If you’re introducing your kids to Star Trek, you might be tempted to start with the original series, or with The Next Generation. But our rigorous family testing shows that the original series is just too damn old and slow for kids these days, and TNG suffers from the fact that it doesn’t get good until season 3 — so you either have to suffer through two lousy seasons, skip ahead and miss the setup, or pick and choose the most essential episodes so you fast-forward to season 3. (We used this excellent guide to work our way through the first two seasons.)
But when we started our kids on Star Trek, we started with Voyager. It’s good from the very beginning, it’s pretty accessible, and because it’s not very serialized, you can skip scary or otherwise kid-inappropriate episodes without missing any crucial overall plot development. Between the character of Naomi Wildman and a set of kids who join the cast in the later seasons, there are also quite a few kids for child viewers to relate to.
That still leaves the question of where to start, or which episodes to watch if you’re only going to sample. If you have already watched Voyager yourself, skimming through the short episode summaries on Wikipidea may be all you need to remember which ones to share with the kids.
But be a little cautious, because as we discovered, watching with kids makes you newly alert to scary or disturbing content you may not have thought twice about when you first watch the show. With that warning in mind, here are the episodes our kids (ages 13 and 10) seemed to enjoy the most:
- Caretaker (Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2): The setup for the whole series is worth watching, and our kids enjoyed it. You may need to fast-forward through the scene when Voyager gets flung across space (we see some injured and dead people) and also the lab scenes where crew members are subjected to medical tests. While the series doesn’t really depend on watching every episode, it’s pretty helpful to know how the ship got stranded, and why the doctor is a hologram.
- Time and Again (Season 1, Episode 4): Members of the crew travel back a day to prevent an explosion on an alien planet. Time travel and causality paradoxes 101.
- Deadlock (Season 2, Episode 21): Voyager gets duplicated! Very cool for kids who are into alternate universes (and what kids aren’t?) Spoiler: The ending is a bit sad.
- Tuvix (Season 2, Episode 24): Ah, the transporter accident: a Star Trek staple. In this episode, two very different crew members get merged. It’s not an especially good episode but the kids found it fascinating.
- Real Life (Season 3, Episode 22): The holographic Doctor creates the perfect holographic family — until B’Elanna tweaks the program to make it more real. It’s a great jumping-off point for a conversation about the distinction between an easy life and a meaningful life — but it does get sad. Spoiler here if you need details.
- Distant Origin (Season 3, Episode 23): This is a great episode for dinosaur lovers, because Voyager encounters a species that is distantly related to Earth’s dinosaurs. Don’t worry, they aren’t scary — unless your children are scared by anti-science denialists, like the aliens who refuse to believe in the evolutionary evidence showing their link to Earth.
- Living Witness (Season 4, Episode 23): The doctor wakes up in an alien museum that tells the history of Voyager’s impact on the planet — and discovers that history can get the story wrong. It’s a terrific episode to watch and discuss with kids, once they’ve watched at least a handful of episodes (enough to recognize the museum’s inaccuracies).
- Worst Case Scenario (Season 3, Episode 25): A fun holodeck episode where Voyager members get to play a holo-novel based on their own crew. It’s only fun if the kids have already seen a few episodes of Voyager.
- Random Thoughts (Season 4, Episode 10): While visiting another planet, the crew’s half-Klingon member gets put on trial for violent thoughts. It’s an interesting lens on the challenge of emotional self-control, which may resonate for some kids, but it does have some violent imagery.
- Demon (Season 4, Episode 24): The Voyager crew gets doubled on a planet with “bio-mimetic” goo. Classic, accessible sci-fi. Consider pairing with its season 5 (but much sadder) sequel, “Oblivion”.
- Latent Image (Season 5, Episode 11 ): How does a hologram handle PTSD? That’s the premise of this episode, in which the Doctor tries to make sense of his missing memories.
- Someone to Watch Over Me (Season 5, Episode 22): Seven of Nine (the recovering Borg) gets lessons in how to be more human. It’s very sweet and relatable, but not very sci-fi. His core trauma isn’t likely to be too traumatic for kids.
- Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy (Season 6, Episode 4): When aliens spy on Voyager by tapping into the Doctor’s eyes and ears, they instead get misinformed by the Doctor’s daydreams. Amusing and not at all scary.
- Pathfinder (Season 6, Episode 10): Once the kids are invested in the idea of Voyager returning home, they’ll love this episode, set primarily in the Alpha Quadrant.
- Blink of an Eye (Season 6, Episode 12): This is my favorite Star Trek episode of all time, and it’s one you can watch at any point in your Voyager journey. (We showed it to our kids long before we started on the series in any consistent way.) Voyager gets trapped in the orbit of a planet where time moves faster than it does in the rest of the universe, and the crew gets to watch the planet’s history unfold. Regular appearances by Naomi Wildman make for one more level of kid appeal.
- Muse (Season 6, Episode 22): After a shuttle crash on a planet with a pre-warp civilization, B’Elanna becomes the muse to a local poet. Imagine if it turned out that Sophocles had based Oedipus on an alien encounter, and you’ll get the general idea. Super fun, and a nice intro to the complexities of alien contact.
- Critical Care (Season 7, Episode 5): The Doctor gets abducted and forced to work in a hospital that distributes medicine based on class status. It’s a great catalyst for conversations about fairness, inequality and healthcare.
- Endgame (Season 7, Episodes 25 and 26 ) If your kids get into Voyager at all, resist the urge to skip forward and watch this two-part final episode until you’ve watched the rest of the series (or as much of it as your kids can handle). But I have to mention the finale as a kid-pleaser, because it’s my 10-year-old’s very favorite episode, and six months after seeing it, he still likes to discuss its temporal paradox.
Now that we’ve wrapped up Voyager, we’re working our way through The Next Generation. I’ve got a list of kid-friendly TNG episodes, too.