With a long history, and so many sci-fi series, Star Trek is one of the most recognisable science fiction franchises in the world. It has a legendary history dating back to the mid-’60s, and well over half a century later the Star Trek series are still going strong.
This long history means that, alongside 13 Star Trek movies and countless comics, graphic novels, and books, the number of Star Trek series is already in the double digits. On top of that, there are almost 900 episodes of Star Trek, and with the franchise continuing to expand, that number is set to hit the thousands in the not too distant future.
Not all Star Trek series are born equal, though. With such a vast amount of content, it’s inevitable that there’s a spectrum of quality. So, we’re here to help you sort the good from the less-good, with a guide to the many Star Trek series ranked from worst to best.
Star Trek: Picard
Continuing the adventures of the retired Admiral Picard should have been a sure-fire formula for success. It could have been the conclusion to the story of one of the most cherished characters of all time, making up for the end he received in the science fiction movie Star Trek: Nemesis.
How hard could it be? Well, very hard, apparently. Star Trek Picard has been a depressing, frustrating end to Jean-Luc Picard’s story.
Enterprise, at least, had a cracking theme tune. Picard’s own theme tune, meandering, unengaging, and thinking it’s more interesting than it really is, is the perfect summary of the show.
Picard season 1 was messy, to say the least, but that mess was nothing compared to the utter chaos of season 2 which tried to juggle a ridiculous amount of plot threads while floundering around to find something, anything, interesting.
In seeming acknowledgement of its own failure, the cast that the series has put together over the past two seasons have been jettisoned in favour of a full on TNG reunion (something the series had initially promised it wouldn’t be) for Star Trek: Picard season 3. The prospect of this is more worrying than it is exciting. Even if season 3 marks an improvement, it’s still impossible to escape the conclusion that Picard was a misguided, flawed, venture from the start.
Enterprise was dealt a bad hand, because it came at a time when Star Trek was running out of steam, and the fact that it was a prequel didn’t help either. The series is burdened with a bland crew, and out of all the Star Trek captains, Captain Archer is the most boring and unengaging.
The attempts at an overarching plot around the formation of the Federation are some of the more interesting parts of the series, but they’re too often drowned out by an erroneous side-quest, or a string of bad episodes.
Of course, every Star Trek series had bad episodes. TNG’s first season is full of them. However, even the worst episodes of Voyager, TNG, or TOS have a certain charm, but if there’s one thing that Enterprise lacks, it’s charm.
Amidst all that, Enterprise has some good moments, but they’re few and far between. When it’s all said and done, there’s the lingering feeling that Enterprise was destined to fail, more or less, from the start.
Star Trek: Discovery
There is lots to like about Star Trek: Discovery. It’s got a wonderful, diverse cast of actors; it’s been bold with some of its more recent plot developments; and there’s the ever-excellent Star Trek character Saru. More than anything, it’s heart seems to be in the right place.
But, it’s also got plenty of flaws. Because the series is so dedicated to serialisation, a bad storyline can last for an entire season. Season 2, for example, was particularly sloppy. It descended too easily into huge action set-pieces, and it has been guilty of relying too frequently on huge emotional crescendos. These have been used to mask weak plotting, and the Red Angel storyline is an example of how messy the series can be.
Still, if you can get past that and adjust to its different take on Star Trek, you’ll see that the series has been improving, and has begun to really find its feet. Hopefully, those improvements can continue.
Star Trek: Prodigy
Star Trek: Prodigy is Star Trek’s first real attempt to enthuse a younger audience. It’s a fun, fast paced, adventure series with plenty going on to keep young eyes entertained.
But, just because it’s aimed at children and adolescents doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty for older audiences to enjoy too. The animation style is something completely new, and the series does a great job of bringing together a varied cast of young alien characters – something Star Trek generally doesn’t do enough of. It’s also notable for the return of Captain Janeway, voiced by Kate Mulgrew, and it’s a large cameo role done right.
The series hasn’t had long enough to fully embed itself, though, but there’s plenty of potential for upward growth as it continues.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The debut season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was one of, if not the single-most, impressive first seasons of any Star Trek series. The series managed to tap into that hard-to-define Star Trek-ness, while still appealing to modern tastes.
Anson Mount’s Captain Pike is magnetic, and unquestionably charismatic, and Ethan Peck’s rendition of Spock is increasingly delightful. Much of the supporting cast is a lot of fun, too, and it’s that sense of fun that keeps the series coasting along, even in darker moments.
The short season did have one or two dud episodes, and it’s also legitimate to wonder whether or not the series has a woman problem. Nurse Chapel, Lieutenant Ortegas, and Commander Noonien-Singh are all rather one-note, especially in comparison to their male counterparts.
However, with only ten episodes, it’s right to acknowledge that they’ve had much less time to grow, and that can only be fixed by more seasons of Strange New Worlds. Who could say no to that?
As the series continues, expect it to rise up this list rapidly: especially if it continues as confidently as it has begun.
Star Trek: Voyager
Following on from TNG and DS9, Voyager had a tough job. The first three seasons are rocky, and while there are excellent moments, a lot of the series can be hit or miss.
