The classic Star Trek dilemma: Kirk or Picard?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series and its films, The Next Generation and its films, and Picard Season 1.

“The only question I ever thought was hard / Was do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?” So sang “Weird Al” Yankovic on his 2006 parody hit White & Nerdy. In those two lines, the comedy singer encapsulated a debate that has rumbled on in the Trekkie community since The Next Generation premiered in 1987! This is a question I’ve thought about many times, and today I’m finally going to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and lay out my thoughts on this classic Trekkie debate.

Though there have been at least a further six captains or protagonists who’ve joined the Star Trek franchise over the years – or more, depending on how you count things – the classic debate has always surrounded Picard versus Kirk, and I think that’s probably because the contrasts between the two characters and their approaches to leadership are so extreme. Most Star Trek captains who have followed embody elements of both Kirk and Picard’s styles of management and leadership while remaining distinct characters, but when it comes to the franchise’s first two captains, there seems to be a major clash of personalities.

Just like “Weird Al” did, we’re going to consider this difficult question!

My first contact with the Star Trek franchise was The Next Generation in the early 1990s. It was only later that I went back to watch The Original Series and its films, encountering Captain Kirk and his crew for the first time. The Next Generation made me a Star Trek fan, and while I can appreciate what The Original Series did and how entertaining it was, I just don’t have the same connection to it – or to any other Star Trek show, frankly – as I do to The Next Generation. So that’s my own bias stated up front as we go into this discussion!

I’ve always found this debate to be fascinating, but I try not to take it too seriously. Some fans can turn genuine and heartfelt passion into toxic or even aggressive negativity sometimes, attacking others who don’t share their precise views on the nature of Star Trek (or other franchises). Fandoms shouldn’t be a place for division, negativity, or toxicity; they should be a place where we can all come together to share something we love. It’s in that spirit that I enter this discussion – and I encourage everyone to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, and it’s supposed to be light-hearted fun!

So let’s get started, shall we? For reasons both alphabetical and chronological, Captain Kirk gets to go first!

The Case For Kirk

Captain Kirk in his first appearance.

Captain Kirk will forever be Star Trek’s first captain, and thus he should be the yardstick that Trekkies use to judge the successes of any subsequent captain – Picard included. Without Kirk, there would never have even been Picard – because there would quite literally have been no Star Trek. Just look at the failure of The Cage, the first pilot shot for The Original Series, as a case in point: Star Trek only became successful when Captain Kirk was in command.

But Kirk isn’t the best just because he was first. James T. Kirk is a man of action: a tough-talking, villain-punching, decisive commander who stops at nothing to get the job done and protect his ship and crew. He’s not above a bit of rule-breaking, either; when you’re alone on a mission of exploration far beyond Federation space, what’s the point in Starfleet orders or the Prime Directive?

Captain Kirk wasn’t above getting into a proper fight.

On board his ship, Captain Kirk made friends. He didn’t see his crew as mere underlings, but as people he actually liked spending time with. He even developed Star Trek’s first ever cross-species friendship, bridging the gap between emotional humans and stoic, logical Vulcans in the best way possible. His friendship and partnership with Spock became legendary – and frankly, Picard has no friends… or at least, he has no friendships that come anywhere close to matching the closeness between Kirk and Spock. This pair literally created the genre of slash fiction!

It wasn’t until the finale of The Next Generation that Picard was prepared to sit down with Riker and play a round of poker, but Kirk had those friendships from the start. His closeness with Spock has rightly become legendary, but he was also firm friends with Dr McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and even the young Chekov. Kirk’s crew would even risk their Starfleet careers to steal the USS Enterprise and follow him on a dangerous mission to the Genesis Planet in The Search For Spock.

Captain Kirk was loved by his crew… not grudgingly respected.

As Star Trek’s first captain, Kirk made first contact with many different races and factions – including practically all of the franchise’s best-known and most famous aliens. He also introduced us as the audience to races like the Vulcans and the Klingons – two of Star Trek’s most iconic alien races. It’s through Kirk’s eyes that we first came to perceive many of the franchise’s classic factions; he gave us his perspective and allowed us as the audience to meet these aliens through his interactions with them.

Captain Kirk developed rivalries with some of Star Trek’s biggest and most notorious villains. The Romulan commander from Balance of Terror, Garth of Izar, who went on to inspire an entire fan-series, Dr Tolian Soran in Generations, and even “God” himself in The Final Frontier. Most significantly, of course, Kirk found his arch-enemy in one of the greatest villains ever put to screen in the whole of cinema: Khan. Picard’s enemies simply aren’t in the same league.

“Khaaaaaan!”

Captain Kirk recognised the dangers of space travel, and he blazed a trail that Picard and others merely followed. He knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to find a negotiated settlement to every problem, and wasn’t shy about pulling out his phaser – and his fists – to settle disputes. Do you think Captain Kirk would have been bossed around by the Sheliak, or by the Edo and their Mediators? Or would he have punched those alien menaces in the face and told them where to shove it?

In conclusion, Captain Kirk is a bona fide action hero, a man’s man, and the embodiment of the very best of Starfleet in the 23rd Century. He would consider peaceful options where they were available, but wasn’t above punching aliens in the face when he needed to. He would go above and beyond for the sake of his crew, even being reduced in rank by Starfleet for having the audacity to save Spock. He saved Earth on many occasions – and even saved the life of his rival, Captain Picard, and the entire crew of the Enterprise-D in his final act before dying a hero.

