John’s Semi-Chronological Star Trek Viewing Order
Last Updated: September 24, 2020
This suggested Star Trek viewing order is probably best for someone already somewhat familiar with the basics of Star Trek, who wants to watch the entire franchise in roughly the order the episodes are intended to take place. The goal is not to be rigid about this - some episodes are moved around the timeline to enhance the story-watching experience - but generally this guide will take you from the 21st Century right through to the 32nd.
TOS —> Star Trek - The Original Series (1964, 1966-1969)
TAS —> Star Trek - The Animated Series (1973-1974)
TNG —> Star Trek - The Next Generation (1987-1994)
DS9 —> Star Trek - Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
VOY —> Star Trek - Voyager (1995-2001)
ENT —> Star Trek - Enterprise (2001-2005)
MOV —> Theatrical Movies (1979-1991, 1994-2002, 2005-2016)
DIS —> Star Trek - Discovery (2017-)
SHO —> Star Trek - Short Treks (2018-)
PIC —> Star Trek - Picard (2020-)
LDS —> Star Trek - Lower Decks (2020-)
PRO —> Star Trek - Prodigy (2021?-)
SNW —> Star Trek - Strange New Worlds (2022?-)
S31 —> Star Trek - Section 31 (?-)
April 5th, 2063:
Star Trek essentially begins on this date, when Zefram Cochrane creates faster-than-light travel (“warp drive”) allowing humans to meet our first aliens: the Vulcans. We will eventually come back around to this event much later in the viewing order, but for now it’s just useful backstory.
We begin our viewing order with Star Trek: Enterprise (technically just titled Enterprise for the first two seasons). While the earliest series chronologically, chronicling the events leading up to the formation of the United Federation of Planets, this show was actually the sixth Star Trek series made. We will be watching the series essentially in release order, but will be skipping some episodes in Seasons two and four to watch later in the viewing order.
We are skipping episode 23 for now, and will be watching it later.
In its final season, with a new show runner, Enterprise really goes nuts with tying things into chronologically later stories. Watch the episode numbers, as we skip episodes 18, 19, and 22 to watch later on.
We are finished with Enterprise, for now, but we’ll loop back to the episodes that we skipped, including the “official” series finale, later in the run. Even so, the above two-parter is very much a better story to go out on in the meantime.
The Earth-Romulan War, first established in the Original ‘60s series, occurs here. It was intended to be covered starting in Enterprise’s fifth season, but unfortunately it was cancelled after Season four. Anyway, by the end of the war, Humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites, form a loosely structured Coalition of Planets which manages to push back the Romulans. This Coalition leads directly to…
The United Federation of Planets, the dominant political organization of the Star Trek franchise, is officially formed, and in a future entry in this viewing order we will be jumping back to see it happen officially.
The Federation’s various periods of expansion and decline, peace and war, will be a major focus of the franchise from here on out.
An adaptation of an (actual) ancient African legend, told to a young girl we will be meeting as an adult shortly, this is our first “Short Treks” episode. These are short mini-episodes that are not pinned down to any specific time or place in the franchise and will pop up now and then in this list.
2233 - A sidenote about universes/timelines:
The Star Trek franchise includes two primary “universes” that co-exist independently. The Kelvin timeline, which consists of three feature films, and the Prime timeline, which covers literally everything else. This year, 2233, is the point at which the universe splits into Kelvin and Prime. None of this is actually important for now, as we stick with the Prime timeline until much later in this viewing order, but remember it for later.
Do note there is actually a third universe, the “Mirror” universe, which we’ll be getting to know shortly, but this is a whole different thing, and for simplicity our visits there are not separated from the Prime episodes.
The USS Kelvin flies through space, exploring strange new worlds. Nothing happens. All is well.
After a quick Short Trek in which we meet a young ensign reporting to his new ship for the first time, we reach the very first bit of Star Trek ever produced: the first pilot, dating from 1964-65. Rejected by NBC for being "too cerebral," studio owner Lucille Ball convinced the network to give them another shot, which we’ll get to in a few years. Historical sidenote: This episode was re-edited into a later original Star Trek episode, and was not actually seen in its entirety until the late 80s, but don’t skip it - the character of Captain Pike becomes very important shortly
A sidenote about Discovery and design:
While only the second series chronologically, Discovery, which we have now reached, is the seventh Star Trek series produced, and the first to significantly revamp the visual designs. While every previous show assumed the 23rd century appeared as it did in the original 1960s series, Discovery updates these designs and trusts us to accept that they “always” looked this way. This affects uniforms, ships, alien makeup and more. Worth particular mention are the Klingons, who were dramatically redesigned, though this rather unpopular redesign is backtracked significantly, though not entirely, in season 2. (Though don’t ask me why they aren’t looking human after the events portrayed late in Star Trek Enterprise).
