Saturday 13th August 2022

25 Best Episodes of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ Ranked

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The Star Trek TV universe is currently going strong, and none of it would be possible without Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was a risky follow-up to what, at the time, was a low-budget ‘60s sci-fi show with a cult following and successful film franchise. The Next Generation introduced us to an all-new USS Enterprise and a diverse crew, all set against a political backdrop that paralleled the post-Cold War world. It was a different time in television. By the time Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, launched the second TV series in the franchise, it had been nearly twenty years since the show had been on the small screen (not counting the short-lived animated series voiced by the original cast). TNG’s first season drew strong initial ratings but they dipped considerably midway through its debut year. Given today’s attention spans and fierce competition driven by the ever-multiplying streaming outlets, few shows would be given the time and space TNG needed to find its voice. By the end of the first season, however, it was one of the most popular shows on TV.


If you somehow don’t know, Star Trek: The Next Generation follows the adventures of the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-D, some 80 years after the events of the original series. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) leads with strength and compassion, with his brash and confident first officer, Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Riker’s old flame and the ship’s Counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). Also joining them is Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), her son, Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) and security chief Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), a post later taken by Klingon officer Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn). To round it off, we also have android Operations Officer, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), and Chief Engineer Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton).

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Here are the 25 best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ranked.

RELATED: Star Trek: The Next Generation Cast and Character Guide: Who Plays Who on the Enterprise-D (and What They’re Doing Now)

25. “Conspiracy” (Season 1, Episode 24)


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Image Via CBS

To be honest, most of The Next Generation’s first season can be skipped over. It took time for the show to find its voice, and many episodes from Season 1 have not aged well at all. That said, “Conspiracy” is a pulpy sci-fi blast. Starfleet has been infiltrated and it’s up to the Enterprise to stop the parasitic body snatchers! The penultimate episode of Season 1 gives us some backstory on Picard and a much-needed look at Starfleet beyond the Enterprise. It’s also super weird and great fun, dealing with a long-gestating invasion by intelligent parasites which take over the host bodies. Remarkably, it deals with a massive conspiracy that is never mentioned again.


24. “The Battle” (Season 1, Episode 9)


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Image Via CBS

Of the many memorable species TNG introduced into Trek lore, the Ferengi would become one of the most important. Their near-feral early incarnations are light years away from the hyper-capitalists we’ve come to know and love from Deep Space Nine. In “The Battle,” we meet DaiMon Bok (Frank Corsentino), who presents the captain’s old ship the USS Stargazer as a gift. Presumed destroyed years earlier in an encounter that took the life of Bok’s son, the Stargazer’s return rattles Picard. Bok manipulates Picard with a headache-inducing orb (as one does), and the captain relives the battle on the Stargazer’s bridge, thinking the Enterprise is his enemy. “The Battle” fills in a lot of Picard’s backstory, giving us a too-short glimpse into his life aboard his lost ship.


23. “The Dauphin” (Season 2, Episode 10)


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Image Via CBS

Young acting ensign, Wesley Crusher, experiences his first pangs of love with a young girl who happens to be the only hope to end her home planet’s long civil war and unite her people. The Enterprise escorts Salia (Jaime Hubbard), the heir to the leadership of Daled IV, and her overprotective guardian, Anya (acting veteran Paddi Edwards), to her homeworld after a lifetime spent studying in isolation. The standard first love plot is handled very well, with a bizarre mix of creatures thrown into the mix (Salia and Anya are shapeshifters). There’s also a cute scene where Riker and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) try to teach Wes how to flirt.

22. “The Enemy” (Season 3, Episode 7)


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Image Via CBS

“The Enemy” finds La Forge stranded on an inhospitable planet with a Romulan after the Enterprise responds to a distress signal near the Neutral Zone. Meanwhile, Picard is locked in a standoff with a Romulan Warbird (bigger and theoretically more powerful than even the Enterprise) commanded by recurring baddie, Tomalak (Andreas Katsulas). La Forge and the Romulan must work together to survive, but we know that Romulans don’t like humans and are prejudiced against such disabilities as La Forge’s blindness. His VISOR technology ends up saving their lives, setting up a well-executed moral for the story. It’s always fun to watch Picard face down the Romulans with a mixture of sternness and diplomacy, and what could have been a treacly “message” episode ends on a satisfying note of hope for a future where both factions are not at each other’s throats.


21. “Elementary, Dear Data” (Season 2, Episode 7)


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Image Via CBS

The Holodeck is one of TNG’s key additions to the annals of Trek, opening up endless story possibilities. It has been included in some form or another in the spin-off shows taking place during or after the TNG timeline. Here, Data and La Forge cosplay as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Brent Spiner gets to show off his range: as Data, he would go on to play various hambone Wild West stereotypes, Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Data’s brother Lore, Data’s father Noonien Soong, and more.

Since Data already knows all the mysteries, what’s left to do? La Forge instructs the computer to create a character capable of defeating Data, accidentally creating a sentient version of Sherlock’s arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis), who manages to take control of the ship itself. There have been countless other sentient-AI narratives across the sci-fi landscape in general, and a great many within the Trek universe. Few, if any, are this playful and clever.


20. “Datalore” (Season 1, Episode 12)


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Image Via CBS

The “evil twin” trope was a strange thing to drop into a sci-fi series, but the introduction of Data’s brother, Lore, showed audiences just how versatile an actor Brent Spiner could be. The Enterprise investigates Omicron Theta, the planet where Starfleet officers first found Data and activated him. They find another disassembled android identical to Data, who calls himself Lore. Created before Data by Noonien Soong and given a full range of emotions, Lore is manipulative and untrustworthy and tries to offer up the Enterprise crew to the creature known as the Crystalline Entity. “Datalore” begins an interesting arc for Data with Lore’s introduction, giving him an “evil” counterpart. Data as an “unfinished” being is an important theme that TNG will revisit again and again.


19. “The Defector” (Season 3, Episode 10)


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Image Via CBS

A high-ranking Romulan defects to the Federation but Picard and company have to decide whether or not to trust him. This episode is one of the better attempts to explore the morally gray area between the Federation and their traditional antagonists, the Romulans. The two sides have been locked in a cold war for apparently decades, but the Romulans can be seriously nasty. The defector, played by veteran character actor and frequent Trek guest star, James Sloyan, poses as a low-level lieutenant but is eventually revealed to be an admiral named Jarok.

During the war between the Romulans and the Federation, Jarok was responsible for brutal attacks on Federation outposts. He risks his life and career — not to mention probably never seeing his family again — to try and prevent another war. His information turns out to be bait to lure the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone, justifying an attack. Jarok is crushed, and Sloyan’s soulful performance makes this…

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