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Trekking Through History - My top 12 Favorite Star Trek Characters
Confessions Of A Nerd
I'm taking a bit of a break from my articles about heavy metal to talk about something else that is very close to my heart: science fiction. In this case, more specifically, Star Trek. I am a born and raised Trekkie, born into a family of Trekkies. Everyone in my immediate and extended family (to my knowledge) is a Star Trek fan. Some of my earliest memories in life are of watching Star Trek in every incarnation it has gone through, and while there are certainly those that top the others, for me, they are all amazing. Star Trek is practically a part of my blood and continues to be a part of my life that I celebrate and enjoy with my whole being. And while there are any number of things that make Star Trek wonderful; the writing, the social commentary, the visionary special effects, the most important thing to me has always been the characters. The people who make up the show and make us want to come back to see them over and over again. However convoluted and corny the stories may have gotten, however dated the writing can sound (which is, incredibly, very rare considering how old it is), or however outdated the effects may be, no the recent CGI touch ups do not help, the characters will always be there to remind us why we keep coming back. And today I am going to pay homage to the characters I have known and loved all my life.
#12 - Dr. Phlox from Enterprise
There is something about the doctors aboard the various starships of the various Star Trek incarnations that can be very telling to the quality of those particular shows overall. Star Trek: Enterprise has become rather infamous among trekkies and critics alike, but there is one element I have never heard a single complaint about: The always likeable Dr. Phlox. To me, he is everything a Starfleet doctor should be. He is kind, though stern and honest when he needs to be, he is strong willed but willing to be flexible, and he is patient while knowing when he needs to put his foot down. He is a character who always puts others needs before his own, keeping his own personal life and worries to himself, all the while maintaining an upbeat attitude and a smile. I recall an episode where he was reminiscing about his family, in particular a son with whom he had had a rather troublesome relationship with, and it reminds me of Patrick Troughton's portrayal of the second Doctor in another cultural phenomenon "Doctor Who". Reflective and taking comfort in the memories of their families but overall keeping themselves rooted in the present, smiling all the way and helping anyone in need of it.
#11 - Odo from Deep Space Nine
While I love every incarnation of Star Trek, if I had to put one at the bottom of the list, it would be Deep Space Nine. Many people have cited the focus on the science aspect of Star Trek over the action and exploration as a reason for this, but that's not it for me. The simple fact of it, is that this is the series I can remember the least about. I spoke earlier about the importance of having a good doctor in your Star Trek series and/or film, but as I write this I would have to look up the doctor from Deep Space Nine's name. There is one character though, that I always looked forward to seeing and have nothing but fond memories for: The shape-shifting diplomat Odo. Odo is a wise and unflappably caring character, member of a naturally gelatinous species of beings that have the ability to change shape in order to camouflage and interact with other species and environments, Odo choosing a humanoid form. He has shown himself to care very deeply for those he associates with, performing such acts as marrying a recently divorced Lwaxana Troi so as to allow her to keep her child, though he is also not afraid to take a more aggressive action when it is needed. More than anything though, he is a smooth diplomat seen as an impartial observer by many and useful in quelling disputes. Also, his never ending war with the Ferengi, Quark, was always fun to see.
#10 - Charles "Trip" Tucker from Enterprise
For all the flack Enterprise has received, another character that fits perfectly at home in the pantheon of classic Star Trek characters is the engineering superstar of the first starship to carry the name Enterprise, Charles "Trip" Tucker III (told you I was a nerd). In the tradition of another Starfleet engineer I will talk about later, Trip knows the Enterprise inside and out in a way no one else would ever be capable of. His knowledge of just what she can do and his ability for quick decisions, however rash they may be at times, is what pushes the Enterprise to the first ever warp 5 speed recorded. As a character, in the grand tradition of emotion vs logic that Star Trek is always willing to perpetrate, Trip serves as the perfect counterpoint to T'Pol, the Vulcan science officer often referenced in Star Trek lore (quick side note, if I ever make a list of my least favorite Star Trek characters, expect T'Pol to be near the top), resulting in many clashes and arguments. He is brash, illogical, womanizing, but is an unparalleled engineer and a very likeable character, usually with a very warm atmosphere to him and bravery that has put him in more than one risky scenario, often while trying to save his friends or his ship.
