May 8 2009

Who Is The Best Star Trek Captain

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Ever since the week of September 28, 1987, there has been a question that has plagued this planet: Who is the best Star Trek captain?

The week of September 28,1987 was when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in syndication, and since that time there has been no more hotly debated topic amongst Star Trek fans who the best Captain is.  The problem, as I see it, is everyone’s favorite has always come down to emotion.  They base their love of a particular Captain on which one they grew up with, or that they know the best.  I’ve always tried to approach it more as, “Which Captain would I actually follow into a battle?”, and that is exactly how I have put this list together.

First I will give you the Captains in chronological order by the show’s timeline, and then I’ll get down to the nitty gritty at the end.  Enjoy!… and try not to kill me for my rankings!
Capt. Jonathan Archer, Enterprise

Capt. Jonathan Archer, Enterprise

While Enterprise was the fifth, and final, Star Trek television series, it was actually the first in the timeline as it takes place towards the beginning of the United Federation of Planets (UFP).

Capt. Archer seemed very confused about what it meant to be a Captain through out the run of his series.  He went from a wide-eyed explorer who loved the stars to a commanding officer who was willing to make morally questionable command decisions as the series went on.

Perhaps it could be chalked up to the fact the UFP was still in its infancy, and they hadn’t set down a lot of rules yet, such as “the prime directive”, but he just seemed to never fully understand what it meant to be a captain, and never had that “take no guff” air of command about him without swinging to the extreme ends of the pendulum.
Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series

Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series

Oh, Kirk. He was the first exposure so many people had to the world of Star Trek, and so they judge everything since by the standards he set.  And oh what standards those were!

The problem with Capt. Kirk is that he was an adrenaline junkie.  He never met an alien he didn’t want to shoot or sleep with.  Diplomacy?  What the heck is that?!?  It’s hard to say how good he was as an actual officer, but there is no question that his crew was loyal to him, and would have followed him any where he went.  Course, that may have lead them into an even worse problem, but who cared at that point?

Of all the Captains, Kirk was clearly the most ‘by the seat of his pants’ one in the history of the franchise.  He seemed to luck into solutions to situations more than actually solving them, or he would end up leaving it to his crew which always seemed far more capable than him.  He was clearly a product of the time frame this show was made in, but that carried over to the movie franchise, so I’m not sure that can even be used as a defense.  He was a decent Captain, just probably not the best.

(Please note this is all based on William Shatner’s performance in the role, I have not seen the new movie yet, but from what I know, it would have to be almost considered a seperate character)
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

If Capt. Kirk wasn’t your introduction to Star Trek, then it was Capt. Picard, and then he’s the one you judge everyone else by.  However, unlike Kirk, he actually seemed like an actual Captain.

Unlike his predecessor (in the history of Star Trek, 70-some years separated Picard and Kirk, so I mean as characters), Picard was truly a commander.  He was enough of a diplomat that he would be called upon to serve as the arbitrator in peace negotiations, but he was a man of action when needed, and at that he was a brilliant tactician.

One thing the UFP (yes, really the show’s writers) did between the original series and this one was to make the rule that the Captain of a starship couldn’t go on “away missions”.  This eliminated a lot of the potential for Picard to go all Kirk on an alien race (“Should I sleep with it or kill it?!?”), and that was all left to his second in command, Cmdr. Riker.

I think Picard brought a certain elegance to the rank, and it wasn’t just Patrick Stewart’s Shakespearean training, it was that the writer’s realized a Captain shouldn’t be so much of a cowboy, but someone that people would actually want to follow into battle.
Capt. Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Capt. Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Capt. Sisko is a tough one to talk about because he was in such a different situation than any other commanding officer in the history of the series.

While he did start off at the rank of Commander at the beginning of the series, he was promoted to Captain later in the series.  No matter what his rank was, he was still the top ranked officer on Deep Space Nine and on the U.S.S. Defiant.   While this was actually my personal favorite of the five series, I have to call it as it is, and Sisko was always more of a glorified dock manager than a “Captain”.  Yes, there were moments that you could say were Captain like, especially when fighting the Dominion, his primary job was to keep the station running smoothly, which was essentially a seaport.