One of the quirks in watching the franchise this way pops up here, as episode 10 establishes that the USS Defiant is somewhere it shouldn’t be. Our heroes don’t know why, but the show assumes that we do. Even so, don’t worry about it for now - we will see the explanation when we get to 2268, and in the meantime, it’s not at all important to how the story in Discovery plays out.
Calypso will pretty much certainly be moved forward almost to the end of this viewing order, once we see enough of Disco Season 3 to see how it fits in. As we don’t yet know exactly where or how, I am, FOR NOW, just slotting it into the time where it originally aired.
Late 2250s-Early 2260s:
I will attempt to avoid spoilers here, but if you’ve seen the Disco episode listed just above, you know the so-far unaired Disco Season 3 involves a time jump, and therefore its placement in the viewing order will rely very much on how that plays out and how/when/if the series returns to the late 2250s.
Star Trek - Strange New Worlds, (and, possibly Section 31,) will likely take place here once it airs.
Here’s that second Original Series pilot Lucille Ball fought for, now with (most) of the classic Star Trek crew. Still no Bones, Uhura, or Chekov, Kirk has a different middle initial, the uniforms and sets still aren’t quite right, etc. But we are recognizably in the world of the show that started it all.
The episode order will jump around significantly for a while, as they are listed here by production order instead of by airdate. TOS has very little inter-episode continuity anyway, but production order still seems to make the most sense. In general, don’t get too hung up on continuity with the rest of the franchise in these early days - they take quite a while to pin some stuff down. For example, there’s about five different contradictory names given for the agency they work for before someone finally says the word “Starfleet”.
The Menagerie is largely reedited from The Cage, which we watched a while back, but don’t skip it - after spending so much time with Captain Pike since, this episode is essential.
With the arrival of Chekov, the classic cast is finally complete.
Mirror, Mirror was Star Trek’s very first visit to the Mirror universe, even though we’ve already been there in our viewing order. Star Trek - Enterprise visited there too, actually, but that’s one of the ones we skipped for later viewing. Keep an eye out for that shortly.
In one of the more fun examples of the shows tying together, these next three episodes loop in two of the Enterprise episodes we skipped to explain why the USS Defiant was over in in Discovery’s Mirror Universe.
Is The Animated Series in continuity? Debatable. Roddenberry liked to say it was not, but much that first appears here is used later, with Enterprise’s Vulcan arc borrowing heavily from Yesteryear, Robert April being namedropped in Disco, Lower Decks having a character from a race previously only seen here, etc. And yes, some parts are cheesy, like say giant clone Spock… but remember when his brain was stolen in TOS? So… sure, why not. Death of the author means we don’t have to listen to Gene.
Movie time! Some background here. Paramount was planning on making a new network, and thought a new Star Trek series, to be entitled Star Trek Phase II, was just the thing to anchor it. Many scripts were written, new characters created and cast… and the network plans fell through. And so did the show at first, but when Star Wars was such a hit, they decided to take one of those scripts and streeeeeeeeeetch it out into a movie.
So…. Is it way too long for the amount of plot it has? Yes, though it has its charms. And isn’t it basically a retread of Nomad from the episode The Changeling anyway? It is. And hey, isn’t that the pedophile Dad from 7th Heaven? Yes, yes it is. Anyway, I recommend the Director’s Cut, in which pacing is improved and some particularly flawed effects are redone, but storywise it doesn’t matter which cut you watch.
After TMP didn’t do so well, Star Trek II, a sequel to the episode Space Seed, was being made as a TV movie. Halfway through filming, though, they decided to release it to theaters. And, in my and many others’ opinion, it’s the best Star Trek movie of all.
Ephraim and Dot ’s continuity really makes no sense anywhere, but it’s cute so who cares. Anyway, this seemed the BEST place to put it.
A criminally underrated film
Sidenote: The opening sequence of Star Trek: Generations takes place here. Optionally, you can watch the beginning of that movie and stop when the “78 years later” caption comes up. Or you can just not worry about it, and watch the whole film in one sitting when we reach 2371.
