In honor of Patrick Stewart's birthday, I figured it's time to cast my eye to one of the most influential science-fiction shows of all time. Star Trek is a powerhouse, with 12 movies and six TV series to date - totalling a whopping 726 episodes across 30 seasons! Although every series and movie has had a rich cast, in truth no starship is greater than its captain. So without further ado, here's my ranking of the top Star Trek captains!
6. SCOTT BAKULA'S JONATHAN ARCHER
Scott Bakula's Captain Archer may have been the first Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, but for me he's also the least effective. The truth is that Archer was dealing with a very different world to any of his successors; he was the pioneer, leading the way and with less than half a clue what to do on any given occasion. Where Jean-Luc Picard could ask the computer to identify an alien vessel, Archer could just look on in wonder. Where James T. Kirk could be confident in his military superiority, Archer would be vaguely wondering whether or not his starship could survive. It gave the character a sense of hesitancy than undermined his command.
Entertainingly enough, Star Trek: Enterprise is the one series not wiped out of continuity by 2009's Star Trek - the reboot happened well after the events of Enterprise! With increased life-expectancy in the Federation, Archer aged to well over 100, and became an Admiral. Sadly, his prized Beagle was an unfortunate victim of a transporter experiment conducted by one Montgomery Scott...
5. CHRIS PINE'S CAPTAIN KIRK
When Star Trek was released in 2009, Chris Pine stepped into some very big shoes - he faced the challenge of portraying this generation's Captain James T. Kirk. His Kirk is a very different man, his life irrevocably changed by time-travel - even resulting in his father's early death. For all their differences, though, the Kirks followed the same path, and ended up seated on the same bridge.
Pine's Kirk is new and unrefined, settling into the Captain's chair of the Enterprise even before he'd graduated Starfleet Academy. He's a shrewd tactician, and some of his strategies show tremendous analytical skills. Unfortunately, he retains a brash and abrasive nature that can irritate those who don't know him so well, and can be more than a little reckless. The trailers for Star Trek Beyond suggest that this film will see him moving to a place where he looks back in life, and begins to develop a degree of wisdom.
It's practically unfair to include Pine's Kirk in this list. He's too new, too fresh, and still too flawed; lacking the years of command, he's making the kind of rookie mistakes that would make William Shatner's Kirk wince!
4. KATE MULGREW'S KATHRYN JANEWAY
With a strong scientific background, Kate Mulgrew's Kathryn Janeway captained a starship in probably the most unprecedented event in Starfleet history. With the Voyager and a bunch of Maquis transported to the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years from Federation space, it fell to Janeway to lead them home. What followed was a fascinating series, in which Janeway struggled to unite a mixed Starfleet and Maquis crew, while all the time serving to represent the Federation even as she tried to find a way home.
Janeway is a fantastic character, more committed to the ideology of Starfleet than any other captain we've seen. Her moral code is absolute and unbending, even in the face of the most extreme temptations - and no matter who becomes her enemy as a result. This is tempered by a passionate belief in the possibility of redemption, first demonstrated when she puts together her mixed crew, and later when she takes on the rogue Borg Seven-Of-Nine as a crew-member.
3. AVERY BROOKS'S BENJAMIN SISKO
Avery Brooks played the part of a captain like no other in "Star Trek" history. Where the other names in this list mainly commanded starships, Sisko's career was focused on the Deep Space Nine space station. Where diplomacy had only been a part of most captains' careers, for Sisko diplomacy - with the Cardassians and the Bajorans - was his meat and drink.
But Sisko differs to the other captains in still other ways. He winds up on the front line of the Dominion War, and there his political experience combines with his command in some unusual ways. The episode "In The Pale Moonlight" sees Sisko showing tremendous strategic skill, but also reveals a darkly Machiavellian side to his character; in order to turn the tide of the Dominion War he lies, obstructs justice, and is even an unwitting accomplice to murder!
The reality is that the Bajoran Prophets were right; Benjamin Sisko was exactly the man the Galaxy needed. He was pivotal to the Dominion War, and earned his place as a Bajoran legend.
2. WILLIAM SHATNER'S CAPTAIN KIRK
Unlike Chris Pine's Kirk, the original James T. Kirk - portrayed by William Shatner - graduated within the top 5% at Starfleet Academy, and worked his way up through the ranks. He was still Starfleet's youngest captain when he took the command seat of the Enterprise, and led the crew on their five-year mission to explore the great unknown.
At Shatner's suggestion, James T. Kirk was very much the "good-pal-the-captain, who in time of need would snap to and become the warrior". He built strong relationships with his crew, and cared passionately about every one of them; his greatest fear was of failing them. Kirk's love of the Enterprise was proven time and again, and he sacrificed everything in his life to keep the chair; when Starfleet eventually persuaded him to accept promotion and become an Admiral, he bitterly regretted it.
The character grows and develops as the shows and movies continue. As a cadet, Kirk couldn't accept the inevitability of death, and won a commendation for his genius in reprogramming the Kobayashi Maru test. As an adult, he faced a similar no-win scenario in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and Spock paid the price for it. Although Spock would return, Kirk would never be quite the same again; he'd grown up.
1. PATRICK STEWART'S JEAN-LUC PICARD
Appropriately enough, for me the greatest of Starfleet's captains is none other than Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard. A master of diplomacy, Picard gathered a close-knit crew around him and was an expert at making his colleagues feel valued. Picard had a collegiate approach to command, where he gathered his main officers into a meeting, took their advice, and then made his own decision. His listening skills proved capable of drawing the very best out of friend and colleague alike.
Which isn't to say he wasn't a genius in his own right. Even before he took the bridge of the Enterprise, Picard became had a reputation for innovation - the "Picard Manoeuvre" is a warp-speed tactic that he came up with. Time and again he proved able to stand against the greatest threats to the Federation, and confronted his own personal demons in battle against the Borg.
I'm sorry, Captain Kirk, but for me - Picard takes the top slot!
So there you have it; my ranking of Starfleet's best and brightest, from Jonathan Archer to Jean-Luc Picard! I'm looking forward to Star Trek Beyond, where we'll see if Chris Pine's performance improves his position in my ranking. All that remains for today, though, is to wish a delighted happy birthday to my fellow Yorkshireman Patrick Stewart - live long and prosper!