Since The Original Series' launch in 1966, Star Trek has given us an incredible universe across both the big and small screen, filled with faraway planets, fascinating aliens, and super cool characters. But we've hardly gotten to know some of these amazing characters before they were killed off, or written out, or otherwise gone (but not from our hearts).
In this two-part article, I'll take you through some of the best and most intriguing #StarTrek characters we fondly remember — and who could have gone on to do even more, if they'd only had the chance. Part Two is up over here!
1. Number One (Original) - The Original Series
Too Cool To Live Because: We primarily know Majel Barrett as the ever-present computer voice on every Star Trek series but Enterprise, and Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but her first appearance was on The Original Series’ first (network-rejected) pilot. This proto-episode gave us Captain Christopher Pike, with Barrett as his Number One.
But Unfortunately: Network execs thought a female first officer was too much of a stretch. Understandable, on a TV show featuring warp drive, transporters, and aliens. They also changed up the Enterprise’s Captain, shifting from Pike to Kirk. Exit Number One, enter Spock. Barrett’s Number One doesn’t die, per se, but getting network-axed has about the same result.
We Could Have Had It All: A tough, cool, intellectual, confident lady as the original Enterprise’s first officer, played by Majel Freaking Barrett. Sure, The Original Series would have been a completely different show with Pike and her Number One at the helm, but who’s to say it would be better or worse? In any case, it would have been super interesting to watch develop.
2. Kirk Prime - The Original Series
Too Cool To Live Because: It’s Captain Kirk. The word “Iconic” gets thrown around a lot these days, but Shatner’s Kirk definitely qualifies. Just the right combination of daring, noble, funny and warm, Kirk shaped TOS' core and helped us boldly go into a strange new world of sci-fi awesomeness.
But Unfortunately: Ever heard of the trope-term “Dropped A Bridge On Him,” to describe a sudden and/or disappointing character death? It originates from the 1994 movie Generations, where exactly this happens as Captains Kirk and Picard race to save the day. Fun fact: on his last day of filming, Shatner is rumored to have quipped “the bridge is on the Captain!”
We Could Have Had It All: Kirk’s demise isn’t really what you’d call a plot-necessary death, and it left many fans feeling cheated and sad. But fortunately, William Shatner seemed to agree, because Kirk’s adventures continue in the tie-in novels, with several written by the Captain himself.
3. Lieutenant Tasha Yar - The Next Generation
Too Cool To Live Because: Security Officer Yar was a brave, determined, capable officer. Her traumatic past made her swear to never be a victim again, and she was dedicated to protecting those around her. Denise Crosby’s performance was solid, and her interactions with her crewmates embodied the early-TNG blend of drama and fun.
But Unfortunately: Actor Denise Crosby wanted to explore different and potentially more dynamic acting roles, and Yar’s character was killed off near the end of the first season. It was sudden and brutal, and some fans only remember her for her death — and that shortly before, she hooked up with Data, discovering he’s “fully functional and anatomically correct.”
We Could Have Had It All: Reports conflict on exactly why Crosby left the show, or why Yar was pretty unceremoniously killed off instead of written out non-lethally, with the opportunity for continuation. Crosby did, however, return for a few guest spots, including playing Sela, Yar’s alternate-timeline half-Romulan daughter. But even from her limited appearances, Tasha Yar herself could have grown in any number of directions, even with Crosby leaving the show—and they’d all be more interesting than being murdered by evil alien slime.
4. Kes - Voyager
Too Cool To Live Because: Kes was an Ocampa, one of the aliens the Voyager crew first meets after they’re flung into the Delta Quadrant. They’re being cared for by the mysterious and aptly-named Caretaker — and most of them have never seen the sun. When Captain Janeway decides to save the Ocampa rather than blow them up to get home (long story), Kes and her then-boyfriend Neelix go along for the ride.
Ocampa look like cute space elves, and they have a very different lifespan than most other humanoids. Sweet, genuine, curious Kes is the ripe old age of two when they meet her (probably early 20s for us), and the show sees her celebrate her third birthday. In the meantime, she’s discovering a vast new galaxy of wonders, caring for plants and flowers in the airponics bay, and studying to be the Doctor’s medical assistant. Even more, she begins developing mysterious telepathic abilities. We don’t know if all Ocampa can learn space-magic once removed from their homeworld (think Superman and Krypton), or if Kes is just special, but it was all pretty fascinating to watch.
