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Top 10 Most Controversial Star Trek Episodes

Star Trek is one of the most beloved franchises in television history. That doesn’t mean it has been without its share of controversy–from the production staff to the fans to TV networks. The most controversial episodes are discussed below.

10

The City on the Edge of Forever
Original Series, 1967

Tos City-On-The-Edge

With its classic time travel story, this episode is widely considered one of the best in Trek history. However, behind the scenes, it caused a firestorm between the producers and the writer. Harlan Ellison, a noted sci-fi author who penned the episode, was upset with the changes Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana made to his story. These included the excision of a drug addicted Enterprise crewman and a hostile Kirk-Spock relationship. Ellison wanted his name removed from the final episode, but Roddenberry wouldn’t do it. There was bad blood between the two for years. In 2009, Ellison sued Paramount for failing to compensate him for all the decades of merchandising the studio did for the episodes. An LA federal court ruled in his favor.

9

Spock’s Brain
Original Series, 1968

Remote Spock

First episode of third season, and the first to air after the series was renewed. Too bad it would end up considered the worst Star Trek episodes of all time. As the title would suggest, it concerns Spock’s Brain–it’s gone missing, and the crew must find it. Leonard Nimoy says he felt embarrassed throughout the episode, though it’s possible to look back on the episode and think it’s so bad it’s good.


8

Plato’s Stepchildren
Original Series, 1968

P203 7 Platos Stepchildren.Jpg

Under the control of aliens, Kirk and Uhura kiss. It just so happens that Kirk is white and Uhura is black. Though often called the first interracial kiss on TV, it wasn’t; the kiss wasn’t even voluntary. However, NBC was frightened at the potential that southern TV stations would be angered by the kiss, and they did two takes, one with the kiss and one without. Only Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, deliberately flubbed the latter take, so the kiss remained. There isn’t any evidence this show caused any real controversy when it aired, save for a single irate letter from a Southerner.

7

Conspiracy
The Next Generation, 1988

2364-Red-Conspiracy

Parasites infect the Federation, threatening to take it over. The controversy comes from a particularly violent scene at the end of the episode. Picard and Riker confront Remmick, a Starfleet officer infected by the parasites. They shoot him with phasers, causing his body to explode, and revealing the mother bug inside. This scene was so violent that the BBC removed it when airing the episode, and the Canadian sci-fi channel still runs it with a warning.


6

Shades of Gray
The Next Generation, 1989

Stshadesgrey

Star Trek’s only clip show. Riker falls into a coma and the only way to save him is have him relive painful memories. Paramount told the makers they wanted to do a clip show because other episodes had big budgets. And thus this was born. Even a co-writer thought it was pretty bad, calling it a “piece of shit.”

5

The High Ground
The Next Generation, 1990

Pistol1-Rutian-Thehighground

This episode concerned terrorism and a planet who wants the Federation to join their fight for freedom. Again, the Brits are to blame for the controversy. Data has a line in which he says Ireland was eventually unified by terrorism in 2024. Sensitive about such a mention when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were still ongoing, the BBC cut the line when the episode first aired. The episode has never been shown on Ireland’s RTE channel, and sometimes when the episode is aired the UK the line is still cut.


4

Rejoined
Deep Space Nine, 1995

Rejoined-47

Star Trek is infamous for avoiding overt references to homosexuality, something fans have complained about for decades. This is one of the few episodes to make even an oblique reference to it, showing a female kiss. Jadzia Dax and Lenara Kahn are Trills, an alien species that lives on in symbionts implanted in host bodies. Two of their previous hosts had a romantic relationship that was never resolved, hence the same-sex kiss. One TV station in the south removed the scene, and the producers received a large number of negative calls in response.

3

To the Death
Deep Space Nine, 1996

Treks-Best-Villains-20090429034145249-000

Notable because most of the controversy happened before the episode was aired. “To the Death” was the first Star Trek episode ever cut for violence. When the DS9 crew travel to a planet with an Iconian Gateway–a portal to practically anywhere–they encounter hoards of the vicious Jem’Hadar. Hand to hand combat ensues. Originally, 52 Jem’Hadar were shown getting killed, but this was was trimmed to 20, losing 45 seconds of the episode. The BBC censored it even further. Fans complained the result felt choppy and disjointed.


