Who is the best Captain in Star Trek? This is a question that can spark a civil discussion or an outright fight between Star Trek fans. Is there one captain that is better than the rest? Each person you ask is going to tell you someone different, and even if two fans have the same answer, it’ll be for different reasons. A lot of the time it comes down to who was your first captain, when were you introduced to Star Trek? It can also be whom you resonate with most, which captain hit those buttons that made you say,”Yeah, I agree with that.” Are you more of a diplomat such as Picard, someone who takes his job very seriously and expects the same of others? Maybe you are a man of action like Kirk, leading every away team, no matter the danger. Maybe your captain is Sisko, firm, fair, and perpetually distracted. As there are many more captains to choose from, let’s talk a little about each one.
Since I am the one who’s writing this article, let’s start with whom I believe is the best captain, and who is also my favorite: Captain Kathryn Janeway, USS Voyager NCC-74656, Intrepid class. Janeway was forced to team up with the enemy she was tasked to locate and capture. A democratic captain, navigating an unexplored quadrant of the galaxy, with a crew made of former enemies trying to find their way home and having the most difficult situation out of most other Starfleet captains. She listens to all points of view from her crew and helps to resolve opposing stances among her crew, when she can. She continuously works towards compromise and ultimately makes an informed decision whenever possible. No matter how impossible her situation seems, she always stays cool-headed and thoughtful, trying to never make a decision in the heat of the moment. This trait may also come from the fact that her first decision, in the heat of the moment, is what ultimately strands them in the Delta Quadrant.
Janeway and the Voyager crew face many struggles, from hostile races, dwindling supplies, and even spies in their midst. Their most difficult struggle, in my opinion, is the many situations that invite them to abandon their principles, and Starfleet values. At one point Janeway tries to team up with the Kazon (Delta Quadrants Klingons ordered from Wish) but realizes they can’t be trusted. Voyager later comes across another Starfleet ship, the USS Equinox, who have abandoned everything that Starfleet stands for and are killing another race of beings for fuel. Another time they had a chance to steal technology that would help them jump across great distances. However, in all these cases and many more, Janeway and her crew (mostly) stayed true to their principles and values. Yes, it meant taking longer to get home, or maybe never getting there, but Janeway was always determined that her crew hang onto their best selves, no matter the consequences.
Now that I have my pick for best captain, let’s take a look at the first captain we ever saw on the bridge of a Starfleet ship, Captain Christopher Pike, USS Enterprise NCC-1701, Constitution class. This may be a little difficult, as there are 3 renditions of Pike, in 3 different eras of Star Trek. The first time we meet Pike is in the original pilot The Cage; played by Jeffery Hunter, he’s very glum and broody. Complaining about the burdens of command, he’s tired of being responsible for 203 lives, tired of which mission is too risky, and he’s tired of deciding who lives and who dies. He sounds ready to give up and we haven’t even started yet, but one thing you have to realize about Pike, he was intended to be the protagonist for the original series. As we all know, the network passed on Star Trek, but Gene was given a second chance at a new pilot at a later date, which introduced us to what we all now know as TOS.
The next notable Pike incarnation, played by Bruce Greenwood, is in JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot of Star Trek, and the 2013 sequel Into Darkness, also known as the Kelvin Universe. Greenwood’s Pike seems to be more optimistic about life and Starfleet, ultimately getting Kirk to join Starflleet. He sees the potential in others and helps them grow into that potential. His crew is his first priority, giving himself over to Nero in order to protect that crew. Compared to the first time we met Pike, this Pike is definitely more of what we have come to expect for our Starfleet captains. He even took Kirk on as his second officer after Kirk lost the Enterprise to Pike. This Pike doesn’t give up easily and doesn’t seem to want to do anything but be in Starfleet and help the Federation be all it can be.
The newest version of Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, is in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery and the upcoming spinoff Strange New Worlds. Although we haven’t seen but one teaser from Strange New Worlds, it seems that Anson will be playing Pike in the same manner as he did in Discovery. In sharp contrast to Hunter’s Pike, Anson Mount plays Christopher Pike as a man who’s just happy to be out among the stars with shipmates he considers to be more like friends than co-workers. Discovery’s Pike is reminiscent of a cool camp counselor who just wants everyone to have a good time, so long as they follow the rules and listen to his orders. In moments of crisis, Pike comes off as unshaken but commanding, and willing to use force against his enemies when necessary. He’s easygoing until circumstances force him to be otherwise. Then he’s not; he’s able and willing to kick a little butt with the best of them.
This brings us to none other than the legend himself, Captain James T. Kirk, USS Enterprise NCC-1701(A), Constitution class. Again, there are a couple different incarnations of Kirk, but let’s start off with the one we all know and love (mostly), William Shatner’s Kirk. When we first meet Kirk as played by Shatner, we see a Kirk who has the spirit of a younger man but has been tempered by experience. He’s all too often willing to send an away team into danger, but he also leads these missions more often than not. It’s hard to underestimate the bond of spirit a leader has with his crew that is so willingly to put himself in danger on mission after mission. The loyalty and love this captain inspires in his crew goes beyond measure. Be prepared to work hard under Kirk, but also be prepared to feel like you’re part of a team and mission that has a chance to change the course of a galaxy. Prepare also to listen to speeches. Kirk is a man of action and a man of romance, but above all, he’s a man of ideals who’s willing to go to great lengths to protect those ideals. But first, he’ll try to persuade his opponents with words.