The series picks up markedly after season four, when Seven of Nine becomes the main selling point. Her character’s relationship with Captain Janeway and the EMH is hugely compelling, as she looks to regain her humanity after assimilation by the Borg.
Robert Picardo’s EMH is genuinely hilarious, with his snark and disdain perfectly balanced out by his desire to exceed his nature as a hologram that can be deactivated at any moment. Equally, Tuvok is the first Vulcan to play a major role in a Star Trek series since Spock, and he does do wonderfully, as Captain Janeway’s closest confidant.
But, none of this can change the fact that the series just doesn’t live up to its premise. It promised to be a series about a Starfleet vessel stranded in the depths of space. Instead, it ditches that at every possible opportunity in favour of the typical Star Trek formula. It reverts far too quickly to the TNG way of doing things, but it only rarely manages to reach the same levels.
That does seriously limit the series’ quality, and unlike other, better Star Trek series, a lot of Voyager’s crew is pretty bland. Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Paris, Ensign Kim, Kes, and Neelix are all either underdeveloped or one-dimensional from the start.
But, make no mistake. Voyager is still one of the best drama series around, and is good more often than it’s not. And, whisper it, it even has the greatest Star Trek opening theme of all time.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
It’s becoming a bit of a pattern now, but Star Trek: Lower Decks had an iffy start. A lot of the jokes just weren’t that funny, and it seemed too hesitant to engage with its sci-fi roots. But, as the animated series has begun to take its own premise more seriously, and as its characters have really developed, it has come into its own as one of the best Star Trek series in decades.
Lower Decks is a comedy series first and foremost, and with season 2 and season 3, the humour has developed to a point where it’s no longer just reliant on loud voices, obvious visual gags, and references.
Beyond the laughs, the series has plenty of moments where it steps away from outright comedy, and the plotline with the Pakleds has highlighted the drama that the series is also capable of.
Because of the simple character design and animation, people often miss the fact that the series is also a visual delight. The Cerritos and the other ships that come in and out of the series all look gorgeous, as do the action sequences in space. Just check out the opening credits, if you need any further proof.
Star Trek: The Original Series
It’s too easy to forget that Star Trek’s original series isn’t just notable as the first Star Trek series, but is also excellent in its own right. The trifecta of Kirk, Spock, and Bones might be the best core cast of any Star Trek series. No other Star Trek series has managed to create such a strong trio, with such complex personal dynamics.
The series has some standout entries that rank among the greatest sci-fi series episodes of all time, and it paved the way for everything that has come since. Undoubtedly, TOS is one of the most significant series in the history of the entire science fiction genre.
However, unlike other Star Trek series, TOS hasn’t aged particularly well. The series is aesthetically very dated, much of the pacing and dialogue feels like slow-motion, and the action scenes are laughably quaint.
None of that’s surprising, given that the series started when Lyndon B. Johnson was the US president, but it does mean that it is potentially less accessible for modern audiences, and more difficult to get into. If you can get past that initial barrier, TOS will reward you.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The first season of DS9 is a slog. The tension between the characters, and the dark, depressing setting makes the series hard to settle in to. While the series is an easier ride once you get to know the characters, it never steps away from that sense that everything could fall apart at any minute. It couldn’t be further from the cosy comfort of TNG’s Enterprise-D, and if that’s what you’re watching Star Trek for, you might want to look elsewhere.
However, like most Star Trek series, it vastly improves as it’s given more time to mature. The characters are the most complex in all of Star Trek, and as you get to know them, they feel more real . The Dominion War arc is the start of Star Trek’s foray into serialised storytelling, and it’s done expertly. It’s also when DS9 truly breaks the established Star Trek mould, and turns into an all-out war drama.
DS9 is unlike any other series of Star Trek, and if you’re looking for grit, moral complexity, and some of TV’s best ever villains, then DS9 is the Star Trek series for you.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Just as the list began with Jean-Luc Picard, it ends with Jean-Luc Picard. Star Trek: The Next Generation is more than just everything a Star Trek series can be, it’s everything science fiction can be.
The sci-fi series is a cocktail of action, calm, adventure, and introspection. Not every story has a happy ending, but it’s all the better for it. Because, while TNG is supremely optimistic about humanity’s potential, it’s also realistic about our flaws. Unlike other, older Star Trek series, TNG has been remastered so remains a visual delight, too.
Its core cast is perfectly balanced, and it manages to blend personal storytelling with huge, sweeping science fiction stories. Seasons 1 and 2 have their moments, but the long stretch of episodes between season 3 and 6 is practically flawless. And, while it’s evident that the series was starting to run out of steam in its final season 7, the finale remains one of the best TV series finales of all time.
Endlessly rewatchable, TNG is the magnum opus of Star Trek, never to be exceeded.
So many Star Trek series is surely enough sci-fi for anyone. So, why not check out our guides to the best fantasy series, and the best fantasy movies of all time, for a change of pace? Or, if you still want more, take a look at our explainer on the USS Titan or our guide to the best Star Trek starships.