2

Tsunkatse
Voyager, 2000

P Hirogen Und Seven Tsunkatse

Seven of Nine is forced to compete in an alien gladiator sport. Among her combatants is an alien champion played by…The Rock. To many fans, “Tsunkatse” was simply an attempt to cash in on the popularity of another UPN show, WWF Smackdown! (now WWE). The Rock even used his signature moves and eyebrow raising, to the delight of his alien crowd. Despite negative fan reaction, the episode was the highest rated of the season, and you can be sure that’s what the producers wanted.

1

Harbinger
Enterprise, 2004

Screen Shot 2010-03-17 At 5.06.03 Pm

Romantic tension between the Vulcan T’Pol and Commander Trip Tucker culminates in a “love scene” where T’Pol lets down her garment and displays her bare backside, including her naked rear end. Ten days before the episode aired, Janet Jackson had accidentally displayed her bare breast at the Super Bowl–surely factoring into the network’s decision to crop the scene and hide the bare bottom. The scene was shown without cuts in Canada and exists intact on the episode’s DVD.

Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • atler

    It's a little unfair to blame Brits for the Ireland censorship considering how long we lived with terrorism, and how many people they killed it's understandable. What if the position was reversed and it was a line about the Twin Towers wouldn't you Americans be offended by that? And we lived with this terrorism for decades.

    • Ruairí

      And considering how long they lived with occupation and how many were killed.
      Surely the issue is art / censorship not boohoo Britain got dealt bad cards in a sci-fi script. There’s always a narrative out there that is fictional (or true) and offends someone. Censorship offends, full stop !! Art & culture lovers anyway, hopefully.
      @atler, you lived with it for decades; the nations have lived with ‘it’ for centuries.
      ps complete episode banned in Ireland, not just the offending clip. So BBC are, once again, shown in an EXCELLENT subjective light. Hats off. Now airing the ‘offending’ material since 2007, btw.

  • Re: Harlan Ellison…. there is bad blood between him and almost every human being on earth. That's not controversy. That's S.O.P. for Elison.

    • John Maxim

      Please note that by Roddenberry keeping Ellison’s name on the script won Harlan an Emmy for writing.

  • kennypo65

    Harlan Ellison is a real SOB, but a really good writer. Read Deathbird Stories if you can find it. Great list I'm a huge Star Trek fan. Comparing Star Trek to Star Wars is an apples and oranges debate. They are different things. Hoever, to all you Star Wars is better fans I have three words for you: Jar. Jar. Binks.

    • gerrysplace

      To all you Star Trek is better fans I give you two words: Wesley. Crusher.

  • nepratini

    Interesting list, even though I hate Star Trek.

    • wb640

      HATE Star Trek? Is that possible ? Did’nt know that.

      • trooper009

        i’m not a fan of the show but i like the story and this list

  • 63jax

    Looool, crazy people complaining about not showing gay scenes in kids movies.

  • khatzeye

    @nepratini (1): lol so do I but I enjoyed this. Didnt know that there was syfy controversy like this lol, good job trekkie :)

  • bluesman87

    I hate the Star trek movies but maybe thats coz i never saw the TV show…the old school show loks pretty cool though…

  • Julius

    And now, to start one of the ancient geek debates:
    Star Wars is waaaaaaaaay better than Star Trek

    • Your Daddy

      Lame. BSG beats most of 'em.

      • Star Wars is just a fairy tale in space. Star Trek wins WAY over Star Wars.

  • Alright! My kind of list! Go Star Trek! And THANK YOU Peter for the list! Wohoo!

  • RE: #1-Harbinger: And thus, T’Porn was born… :)

  • Julius

    @bluesman87 (4): the new star trek movie was awesome, but the old were terrible…

  • Lifeschool

    Hey, I thought this was a fair list today but could have done with just a little more meat and a little less veg, especially for #8.

    @atler (5): A very good point there Atler.

    OFF TOPIC. Why is it always the Twin Towers now? I had always known it as the World Trade Centre (WTC) and now all of a sudden it’s PC to call it the blummin’ TT. Everytime I see that term I have to mentally distinguish it from the Two Towers in the Lord of the Rings! What was the reason behind this change? [controversy mode engaged]

    • Balin

      They were always referred to the Twin Towers when I was growing up. I was kind of a nerd for calling it the World Trade Center, since not everyone seemed to know its proper name. Anyway, I don't think it's a PC thing at all.

    • Jay

      When the remake of "King Kong" came out, the ape climbed the World Trade Center. Since his original home had been at the top of two enormous twin rock columns, the Towers reminded him of home. So he climbed the "Twin Towers." I think that's actually when everyone started calling it the Twin Towers.