#9 - Miles O'Brien from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine
Possibly the most well known of Star Trek's many side and background characters, at least until Deep Space Nine when we was promoted to being a main character, O'Brien is a multifaceted crew member, who in his time aboard the Enterprise-D showed his ability as a flight controller, transporter engineer, and tactical officer, and on Deep Space Nine served as chief of operations, chief engineer of the USS Defiant and a seasoned expert in starship combat and command techniques. Despite that, he always seems perfectly content to be more of a behind the scenes officer, though he has experience and a knowledge of starfleet as a whole that far surpasses many of the officers he works with and when the situation calls for it, he is not in the least bit afraid to assert his authority and wisdom. He is shown to be a very hands-on officer, offering advice and guidance to those he works with, often preferring a common sense approach to things. To say he is an asset to not just the ships he serves on, but to Starfleet as a whole is a gross understatement. A talented officer, loving father, devoted friend, if there is one thing I am grateful to Deep Space Nine for, it is for finally giving this brilliant Irishman a chance to shine.
#8 - The Doctor - from Voyager
We have had cynics, we've had idealists, but not since the Vulcans have we seen such a stark example of a realist, and one so thoroughly coated with sharp sarcasm and snark. In his early stages of existence, the prevailing thought through my mind was how could a computer program designed for medical care still be such an insufferable ass? And yet, I couldn't help but find his jabs at his fellow crew members entertaining to say the least, often even hilarious. In true Star Trek fashion however, he learned to surpass his original parameters and become a respected member and even treasured friend to many of the crew. He is still arrogant, and is never short on flippant remarks, but it becomes more refined. Watching him grow was one of the most enjoyable experiences of watching Voyager and he was always incredibly entertaining.
#7 - B'elanna Torres from Voyager
Tough as nails, yet for the most part very sympathetic, with a loyalty to her friends that is inspiring. Torres is the very embodiment of the social outcast, half Klingon, so ridiculed and shunned by many of her human associates, half human so seen as weak and in-pure by most Klingons, and a former member of a rebel fleet fighting against Starfleet, anyone who has had experiences with being ostracized from a large group can find something to relate to in her. Her internal struggle to come to grips with her mixed heritage and find acceptance among a crew that she once fought against, eventually even managing to find love within the crew, gives an encouraging message to anyone seeking acceptance. I was a teenager when I was watching Voyager, so it may have been my youthful angst and rebellious thoughts that made her such an endearing character to me, but I still cannot help but admire her strength in the face of the multiple adversities she faced, both internal and external.
#6 - Jean Luc Picard from The Next Generation
In the battle of the captains, I'm afraid that I fall firmly in the Picard camp. This is to give no disrespect to Kirk, as the original captain (after Pike of course) his years in command of the Enterprise are legend and almost all of the episodes of his are classics through and through. My problem with him, is that he was almost too perfect a human being. Fellow Trekkie and all around amazing individual Stephen Fry pointed out that Kirk was essentially the middle ground between pure logic, and rash emotion, making calls that factor in both and emerging as the hero. It wasn't until the movies that we really got to see Kirk as a human being and not this almost western hero of a starship captain. Picard is a man with flaws that are displayed right off the bat. He is not good around families and can be awkward in non-command situations, yet is an endearing and powerful presence when he is in command. He endured more hardships, personal battles and scars than any Starfleet captain I can think of (Benjamin Sisko's wormhole struggles aside) and as such carries more baggage as well. Every bit as noble and brave as a Starfleet captain should be, all while maintaining a humble humanity to him, he is in my mind not just the premier Starfleet captain, but possibly the most exemplary Starfleet officer.
#5 - Leonard "Bones" McCoy from The Original Series
The grumpy, hyper emotional yet dedicated medical officer that started a tradition of memorable medical officers of Starfleet. As a medical officer, he is preferential to treatments involving as few invasive procedures as possible and is a strong believer in the body's ability to heal itself, always keeping a watchful, distrusting eye on the technology that surrounds him at all times. As a person, he is a very passionate individual, these passions and guilt, particularly surrounding the death of his father at his own hands, causing him to appear to be an individual who is constantly annoyed. Despite this, this same passion drives him to be a care giver who will go above and beyond to save his patients, as well as the perfect person to serve as Captain Kirk's conscience. In the head trio of command aboard the starship Enterprise, Bones serves as the emotional rock, always serving as a reminder that sometimes, a little emotion is an important thing to have. The entertainment his rants and arguments with Spock provide, and the depth of his character, are only outmatched by the number of professions he apparently has deemed himself unsuited for.