The Case For Picard

Captain Picard in Encounter at Farpoint.

Let’s calm down, leave the toxic masculinity in the ’60s where it belongs, and let a grown-up take charge. Captain Picard is the Joe Biden to Captain Kirk’s Donald Trump – he’s level-headed, diplomatic, and professional. Captain Kirk may have been the archetypal action hero of the ’60s, but by the late ’80s, things had moved on. What fans wanted to see from someone in a position of authority was not someone who was quick to pull out their phaser or punch an alien in the face, but someone who could be diplomatic, courteous, and who could resolve situations without needing to resort to such barbarity. Embodying all of those traits was Captain Picard.

A new era of Star Trek not only needed a new face, but a whole new style of leadership, and Captain Picard delivered. If the 23rd Century had been the “wild west,” where anything was allowed and rules were made to be broken, the 24th Century saw Starfleet evolve and move beyond that. Civility could finally replace cowboys like Captain Kirk.

Captain Picard is a more civilised leader perfect for a new era.

Did Captain Kirk ever pilot his own ship? In the episode Booby Trap, we saw for ourselves just how skilled Captain Picard was, and how intimately he knew his ship. Where someone like Kirk would have ordered maximum warp until the power was drained, Picard and his crew came up with a complex solution, then executed it perfectly. Picard made the Enterprise-D dance like a ballerina; Kirk could never have done anything like that.

Where is Star Trek: Kirk? Oh, that’s right: they never made that series. But they did make Star Trek: Picard, such was the overwhelming response from fans to this wonderful character. 176 episodes of The Next Generation and four films weren’t enough – fans were eager for more Captain Picard, and thus he became the first character in Star Trek’s history to get a new show named after him. More than thirty years after we first met Captain Picard, new adventures with the character are still being created, with at least two more seasons of the show in production.

Captain Picard got his own spin-off show because fans love the character so much.

While Kirk may have had fun with some villains like Khan, he never had to stare down the biggest, most devastating threat that the Federation ever faced. Captain Picard beat the Borg… and he did it twice. He even survived being assimilated and was able to push through his Borg programming to give his crew a piece of vital information that ultimately saved Earth. In First Contact, Picard brought the Enterprise-E to the Borg’s second invasion attempt, saving the day in the 24th Century and then again in the past. Forget the Klingons, the Gorn, the Romulans, and the people on that weird planet who all pretended it was Chicago in the ’20s: Captain Picard fought and defeated the most dangerous threat that the Federation has ever encountered.

Captain Picard realised that he can be on good terms with those under his command, but that as the captain he has to put the needs of the ship first. In the episode Lessons, he learned first-hand that having close relationships with subordinates is difficult for any commanding officer, and maintaining a friendly but respectful distance from his crew – even those whose advice he relied upon – was necessary to keep everyone safe and to allow him to be able to make the tough calls.

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D.

Captain Kirk got to make many first contacts – but he did so by default because he was first. Captain Picard actually made more first contacts than Kirk did – including with some very different forms of life. Whether it’s the Microbrains, the Exocomps, or the Q Continuum, Captain Picard was prepared to treat everyone he met with courtesy and respect, staying true to Starfleet’s mission of seeking out new life. But it doesn’t end there. Captain Picard introduced us as the audience to alien races like the Bajorans, Cardassians, and of course the Borg – and these would go on to be just as important to the Star Trek franchise overall as any of the aliens we met in The Original Series.

In conclusion, Captain Picard is a calm diplomat, the level-headed manager of a large crew, and the personification of the very best of 24th Century Starfleet. He guided his crew through some incredibly difficult and dangerous missions while maintaining his composure. He learned lessons about loss and grief that Kirk never had to learn. And he saved the lives of at least two of Kirk’s crew: Spock and Scotty. He also saved Earth from the Federation’s greatest threat, and even learned to perceive time in a non-linear fashion thanks to Q.

So Who Wins?

Kirk or Picard?

You’re going to hate me for this – but they both win. Everything I said above is true (in a roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way), but that doesn’t mean that one captain is better than the other! Like all of us, Kirk and Picard have strengths and weaknesses; things they do well and areas where they need to rely on others. There isn’t a definitive answer to a question like this, because the answer will always be “it depends on the circumstances.”

There are times when Captain Kirk’s approach to leadership is needed, and times when the way Picard approached a situation would lead to the best chance of success. As we saw in Generations, there was even a time when the only way to save the day was for both men to team up. The fact that each captain has his own set of skills and his own style of leadership isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength, one which benefits Star Trek as a whole.

Kirk and Picard meeting for the first time.

I mentioned in my introduction that subsequent captains have incorporated elements from both Kirk and Picard, and that’s because both men have so many positive, upstanding qualities that Star Trek’s writers were keen to give to new characters as the franchise has continued to grow. Kirk was always ready for action, but that never came at the expense of being thoughtful and considering non-violent solutions. And Picard’s diplomatic, polite style could give way to ordering his crew to “fire at will” when the situation called for it. Both captains are adaptable, able to rise to meet the needs of all manner of incredibly difficult situations – even if that meant setting aside their usual ways of doing things.

