“Crazy way to travel, spreading a man's molecules all over the universe.” – Dr. Leonard McCoy, “Obsession”
“Reg, how many transporter accidents have there been in the last ten years? Two? Three? There are millions of people who transport safely every day without a problem.” – Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, “Realm of Fear”
The transporter may be a staple of Star Trek technology, but Dr. McCoy and his fellow transporter-phobes — Dr. Pulaski, Ensign Sato, Captain Archer, and Lt. Barclay — all had good reasons to be skittish about it. Transporter accidents could be caused by anything: spilled ore, storms, even orchids! And while the results sometimes defied logic they still gave us great stories, sometimes an entirely new perspective.
“The Enemy Within” (The Original Series)
In this season one episode written by renowned sci-fi/ horror writer Richard Matheson, some yellow ore gets on the transporter and Kirk experiences the first transporter malfunction in Star Trek’s televised history. He’s split into two Kirks, a “good” version and an “evil” one. The negative side gives him his command strength and ability to make decisions, while the positive side gives him compassion and intelligence. “I've seen a part of myself no man should ever see,” Kirk says, once he’s whole again.
“Second Chances” (The Next Generation)
Whereas Kirk was split into two, Riker got doubled. Back when he was just a little lieutenant on the U.S.S. Potemkin, Riker was returning from an away mission when the transporter was affected by an energy distortion field. He beamed back up to the ship just fine, but another Riker, identical in all ways, ALSO materialized down on the planet. Believing they’d rescued their crew, the Potemkin left, stranding Riker’s clone for eight long and lonely years. When the Enterprise showed up, the two Rikers came face-to-face with each other for the first time. The episode had a sort of happy ending, sending “Thomas” Riker off to his new life, until he was ready to make a second appearance on Deep Space Nine. But that’s another story entirely.
A “minor glitch in the molecular imaging scanners” plus an alien plant somehow turns Tuvok and Neelix into Tuvix, a fusion of both men (and orchid).
Tuvix is the result of a molecular merge, creating a being comprised of Neelix’s compassion and Tuvok’s logic. This incident goes on to become one of the most debated moral dilemmas in all of Star Trek. Did Janeway owe loyalty to her two crew members or to this new creation? She decided in favor of the former, but the internet debates rage on about whether she had the right to kill Tuvix, especially in light of the Doctor’s statement that he couldn’t do it, because a physician must do no harm.
“Rascals” (The Next Generation)
Not all transporter accidents have to be so serious. An encounter with an energy anomaly created a new kind of transporter accident and Picard, Ro Laren, Guinan, and Keiko rematerialized aboard the Enterprise as children. This much-rewritten script wasn’t a favorite of the writers, but it’s a highly entertaining episode and does exactly what Star Trek is supposed to do: make characters (and viewers) think about their lives in a different way. And in the meantime, the kids thwart a Ferengi takeover on the ship with toys and tricks. Highlight of the episode: a young Jean-Luc telling Riker, “You’re my number one dad!”
“Much Ado About Boimler” (Lower Decks)
And then there’s poor Boimler, who just wanted to help Rutherford out with his transporter work in the hope of impressing the captain. The process got “a bit sticky” and Boimler rematerialized out of phase: slightly transparent, glowing, and emitting a loud and unpleasant noise. The noise didn’t last but the glow did, making Boimler fret that “nobody wants a sparkly captain.” (Yes, the effect eventually wore off, but only after a harrowing journey where his fellow passengers on a transport ship tried to kill him.)
“Realm of Fear” (The Next Generation)
Due to a slightly botched effort to reprogram the biofilter, the crew of the Yosemite are trapped inside the transporter’s pattern buffer. The Enterprise would never have found them without Lt. Barclay, whose fear of the transporter leaves his judgy crewmates assuming that he’s hallucinated a creature inside the beam. Luckily for the four Yosemite crew members, Barclay persisted in finding out what he’d seen in there, even though (a) his own colleagues made fun of him behind his back for it and (b) the crew members looked like giant mouths trying to bite him when they were still trapped in the beam.
“Mirror, Mirror” (The Original Series)
The most famous detour of all time -- one that would go on to spark numerous episodes throughout the years -- began on TOS when an ion storm messed with the transporter and swapped Kirk, Uhura, McCoy, and Scotty for their Mirror Universe counterparts. Those left on the Prime Enterprise caught on pretty quickly, but those on the Mirror Enterprise took a little longer to get hip to what had happened. Our heroes were better at behaving like savages than their counterparts were at acting civilized, as Spock aptly pointed out. “They were brutal, savage, unprincipled, uncivilized, treacherous,” he says, describing them as a “splendid example of homo sapiens.”
“Past Tense” (Deep Space Nine)
A temporal surge sends Sisko, Bashir, and Dax to the right planet — Earth — but in the wrong time period: 2024. The writers wanted a way to comment on the apathy people had for unhoused Americans and created a powerful two-parter that dug into economic disparity, injustice, racism, and the need for both compassion and change. If you haven’t seen it in a while, you’re overdue for a rewatch.
“I have to confess, given a choice, I'd much rather use a good old-fashioned shuttlepod.” Captain Jonathan Archer, “Daedalus”
Laurie Ulster (she/her) is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She's a writer/editor and was the Supervising Producer on After Trek.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access and in Canada, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.