Even though I had the wonderful privilege of working on Star Trek in a very peripheral capacity a few years ago, writing a Trek Graphic Novel for IDW, I still consider myself, first and foremost, a fan…hell, I’m a sickening Trekkie. I have been since I was a kid, and watched these marvelous stories in their first run, back in the 60s.
And I have a blog, so I’m obligated to mention this birthday of sorts, and make a few personal observations about the show and its characters and what they’ve meant to me as the five year mission stretches out into its 45th year.
On the Sapphire Anniversary of NBC airing “THE MAN TRAP”, I give you my personal choices for —
THE TOP FIFTEEN star trek CHARACTERS of all time!
15- GARY MITCHELL
Ah, Gary Mitchell. For a character that made only one appearance on the show, he’s held a place in my heart ever since. I think it was because he was Kirk’s best friend since his Academy days, and Gary represented the loss of youth that adulthood inevitably brings. I don’t want to let him go anymore than I want to let go of my toys and comic books. Gary was a little less disciplined than Kirk, a little more boyish, and it’s why he wasn’t promoted as fast. But when Jim loses his best friend in the first episode, it hardened Kirk into a man, and made him a little more relaxed about staying youthful, all at the same time. When I had a chance to write that Star Trek graphic novel for IDW a couple of years ago, my first chapter strongly featured Gary Mitchell. I still don’t want to let him go.
14 – SPOT, PORTHOS and the TRIBBLES.
I’m an animal lover. I live with three cats at the moment, and have shared my life and dwelling space with dogs, fish, birds and various other life forms since I was a kid. A house ain’t a home until it has a pet in it, I always say, and Star Trek was no exception. The fact that Data the android owned a cat, and treated it with calculated amounts of affection rung my bells. And if you’ve never heard or read Data’s ODE TO SPOT, you’re in for a treat:
Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents.
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.
Oh Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array,
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.
Damn straight. Shakespeare can suck it.
And Porthos was probably my favorite character on ENTERPRISE, other than the sexy Vulcan lady, but that was for different reasons. They sort of wrote the dog out of the series as the seasons went on, I suspect because he was asking for more money than Scott Bakula, but they should have given in to his demands. The space race of the 20th Century was begun by animals: Laika the dog, Ham the Chimp, and John Glenn the senator. I love that Star Trek recognized their contribution to exploring the galaxy and included them.
13 – KOR
The first Klingon, (and for a few conventions we attended together, a fun drinking buddy). There’s a group of Star Trek fans who seem to only be interested in the culture of the Star Trek Badasses. These fans wear the gear, speak the language, play with the weapons, and occasionally put on Hamlet in the original Klingon. Of course, Worf, Gowron, Kang and a few others are all part of the glorious tapestry that is Klingon culture, but if it weren’t for John Colicos, and his brilliant portrayal of Kor, all these poor souls would be pretending to be Wookies, I promise you.
12 – Lt. Uhura
Besides being one of the most important figures in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Lt. Uhura was a childhood crush that I’m never getting over.
She was told by no less that Martin Luther King Jr. that she wasn’t allowed to quit the show when she became frustrated by the parts she was getting in the later seasons. King knew how important it was to see a high ranking African American aboard the bridge, and on away missions, and NO ONE MENTIONED she was black or female except the ghost of President Lincoln. She was simply part of the crew. It’s hard for modern audiences to get how big a deal that was in 1966. I grew up watching Star Trek, and her example (and to a similar extent, Sulu’s) is a big part of why racism makes no sense to me. If you can do the job, you’re part of the team.
11 – Commander Will Riker
Like a version of Captain Kirk, but with his own hair, Riker was clearly supposed to be Next Generation’s sexy hero, but he never quite turned out that way. Instead, he was the middle manager in your office that sort-of behaved like your big brother and wasn’t as cool as he thought he was going to end up in life. For god’s sake, a trombone?!? Still, he was the character that got to own Star Trek’s single greatest moment…that cliffhanger at the end of Best of Both Worlds Part One….when Picard/Locutus of Borg tells Riker that resistance is futile and Riker says “FIRE”. And we all had to wait SIX GODDAMN MONTHS to see what happened. Riker won me over in those four letters.
10 – QUARK
Star Trek’s great comedy relief character was the main reason that DS9 worked for me. I was never that fond of Captain Sisko (at least until he shaved his head) and really didn’t like Major Kira – they were both humourless stumps. But the Ferengi with a lust for profit and a secret heart of gold was Trek’s guarantee of a smile each week. The one where the Ferengi go to Roswell is tied with Trouble with Tribbles as the funniest episode of Trek ever made.
9 – THE GUY IN THE RED SHIRT
He’s Dead Jim. The poor bastard is up-the-ass screwed. You know it, Kirk knows it and so does the guy on the transporter who you never heard of before today. That’s what duty is all about, my friend – staying calm and carrying on. But don’t despair, he has his own entry in wikipedia, his own society, his own movie! He’s only on screen for eight minutes, but he goes out a star!
When Picard and Riker wore red shirts in the pilot for TNG, I was sure they were going to die before the first commercial break. They broke the curse for a few years, but you’ll notice in the new Star Trek movie, the guy in the red re-entry suit that goes after the Romulan bad guys on the big space drill goes SPLAT when the other two don’t.
8 – THE ENTERPRISE
In a universe that included sentient androids, sympathetic hortas and a pointy eared devil as one of the heroes, we’re allowed to call the ship a character. And she was played by Majel Roddenbery for decades so she even had to sleep with the producer to get the part.