I think if he had been out running around the galaxy like all of the other Captains he would have proven himself a very capable Captain, but going simply by what we saw on screen, he just didn’t really have the opportunities the others did.

Capt. Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager

Capt. Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager

Voyager was the series I was personally most disappointed with because they missed an oppurtuinty to have the ship come home with pipes sticking out at odd angles in the hallways, plates missing from the hull and so on.  Instead the ship came home looking like it had regular servicing at a Starbase, and a glorious oppurtunity to show a less than shiny Starfleet vessel was totally missed.

That aside, Janeway was probably the Captain with the most weight put on her shoulders.  70,000 light years from home, a crew made up of Starfleet regulars and Marquis renegades, and yet she kept them together until they found an eventual way home.  If this wasn’t a true example of someone acting like a Captain, being a true leader of people, I don’t know what is.

While the show may not have been the best, it was actually the best they ever did at showing a Captain under trying circumstances.  It doesn’t mean she was the overall best, but it certainly shot her up my personal rankings.


So, what is my personal final list?  Well, I’ll tell you this, I based it on command experience shown, and not on which series I liked the most, or which I watched first.  Basically, I tried to remove all emotion from the list, so I know this will be a ranking that gets much disagreement, but it’s how I did it.

  1. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
  2. Capt. Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager
  3. Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series
  4. Capt. Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  5. Capt. Jonathan Archer, Enterprise

So, there you have it, probably not the way most people would rank them, but I explained how I reached my conclusions, and I truly doubt you could find any two Star Trek fans who agree 100% on the order.

If you enjoyed this list, you may also like Who Is The Best James Bond & Who Is The Best Doctor Who.

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  • Trespassers Will Hopknz

    Space…The Final Frontier…only three captains ever faced it…Kirk, Janeway, and Archer. There was very little of the unknown in the other two series…but this is about captains and space is all about SURVIVAL FIRST. Of course, the best is the first in this case…

    Kirk – in a brawl among captains and/or equal ships (even much less than equal) he’s coming out on top, every time. (Roddenberry, as a former Navy man, deliberately patterned JTK on JFK.)
    Janeway – A more mature female Kirk, she’d come out second. Don’t EVER mess with any of Mom’s kids. She dedicated and gave her life to her crew while making up for her screwup and Picard’s / Locutus’ major error as well.
    Picard – The diplomat whose arrogant pride brought the Borg down on us. One of his bridge crew was killed on his watch. He accidentally broke his ship the most; Kirk deliberately scuttled his, the love of his life, for the lives of his crew and best friend. Of every captain with a ship, he saw explored the least space in the longest series. Longest career, most mistakes. Only captain who had trouble understanding and expressing his feelings to the point of needing a betazoid as a crutch.
    Sisko – The best captains get spaceships.
    Archer – The exception to Sisko. I often forgot he was there, and a dog on a soaceship’s bullshit.

    Honorable Mention: Captain Data who would undoubtedly end up being the longest lived and most accomplished of them all…at the beginning of TNG, he already had twenty years in Starfleet and gained the majority of major SF decorations…

    Peace out!

  • Christopher Moore

    I know your post is 4 years old but I just finished Voyager. I agree that it ended so abruptly. Would have been nice if they dedicated a episode winding everything down.

    Just to throw my two cents in:

    1. Jean-Luc Picard

    2. Kathryn Janeway (She really got my respect after watching Voyager)

    3. James T. Kirk (Been watching him as a kid so I neither like or hate him)

    I can’t comment on Sisko or Archer just yet because I’m only on Enterprise Season 1 episode 9 and I only watched the first 2 episodes of DS9. So far I do like Archer as the choice for enterprise only because their essentially rookies in space. I don’ think the intent was to make the Archer more intelligent the other captains. Picard or Janeway in that role would be way out of line.