  • bluesman87

    @Julius (10): Never wathched the new one , the ld ones put me off …

  • Julius

    @bluesman87 (12): quite understandably, I wasn’t sure if I should watch it too (not after “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”(quite possibly the worst movie I have ever seen)), but the new one is really worth watching

  • oouchan

    I love Star Trek (but I like Star Wars better) and still think the older episodes are great. Not a big fan of the newer ones. They are boring as hell or just plain stupid. I did like the older movies like the first, second, third and then First Contact-the borg are just awesome!
    …wait, where was I?….oh…liked the list and the reasons they were chosen, Peter B-P, although the “Brit” comment was a little off-putting.

  • nicoleredz3

    I love Star Trek!

  • weidermeijer

    Hot lesbians kissing… only in the south.

  • mitchsn

    Nichelle Nichols didn’t flub the take. Shatner did. Nichelle told the story that Shatner on the final take w/out the kiss deliberately crossed his eyes when he looked at the camera. They had no choice but to leave it in.

  • bluesman87

    @kennypo65 (18):Im not a star trek fan and not a star wars fan but william shatner in tights cant be much better than Jar jar binks

  • savantiromero

    Harbinger…The most Bonerific episode of Enterprise.

  • General Tits Von Chodehoffen

    That sucks about number 1. I want to see her ass.

  • Julius

    @kennypo65 (18): Are we talking new trilogy now? please….
    @bluesman87 (19): Jar Jar Binks is one of the most hateable annoying and utterly pointless characters to have ever graced a cinema…

  • blondieuk

    #5 – The Brits are to blame? We put up with terrorism from the IRA for decades!

    How about an episode where it says “..and Iraq was finally unified by terrorism..” and the star trek crew took the sides of the terrorists, because y’know, they’re freedom fighters too. Their country is being invaded in the name of freedom, and the people in that country who are fighting FOR that country are considered terrorists.

    Goddamn hypocrites. At least when we invade people we say straight up “they’re our fucking islands and we want them back.” Not “there are terrorist cells in the Falklands.. and they’re raping your grandmother, RIGHT NOW.”

    Phew. Rant over.

  • 1gav

    No controversy over a white guy kissing a “Native American” woman on TV? (The Paradise Syndrome)

    Or a white chick getting it on with a Vulcan? (“Plato’s Stepchildren”)

    Or a white chick getting it on with an Indian (“Space Seed”)

    Or Scotty smooching a bottle of Saurian brandy? (“By Any Other Name”)

    Or Riker getting it on with an androgynous “female” (“The Outcast”)

    Or Tasha Yar getting her freak on with a machine? (“The naked Now”)

    But you put a horndog Kirk with a scorching hot Uhura and THAT’S controversial?

    Humans are highly illogical.

    • Suzuka Blade

      You're only just now figuring that out?
      Oh, and by the way why wasn't "Mirror, Mirror" mentioned?

  • 1gav

    Oh- and it’s possible the destruction of the World Trade Center WILL lead to eventual peace.
    If so, I welcome the peaceful unification of the US and the Middle East.

    You’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath…

  • Great list, though the descriptions are a bit weak.

    I’m surprised TNG’s “Outcast” is not on the list. Blatent apologetics for homosexuality. It was pretty controversial in my neck of the woods.

  • nicoleredz3

    @Lifeschool (11):

    Well said! But totally off topic. :lol:

  • lemonpledge

    Not really very interested in this list… although it does help me get a couple of references from the Futurama Star-trek episode.

  • Sasquatch

    Haha, I love how it seems like Canada doesn’t care about any controversy and always airs the full episodes. I thought this was an interesting list to read, mainly because I never thought that Star Trek could ever cause controversy.

  • maximuz04

    The fact that I had to register to comment was stupid. Anyways… I am a huge startrek fan and I can think of more controversial episodes.
    I thought by controversial you meant it was a powerful episode or something.

    I think the one about datas daughter, “flesh and blood” from VOY, The one about Eugenics in ENT, those all deal with better more “controversial” topics…

  • maximuz04

    Oh the one about the aliens, i think it was the season finale conspiracy. This was too violent? WHAAAT i have the dvd and thought it was ridiculous i saw this on the list OMFG

  • maximuz04

    LoL I just realized I said “the one about the aliens” on a list about star trek LOL!

  • undaunted warrior 1

    @ The General(21) Yea I agree with you – but I enjoy the lumps on the chest area better.

  • nicoleredz3

    @maximuz04 (32):

    Lol! :-)

  • deeeziner

    Somehow when I read this list’s title I thought all the entries would be about Star Trek.

    Skip back to the intro and read the word “franchise”. Poop.

    No cable or some other flaw in my TV watching has left me in the cold as to all the spin-offs after Next Generation.

    So as a bonafide stick in the mud, I vote for a list devoted to the original series only.

    Other than that…fine list… well rounded….I’m clueless…blah blah blah….live ling and prosper…..deeeziner out. *closes communicator now*

  • dm21865

    What about the one where Darth Sauron killed all the poor Floopdeedoops with his Klingon mook’da’poop light saber and Capt. Tyronius B. Kirk was forced to fight him with a mind meld, but couldn’t because Darth was his dad? That should be on the list.

  • egm3

    Echoing others, Harlan Ellison is a complete a-hole. He refuses to let people edit his work and pulls temper tantrums at the drop of a hat. On his COTEOF script, he refused to follow the series guide and had Scotty running a illegal smuggling business. When it came to arbitration, all ST could do was submit the episode that aired while Ellison continued to tinker with his un-filmed original script up till the last minute for submission. So naturally he won.

  • Maggot

    @deeeziner (35): live ling and prosper

    I believe the phrase is: love ling and prisper. Damn, woman, do I have to explain everything?

  • deeeziner

    @Maggot (38):

    Woth me, you can never till. :)

  • deeeziner

    Dammit Maggot—I’m a doctor, not a spell check graduate!

  • Maggot

    @deeeziner (40): “Bones”. Lol (I said that for bucslim)

  • Lifeschool

    Damn it Jim!

  • aragorn2k

    I am a huge Star Trek fan. Thanks for the list. Another borderline controversial scene was in “Naked Time” on TOS. When Sulu grabs Uhura and calls her a “fair maiden” and she replies “Sorry, neither.”

  • bythewaywhichonespink

    Maggot deeeziner Yall are too funny. BTW bucslim would be proud that youre representing.

    I knew “the kiss” would be on here. I dont know much, but I knew that.

  • pithlitt

    @Sasquatch (29): Unlike many other so called “free” nations, here in Canada we get to watch a lot of uncensored programming because we are a free nation that believes you have the right to change the channel or turn off your tv if you don’t like what’s [email protected] (31): I liked the one about the aliens. lol @Julius (7): I think the difference between the two is the difference between theology(star wars) and philosophy (trek). I like them both, but each for differing [email protected] (24): I think by todays standards any of the controversy surrounding an original ST episode seems rather ludicrous, but you have to remember the time and place. In the U.S. at the time an interracial kiss in public was cause for much consternation from, shall we say, less enlightened, types of people. :)

  • First, to the trolls who don’t have anything useful to add, why don’t you… you know what? It isn’t worth it. You don’t even deserve that much comment.

    Now, I’m curious as to how such lines as the following made it past the censors, much less missed making this list:

    McCoy: [speaking to a young ensign who has stepped into the bushes to change clothes and admonishes him not to peek] “My dear girl. I’m a doctor. When I peek, it is in the line of duty.”

    This is not an isolated incident, either. McCoy spends the entire episode (“Shore Leave”) flirting with this girl, who is not only 30 years younger than him, but is also a subordinate! It must be considered that McCoy is 50+ years old (DeForest Kelly was in his late 40s when the show aired) and that the young ensign looks to be in her 20s. Not unusual, perhaps, even by standards of the 1960s, but I still find it interesting that no one said anything.

    Riker: “They were just sucked into space.”
    Data: “Blown, sir.”

    The Naked Now (Star Trek: The Next Generation) was an episode fraught with sexual innuendos (and blatant sexual references), culminating with Tasha Yar seducing the
    “fully-functional and programmed in multiple techniques” android, Data. It was intended as a homage to the classic episode “The Naked Time,” but as only the second episode of the new series and so openly and blatantly sexual, it came off as a joke in poor taste.

    Wesley: “It’s about this long [gesturing with hands] and this thick…”

    Riker: “What about plain old basic sex? You must have some need for that.”
    Worf: “Of course. But with the females available to me, sir – Earth females – I must restrain myself too much. They are quite fragile, sir.”