The Enterprise was a huge part of the success of the franchise. It was large enough that entire stories could be set aboard her when the budget ran low for alien rock formations. It was fast enough that it could get you across the galaxy by five thirty tomorrow morning. And when the engines canna take it, there’s excitement a’brewing. When she died in SEARCH FOR SPOCK, I choked up as much as I did when Spock died in the previous movie. And though she came back, she didn’t have to Pon Farr anybody, so it wasn’t as much fun.
7 – DOCTOR McCOY
Actually McCoy was one of the best plot devices in modern fiction. Playing hot to Spock’s cold, or emotion to Spock’s logic, McCoy served as the other half of the two-headed Greek Chorus that Kirk and the viewers relied on to get them through the story each week. What started out as a support character, McCoy became an essential part of every tale, getting his own title card in the second season, and embedded into the Id/Ego/Superego triangle that made the core of Star Trek work.
6 – CAPTAIN PICARD
Kirk was a super-hero, but Picard was the father figure that solved everybody’s problems, and managed to make bald men sexy again after Yul Brenner died. He “made it so” with calm, reasonable decisions, and never lost his shit unless he was gunning down Borg, which was understandable (and damn cool, actually). Where the original crew was very much a group held together by military rank, and shared duty, Picard’s presence made the Next Generation cast into a family. Brilliant.
5 – ORION SLAVE GIRLS
Uh-huh. That’s right. You know what I’m talking about. Almost as much as Vulcans, the Orion Slave Girls became a symbol for Star Trek, even for people that never watched the show. She featured strongly in the pilot, tempting Captain Pike like an apple in paradise. She showed up in the final credits of almost every episode. She and her sisters showed up in a few memorable episodes of ENTERPRISE, the new movie, and every nerd’s dreams for a few decades now.
Orion Slave Girls are what Leia’s Slave Bikini WISHES it was, if it wasn’t the nerd-wienie-shrinking girl-next-door virgin pretense that it actually is. Orion Slave Girls put out, my friend. And they know how to do the ice cube tricks and everything.
4 – WORF
He’s the ultimate outsider – the enemy of the federation, sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise, and he can kill you with his left ball if he feels like it. He was the living embodiment of controlled rage, bottled up in Star Trek’s longest running character (eleven seasons of TV and five of the movies!) and he was just the balance that Captain Picard’s calm demeanor needed to make the Next Generation the mega-hit that it was.
3 – DATA.
The wooden puppet that wants to be a real boy has never been done better. Pinocchio was the inspiration, but Roddenbery, Spiner and company did SO much with the idea – exploring what constituted identity, sentience and humanity, from feelings of love, duty and creativity, to being “fully functional, programmed in multiple techniques”.
And because they were constantly creative with him, the character actually grows and develops over the course of the series and films. He learns he has “family”, he learns to dream, and he eventually gets his emotion chip, and learns to deal with genuine fear, sadness, sexuality, and the rest of human experience. Just like we all did when we got our emotion chips at puberty.
2- MISTER SPOCK
When I was a teenager, I used to get painful, debilitating migraine headaches. I mean kick-you-in-the-skull, blinding, enraging pain that would last for days. There was no medicine that would help and it got so bad some times I thought I’d die from the sheer agony of it all. With nothing but desperation driving me, I tried Spock’s mantra from many episodes of the show. “There is no pain. Pain is an illusion”. I’d say it to myself, trying to Vulcan the hell out of that problem.
And, by the great bird of the galaxy, it worked. It was a life changing lesson – that the mind can control the body. That you can decide to survive the unsurvivable. You can beat back the worst crap storm if you absolutely need to, by power of will.
Spock means that much to me. He transcended a mere fictional character and became a part of my basic DNA when I was young. I got to meet Leonard Nimoy once, and I couldn’t help it, inside my head I was telling myself I was in the room with Mr. Spock. He matters so much to me that, even though it would have been funny, I resisted posting a photograph of Spock with his shirt off being held at gun point by Nazis .
But I almost resisted and that’s what matters. I’ve also tried the nerve pinch thing on the neck a few times, but that part turns out to be fictional.
1- CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK
He’s tied with Batman as the best Super-Hero ever created, and according to Eddie Murphy, Captain Kirk is the coolest white man ever born. I’m hard pressed to put it any better than that.
There’s a moment in the first Star Trek motion picture, where Kirk takes command of the ship before they all head out into space to take on V-Ger, and quite probably die. Right after he leaves the bridge, Uhura smiles and tells Sulu that now that Kirk is back in charge, they just might come home alive. That she was brave enough to go into space, fully expecting to die, tells you much about Uhura’s courage. But suddenly expecting to survive simply because Kirk is in command…that tells you everything you need to know about Kirk.
Plus, he got to make out with the hot alien ladies, and he got to do this:
That’s Star Trek’s other great moment (along with Riker saying “fire.”) and they’re both four letter words.
I don’t know about you, but I wanted to grow up to be Captain Kirk, and like the memory of Gary Mitchell, I’m not quite ready to let go of that idea either. Star Trek has been my comfort food, my fan favorite, my joie de vie and my guilty pleasure, almost constantly since I was little. I’m a little older than the franchise itself, but as long as we’re both here, I’ll be celebrating each anniversary with them, with just as much joy as I did the first time the Man Trap came on my TV and scared the poop out of this four year old boy.
See you Trekkies in five years when we pass out the silver.
PS: I had two runners-up, but a list of 17 sucks…so here are the honorable mentions:
UPDATE: When you type things up quickly at six in the morning, the brain goes fuzzy. I cannot believe I didn’t include Q in the list, and that’s a mistake. He likely would have come in somewhere in the top ten, maybe around eight or nine. Forgive me for overlooking that great character. Amazingly enough, I’ve gotten emails lobbying for Garek more than anyone, and no mentioned Q at all….so somehow, we ALL forget him!
Ty the Guy OUT!
Here now, your BONUS Star Trek Moment: