The popularity of Star Trek has continued to grow since the release of the original series back in 1966. Although there have been setbacks, the overall trend has been remarkably positive. One of the elements that has made Star Trek so enduring is that it has always been able to reinvent itself with the times while also adhering to the core concepts of the show. In this article, we'll take a look at the Star Trek series timeline and offer some guidance for how fans should experience the series.
The Star Trek Series TimelineStar Trek came into existence in an era prior to binge-watching. The series does not represent a single cohesive narrative, although there are elements of continuity present in various episodes. The development of the series throughout the decades has led to the creation of a canonical timeline, and this timeline has created points of fan interest that are often explored when a new series is launched.
Although there is a lot of backstory inherent to the Star Trek series timeline, a familiarity with the backstory is not necessary to enjoy the series. Most episodes are completely self-contained, with only the most recent contributions to the series moving towards a continuity narrative.
Release OrderThe most obvious Star Trek series timeline for learning about the series is to watch the programs in the order of their release. However, even that approach can create some complications, since the episode release date might not coincide with the date of production. For example, the two-part episode The Menagerie uses footage from the original series pilot, The Cage. To make The Menagerie, producers cut up the only copy of The Cage. In 1987 the edited segments were discovered, and The Cage was restored. Now you can watch both The Menagerie and The Cage in their original form. The original release order for the Star Trek series timeline is:
- The Original Series (1966-1969)
- The Animated Series (1973-74)
- The Next Generation (1987-1994)
- Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
- Voyager (1995-2001)
- Enterprise (2001-2005)
- Discovery (2017-Ongoing)
- Picard (2020-Ongoing)
Between 1987 and 2005, there was always at least one active Star Trek series, and they all have something of a uniform look as they are all based in about the same part of the Star Trek timeline. Because of this, it's safe to say that viewers would be fine to determine which of the three eras they find most appealing and begin their viewing there. The only exception to not watching the shows in release order might be that not starting with The Next Generation and progressing to Deep Space 9 & Voyager might leave viewers missing out on some back story episodes that would make each series more enjoyable
The Original Series EraThere are a few things to keep in mind about the Original Series. Special effects for 1960s American television were simply not at the level they have reached today. Shows like Star Trek and the Twilight Zone placed their emphasis on good storytelling and clever scripts to achieve their enduring popularity. The episodes from this era do not instantly grab you with dynamic space battles and JJ Abrams's signature lens flare, but if you allow the writers to set their literary hook, you will find yourself compelled to continue watching.
From 2006 to 2008, CBS undertook an effort to remaster the Original Series. The ambitious project sought to improve the 60s era special effects, but not in a way that proved a distraction to the rest of the production quality. The result is a much-improved version of the Original Series that enhances viewing enjoyment. If you wish to explore the Original Series, we highly recommend choosing the remastered versions over the original.
The Animated SeriesThe Animated Series is interesting because it takes advantage of the voice talents of the original cast. Although the Animated Series is sometimes forgotten, it is a very important contribution to the franchise as it allowed producers to explore landscapes and visuals that were not possible to create in a television studio. The writing is top-notch, and The Animated Series is a wonderful starting point for young parents who want to enjoy Star Trek while they look after their little ones.
Both the Animated Series and the Original Series reflect the era they were produced. There is a certain historical significance, particularly in episodes that engage the controversial issues of the era. The remarkable thing about watching Star Trek Episodes from the Original Series era is that the show always emphasized the side of controversial issues that would prove to be embraced by our nation in the future.
The Next Generation Era
Fans who are new to Star Trek are probably familiar with Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Jean-Luc Picard. Many among the fan base perceive this era as the definitive realization of Gene Roddenberry's vision. However, all new shows sometimes take a few years to find their stride, and many fans of Star Trek encourage viewers to skip Season 1 and most of Season 2 of the Next Generation. It is enjoyable to return to these seasons after you have developed a greater appreciation of the series.
During this era, Star Trek continued to apply important pressure for social improvement. Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Sisko was the first African-American to lead a Star Trek series in Deep Space Nine, and Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway became the first woman to lead a series in Voyager. Any of the contributions of the Next Generation era represents a great starting point depending on the background and interest of the viewer.
The Modern Era
Discovery and Picard are probably the best choices for modern viewers who are interested in learning more about Star Trek. Both of these franchises incorporate elements of modern storytelling and fuse it with the Star Trek mythos. Discovery is a perfect choice for fans who were captivated by the action and adventure of the reboot Star Trek film from 2009, and Picard is a fine choice for fans of great acting in general and Patrick Stewart in particular.
The Canonical Star Trek Series TimelineAnother interesting approach to engaging Star Trek is to watch the shows in the order of the Star Trek Universe timeline based on the stardate. This order is as follows:
- Enterprise (2151-2161)
- Discovery (2255)
- Original Series (2265-2269)
- The Animated Series (2269-2270)
- The Next Generation (2364-2370)
- Deep Space Nine (2369-2375)
- Voyager (2371-2378)
- Picard (2399-Ongoing)
Watching the series according to stardate order provides a fascinating look with an emphasis on the world-building and history of the franchise. However, the transitions from shows such as Enterprise to Discovery or Voyager to Picard might be a bit jarring.
The Best Viewing OrderThe best decision for a good viewing order is to identify the facet of the franchise that most appeals to you and then pick the series that focuses on that element. If you are engaged by the 60s sensibility and the historic nature of Star Trek, begin with the Original Series. If you enjoy space battles and modern storytelling, begin with Discovery, etc.
No matter what series you pick, you are certain to find engaging episodes that will be both visually and philosophically entertaining. To get a sense for a series, do a search for the two or three best episodes of a season and begin there. Star Trek continues to be a franchise of great cultural significance. The best part is that no matter how you choose to engage the series, you'll find considerable entertainment value.
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