Top 10 Star Trek Episodes Dealing With Tolerance

Today in honor of Martin Luther King Day, TrekMovie takes a look back at some of the Star Trek episodes which most dealt with diversity and tolerance and those that most epitomized Dr. King’s dream of a future without prejudice.


Star Trek’s Top 10 Episodes Dealing With Tolerance

Star Trek was born in the era of the civil rights movement and while it was a controversial topic in the 1960s, creator Gene Roddenberry and his team embraced Martin Luther King’s dream of a future when people (and aliens) were judged by the content of their character. This vision was personified by the cast itself, which included men and women of difference ethnic backgrounds and nationalities working together as part of a united earth (and indeed a "United Federation of Planets").

Diversity was reflected in Star Trek’s first crew

It has often been said that this message of tolerance acted as a beacon of hope to many. In fact, Nichelle Nichols likes to retell how Martin Luther King himself was a fan of Star Trek and encouraged her to stay with the series because she had become a role model for so many.

Through its history many Star Trek episodes dealt with the the issues of diversity and tolerance. Today TrekMovie choses our picks our 10 favorites…

10. "North Star" (Enterprise)

While searching through The Expanse, the NX-01 Enterprise visits a planet that is inhabited by humans who seem stuck in the 19th century. While dismissible as an excuse to do a Wester-themed episode, the main plot of "North Star" has Capt. Archer and crew fight against how the humans are unfairly treating their former oppressors, the Skagarans. This episode could be seen as an allegory for post-Apartheid South Africa, except with Archer sweeping in to play Nelson Mandela and setting the planet on the course of reconciliation.  

Humans and Skagarans together in a class – once the Enterprise sets things straight

9. "Remember" (Voyager)

While USS Voyager is escorting a group of seemingly peaceful aliens from a colony back to their homeward, B’Elanna Torres starts to have dreams about how these Enarans were oppressing a group of called the "Regressives" who refused to use technology. As it turns out these dreams were real memories of a period in Enaran history that were being telepathically sent B’Elanna. The Enarans had erased the Holocaust of these Regressives from their past, but in the end B’Elanna was able to convince at least one of them to do some research and bring the truth back into the light, sending the message that people should not forget the transgressions of the past. As the saying goes, "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

B’Elanna confronts the Enarans with their own past of intolerance

8. "The Enemy" (TNG)

Enmity between Romulans and Humans goes back for centuries, from the perspective of a 24th century human like Geordi LaForge. But in this episode LaForge finds himself stranded on a hostile planet with a Romulan who he finds out is just as scared as he is. In the end the two have to work together to survive, and along the way learn that they actually have things in common. Their partnership ends up stopping a bigger confrontation between the USS Enterprise and a Romulan Warbird. This theme (known in Sociology as The Contact Hypothesis) of old enemies learning to work together is seen in other Trek episodes, including "Day of the Dove" (TOS), "Duet" (DS9).

Geordi and his new Romulan pal Bochra

7. "Devil in the Dark" (TOS)

This classic Star Trek episode features the famed Horta who attacking the miners on Janus VI. But instead of turning into a show about fighting monsters, the crew of the Enterprise (with the help of a mind meld from Mr. Spock) learn that the Horta is sentient and she has been protecting her children who the miners have been killing (thinking the Horta eggs were useless silicon modules. In the end the miners and the Horta come to an understanding. The baby Hortas even help dig some tunnels, so everyone wins.

Clip: Mr. Spock gets to know the Horta’s pain

6. "Demons"/"Terra Prime" (Enterprise)

The final two episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise (before that "These are the Voyages" finale we are all trying to forget) dealt very directly with intolerance, in this case non-human prejudice. Just as Jonathan Archer’s dream Humans joining up with other species close to becoming a reality, a reactionary group called Terra Prime try and turn Earth into a Humans only zone. In the end Capt. Archer saves the day, the Terra Prime people are exposed as bigots, and Earth takes a big step towards the future within a "United Federation of Planets."   

Vulcans, Humans, Andorians (and others) resist the forces of intolerance and take a step towards unifying together

5. "Measure of a Man" (TNG)

Being that Star Trek is science fiction, it looks forward towards future issues we may have to deal with (while reflecting our own past). One future issue is moving beyond human rights to sentient species rights. But then the question will arise: what is sentience? This is confronted head on in "Measure of a Man" when Commander Data’s freedom of choice is put on trial to determine if the android is sentient or property. This issue is also dealt with in the Voyager episode "Author, Author" (in that case Holographic rights are explored). The title of this episode is taken from a famous quote from Dr. King, and is a poignant reminder of the evils of slavery (and how slavery had been justified).

