Star Trek has a long history playing with genre.
There are comedic episodes like Deep Space Nine’s “Trials and Tribbile-ations,” where the crew of DS9, amid a flurry of barroom brawls and close-calls with the original-series cast, prevent a Klingon spy from assassinating Captain Kirk. There are action-oriented outings like The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, and Star Trek (2009), where the captains go head-to-head against adversaries that are hell-bent on humanity’s destruction.
But Star Trek is at its strongest when it incorporates elements of horror into the mix. The Borg, the franchise’s greatest villains, are monsters pulled straight from the 1950s anti-communist anxiety dream Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When Tasha Yar dies at the hands of an oil-covered, malevolent entity named Armus, it’s nightmare inducing. Over the course of seven series and thirteen movies, there are stories of possession, haunted spaceships, split personalities, and even chest-bursting aliens.
So, just in time for the Halloween season, I’m counting down the 9 Scariest Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Put some popcorn in the microwave, turn down the lights, and grab a warm blanket, because these episodes are guaranteed to deliver the frights.
- Episode 7×19
- Directed by Gates McFadden
- Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Kicking things off at number nine, we have the seventh-season episode, “Genesis,” directed by Gates McFadden in her lone turn behind the camera.
When a virus turns the crew of the Enterprise into a “de-evolution zoo,” only Picard and Data can develop a retrovirus to cure them. With Diana growing gills and Worf spitting venom, this is one of the wildest and scariest TNG episodes.
TNG co-producer and writer Brannon Braga will show up a few times on this list. He’s well-known for incorporating elements of horror into his teleplays.
8. Night Terrors
- Episode 4×17
- Directed by Les Landau
- Teleplay by Pamela Douglas and Jeri Taylor
After locating the long-lost USS Brittain, Dr. Crusher’s autopsies reveal that the Brittain’s crew brutally murdered each other. When the same paranoiac fear that led to the Brittain’s destruction begins to engulf the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher discovers that everyone has stopped dreaming except for Counselor Troi. The solution to their dilemma is hidden somewhere in Troi’s cryptic dreams, but do they have enough time to find it?
“Night Terrors” contains cheesy special effects that will look hokey to modern audiences but watching a group of beloved characters slowly go insane—most notably with Worf’s suicide attempt—still resonates and horrifies.
7. The Next Phase
- Episode 5×24
- Directed by David Carson
- Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Geordi and Ensign Ro are presumed dead after a transporter malfunction. Are they ghosts? Spirits? Or are they still alive? Existing outside of everyone else’s field of perception, only their ingenuity can save them from a would-be killer that’s chasing them down.
There are many horrific elements in this episode, but seeing your loved ones grieve for your loss and not being able to communicate with them is absolutely gut-wrenching; and it’s why the “The Next Phase” slots in at number seven on our list.
6. Power Play
- Episode 5×15
- Directed by David Livingston
- Teleplay by Renee Balcer, Herbert Wright, and Brannon Braga
A starship is discovered on a planet where cosmic storms have prevented its detection for 200 years. When an away mission to explore the wreckage goes awry, alien entities possess Data, Troi, and O’Brien; when they return to the ship, Captain Picard bargains for their lives.
The horror of this episode is reminiscent to the possession of Dana Barnett and Louis Tully in Ghostbusters. Data, Troi, and O’Brien have one, all-consuming goal that threatens to destroy them before they can accomplish it.
- Episode 6×5
- Directed by Robert Wiemer
- Teleplay by Brannon Braga
For a science fiction show, Star Trek likes to explore the ethereal in equal measure; especially, when Brannon Braga is behind the teleplay.
When crew members report that they go to sleep, but wake up still feeling exhausted, it’s only a matter of time until they find out they’re being abducted by an alien race and experimented on. We’re talking the cut-you-arm-off-and-re-attach-it kind of experiments.
It’s a plot ripped straight from Fire in the Sky and why “Schisms” steals the fifth spot.
- Episode 7×6
- Directed by Patrick Stewart
- Written by Brannon Braga
Data struggles to deal with his new nightmares: Crusher is drinking Riker’s brain through a straw, Troi is being sliced like a cake, and a voice on an archaic telephone tells Data to, “Kill them all.” In the real word, however, nightmares become reality and Data attempts to stab Troi.
When Troi’s wound fails to heal, the crew eventually realizes that there’s an interphasic organism causing it to become infected. It’s the same creature that’s affecting Data, and he returns to his nightmares to find out how to rid the Enterprise of these organisms.
The seventh season of TNG was a mixed bag, but “Phantasms,” directed by series star Patrick Stewart and written by Brannon Braga, is a standout.
- Episode 1×24
- Directed by Cliff Bole
- Teleplay by Tracey Torme
Starfleet Command is infected with alien parasites and only Picard and Riker can save the day. The first-season episode, “Conspiracy,” is a straightforward, by-the-numbers plot, but stands out in a season mired-down by cerebral stories.
The final special effect sequence is some of the goriest ever seen in Star Trek let alone any horror movie. Don’t believe me? Check it out here:
2. Q Who
- Episode 2×16
- Directed by Rob Bowman
- Written by Maurice Hurley
If you didn’t think the Borg’s first appearance in the second-season episode, “Q Who,” was going to make the list, then you were sorely mistaken.
Has there ever been a more terrifying foe in science fiction history? I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one.
In an attempt to convince Captain Picard to let him be part of the Enterprise crew, the god-like alien Q hurls the starship 7,000 light years away into uncharted space where they encounter the Borg for the first time.
“Q Who” is such a fun ride that we don’t want to spoil anything further. Give this one a shot, you won’t be able to . . . resist it.
1. Frame of Mind
- Episode 6×21
- Directed by James L. Conway
- Written by Brannon Braga
And rounding out the list at number one, we have the sixth-season episode, “Frame of Mind,” written by none other than Brannon Braga.
While performing in a play directed by Doctor Crusher, Commander Riker begins to question his sanity as he continually finds himself in an alien insane asylum.
Jonathan Frakes, in his series-best performance, is captivating as he deals with Riker’s existential crisis.
If you only watch one episode on this list, make sure it’s “Frame of Mind.”
And there you have it: those are my picks for the 9 Scariest Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
What do you think are the scariest Star Trek episodes? Leave a comment below.