#4 - Montgomery "Scotty" Scott from The Original Series
You will not find a more dedicated officer in all of Starfleet. Scotty is an engineer, that is all he has ever wanted to be, and it is what he is best at. Even when finally given a command position, his love of the engineering room always finds him putting himself back into the chair that he truly belongs in. No one knows their ship like Montgomery Scott, and no one knows how to push her to her limits to get the results they need, proving themselves to be an absolute miracle worker and often saving the lives of everyone on the ship in the process like him, and he has the perfect amount of confidence to make sure everyone knows just how good he is and not seem overly arrogant. As if being a master engineer wasn't enough, he is also an incredibly warm and charming individual, who as far as my memory serves me never made an enemy aboard the ship. That aside, he has a very high level of pride, particular in his ship, and that pride is the only thing that has gotten him into trouble on occasion. More often than not though, many times thanks to his handiwork, that pride is justified.
#3 - Spock from The Original Series
Possibly the most famous and well known Star Trek character, his name often being synonymous with the series itself, Spock is figurehead of all things dealing with logic and reason, and the final member of the original command trio also consisting of Kirk and McCoy. A half human half Vulcan, though raised as a Vulcan and therefore prone to the ways of logic and lack of emotion that his people follow, his personal quest to find a balance between his emotions carried over from his human side, and the lack of emotions and prevalence of logic of his chosen home, makes him an incredibly fascinating individual that accomplishes the goal of a truly good work of science fiction: making the audience ask questions. His arguments with McCoy, usually leading to a final decision from Kirk, are what allow us to see complex philosophical and logical arguments played out before our eyes in a way we rarely get to see. His emotional side also drives him to be an unflappably loyal friend and commander who will put himself at great personal risk, in order to save those he cares about and the crew of the ships on which he serves, even at that cost of his own life. A more than worthy candidate for the most famous Star Trek character.
#2 - Data from The Next Generation
Similar to Spock, in that his primary motives are driven by logic and reason, but with an added twist: he is an android, who desires to be human. The innocence yet amazing complexities of his personality make him an unbelievably endearing presence in any situation, as many of them are being looked at with new eyes that still have the intelligence of an endless source of data behind them. While Spock raised the issue of why we as humans need our emotions, Data raises even more thought provoking questions, primarily, what does it mean to be human? And even more perplexing and poignant, just when does something truly become a living, sentient being? It is truly a credit to both the writing and Brent Spiner's performance that a character that essentially started as a blank slate could still be such an interesting and loveable character. My favorite episodes of The Next Generation were always the ones that centered around Data, because no episodes in all of Star Trek ever made me think as much as they did.
#1 - Neelix from Voyager
I imagine this will garner a lot of head scratching as to how I could pick Neelix over Data, and especially over Spock or McCoy. And the answer simply is this: everything I love about Star Trek, everything that makes it relevant in my life, and more importantly in this case, every quality that has ever drawn me to a character, is present in everything that Neelix is. When I watched Voyager as a child, my memories of him were as something of a comic relief character. It was not until I re-watched the series as an adult, that it truly hit me what a complex and endearing character he truly is. He is wide eyed and curious about many things, yet still very wise and cunning. He is kind and loving to everyone around him, but has no qualms about standing up and taking action when the situation calls for it. His devoted loyalty to those who he calls his friends, and his near constant smile and happy demeanor, in the face of the fact that he is a war veteran who carries a great deal of guilt with him, as well as the knowledge that his entire family is dead, is something that I dare anyone to not be moved by. His knowledge of the Delta Quadrant, mission to maintain morale amongst his crew, and his (improving with time) skills as a cook, make him a valuable asset to the crew, and trusted friend virtually everyone who comprises it as well. He is brave, knowledgeable, and eager to explore with an open mind, everything I think a good Star Trek character should be, he also possess unwavering kindness, acknowledges his fears and flaws while striving to overcome them, and maintains a positive outlook whatever the circumstances may be, without being in denial, which are all things that will draw me to a character regardless of what they are in. His leaving Voyager was one of the most heartbreaking things I ever watched in any show, and I could write an entire article on him alone. He is not only my favorite Star Trek character, he is one of my favorite characters of all time.
Boldly Going On
I hope you've enjoyed this list. I would love to hear some of your favorite characters in the comments below.