The next time we see Kirk is, again, in the Kelvin Universe in JJ’s 2009 Star Trek, played by Chris Pine. If you like a captain that follows rules with military precision, that is predictable and orderly, that follows regulation to the letter, then this isn’t your captain. When we first meet this Kirk, he is a young boy who stole his stepdad’s car and took it for a joyride. We fast forward and see him in a bar hitting on Uhura, then ultimately getting into a fight with three Starfleet cadets. Enter Pike, who more or less picks Kirk up off the floor and talks him into joining Starfleet. At this point in his life Kirk is young, impetuous, and brilliant — but mostly young and impetuous. He’s the Kirk we know from old, but before all the rough edges are worn down. He laughs in the face of the Prime Directive, as well as most other regulations, believing he knows best, and doing so while listening to the Beastie Boys. He’s cool, fun and has a hell of a right hook, but he gets a lot of his crew killed before he starts becoming the Kirk we all know he will one day be.
Our next candidate is almost a benevolent but a firm captain, speaking in an authoritative voice (the accent helps); his every directive sounds as if handed down from above. Of course, I’m talking about none other than Jean-Luc Picard himself, USS Enterprise NCC-1701 D, Galaxy class. Here is a captain who shows that there’s a difference between having the trappings of authority and having the record to back it up. The very first time we meet Picard, he makes a hard decision to separate the Enterprise’s saucer section from the main section, showing just how many lives are counting on him to make the right decisions. That maneuver clearly shows just how seriously Picard takes his job and how much he expects others to take their jobs seriously as well. Picard always holds himself at a distance from his crew, never joining in on away missions, unless there’s no other course of action. He prefers to command from the bridge, and he lets his most capable crew handle the day-to-day grind and nitty gritty of most missions.
He keeps to himself most of the time, never joining in the officers’ regular poker games, never really showing the complex, passionate human beneath the commanding exterior that we all know him to be. Being a part of Picard’s crew would be a fantastic and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn how to be the best self you can be. Picard may follow the rules as closely as he can and expect the same from those around him, but he can and will use every means necessary to convey peace and understanding, before making the decision to take lives. He is a man of value and principle, a man of strength, in both body and character. Jean-Luc Picard is a captain that will make sure you have the tools you need to do the best job you can, but will not hold your hand through that job. If Picard is your captain, you’ll learn how to be a captain yourself, but when that time comes, you’ll have a hard time leaving his side.
Our next captain was the first to take a ship to warp 5: Captain Jonathan Archer, USS Enterprise NX-01, NX class. Although his time as captain predates the Federation, Archer is a big reason we have the Federation, and the Prime Directive. Archer seems to be the most laid-back captain you’ll ever work with. He’s super chill, which is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. A former Boy Scout, lifelong water-polo enthusiast and caring dog owner, Archer sometimes seems like he’s happy enough to be exploring the stars but might be even happier if he was just hanging out and shooting the breeze with some pals. Although he goes on to be a decorated admiral and is regarded as one of the greatest early explorers, he seems to be inconvenienced when something interrupts his day-to-day routine. He’s not as melancholy as Jeffrey Hunter’s Captain Pike, but he occasionally seems just as checked out. Nonetheless, he was always good in a crisis and could be a surprisingly shrewd diplomat. It just always seemed to take a major event to stir his interest.
In the second-season episode “A Night in Sickbay,” Archer hangs out with his ailing dog Porthos when he should be tending to his diplomatic duties. It borders on dereliction of duty, even if it is pretty endearing. It’s also a pretty good encapsulation of how Archer’s mind works. He’s out here exploring, trying to better mankind, but when something gets in the way of what he wants to do, he seems to ignore what is going on until he is good and ready to take action. He’s a good guy who likes to laugh with his crew and treat them more like friends than subordinates. If Archer is your captain, you’ll always have a friend when you need one.
Our last captain is definitely not the least, Captain Benjamin Sisko, DS9 space station, and USS Defiant NX-74502, Defiant class. As I said before, Sisko is a firm and fair captain but seems to be perpetually distracted. He seems to be burned out on the Starfleet life after losing his wife at Wolf 359. He reluctantly takes command of a former Cardassian space station on the reaches of the Bajoran and Cardassian borders. Sisko soon finds himself drawn into the leadership of the station and the politics of the region when the spiritual leader of nearby Bajor names him the Emissary of the Prophets. It’s all a lot to balance, even before new adversaries start to show up from the Gamma Quadrant once the wormhole is discovered. On top of all that, he’s trying to raise his son as a single parent. He always seems overworked. He is an inspiring leader but does have a lot on his plate for one guy. His first officer, Kira, a Bajoran, seems to disagree with him more than she agrees at first.
Running a space station while also acting as the first line of defense against enemies known and unknown — and maybe serving as a messiah to a whole race of people. Sisko is more of a reactive rather than proactive captain, whether dealing with a tavern keeper running a black market under his nose or the outbreak of a full-scale war. Strong and competent, Sisko can handle just about anything. Deep Space Nine introduces something that the shows before it only hinted at, moral greyness. This was never more so than during the Dominion War, a dangerous conflict in which Sisko sometimes had to cheat and bend the truth for the greater good. If Sisko is your captain, then you have a strong leader that will always make the hard decisions even when it seems he is overwhelmed.
In conclusion, these are only my opinions of each of these captains. I know some of you reading this may agree or disagree with my take. But that’s what’s great about each of these captains and Star Trek as a whole; each person sees and feels something different than the next person. Star Trek and her captains will always have a special place in my life, as I hope they do in yours.
Lt Tim Epperson – Chief Science Officer