Clip: Picard argues for Data’s rights

4. "Nemesis" (Voyager)

Not to be confused with the film "Star Trek: Nemesis," this episode deals with how you can be taught to hate others through misinformation. The episode also uses audience misdirection with the bad guys turning out to be the human-like Vori and the good guys actually being the scary evil looking "beasts," the Kraden. The lessons here are to not judge people by their covers, and that intolerance is something that you learn (and can be hard to unlearn).

Trailer for "Nemesis" – Chakotay laments that it is hard to stop hating once you have been trained to hate

3. "The Outcast" (TNG)

Part of the diversity that is celebrated in Star Trek is between the genders (sometimes even more than two, sometimes just one). In the episode "The Outcast" Commander Riker is working closely with a member of the J’naii, who are (supposedly) genderless. However, apparently some of them actually do lean towards a gender and Riker has the hots for one that is feeling a bit girly. Unfortunately, such feelings are shunned by the J’naii. This episode (with the possible exception of Enterprise’s "Stigma") is the closest Star Trek has come to dealing with LGBT prejudice and rights.

Clip: Riker tries to help his friend find her sexuality

2. "Far Beyond The Stars" (DS9)

This episode is no allegory, telling the story of Benny Russell, an African-American writer who has to deal head on with racism in 1950s New York. His story about a space station and its Black commander (Sisko), was too much for the times. The episode also gave a nod to women’s rights in the form of the female writher Kay Eaton, who had to write under the pseydym K.C. Hunter to hide her gender (not unlike original Star Trek writer, Dorothy "D.C." Fontana).

DVD Special feature: Cast and crew talk about "Far Beyond The Stars"

1. "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (TOS)

The cautionary tale that is most often cited when talking about Star Trek and issues of race is "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" from the original series. The USS Enterprise ends up in the middle of an old conflict when an alien fugitive requests political asylum from an officer who is perusing him. The two aliens from Charon are differentiated due to one being black on the left side and white on the right and the other being the opposite. While members of the enlightened 23rd century crew find this to be inconsequential, the aliens see it as reason enough to (as it turns out in the end) destroy their entire planet.    

Clip: Racism in the future takes all sorts

…and for movie that dealt with tolerance "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country"

Of the feature films, the one that most dealt with tolerance was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In this film we see Kirk and the crew deal with their own racism towards the Klingons. It takes Spock and a visionary Klingon martyr to break through the years of distrust and lead the crew to that "undiscovered country" of peace between the races.

Trailer: Kirk confronts his old enemy and his own prejudice


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A message worthy of repetition.

This is why Star Trek is not Star Wars. Star Trek was the show with something important to say. (Video link from PBS’ Pioneers of Television; below.) Adventure with a brain. Bravo Star Trek. Salute to the Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry. And great job


Let freedom ring!

Picard’s argument in The Measure of a Man says it all. Left unsaid is what should be obvious, yet so much conflict is because people deny it: if an android like Data would have the right to choose, then so must every human being.

Far Beyond the Stars is one of my favorite DS9 episodes–it was cool to see all of the actors without the make-up on. And, if you all recall, one of the covers of the magazine they all wrote for was one of the backgrounds from the Original Series. Cool reminder of what Star Trek stands for.

It’s a shame that often tolerance from many Americans doesn’t extend to people from places like Iran. :(

The Measure of a Man is such a good choice here,what a wonderful episode! And one of my favorites! Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is rightfully put in as #1;another of my favorites. Every time I watch it I see all over again how racism should not be a factor in the world today,but there are so many people out there that don’t see that or don’t think about trying to stop it. I try to do my best to put a stop to racism in any way I can,I think we all should!

I think “Balance Of Terror” should have been included on this list, as well as “The Wounded”.

BoT dealt with Lt. Stiles prejudice against Vulcans that stemmed from the death of an ancestor during the Romulan War. Stiles wrongfully, and ignorantly, held blame and distrust against Spock, who had nothing to do with the Romulans aside from the fact Romulans are offshoots of Vulcans.

“The Wounded” featured a Starfleet captain out for revenge against the Cardassians after his family was killed on Setlik III, with Chief O’Brien serving under him on the Rutledge at the time. Unfortunately, Captain Maxwell was unable to let go of his prejudice, which became hatred and eventually resulted in him losing command of the Phoenix.. O’Brien, on the other hand, was able to, but it was a long process.

if i remember correctly, the Enterprise season 3 episode Chosen Realm bares close resemblance to number 1, as far as the ending is concerned.

Thank you, TrekMovie, for posting this terrific article!