No one can doubt Kirk or Picard were absolutely dedicated to their ships and crews, either. They may have shown that dedication in slightly different ways, and they may have expressed their appreciation and love for their friends and crewmates in different forms as well, but both of them were quite literally willing to lay down their lives and go down with the ship if necessary. Both men ultimately lost their ships – the original USS Enterprise and the Enterprise-D were both destroyed. But they both bounced back to take over new commands and go on to even greater things.

There are times when I’m in the mood for watching Captain Kirk get into a fist-fight with a Gorn or for seeing his epic stand-off against Khan. And there are moments where I want to see Picard use diplomacy to win an argument with the Sheliak or watch him wrangle with one of Q’s puzzles. But there are also times where I want to see Picard grab his phaser rifle and kick some Borg butt, and times where I can think of nothing better than seeing Kirk solve a scientific mystery like that of V’Ger. Both captains have given all of us so much enjoyment and entertainment over the years that I simply can’t crown one of them a winner and leave the other a loser. To me, they’ll always both be winners.

The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series, The Next Generation, and every episode and film mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Great Star Trek villains: Dr Tolian Soran

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Generations. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

The Star Trek franchise has featured some absolutely terrific villains across its fifty-five year history. Characters like Khan, Gul Dukat, the Borg Queen, and many, many more have gone on to play significant roles in the franchise, cranking up the tension and drama while giving fans someone to truly despise. One of my all-time favourite Star Trek villains comes from what may – controversially – be my favourite Star Trek film: Dr Tolian Soran from Star Trek: Generations. It’s this character that I want to talk about today.

Although their motivations are very different, I feel that Dr Soran fills a similar role as an adversary for Captain Picard specifically as Khan did in The Wrath of Khan for Captain Kirk. Khan was motivated by vengeance and hatred for Kirk in particular, whereas Soran sees Picard as little more than a bump in the road on the way to completing a scheme he’s worked on for decades, so there are clear differences, yet in their two films the characters play similar adversarial roles for Star Trek’s first two captains.

Dr Soran in Star Trek: Generations.

One of Dr Soran’s lines has stuck with me ever since I first watched Generations in the cinema in 1995 (which is when the film was released here in the UK). The line is this: “Time is the fire in which we burn.” Delivered with menacing clarity by actor Malcolm McDowell, Soran’s view of time as an all-consuming fire is dark, yet beautifully poetic at the same time. Though Captain Picard would argue against this notion at the end of the film, the line, and the way it was delivered, is permanently etched in my memory. At times, it has been a motivating factor in my life, which may seem strange for a line delivered by a villain! As I said last November when I commemorated this website’s anniversary, the notion that time was catching up to me was one of the motivating factors I had in setting up my website and writing about Star Trek and other topics.

What I love most about the fire analogy is the way in which it describes the one-way flow of time. When an object is burned in a fire, an irreversible reaction takes place at the molecular level, and no matter how much we might regret burning something or wish we could undo a disastrous fire, doing so is impossible. The same is true of time – going back in time, changing the past or reliving a moment isn’t possible. (Except when Star Trek does time travel episodes, but that’s a different subject altogether!)

“Time is the fire in which we burn.”

Although Soran was an obsessive, desperate to get back to the Nexus, his philosophical side shines through at several key moments in the story, and the way this side of his character comes across elevates him. No longer a one-dimensional villain with a singular purpose, Soran is a thinker, someone who has an understanding of the world and his place in it. His interpretation of the world, or rather his reaction to it, may be extreme, but nevertheless the mere existence of this deep-thinking aspect of his character makes him feel a lot more significant and a lot more well-rounded. Soran has clearly considered the implications of what he’s doing, even if it means sacrificing millions of lives for his own benefit.

The attacks of September 11th, 2001 brought religiously-motivated terrorism to the fore in a way that was new for many people in the western world. Yet even before then, the idea of sacrificing one’s life in order to reach paradise, or heaven, had been a significant force. Soran’s quest to reach the Nexus at any cost can be seen through this lens; a dangerously obsessed man willing to do whatever it takes to reach his version of paradise.

The desperation etched on Soran’s face shows how obsessed he had become with returning to the Nexus.

At the same time, the Nexus storyline rebuffs the idea of religion in general, at least insofar as Soran is concerned. If Soran believed in an afterlife – a belief which is not uncommon even in Star Trek’s 24th Century – then his quest to re-enter the Nexus wouldn’t make sense. He could be comforted by the belief that the afterlife would be just as good, if not better than, what he experienced there. The fact that Soran is a scientist and he’s chasing an interstellar energy ribbon that is observable and definitely exists (within the confines of the story, of course) seems to pour cold water on the idea of Soran as a religious fundamentalist; his desire to reach the Nexus is based on his own experience of the phenomenon, and not simply on the nebulous concept of “faith.”

Star Trek’s history with religion is complicated. The Original Series once showed a “chapel” aboard the USS Enterprise, and in Deep Space Nine Kasidy Yates claimed her father was a minister, so human religion definitely still exists in the 24th Century and the franchise hasn’t tried to erase it. At the same time, however, Star Trek has often tried to offer alternative explanations for gods, miracles, and other religious experiences. The Final Frontier depicted the “god” at the centre of the galaxy as a beligerent alien. Q fills a similar role on occasion in The Next Generation. The Prophets in Deep Space Nine are noncorporeal aliens. And so on.

