After forty-six years, Gene Roddenberry’s high-concept idea has spawned six television series, eleven feature films with a twelfth coming in 2013. There have also been books, games, conventions and merchandising galore. Even with all the interviews, documentaries and public appearances, October 2012 will see a first-time gathering of five Star Trek captains as Destination Star Trek London brings
William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula together for a weekend of fan delight.
Ever since the release of the third TV series, there has been debate over which captain is the best. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and every fan has opinions. Unfortunately, the issue has only become more clouded with the addition of each new character to the ranks of Starfleet’s elite. Let’s take a chronological look at how I stack them up.
Captain James Kirk
(Shatner) is the equivalent of Sean Connery’s James Bond. He was the first captain for many if not most fans, starring in two series (one animated) and four feature films before anyone even conceived of the others. He’s the gold-shirt standard against which the others are judged. A product of his time, the captain the sixties gave us in Kirk was young for a ship’s captain and Starfleet’s youngest ever at the time. He was dynamic, an outstanding go-getter who showed Starfleet Command he could handle the center seat, patrol the frontier and represent the United Federation of Planets in a responsible fashion. He’s also been called a cowboy diplomat, considered the most likely captain to turn a confrontation into a shooting match. I’ve often felt this was an unfair assessment as I never felt he was prone to getting the ship into a fight without provocation anymore than he violated the Prime Directive (it applied to lower level developingcultures, not stagnant ones). Granted, even though he’s proven himself more than capable of talking his way out of tough spots, he seldom shied away from a brawl, mixing it up with his first officer on a few occasions and certainly engaging in the most swordplay of the bunch. Without a doubt, he would be the first to draw a phaser at the sound of trouble. He would also top the list in…let’s call them Intimate First Contacts. Could this be the reason he liked to lead so many away missions? I’d like to think that had more to do with an exuberant spirit of exploration, which fit his general mandate, but that could be a close call.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
(Stewart) is the oldest of the lot, bringing with that years of level-headed experience and a manner that says he’s used to having his orders followed. His biggest claim to fame came early in his career as first officer of the Stargazer, taking command of the ship when her captain was killed during a twenty-five year exploration mission. Rather than limp home, Picard stepped up and pressed on, cementing his image as a leader. For me, he gained a reputation as least likely to shoot first…or shoot back…or shoot at all, sometimes. Come on, man, do something! He seldom handled a phaser and loved to talk. They all loved to give speeches when the situation arose, but he did it with the Shakespearean voice of authority. He didn’t do a lot of brawling, though we were told deep into his series run of an impressive bar brawl that cost him his heart. He was a diplomat and explorer first, with a love of archaeology, and a fighter second. He kept his away mission and IFC counts low, leaving that sort of messiness to his younger, more expendable officers.
Captain Benjamin Sisko
(Brooks) was first introduced to us as a commander. He’s unique to our little group in several ways. We were there to see him become a captain, he had command of a space station rather than a ship on extended missions, and he was married right up till we watched him become a widower and single father. I believe he was also the only musician and chef of the captains. As a full-grown dad, Sisko’s mellifluous speeches to any troublemakers also had the option of being accompanied by an ass-whooping. Captain’s choice. (Note: he put Q on his ass once and never had to deal with him a second time) As a grieving widower, single dad, officer and gentleman, he also kept his IFC count low. He was very professional, only occasionally looking for situational loopholes in regulations. He also spent a fair amount of our time with him on the front line of a war against a formidable alien force. Sisko was a complex character. He didn’t always come out on top in his encounters, but he had the heart to keep fighting and win in the end.
Captain Katherine Janeway
(Mulgrew) like Sisko found herself in a unique situation, though hers could be seen as the opposite of his: where he operated from a static base, she had none and no support network. Our time with Captain Janeway was mostly about the odyssey of returning to Federation space after her ship was snatched 70,000 light years away to the unexplored Delta quadrant of the galaxy. She had to make the best of a patchwork crew, a long trip home under repeatedly hostile conditions and more Borg than any other captain ever had to face. At times, she was strict about regulations and other times…not so much. At times, she was quick to fight…or not. It depended on the situation. She’s been described as erratic and volatile, but she was hurled into a very stressful situation where questionable moral choices sometimes had to rule the day in order to see another day.. Overall, she did try to keep to the regulations even if her reasoning didn’t always seem sound. Her IFC count was low. Floundering attempts to shortcut to home were probably her biggest on-going embarrassment, but comparisons to Gilligan’s Island don’t make her a bad captain. It just makes it tough to keep watching.
Captain Jonathan Archer
(Bakula) was a scientist and an explorer. Being an optimist went along with this almost by default. Unfortunately, he found himself reaching out to an interstellar community that looked at a smile and saw bared teeth. He had to meet his challenges with the lowest level of technology of our assemblage. He gets a pass in some areas because rather than being a rule breaker, a lot of the things he did motivated the creation of rules in his wake. That’s the mark of a pioneer. Boy Scout that he was, he held himself to a high standard on gunplay, general violence and IFC activity. Sadly, like Janeway, he found himself faced with tough moral choices in uncharted territory. To really put the pressure on, the pioneering Archer was often fighting for the literal survival of Earth and the entire Alpha quadrant of the galaxy against villains unlike any ever before faced. No wonder they named schools after this guy.
Where does that leave us? Still a tough call. They’ve all done good work, but I find the greatest amount of material that I can not bring myself to watch involves Picard and Janeway. That doesn’t really speak to their captaining abilities, though. All that said, when I think of Star Trek, it’s Kirk and the Enterprise that come to mind. Not only will I put his Kobayashi Maru results up against anyone else’s, he’d be my first choice for deploying into action the next time some crisis comes Earth’s way.
After Superman, of course.
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