But Unfortunately: Actress Jennifer Lien developed a severe allergy to her makeup adhesive, prompting Kes to take a backseat and eventually be written out. Kes’s powers prove unstable and a lot more potent than originally estimated. She basically sheds her physical form and becomes pure spirit energy, the process of which knocks Voyager a few thousand lightyears toward Earth. Like Number One, it’s not a death, technically, but for show-intents and purposes, ascending to a new plane of existence counts. Directly after her sacrificial ascension, Seven-of-Nine joins the show, and Kes’s departure almost makes it seem like there’s no room on the ship for two awesome ladies. (Four, counting Bel’anna and Captain Janeway, but still.) Whether intentional or not, the exchange’s timing made it feel like we’d reached a 3-woman limit, and I have a hard time believing the writers couldn’t have figured out anything interesting for Kes to do, especially with the introduction of a new character.
We Could Have Had It All: Can we see more of Kes’s magical adventures beyond the veil? She comes back once, but… she’s not happy, to put it mildly. Or even better: seeing Kes and Seven-of-Nine actually interact would have been amazing. They were both in a pretty bad place in the one episode they were in the same room (Kes struggling with her powers, and Seven struggling with being disconnected from the Borg Collective), so they didn’t really have time to make friends. But if they’d been given room to adjust and get to know one another, their personality contrasts of warm/earnest plus steely/hardened trauma survivor would have made for some really fun and fascinating TV.
5. Tora Ziyal - Deep Space Nine
Too Cool To Live Because: Ziyal was unique, and not only because she was a civilian on a show full of officers. She was the daughter of one of the show’s primary antagonists, Gul Dukat, who didn’t even know she existed until it looked like she might prove embarrassing to his career. Ziyal’s mother, like Kira’s, was one of the Bajoran “comfort women” assigned to Cardassian officers. (With a few hints they might actually be the same person.) Dukat takes Ziyal from the prison planet where she’s been hidden and exiled to live with him — after initially trying to kill her. But Ziyal lives for a few more seasons on DS9, and embodies everything good that could possibly arise from Cardassia and Bajor’s terrible history of occupation and abuse.
Tora Ziyal was sensitive, good-hearted, an artist, creating where Dukat destroyed. Her paintings were just starting to get attention in the art world, featuring plants from both her parent worlds arranged together in symbolic harmony. She was also brave enough to stand up to her dangerous and manipulative father and help foil his bloodthirsty plans. She was also instrumental in saving several main characters from execution, as well as the entire station from Dominion forces.
But Unfortunately: The Dominion War took casualties, and Ziyal was one of the first. Damar, Dukat’s second-in-command, grows furious and jealous when she doesn’t seem to appropriately appreciate her heritage or her father’s questionable “love.” (There was the whole leaving-her-to-die, “stay and be damned” thing.) So he kills her. Her death sends Dukat into a spiral of grief and eventual madness —we are talking actual cult leader here — and propels Garak to fight for his people’s freedom and growth, a New Cardassia where good people like Ziyal would be able to live free from fear or death. Also, less dystopian-scale fascism and genocide.
That’s not so bad on its own — except that Damar doesn’t seem to face any consequences from killing her, or even development. He never shows remorse, but more than that, his character remains pretty unchanged from beginning to end. He doesn’t choose to fight the Dominion because of any personal growth or epiphany either; he just gets tired of working for them. And seeing his people suffer, okay, and they kill his family offscreen (who we’ve never met). Finally, Damar dies a hero and symbol of the resistance, with no repercussions for his previous actions, and no mention of Ziyal.
We Could Have Had It All: In the tie-in books by Andrew Robinson and Una McCormack, Garak (first Ambassador, then Castellan) keeps one of her paintings as a memorial. It kind of acts like a conscience-symbol, reminding him to do the right thing and make her proud. It’s a sweet homage, and Ziyal's presence is always felt even if she isn’t there.
But picture it.
Ziyal doesn’t die. Maybe she fights Damar off — maybe he even dies instead. She takes Damar’s place in the story, alongside Kira and Garak. She’s the one who returns to Cardassia after a lifetime of secrecy, exile, and isolation, and leads the resistance to victory. The half-Bajoran illegitimate daughter of a villainous dictator, taking her place in history and fighting for her people. Both of them. She defies and surpasses her father and comes into her own, helping reshape Cardassia into a new and better world, and Bajor to slowly heal. It would have been an incredible story development, and averted the annoying trope where a woman is killed, propelling the dudes to grow as people and do the right thing. Cool.
Did I get one of your faves? Is there another Trek character you wish we'd gotten to know better? Sound off in the comments!