Star Trek has frequently looked at other explanations for things like the afterlife. (Pictured: Q in Tapestry).

So if the Nexus represents heaven or the afterlife for the sake of Soran’s story, it’s still a scientific and secular take on the concept. Soran isn’t like Sybok, a man on a mission with faith at its core. He’s a scientist, trying to solve a scientific puzzle. The fact that it has religious comparisons is neither here nor there for him; he sees the Nexus as his one shot at paradise.

Though we don’t see anything on screen of Soran’s life prior to his encounter with the Enterprise-B, given what happened to the El-Aurians and Generations’ focus on Picard’s family, there are the building blocks to see Soran through a semi-sympathetic lens if we’re so inclined. The Borg destroyed or assimilated the El-Aurian homeworld, and during the attack they killed Soran’s family, including his wife and children. When Picard visits the Nexus, he sees a version of the life he could have led, as did Kirk. What Soran sees in the Nexus – and what he wants so desperately to recapture – is his family. At a personal level we can understand and even empathise with that, even if it doesn’t come close to excusing his actions.

Soran immediately after being beamed aboard the Enterprise-B.

A villain that we as the audience can relate to is something the best stories manage to have, and a villain who isn’t simply evil for the sake of it also makes for a much more satisfying and fulfilling narrative. Soran ticks both of those boxes. We could even argue that Soran isn’t “evil” in the strict sense of the word; he’s merely uncaring and ambivalent to the lives of others due to his single-minded dedication to his quest.

For Trekkies, Soran is perhaps most significant and best-remembered for being the character who killed Captain Kirk. Star Trek’s first captain carried the torch for the franchise for more than two decades prior to the inception of The Next Generation, and while characters like Scotty, Spock, Dr McCoy and others all had their fans and their moments in the spotlight, Kirk was the most significant character from The Original Series. His death in Generations arguably marked the end of an era, and the definitive passing of the baton from one set of characters to another.

Soran is responsible for Kirk’s death – a seminal moment in the history of Star Trek.

Though we have since had a version of Captain Kirk back in the Kelvin timeline films, and Star Trek has of course returned to the 23rd Century with Discovery and Short Treks, the death of William Shatner’s Kirk is an incredibly significant moment in the history of the franchise. While it’s true that Star Trek had already moved beyond The Original Series by 1994 thanks to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and the gentle yet clear ending to The Undiscovered Country, there was still a sense that any of the main characters could return – something epitomised by the return of Spock in Unification and Scotty in Relics. Captain Kirk did get the chance to make a triumphant return to the franchise – but doing so led to his death.

Kirk’s death is clearly a hugely emotional moment, especially for Trekkies who’d been with the franchise since the beginning. But his sacrifice stopped Soran and prevented the deaths of millions, as well as the deaths of the crew of the Enterprise-D. Even though the film doesn’t really acknowledge his death in this way, he died a hero.

Soran’s scheme brought Kirk and Picard together.

It was Soran’s scheme that killed Kirk, but it also brought Captains Kirk and Picard together. Between them they had to figure out a way to prevent Soran going through with his plan, and thus Soran became the unintentional catalyst for what has to be one of my favourite moments in all of Star Trek. Marvel films have shown that a good team-up story can be emotional and exceptionally fun, but putting together two of the most significant characters in the entire Star Trek franchise? It’s a moment that’s very hard to beat even more than 25 years later!

Without Soran, none of this would have come to pass. While we may lament Captain Kirk’s death, in a franchise that runs as long as Star Trek and where the in-universe timeline spans centuries, characters are eventually going to die. Maybe Captain Kirk would have preferred a quiet retirement, but as a satisfying story beat, making the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the lives of millions and a crew of Starfleet officers could not be more quintessentially Kirk.

Soran was a fantastic villain in Generations.

I find Dr Soran to be an absolutely fascinating character in his own right. But more than that, he’s responsible for perhaps the most ambitious crossover that the Star Trek franchise has yet attempted, and brought together Captains Kirk and Picard for an amazing adventure in a truly excellent film.

It’s hard to pick a fault with the way Soran was brought to screen, too. Malcolm McDowell put in an outstanding performance that was intense and riveting to watch. Even Soran’s lighter moments, such as his conversations with Geordi and the Duras Sisters, have a distinct edge to them. McDowell makes it clear with every syllable and every movement that Soran doesn’t care about any of them or their goals, and would hurt or kill them in a heartbeat if they got in his way. He comes across as a powerful, intimidating adversary thanks to this no-holds-barred approach.

So that’s about all I have to say, really! I find Dr Soran to be one of Star Trek’s most compelling villains.

Star Trek: Generations is available to stream on Paramount+ in the United States, and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Star Trek franchise – including Generations and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Great Star Trek villains: General Chang

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The Star Trek franchise sometimes lucks out on getting a wonderful guest star to jump aboard. Some of these guest stars are relative unknowns; actors and actresses who aren’t household names, but nevertheless gave wonderful, memorable performances. On the other hand, there are a handful of actors and actresses who join Star Trek when they’re already very well-known, either because they’re longstanding fans or because they were offered a once-in-a-lifetime role.

Christopher Plummer, who played General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was firmly in the second category; an established, renowned star. Plummer sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 91, and I thought it would be nice to take a look at his single Star Trek role, as well as pay tribute to this legend of stage and screen.

Christopher Plummer (1929-2021)
Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Plummer had a long career, first appearing on television in his native Canada in 1953. He continued to act well into his 80s, and among his final roles were the 2019 film Knives Out and a Canadian television show called Departure which was broadcast that same year. To Star Trek fans, Plummer is iconic for his role as the eyepatch-wearing Klingon General Chang in 1991’s The Undiscovered Country, where he faced off against fellow Canadian William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.

Plummer’s love of Shakespeare was incorporated into the story of The Undiscovered Country – the title of which is itself a quotation from the Great Bard. Chang would go on to quote Shakespeare numerous times throughout the film, appearing all the more villainous for it! There’s something about Shakespearean language that makes for a menacing antagonist.

General Chang and Captain Kirk share a glass of Romulan Ale aboard the Enterprise-A.

General Chang was one part of a broader conspiracy to prevent the Klingons and Federation achieving peace – a metaphor, in 1991, for the end of the Cold War. The Klingons had been conceived during The Original Series as the “Russians” to the Federation’s “Americans,” so it was certainly fitting to bring them into a storyline like this.

To continue the analogy, Chang represents the hard-liners – Soviet military leaders who could not conceive of the end of their dominance and place in the world. A few months before The Undiscovered Country would hit cinemas, a number of such men attempted a coup in the Soviet Union. This was the final roll of the dice from the old guard to preserve Soviet communism and wrench control away from the reformer Gorbachev; the Soviet Union would be formally dissolved in December of that year.

Chang appears on the Enterprise-A’s main viewscreen shortly after the assassination.

Perhaps it’s because of how timely the story was that General Chang made such an impact on Star Trek. The franchise has often looked at the real world through its sci-fi lens, but few stories managed to be as relevant or as timely as The Undiscovered Country was in 1991. The end of the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation represented the end of the Cold War, the explosion of Praxis and its fallout can be seen as an analogy for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and General Chang and Captain Kirk are the respective “old soldiers” from either side who must overcome the way they feel.

Kirk succeeded where Chang could not in that regard, and The Undiscovered Country gave him a meaningful character arc in a way few prior stories had. But Chang’s role is just as interesting, as he represents the many people on both sides of the conflict who were unable to find a way to live in peace. He was a foil for Kirk; a dark reflection of where Kirk’s own biases and mistrust could have led. Chang’s philosophy was that it was better to die in battle than live peacefully with one’s enemies – and he got his comeuppance for it.

Chang during Kirk’s trial on Qo’noS.

But having an interesting real-world message isn’t the only thing that makes Chang’s story so much fun. As I’ve said before, pushing too hard on that front can sometimes lead to a story or character being less entertaining! Instead, Chang was a truly interesting villain for the Star Trek franchise; a Klingon whose motivations were steeped in the concept of honour that his warrior people hold so dear.

Chang’s Klingon Bird-of-Prey could fire its weapons while cloaked, making it a uniquely challenging vessel for Kirk’s Enterprise-A and Sulu’s Excelsior during the climactic final confrontation. This battle, along with the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan, draws on inspiration from war films set aboard submarines, with Kirk and Sulu trying to outmanoeuvre and outthink their unseen opponent.

General Chang’s Bird-of-Prey could fire while cloaked.

During Kirk and McCoy’s trial on Qo’noS, Chang was a powerful advocate for the prosecution, insisting they be convicted for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon – an act for which he and his co-conspirators were, in fact, responsible. Star Trek has shown numerous times that it’s a franchise capable of some great moments of courtroom drama, and this was absolutely one of them! Chang shouting at Kirk that he shouldn’t wait for the universal translator was pitch-perfect acting.

A complex villain, whose motives were to continue a conflict that he could simply see no way of bringing to a peaceful end, General Chang is absolutely one of the most interesting and entertaining antagonists in all of Star Trek, and is up there with Khan as one of the best ever faced by Kirk and The Original Series’ crew.

Christopher Plummer had a long and varied career, one which touched many different genres and styles of acting, and endeared him to generations of audiences. His one moment in Star Trek was not his defining role – and is not the headline in most of his obituaries in mainstream news outlets today – but I firmly believe it showed what he was capable of at his best: a classic Shakespearean actor capable of transitioning to a wholly new genre. He will be missed.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Aliens of Star Trek: The M-113 Creature

Happy Star Trek Day! Today marks fifty-four years since the first episode of The Original Series aired on American television, kicking off a franchise which is still going strong today. The Man Trap featured an alien called the M-113 Creature, but you may know it by its unofficial name: the Salt Vampire!

The early production history of Star Trek is complicated! After The Cage – the show’s original pilot – wasn’t picked up by network NBC, a second pilot was commissioned. This was very unusual, and rumours abound as to what happened. Gene Roddenberry and co. went away to work on a new pilot, and what resulted was Where No Man Has Gone Before. The new pilot dropped most of The Cage’s characters – only Spock would be retained – and reworked the series. It ultimately led to Star Trek being greenlit, and the show was picked up for a full season. Several episodes were filmed, including The Man Trap, and when NBC came to deciding the order in which the stories would air, it was selected as the premiere as its story was considered easier to follow by the executives at the network.

Happy 54th anniversary to The Man Trap… and to Star Trek!

So that’s a potted history of how The Man Trap came to be Star Trek’s first episode, despite the fact it wasn’t filmed first! The episode would see the crew take on a nefarious alien which was the last of its kind: the M-113 Creature.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I really like the design of the creature and the special effects used to pull it off. The heavy rubber suits used for some of The Original Series’ aliens and creatures have a distinct aesthetic, but it’s one I think really works. The suits were very cleverly and lovingly designed, and compared to a lot of contemporary special effects have held up remarkably well over the decades. I’d even compare these kind of practical effects very favourably to lots of digital effects and CGI; no one will ever convince me that Enterprise’s CGI Gorn looks better than The Original Series’ rubber suit!

I think this Gorn still looks pretty good in 2020!

Though the M-113 creature was only seen in its true form very briefly, the same kind of special effects brought it to life in a horrifying way, yet with a unique look that is now emblematic of the Star Trek franchise. Many people who are only dimly aware of Star Trek would recognise the M-113 Creature and be able to identify it as a Star Trek alien; in that sense the creature is up there with races like the Borg and Klingons as being iconic.

It’s been great to see a couple of recent references within Star Trek to the M-113 creature. It appeared in Ephraim and Dot – an animated episode of Short Treks that aired back in December. And just last week we caught a glimpse of the M-113 Creature in Cupid’s Errant Arrow, the fifth episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. These fun little “Easter eggs” to Trekkies were greatly appreciated, and serve as a reminder of Star Trek’s origins all these years later.

The M-113 Creature seen in Ephraim and Dot…
…and again in Cupid’s Errant Arrow.

Though the creature the crew of the Enterprise encountered in The Man Trap was said to be the last of its kind, it’s arguable that may no longer be the case. Being mentioned in Lower Decks could be seen to imply that further M-113 Creatures have been discovered later in the 23rd and 24th Centuries, so we may not have seen the last of this iconic villain.

Nicknamed the “Salt Vampire” because of its ability to extract all of the salt from its victims, the M-113 Creature was a shapeshifter, able to take the form of other species, including humans. It also seems to have been sentient – able to mimic human behaviour and even hold in-depth conversations and form relationships.

The M-113 Creature was able to assume many forms.

Though distinct from later shapeshifting races – most notably the Founders of the Dominion – the M-113 Creature was the first such alien encountered in Star Trek. We’ve since seen a number of others, all of which owe at least a little something to their predecessor from The Man Trap. The concept of a shapeshifter is frightening, and that aspect has been used to great effect in several Star Trek stories.

The M-113 Creature also possessed several other abilities that made it a formidable adversary: it could telepathically sense the minds of sentient life forms – including humans – and use what it found to choose its appearance. This kind of tactic allowed it to get close to its prey and get them to let their guard down. It was also capable of paralysing people in order to get close to them when in its true form, and was incredibly physically strong – far more so than humans and Vulcans.

The M-113 Creature in its true form.

In The Man Trap, the sole surviving M-113 Creature (that we know of) took the form of Nancy Crater, a woman Dr McCoy had known; “that one woman”, as Captain Kirk put it. It lived with Crater’s husband, Robert, on the planet M-113 for a number of years. It was speculated that there had once been a civilisation of M-113 Creatures, but that the majority had gone extinct when the planet’s supply of salt was used up. Robert and Nancy Crater led an archaeological expedition to the world, encountering what could be the last survivor of the race.

Despite possessing some degree of sentience, it wasn’t possible for the crew of the Enterprise to reason with the M-113 Creature that they encountered, and it was killed by Dr McCoy while attempting to feed on Captain Kirk. If it were possible to negotiate with it – or others of its race – Starfleet could have provided the aliens with a supply of salt in exchange for peace. Perhaps such a story could be included in a future episode of Star Trek!

The M-113 Creature after being killed by Dr McCoy.

Despite its monstrous appearance and villainous role in the story, the death of the M-113 Creature in The Man Trap is a sad occasion. Potentially the last of its kind, the entire race and everything they had created now seems lost to history. Starfleet aims not only to seek out new life, but also to find ways – where possible – to peacefully coexist. It’s ironic, considering subsequent Star Trek stories, that the first encounter with an alien ended with its death!

But in a way, the aftermath of the M-113 Creature’s death is what established Star Trek as being more than just typical mid-century B-movie sci-fi fare. It took an emotional toll on Dr McCoy to kill what he thought was his long-lost love, and it took a toll on Kirk and the crew to have killed off the last member of a species. But as the Enterprise prepares to leave orbit, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy gather on the bridge and remember the creature in what was a very poignant moment.

The crew of the Enterprise at the end of The Man Trap.

It’s moments like this, across The Original Series’ early episodes, that set up Star Trek as being something special. There was more to the story of the M-113 Creature than just a horrible monster for our heroes to outsmart. That story was emotional and complex, bringing up issues of morality that other television series and films struggle to get across even today.

Star Trek offered – and continues to offer, fifty-four years later – much more to its audience than just exciting space adventures. This is why the franchise has endured so long, and it all began on the 8th of September 1966 with The Man Trap and the M-113 Creature.

Star Trek: The Original Series is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series and all other properties listed above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Will we see William Shatner back as Captain Kirk?

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. There will also be major spoilers for the film Star Trek: Generations.

There has been some buzz lately in Star Trek fan communities about something William Shatner said in a recent interview. To make a long story short, Shatner said that he’d be interested to return to his most iconic role, provided it was more than a mere cameo.

