A Beginners Guide To Star Trek

Image: iStock

Star Trek Discovery opened the universe of Kirk, Spock and McCoy to a whole new generation of potential Trekkies. And while it was full of little Easter Eggs for existing fans, it was really made for people with no interest in any of the older Star Trek series.

But, if you wanted to get into the wider Star Trek pantheon, where would you start? Do you need to go back to the original series made in the 1960s. Or can you kick things off with one of the other TV shows? Or are the recent movies starring Christopher Pine the place to start?

A timeline of Star Trek series

Before delving into Star Trek for the first time, it's a good idea to get a handle on the chronology of the different series. This will also help to familiarise yourself with the series acronyms that pepper Star Trek forums and websites.

Each series is set in a specific time period, in chronoliglcal order:

  1. Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT): This prequel series was made between 2001 and 2005 and covers events from about 2151 through till 2155. It also details events that took place during the first human contact with an extra-terrestrial race and other events that fall between our history and the future that the creators forecast.
  2. Star Trek: Discovery: This is the most recent TV series (you can read my wrap up review here). It is set about ten years before the voyages of Kirk and his famous crew.
  3. Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS): This is the original series that brought the first version of Gene Roddenberry's universe to fans. Its set in the 23rd century but sits chronologically between the last two Star Trek Series made. They are set in 2266 through to 2269.
  4. Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS): This cartoon series adds more adventures to those recorded in TOS.
  5. Movies: Between TOS and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) a series of ten movies were made, with the first six covering the Kirk era, a seventh, called Generations forming a crossover between the two, and the final three movies being helmed by the TNG crew.
  6. Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG): Set in the 24rd century, about 70 years after TOS, TNG covers the voyages of the fifth (and eventually sixth) star ships named Enterprise. In parallel with TNG, two other Star Trek series were created (see below). These covered events that were more or less contemporaneous with TNG but were focussed on other parts of the galaxy.
  7. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (DS9) This series covered events on a space station that protects a wormhole that links the main part of space the Star Trek series have existed in (the Alpha Quadrant) with another distant area called the Gamma Quadrant. The wormhole makes a journey that would take decades into one that takes seconds.
  8. Star Trek: Voyager (VOY): The Voyager is a ship that is thrust into the deepest outreaches of space and faces a 70,000 light-year journey home. The seven series run, lead by the TV franchise's first permanent female captain, charts that ships journey.
Image: Netflix

That covers what most fans consider the Prime Timeline. But when JJ Abrams was handed the reins to a new movie series he spawned an alternate timeline, which has been dubbed the Kelvin Timeline.

Those three moves, starring Christopher Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban as Kirk, Spock and McCoy respectively, suggest an alternate universe where things are similar to the Prime Timeline, but not exactly the same. You could watch those three movies without watching any other Star Trek series or movies and come away with a good understanding of who's who. Only one character, Spock, crosses over from TOS into the Kelvin Timeline.

Who are all the people?

Each Star Trek series is focussed around the crew of one specific ship other than DS9, where the cast are the main crew of a space station. Listing the main characters of each series would take way more space than we have here. But a good place to look for details on specific characters - even those that only appeared fleetingly - is Memory Alpha.

That said, there are a few key characters that are worth knowing a little more about.

Ship Captain Other important people
Enterprise NX-01 Jonathan Archer First Officer T'Pol (first Vulcan officer in Star Fleet), Engineer Trip Tucker, Security Chief Malcolm Reed
Enterprise NCC-1701 and NCC-1701A James T Kirk Science Officer Spock, Doctor Leonard McCoy
Enterprise NCC-1701D Jean-Luc Picard First Officer William Riker, Chief of Security Worf (first Klingon in Star Fleet)
Deep Space 9 Benjamin Sisko Major Kira Nerys (second in charge, Security Chief Odo (a shapeshifter - handy when you're the local cop!)
Voyager Katherine Janeway Chokotay (who was the member of a resistance cell), The Doctor (a hologram)
Discovery Gabriel Lorca (who turned out to be a bad guy) and Saru Michael Burnham, Paul Stamets, Philippa Georgiou

Some of the technology and jargon

One of the great things about Star Trek is some of the creators' ideas have ended up becoming real devices. The communicators everyone used in TOS, during the 1960s, informed some of the mobile phone designs of the 1990s.

But here are a few of the terms you'll hear most commonly used in the various series.

The Federation and Starfleet: The United Federation of Planets is like an intergalactic United Nations. Starfleet is their defensive and exploratory armada of ships that defend the member planets and conduct ongoing exploration, subject to Prime Directive.

Prime Directive: This is a rule of non-interference. When a member of Starfleet encounters an alien race, they are not meant to interfere with its development. In earlier series it was called General Order 1 and, while Kirk's crew, for example, was aware of it, they did occasionally break it (humourously in The Voyage Home - my favourite of the movies - when Scotty gives away the formula to a new material his crew needed but hadn't been invented yet in the place he visited).

Warp drive: These are the engines that allow star ships and other space vehicles to travel at beyond the speed of light. Each "Warp Factor", number one, two, three, up to 9.9 is a multiple of the speed of light. So, a ship travelling at Warp 8 is travelling eight times faster than light. Incidentally, during the TNG era, it was found that travelling in excess of some Warp speeds was damaging the galaxy. So a speed limit was imposed (that could be broken during emergencies)

Transporters: These devices convert solid objects and biological matter into a digital stream that can be transported from one location to another. The technology is not perfect and there are accidents from to time, In the TNG episode "Relics" Montgomery Scott, the engineer from Kirk's Enterprise is found after a ship he was on was attacked and his transporter transmission was held in memory. Picard's crew found it and restored him, six decades after he cleverly hid himself.

Image: Screen capture via Maxim

Wormholes: A wormhole is a key feature of DS9. It is basically an anomaly in space that allows someone to move quickly from one area to another. In most cases, their existence is temporary but the stable one near DS9's location is a key strategic asset.

Jeffries tubes: These are conduits and tunnels on large space ships that people can crawl through. They're kind of like the underground tunnels in our cities in that their key purpose is for housing infrastructure. But they're also convenient hiding places when there's an attack or a saboteur wants to get into some mischief.

Neutral zone: This is a one lightyear wide region of space that separates the Federation from Romulan space. It was established following a war between Earth and the Romulans not long after the events of ENT and before TOS.

Universal translator: If you ever wondered why everyone, in the entire Star Trek universe, speaks English - they don't. A clever invention, that we see refined in ENT, is the Universal Translator. It can, in real time, translate nay language into any other language. It means everyone is really speaking and hearing everything in their native tongue.

The Mirror Universe: At some point in history, an alternate universe was formed. In it, there is no Federation. Instead, there is a Terran Empire that has conquered most of the known galaxy.This is where the actors, who usually play good guys, get to play bad guys!

The non-humans

One of the things Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to highlight was that humans, in future would be united. That's why the crew of the Enterprise in TOS included a Scotsman, Russian, Asian, African American and a Vulcan. But, when it comes to aliens, there have been dozens of different species. But the main ones to know (other than humans) are:

Vulcans: The Vulcan people have suppressed their emotions and place logic at the forefront of all their actions. They are distinguished from their human counterparts by one of there most famous prostheses ever used in films of TV - pointy ears. It was a Vulcan that made first contact with humans, when humans achieved the ability for warp flight.

Klingons: This war-like race live in a feudal society where death in battle is considered "a good way to die". Kilngons and humans are at war or in conflict for much of Star Trek's history. Even though a Klingon serves in Starfleet by the 23rd century, the relationship between the Klingon Empire and Federation could be best described as "It's complicated".

Image: Netflix

Romulans: Romulans look like Vulcans for a good reason; they come from the same pro-genitors. At one point in Vulcan history, when most of the population embraced logic as a central value, a small group rejected this new teaching. There was a war and some of the people left, settling on the twin planets of Romulus and Remus. Humans had very little contact with Romulans until a confrontation that's covered in an episode of TNG.

The Borg: Part humanoid and part machine, the Borg are the 24th century's super villains. They are a relentless race focussed on just one thing: conquering all before them and integrating their diversity into their hive collective to make themselves stronger. Borg exist within a collective where they share consciousness and are controlled by the Borg Queen (who we meet in the TNG movie First Contact). A few Borg are separated from the collective and exist, most famously Annika Hansen, who we know as Seven of Nine (or Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01 if you want her full Borg designation)

Bajorans and Cardassians: Bajor was under the occupation of the Cardassian Union, a cruel and militaristic race who, eventually were forced to leave Bajor and give up the space station we know as DS9. The Bajorans are a deeply spiritual people who we enslaved by the Cardassians but formed a resistance and alliance with the Federation.

I've never watched any Star Trek - where should I start?

I've been watching Star Trek since I was a kid and have watched every episode of every series, as well as every movie. If you're starting your Star Trek journey now, I'd open with Star Trek: Discovery. I think the production quality, which was great in its time, for all the other series will be quite jarring. Discovery is visually appealing, has a strong ongoing storyline that covers all 15 episodes of season one, has great characters and will appeal to the TV viewer of today.

Once you've watched that, I'd suggest picking out a few classic episodes from TOS. You can do this as each episode from TOS and TNG is a stand alone story (other than a few two-part stories and end-of-season cliffhangers in TNG). I'd recommend S1E06 (Mudd's Women) and S2E08 (I, Mudd) as they give some more background to the character of Harry Judd, who we meet in Discovery. Mirror, Mirror (S2E04) is also worth a look.

If you get into TOS, then I always liked Space Seed (S1E22) which then leads you to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan which is a great movie (that was mauled when it was kind of remade by JJ Abrams as Star Trek: Beyond Darkness) and Bread and Circuses.

Of the other series, I'm a fan of Voyager and Deep Space Nine although the final story arc in DS9 was a tad disappointing in my view.


    wow - you runined discovery's (obvious) massive plot twist - and in brackets too :P

    Last edited 20/02/18 11:55 am

    First Officer William Riker, Chief of Security Worf (first Klingon in Star Fleet)

    No mention of Data?

      I was really torn - but yeah, Data could have been on that list.

    Just a little mistake. The Bajoran wormhole in DS9 leads to the Gamma Quadrant, not the Delta Quadrant. Delta is where Voyager was stranded.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now