“Battlefield” has the right message, but it is bottom-of-the-barrel 3rd season ‘Star Trek.’ which also discusses mutual self-annihilation. Nice to see The Riddler on the ship (Frank Gorshin).

“Balance of Terror” would be my choice for No. 1. Brings true bigotry right to the Bridge of the Enterprise with a top-flight story, a stunning twist, and a tragic but hopeful resolution.

No “Balance of Terror” = major fail.

The predjudice aspect was significant to the plot and characters, without being preachy or making the person with prejudice into a villain. People have prejudice – whether it’s about gingers, or left-handers or fat people or whatever. It just makes them human, not Hitler.


It’s also shame when people try to inject politics into every discussion.

^ Ah, I guess Dr. King was only talking about what happens on TV……got it. ;)

I’ll be bold and say it: From the moment I first viewed “The Outcast” during the original airing, I’ve considered it to be the “Spock’s Brain” of the TNG series. There were a lot of script problems and too many forced character motivation issues in that one.

Before Damon Lindelof called Nero’s attack a 9/11 moment, the series “Enterprise” covered the war on terror when the Xindi attacked Earth. For season three and parts of season four, the show also pivoted to essays on tolerance. Remember that Archer was able to make allies with some Xindi.

Before episodes Demons and Terra Prime, Dr. Phlox had to deal with prejudice. (Episode: “Home.”) Why? Because men were angry at aliens for the Xindi attack. This was expressed as hatred. This was also a metaphor. And it’s not about politics but prejudice. Those that killed Americans on 9/11 were Muslims. But not all Muslims are terrorists or out to kill us. Those great episodes “Demons” and “Terra Prime” should teach us to set aside our prejudices and build a better America.

I think you made a major oversight in not including the Enterprise episode “Cogenitor”.

It makes a very powerful statement about the necessary caution required when helping an oppressed minority advance beyond prejudice.

Often times in Star Trek & in life, we overlook the consequences of influencing cultures to evolve in the direction we think best, neglecting that such growth must be a gradual process, rather than instant.

“Cogenitor” is the only episode of any Trek I can think of that acknowledges the concept that encouraging equality might not always be the right move.

#9 on the list is one of my all time fav’s.
#3 seemed a bit of a cop out.


Ah well, it’s good you can see there are inappropriate places for such discussions. This is one of them.

#2 didn’t you sort of go against the point of this article by pitting Star Trek against Star Wars? Can’t they both exist together? Star Wars is science FANTASY while Star Trek is science FICTION. THAT’S the difference between the two and they can both exist together because they both serve different purposes (though the latest movie blurs the line between the two, heck a lot of the Trek films sort of blur the line between the two, but that’s what movies are for).

Its sad that we still have racism in this country, but its important to remember that it goes both ways. I think many people throw around the word racism without really knowing or understanding what it means. If you don’t support our President because you disagree with his politics you must be “racist” and just not like him because he’s black? That doesn’t make any sense to me. While I’m sure there are some people who didn’t support him because he was black, there are a lot of people who simply don’t agree with his politics and would have no problem with a black man as president in the white also.

Also re: the article – please please PLEASE read your articles and grammar/spell check them BEFORE you post them! I don’t have problems with one or maybe two grammar errors every now and then, but it was so painful reading this as every other paragraph had one or more grammar errors that could easily have been corrected. Its one thing to make a post on Facebook or just comment on an article and have grammar or spelling issues, but when you have an article on a popular news site posted with such errors it looks tacky, rushed and un-professional. Its not just this article either, it seems I’m reading articles from trekmovie all the time with grammar errors.

Mr. Browncoat (Or Ms. Excuse me if I’m making assumptions) you’re a fan who speaks with a voice of reason. If only more fans could be as easy going about it as you are.

Regarding the list, though, I let out a true, audible groan at “… Battlefield” being the #1 pick. That episode is entirely hamfisted and rife with cliché. “Demons/Terra Prime” or “The Wounded” would have been vastly better as a poignant examination of racism and, more to the point, misunderstanding and hate. I suppose putting “… Battlefield” and “Far Beyond the Stars” topping the list would be completely accurate if the list was just for episodes dealing with the civil rights movement of the 60s, which is what we’re remembering currently.

At least we’ve made a ton of progress since then in no small part because of the great thinkers, speakers, and philosophers that’ve pointed out to us just how ridiculous intolerance really is.

I wouldn’t put Battlefield at number 1 either, despite the message I find painfully hamfisted. Ah well, it’s all subjective anyway. :)

That should be, I find the episode painfully hamfisted, not the message. Really should proofread before hitting send. Oops!

Tolerance is a bad word when you’re talking about different races. Tolerance is for annoying stuff like people who fart in elevators or talk in cinemas.

I think the word you were actually looking for was respect.

Tolerance is for annoying stuff like people who fart in cinemas – I agree. Unfortunately, flatulence is difficult to control. Talking in cinemas is not though. People who talk while others are trying to watch and listen to a movie is just rude and inconsiderate.

You, yanquis should learn from this episodes.

Nice list but i’ve never been able to ‘tolerate’ the TNG episode The Outcast. Nice message, yes, but – please – I just couldn’t take seriously Riker falling for a gender nuetral. Perhaps, though that was the point – but to my sensibilities his character was really pretzeled to fit the message.

12. Odkin – January 16, 2012: “People have prejudice – whether it’s about gingers, or left-handers or fat people or whatever. It just makes them human, not Hitler.”

Absolutely true, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to better ourselves or that others should remain silent when some willfully ignorant human being demeans another due to the color of his hair, which hand she uses to write, or the color of one’s skin. How pathetic it sounds, to even speak about handed or hair color discrimination, but I suppose those people do exist and those prejudices are as small minded as any other.

@#20. I completely agree! We should unite with Star Wars and fight against our common enemy!!!!


I mean Twighlight.

Yay Takei!

Good top 10 choices. I think TrekMovie was just coming up with not only the 10 best, but also the 10 most obvious choices for this topic. You could easily come up with a list of 100 instances where racism is a major plot-point in any of the Star Trek series.

I agree the Outcast is not at the top of my Next Generation list of favorite episodes, but bias is a major plotpoint of this particular episode, which is why I’m sure it was included.

I thought “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” was a decent episode. It was certainly in your face. To me, it really made racism seem ridiculous, which was what I think the writers were trying to get across. Here you had 2 people who hated each other simply because they were not black and white on the right side. Hating someone because of the color of their skin is equally ridiculous.

@28 – No question we should speak out when we see any prejudice causing unfair discrimination.

I’m just pointing out that the depiction of prejudice as a sad human failing (a la Styles in Balance of Terror) is MUCH more effective and informative than inventing some phony super-villain organization a la “Terra Prime”.

Something like the Styles character makes you think about what you really do in your daily life. Whereas I spend very little time thinking about starting a global human supremacy movement.

That’s the problem with SF today. It isn’t about the real human experience in an imaginative setting. Everything is so “big” that it’s meaningless.

I was actually not a big fan of “The Outcast.” Past that, I love each of these episodes with a number of them being among my all time favorites.

Tolerance? On this site? Never!!!


Dr. Pulaski demonstrated some prejudice toward Data during her early experiences with him.

Not sure, but I think they may have been hinting that she could be related to McCoy, who seemed to display a slight undercurrent of bigotry toward Spock from time to time.

(Both Pulaski and McCoy were also transporter-phobic).

I don’t recall seeing any episodes that actually did link McCoy and Pulaski as family.

At first I wasn’t sure I agreed with Battlefield as #1, as I concur it’s not the strongest TOS episode, but upon reflection, considering it within the context of the time, I changed my mind. Yes, it’s in your face … at a time when television was hardly that brave (though on the cusp of changing that). Allegory is good, but sometimes the message has to be direct. Certainly no ambiguity in Battlefield…..

“Omega Glory”, too. Kirk’s explanation of the Constitution’s rights: “They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing,” is a plea for (law based) tolerance from the Yangs for their enemies.

@6. Tolerance is a two way street. Perhaps if Iran wasn’t so vocal about exporting it’s brand of tolerance that part of the world would be a bit more peaceful.

Regarding #3. At least they tried.

We must tolerate intolerance. It’s part of being tolerant.

No one seems to have yet mentioned TOS’ “Patterns of Force”- An entire planet’s people scapegoating another.

I was thinking of an episode where Scotty found something was just a millimeter off as being a good example of tolerance.
And there was that time Geordi set the field polarizers off by 2.78 millcochranes. Really needed to pay attention to tolerance.
Oh, sorry. Was thinking of tolerance, when everyone was talking about “intolerance”. :)

@ 37. Phil
” if Iran wasn’t so vocal about exporting it’s brand of tolerance that part of the world would be a bit more peaceful.”

Don’t believe everything you read and listen to, there has been a concerted effort to blacken the name of Iran, It is an age old tool of flinging mud and hoping that some sticks, most of the news agencies in the USA, Britain and Israel have been doing it.