I don’t really like commenting on these types of stories. There were many in the run-up to the release of Star Trek: Picard, when practically everyone who had once been a main cast member in a Star Trek series was asked whether they’d be up for a return. People like Robert Picardo and LeVar Burton got some attention for their comments, as did others, but they were all saying basically the same thing, which was some variant of this: “I’d like to do it, but there hasn’t been any formal discussion with ViacomCBS about it.” Well… that could apply to anyone. Aside from very few individuals who seem to want nothing to do with the franchise any more, practically every ex-Star Trek star would – for the right price, of course – be up for a return.

William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk in The Original Series second-season episode The Trouble With Tribbles.

So why has William Shatner’s comment blown up the way it has? I’m honestly not sure. In the aftermath of 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, Shatner co-wrote a series of novels – his first set in the Star Trek universe. In these books, Kirk – who you’ll remember died in Generations – was resurrected by Borg-Romulans and would go on to live in the late 24th Century. As a statement of intent from the actor that Kirk could be resurrected somehow, a published series of novels is about as clear as it gets! Shatner has been willing to reprise his role ever since he last played Kirk in 1994. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he still is.

As things stand right now, I don’t see it happening. The first and biggest reason why is that it would be incredibly difficult to do in-universe. Kirk is dead. He died in Generations, and even with all the technobabble at Starfleet’s disposal, there’s no way around that. Star Wars has learned to its great cost that the resurrection of long-dead characters can go over incredibly poorly, feeling like nothing but cheap fan-service and a blatant nostalgia play, and frankly there’s no way to resurrect Kirk without those same issues rearing their heads.

The second “Shatnerverse” novel, The Return, saw Kirk brought back to life.

The only way Shatner could reprise the role of Kirk would be as an alternate-universe version. And that has problems too. The first is which parallel universe this version of Kirk would inhabit. With the production of a fourth Kelvin timeline/JJverse film unclear at best, it seems very unlikely he could appear there. There had been rumours in the run-up to Star Trek Beyond that Shatner might join former co-star Leonard Nimoy for a role, with both older actors appearing as future versions of that timeline’s Kirk and Spock. With Nimoy’s death, that element of the film never happened – if indeed it was ever going to.

Could Shatner appear as another character, though? In my opinion, for whatever that’s worth, this would be the only way to include him in any new Star Trek production. He could be, just as an example, the grandfather of a young Ensign or Lieutenant Kirk. But it would be hard to make a role of this kind anything more than a cameo, which is something Shatner has said he wasn’t interested in.

Killing off Kirk in Generations was a big decision, and it wasn’t without controversy at the time – though in the days when most people weren’t online and there was no social media, those criticisms were less widespread! But it was undeniably a final end for the character, and there simply isn’t a sensible way to bring him back in his original, Prime Universe form. Frankly, it would be disrespectful to ask William Shatner to play a minor role or to make a cameo appearance, and I understand why someone of his calibre and with his unique standing in the Star Trek community would feel that way. But all of this means that there really isn’t a way to bring him back.

Capt. Kirk was killed at the end of 1994’s Star Trek: Generations.

The final point I’d make is this: Star Trek is doing okay at the moment. CBS All Access is still in a very competitive market in the United States, but it’s clear as day that recent Star Trek projects have been at least somewhat successful, or we wouldn’t see the continued investment in the franchise that ViacomCBS has been willing to make. A second season of Picard is happening, a third of Discovery is happening, and there are two new live-action shows that have been announced, one that’s in early development that hasn’t been announced, and two animated shows too, one of which already has a two-season order. With all of this going on, I just don’t see a need for Kirk to be shoehorned in.

The obvious comparison is Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, which I alluded to above. That film had a number of issues – as I noted in my review – but what it boiled down to was that Star Wars as a brand has found itself unable to escape the characters and storylines of its original trilogy. We see this across Star Wars, from the prequels to the sequels and the spin-offs. The entire franchise revolves around its original incarnation, as no one has really been bold enough yet to take it in a new direction. As such, when JJ Abrams needed a powerful villain for The Rise of Skywalker, he fell back on the original “big bad”: Palpatine.

Star Wars tried bringing back a long-dead character… and look how well that worked.

Star Trek, in contrast, has long since moved on from Capt. Kirk – something which has been obvious since 1987, when The Next Generation premiered and showed that the franchise could be more than its first captain and crew. And Star Trek has only grown since then. Discovery may overlap slightly with Kirk’s era, but that’s all it is: an overlap. Strange New Worlds will share that setting, but again, it’s not a story that’s as tied up with The Original Series in the same way as Star Wars’ ongoing saga is with its original trilogy. Star Trek may have started with William Shatner’s Capt. Kirk in the 1960s, but it doesn’t end there, not by a long shot. As a result of that point alone, there just isn’t any need for Kirk to come back. As a fan of The Original Series I can admit it would be a cute nod and wink to fans to find a way to bring Shatner in – but no more so than it would be to see Robert Picardo or LeVar Burton, or any of the other 30 or more actors who once played a main role in a Star Trek show.

