of season 4 with Kes seemingly turning into an energy being. In this episode, Kes returns, looking much older and goes on a rampage around the ship which causes a lot of destruction and a fatal accident for Torres. Kes then goes back in time to take the place of her younger self in an attempt to alter history by destroying the ship and spare all the pain she’d go through.
The writers actually seem to like this episode but the fans disagree. It’s a terrible turn for Kes who had been given a good send-off but now shown as a twisted monster whose actions can come off as a spoiled brat. The ending it cliché and it throws in too many time travel messes to boot. The character deserved a better send-off than this, a truly bad turn for the show.
7 PRECIOUS CARGO (ENT)
Sometimes Star Trek can do a comedy episode well. This is not one of those times. Tucker is assigned to watch over a woman in stasis who is supposed to be a scholar. Naturally, Trip lets her out of the pod where the woman, Kaitaama (Padma Lakshmi) punches him and escapes to the nearby planet. Tracking her down, Trip finds she’s actually a princess being held for ransom. They have to survive the planet while trying not to kill each other in the process.
The idea was sound with the two bickering like an old screwball comedy. In execution, it comes off terribly with the “banter” very bad and cliché writing. The chemistry between Trip and Lakshmi is never believable and the actress doesn’t click in the role well. David A. Goodman openly takes credit for “writing one of the most hated episodes in Trek history” and it’s hard to argue with his own words on this bad take at a sci-fi rom-com.
6 MOVE ALONG HOME (DS9)
The first season of DS9 had some good stuff but also a few rough episodes as well. And none were rougher than this, only the ninth episode of the show. The crew are welcoming the Wadi, a race from the Gamma Quadrant whose only interest is the games at Quark’s bar/casino. When Quark tries one of his usual cheats, the Wadi force him to play an “honest game.” Suddenly, Sisko, Bashir, Dax and Kira find themselves in a world playing a bizarre game. It takes Quark a bit to realize whatever he does on the game board will affect them.
The fact the game has no logical rules is a major slam against it. The actors look embarrassed going around this world with the weird characters and bizarre antics. Even worse is the twist at the end where it turns out the crew was never in any real danger at all. Most of the cast agrees this was a rough episode and amazing that DS9 turned into a fantastic series after this.
5 THRESHOLD (VOYAGER)
Brannon Braga calls this episode “a royal, steaming stinker”…and he wrote it. Paris decides to test a shuttlecraft with a super-fuel that can allow it to crack Warp 10 and get Voyager to Earth fast. He manages to crack it only to find himself starting to mutate by the experience. He soon goes wild, kidnapping Janeway and taking her off in a shuttle. Tracking them down, Chakotay and Tuvok are met by an utterly ludicrous sight: Paris and Janeway mutated into salamanders who have mated and laid eggs.
That the Doctor is somehow able to restore them to normal form is the least insulting thing about this story. It invalidates scores of established Trek science with its talk on warp drive and far too much technobabble. Of course, what everyone remembers is that ridiculous ending and, much like Paris and Janeway, fans prefer to think this episode never happened.
4 THESE ARE THE VOYAGES (ENT)
Enterprise had its ups and downs and maybe it wasn’t as great as the other Trek shows. But it sure deserved a better ending than this. Somehow, with the task of doing a finale to wrap thing up and send fans home happy, the writers decided to make it a TNG episode. The idea is that Riker (circa season six’s “Pegasus”) is using the holodeck to look back at the final mission of the NX-01 crew and even put himself in the action.
That’s right: For the big finale of the series, the Enterprise characters are pushed aside so Riker can be shown talking of how great they were. The sacrifice of one major character is just brushed off for Riker’s observations. The big moment of Archer giving a speech as the Federation charter is written segues to Riker and Troi watching it. The show’s own cast expressed how much they hated not being the stars of their own finale. To have the fans who had watched for four seasons sit through Riker talking about the crew’s final event makes this one of the worst TV finales of all time, let alone the worst Trek one.
3 CODE OF HONOR (TNG)
Here’s another horrific “gem” from the first season of TNG. The Enterprise is delivering medical supplies to a planet when Tasha is abducted by the leader of a neighboring tribe. That alone can be troubling but what makes it worse is that the tribes look like rejects from a 1940s jungle adventure movie.
While the episode isn’t intended that way, it’s not hard to see some very disturbing racial aspects in the story. The way the tribe’s leader talks of Tasha as a strong white woman can come off even worse today. Then there’s how she exploits a rough “loophole” in their own code to save the day. It’s a reason most of the first season of TNG is pretty bad and this episode in particular is among the least liked.
2 LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN (DS9)
If there’s one episode the DS9 producers wish they could redo, this is it. The plot is Dax dragging Worf for a vacation to the pleasure planet of Risa. Quark, Bashir and Leeta tag along for the ride. The potential was there for comedy with Worf trying to handle being on vacation and Dax cutting loose. However, it just falls apart with the plotline of a man trying to “educate” the vacationers on how this all weakens the Federation and Worf joining him. This complicates matters with massive storms hitting the planet.
It’s a shame the franchise finally got a guest starring spot for TV veteran Monte Markham and this was the episode he was saddled with. The supposedly “titillating” planet looks like a cheap resort. The idea of Worf falling in with these “rebels” is totally out of character and the arguments between him and Dax are terrible. Even a cameo by Vanessa Williams can't salvage things. It could have been a fun episode but the bad writing and dumb plot make it one of the worst in DS9 history.
1 SPOCK’S BRAIN (TOS)
You can’t get more infamously bad than this season three TOS episode. Somehow, an alien woman is able to get on board the Enterprise and stun the entire crew. She then manages to surgically remove Spock’s brain. Thanks to his Vulcan physiology, Spock can survive brainless for twenty-four hours so the crew is out to recover his brain. So we have the ridiculous sight of Spock walking around with a bizarre apparatus as the crew run around the planet doing brain rescue duty.
The actors were up front on stupid this episode was with Leonard Nimoy saying he was personally embarrassed acting it out. That’s not including how Spock’s brain is being used to somehow run an entire planet. It’s an idiotic episode from start to finish yet its sheer badness makes it strangely compelling viewing.