    “Justice,” another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation also had it’s share of sexual tomfoolery. In the first example, Wesley is describing a baseball bat, but there are better ways to have gotten the point across, especially to the pretty blond thing he was talking to at the time. As for the conversation between Worf and Riker, I’m almost certain it was put in the script to give it a more natural flow (on a planet where the people have perfect bodies and wear next to nothing, it seems perfectly natural that the conversation would turn to such), but it comes across as overtly sexual.

  • opschief

    I found the ultraviolent scene of “Conspiracy:”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moxOTT4APr8

  • opschief

    And the “Rejoined” smooches:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Sit13SfMSE

  • 23trainwrecks

    Awesome. A Star Trek list. I might have mentioned the entire first season of The Next Generation for being so horrible. Luckily by the second season, the show improved and was really good.

  • According to Harlan Ellison’s book COTEOF in which he reports on the behind-the-scenes events regarding his writing of the script for this terrific Star Trek episode,Scotty not only was not involved in an illegal drug operation,he was never any part of the story at all.Ellison includes some drafts & his final version of the script he handed in in this book & indeed there’s no mention of engineer Scott at all.The Scotty & the drugs story is a myth that has grown up over the years around this incident.

  • timefillmyeyes

    Awesome, I love Star Trek! I’m mainly a fan of the original series, though, so I would second deeeziner’s idea of a list based entirely on TOS.

    The thing that I find funny about Plato’s Stepchildren is that it’s full of all kinds of mental torture and humiliation, yet no one notices that because of the interracial kiss. I thought that the episode was a little sick.

    Spock’s Brain was just hilarious. It was awful, but I was laughing like a madwoman through the whole episode. :D

  • Ok, just want to clear up some of the things on the list that I know to be completely wrong…

    The episode was shown on British Terrestrial TV, and has been shown by RTE, not on RTE1 but on Network 2/RTE2. (by the by, This is the channel with the “good stuff” on it RTE1 has, by law, almost exclusively native programmes)
    Everytime I’ve seen the episode the line about the IRA has been in it.
    Also this was first shown in britain as part of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek Celebration tv event, as the never-before-seen episode. It had the IRA line in it then too.

    I have to say that the BBC and RTE’s handling of Star Trek’s version of Ireland (and the Troubles) are far better than America’s:
    The Episode ‘Up the Long Ladder’ got laughs from ireland and letters of complaint from Boston and Chicago born ‘Irish’ for belittling their people

  • Will Trame

    Also of note is “Wink Of An Eye” from the original series’ third season. In the sequence in Kirk’s quarters where he’s putting his boots back on it’s a pretty clear indication that he had just had sex with Deela.

  • Deez Baulz

    It wasn't Nichelle Nichols who flubbed the take in "Plato's Stepchildren; it was William Shatner. He said so on NUMEROUS occasions, including his autobiography. I don't see how you could make such a glaring error unless, you are as I suspect, a moron.

  • DanP

    Don't be hatin. Star Trek was pushing us into the future long before we knew where the future was headed… Look at cell phones you young wippersnappers wouldn't be enjoying your texting if it wasn't for Star Trek old school. Star War's.. its good but how many futuristic products do you see launched off of ideas from this movie? Light Sabors?? (Life savers candies????)

  • Anon.

    I'm surprised that the episode where Kirk somehow got trapped on that overcrowded planet didn't make this list, and there was the one with the black-and-white people that was an obvious allegory about racism, lots about various forms of oppression, and what, "Spock's Brain" is one of the controversial ones?

  • dfjkf

    What!? No Threshold!??

  • dfjkf

    Oh yeah, and where’s the one where Deanna Troi was raped? Not to mention where that happened to Tucker in Enterprise, only this time they decided to make a big joke about someone SEXUALLY ASSAULTED!!!!

  • Lexi Sheross

    Good list, but one of your facts is incorrect! According to a documentary aired on PBS in the US, WILLIAM SHATNER is actually the one who messes up the second take – he looks up and crosses his eyes. Thus, the first take was aired.

  • Mikey

    As a kid I once met Harlan Ellsion at a Sci Fi convention in NW Washington DC, I was 11 and asked him to sign a copy of the script City on the Edge of Forever. His response was unprintable here. I dont know if this guy is dead or alive at this point and dont care but I will forever remember him as a crass, obscene, low class individual not fit to wipe dog poop from my shoes. To speak to a child that way! Oh and by the way, years later I read the original script he penned for Star Trek–whatever writing skills he may have posessed, he obviously knew nothing about writing for television..only a total arrogant fool would have been offended at the necessary changes..

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