The DS9 episode “Waltz” would be a good addition to the list. Sisko successfully used some clever reverse-psychology to coax the true extent of Dukat’s bigotry out of him:

Dukat: “From the moment we arrived on Bajor it was clear that we were the superior race, but they couldn’t accept that. They wanted to be treated as equals, when they most certainly were not. Militarily, technologically, culturally — we were almost a century ahead of them in every way. We did not choose to be the superior race. Fate handed us that role and it would have been so much easier on everyone if the Bajorans had simply accepted their role. But no…Day after day they clustered in their temples and prayed for deliverance, and night after night they planted bombs outside of our homes. Pride…Stubborn, unyielding pride. From the servant girl that cleaned my quarters, to the condemned man toiling in a labor camp, to the terrorist skulking through the hills of Dahkur Province…They all wore their pride like some twisted badge of honor.”

Sisko: “And you hated them for it.”

Dukat: “Of course I hated them ! I hated everything about them ! Their superstitions and their cries for sympathy, their treachery and their lies, their smug superiority and their stiff-necked obstinacy, their earrings, and their broken, wrinkled noses !”

Sisko: “You should have killed them all, hmm ?”

Dukat: “Yes ! Yes !! That’s right, isn’t it ?! I knew it. I’ve always known it. I should’ve killed every last one of them ! I should’ve turned their planet into a graveyard the likes of which the galaxy had never seen ! I should’ve killed them all.”

Sisko knocks Dukat out with a metal bar, and sarcastically growls: “And that is why you’re not an evil man.”

Thought-provoking words, especially Dukat’s self-serving attempts to justify his bigotry. As so often with Star Trek, unfortunately the nasty attitudes depicted in that episode echo some real-life situations too.

How about the end of “Arena”?

I can’t believe how many TOS episodes were left out, which IMO are far better at dealing with political issues such as tolerance, here are some other great examples.

Mudd’s Women: Mudd negotiates with the three miners there, exchanging his women for lithium crystals for his own profit. Finally, Mudd’s deception is revealed as the women are, in fact, very plain and only appear beautiful due to taking illegal Venus drugs.

Balance of Terror:The Romulans, having never been seen by humans, are revealed to visually resemble Vulcans, casting doubt on Mr. Spock’s loyalty

Patterns of Force: The crew of the Enterprise investigates the disappearance of a Federation historian named John Gill while visits a planet dominated by a Nazi culture.

Omega Glory, Kirk and the landing party beams down to a planet that resembles earth where communist have defeated the yankies (US) the “Yangs” who wage war with the “Kohms”.

Plato’s Stepchildren: The crew of the Enterprise encounters an ageless and mischievous race of psychic humanoids who claim to have organized their society around Ancient Greek ideals, however they have no tolerance for anyone who doesn’t share their version of utopia.

As a kid I recognized the message in “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” and felt it kind of beat you over the head with the obvious message. I appreciate it on different levels these days. One consistent during all my years however is the late, great Frank Gorshin.

A couple of thoughts – I was very pleased to see this article that discusses Star Trek and Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy & dream of justice for all.

In order to be racist, you have to have the power to act on your prejudices (ie discriminate) anything else is prejudice. To say that racism works both ways is NOT true – as the power dynamic between oppressor and oppressed is not equal.

Social Justice IS a political issue, it’s deeply embedded in Trek and this is a very appropriate place to discuss it. How could it not be? Star Trek talks about our society and future.

As I said a while ago in another topic here – how you do think the society/world of Star Trek is going to come about? By us vacantly watching a tv show, or being an active part of progress to bring about a better society for all human beings?

@ 37

Tell me, do you think all 67 million Iranians should be judged by the undemocratic regime that holds power in their country?

Should all Americans be judged by the Bush (or, conversely, the Obama Administration).

It’s intolerant to brand a whole people as a stereotype based on the actions of an undeomcratic regime….and this is my whole point. It’s really no different than in the 1950s when Americans were all convinced that Russians were vil because of the Soviet Union. The igorant just can’t seem to see it.

My point is, what is the purpose of celebrating tolerance and visionaries like Dr. King when so many people fail to grasp the notion of what it means…..and part of that is to be intelligent enough to see past sterotypes and limited thinking.


I don’t know where you’re getting your info on the American people—I can only speak for myself and the people I know personally (family, close friends, etc.) here in the “heartland” of the country—but we don’t hate the Iranian people, just the regime—who couldn’t support the 2009 protest movement? And none of us, believe me, none of us after ten + years of war are wanting ANOTHER war with Iran. At least I don’t.


There’s no doubt that governments and news agencies like to fling mud and sensationalize things, but it’s hard to ignore the “blackened” image of Iran when many Iranian citizens are providing part of the narrative. Remember those protests in 2009-2010, and repeated again during the Arab Spring? Seems they’re wanting a little more tolerance over there—and even willing to die for it.