We now jump forward 70-odd years to see a far more established Federation, and perhaps the most popular Star Trek series of all, rivaling even the original: Star Trek - The Next Generation. That said, it is extremely rough at the outset. For more info on how close it came to outright failure in seasons 1 and 2, you can watch the surprisingly entertaining documentary Chaos on the Bridge, but rest assured, it gets a lot better later on.
Enter: Riker’s Beard. Fun fact: The writers strike this year means that not only do we get an actual Golden Girls-style clip show, the producers dip into episodes written for the Phase II series that was never made and eventually became The Motion Picture. Riker and Troi were ALWAYS a revamp of the original plans for Decker and Ilia, but the season opener was literally written in the 70s to happen to Ilia.
We now reach my personal favorite Trek: Star Trek - Deep Space Nine, which will eventually feature Star Trek’s first real foray into plot serialization. Typical for shows in the Star Trek franchise, it starts out quite uneven, but once it finally gets going it’s a real joy. We’ll be essentially bouncing between series to stay in the correct chronological order, though with occasional tweaks to keep from breaking up story arcs too much.
In this year we’ll be watching the fantastic Next Generation series finale, but also finally going back to watch the controversial and disappointing series finale of Enterprise. (Leaving just one more episode before we finish Enterprise once and for all.)
Like Phase II was intended to before it, and Discovery actually does after it, Star Trek - Voyager is launched at this point as the centerpiece of a new network: the short-lived UPN, home of Shasta McNasty and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfieffer. Note that Voyager episode orders jump around a bit due to some production weirdness.
Only took 222 years, but after this next episode, we’ve watched all of Star Trek Enterprise.
Voyager gets a much needed shot in the arm with the introduction of Seven of Nine, and Deep Space Nine delivers a great season as the Dominion War arc reaches full swing.
Farewell, DS9. I’ll always love you best.
There’s no place to put Insurrection so its references to the war and the presence of Worf really make perfect sense, but this is probably the closest to working. I’m not going to go too nuts about it.
Star Trek returns to animation with its ninth series, and first all-out comedy, Star Trek: Lower Decks, aimed towards a more adult audience than The Animated Series or Prodigy. As of my writing this, these episodes have yet to air, so I reserve the right to come back and adjust the orders once they’ve actually been on-screen.
The events of this Short Trek set the events of Star Trek - Picard, which we’ll be coming to shortly, in motion.
▫ SHO Season 2, episode 6 - Children of Mars
The Romulan sun goes supernova, devastating the Romulan empire. A failed attempt to stop this sends the Romulan mining vessel Narada back to 2233, creating an alternate universe known as the “Kelvin Universe” or “Kelvinverse.” Three movies take place in this Kelvin universe, and we will be viewing them now. It is important to remember that this new timeline DOES NOT replace the original “Prime” timeline, which exists as it always has and to which we will be returning shortly.
The USS Kelvin is destroyed by the Narada, newly arrived from the Prime Universe 2387.
Too action-oriented for some, and plot-holes galore, but 2009’s “Star Trek” is a quite fun take on the original series. You can use the butterfly effect of the appearance of the Narada in 2233 as a reason the 2258 Kelvinverse looks and feels quite different than the Prime Universe. Or you can just accept it as creative license. Don’t overthink the chronology and details of this batch of movies though, or you’ll start seeing all kinds of things that make no sense.
This film, while a solid improvement on Into Darkness, did not do very well, meaning that, despite recurring talks of a fourth film, Beyond may end up being our last visit to the Kelvinverse. I wouldn’t want all Trek to be like it, but it was a fun corner of the franchise while it lasted.
We now return to the Prime timeline, already in progress.
Discovery Season 3 takes place here. If they return home at the end of the season, I’ll have to decide then what makes sense from a viewing order perspective, but at least for now, it appears as a coda to the rest of the franchise. The below episode titles may or may not be correct at the time of this being written. They will be corrected if necessary as episodes air.
DIS Season 3, episode 1 - That Hope is You
DIS Season 3, episode 2 - Forget Me Not
DIS Season 3, episode 3 - Scavengers
DIS Season 3, episode 4 - Unification III
DIS Season 3, episode 5 - Terra Firma
DIS Season 3, episode 6 - The Sanctuary
DIS Season 3, episode 7 - Outside
DIS Season 3, episode 8 - The Citadel
DIS Season 3, episode 9 - The Good of the People
DIS Season 3, episode 10 - Die Trying