Speaking more broadly, any franchise has to be careful when looking backwards. One of the things I was concerned about with Star Trek: Picard is that it could end up trying to be Season 8 of The Next Generation – something which it simply never could be. As fun and nostalgic as it can be to see classic characters return, if that’s all that a story offers it will never be a success. There has to be something interesting, entertaining, and dramatic to drive the plot, and any new characters we meet along the way have to be part of that. Spending too much time looking backwards means there’s no time to look forwards, and that’s unfair to any new cast members. They deserve at least a chance to become fan favourites for a new generation of Trekkies, the way William Shatner and others were fan favourites for the first generation. Stories can be drowned out by nostalgia, with new characters left underdeveloped and sidelined. While it can be done well, as I’d argue Star Trek: Picard demonstrates, it can also be done poorly as we’ve seen in recent years.

Star Trek: Picard brought back Sir Patrick Stewart to the franchise.

So do I think we’ll see William Shatner back in Star Trek? I would never say “never”, but at the moment I think it’s unlikely. With his character having been killed off more than two decades ago, and with the franchise standing on its own two feet just fine without needing to continually return to The Original Series for ideas, it’s hard to see where there’s a place for him to make a major contribution. If he wanted to do a cameo I think that could be fun, but as he’s made clear that isn’t something he’s up for – which is perfectly fair enough – it’s hard to see any Star Trek writer going out of their way to create a role especially for him, or to find some convoluted and inevitably controversial way to un-kill Kirk.

There will always be these kinds of comments from actors. It’s understandable, given that Star Trek has made a big return to our screens, that journalists and fans will ask anyone who’d been involved with Star Trek in the past if they’d be willing to come back. And it’s understandable for someone of Shatner’s pedigree to say he’d only do it if he could be given a decent-sized role. But none of it actually means anything, because if the people in charge of Star Trek over at ViacomCBS were genuinely interested, they’d have reached out to him. That’s why I tend not to comment on these kind of stories.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking back at Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its 40th anniversary

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

On the 7th of December 1979, ten years after going off the air (and five years since The Animated Series went off the air), Star Trek was back. Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered, and while it has been overshadowed in many ways by its sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the film was a success – albeit not an overwhelming one according to distributors and producers – and reinvigorated the franchise. Make no mistake, if it weren’t for The Motion Picture, Star Trek as we know it wouldn’t exist today – there would’ve been no Wrath of Khan, and from that there’d have been no Next Generation or any future series or film. In a very real sense, The Motion Picture paved the way for the franchise’s future, and the success Star Trek enjoys today owes a lot to this film.

The Motion Picture was a risk for Paramount Pictures. Star Trek had shown that it had a number of very vocal fans – the letter-writing campaign in 1968 to get the series renewed demonstrated this – but its wider popularity was an unknown quantity, especially on the big screen. Reruns of The Original Series had garnered a larger audience than its 1966-69 original run, but there were still question marks over whether to make a new television series or to go down the box office route.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture turns 40 in December 2019.

Indeed, the project that would eventually become The Motion Picture started out life as Star Trek: Phase II, a television series that was to reunite the original cast – without Spock – for another five-year mission onboard the Enterprise. After a project called Planet of the Titans failed to get off the ground in the mid-1970s, by 1977 Phase II was officially in production. It has been said many times that the success of another 1977 project – Star Wars – is what led Gene Roddenberry and Paramount to reconsider the television series and make a film instead. While there is undoubtedly a kernel of truth to that, there were other factors at play too. The script which would eventually become The Motion Picture was originally set to be the pilot episode for Phase II but after a series of revisions and discussions between the creative team and the studio, the decision was made to enter production as a film instead, and two versions of the script were submitted – one by Gene Rodenberry and one by Harold Livingston, who’d been a producer on Phase II. Livingston’s script was chosen (by Michael Eisner – future CEO of Disney) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was officially greenlit.

As an interesting aside, Phase II remained officially “in production” even after the decision was taken to switch focus to a film, and for much of 1977 the official line from the studio was that a series, originally set at 13 episodes, was being produced. It wasn’t until 1978 that the film would be officially announced.

So that’s a brief potted history of how it came to be. But despite making around $139 million on a budget of $46 million, Paramount considered the film a disappointment. The big risk had paid off, but not as much as they’d hoped. The expensive special effects and continued revisions to the script even during production were cited as reasons why, as was the less action-heavy, more ethereal storyline.

For me personally, it’s the lack of action and the deliberate slow pacing that gives this film something that others lack – a sense of “Star Trek-ness”. Star Trek was always into the weirder, more esoteric side of science fiction, especially prior to The Motion Picture, and this film stands alongside episodes of The Original Series as a pure science fiction work, not an action-sci fi film like The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. While some people might find its slower pace to be a grind, to me it makes it akin to watching a feature-length episode of the series, rather than just another action flick.

Because of the overwhelming popularity of The Wrath of Khan within the fanbase, The Motion Picture often gets a bad rap. People have said that “all of the odd-numbered Star Trek films are bad”, including The Motion Picture in with Search for Spock and The Final Frontier. Both of those titles have good and bad moments – the latter suffering perhaps from too much involvement from William Shatner – but to me, The Motion Picture is in a different league.

Some criticism of the film is that it feels like a two-and-a-half hour episode of The Original Series. But why should that be a criticism? The Motion Picture masterfully builds up its drama – the V’ger cloud’s attack on the Klingons, its destruction of the Epsilon IX station, and finally the death of new character Ilia all add to the stakes. While none of these are particularly dramatic, nor gory, that doesn’t detract from the threat, it heightens it. V’ger is shown to be a being of such incredible power that it can make whole fleets of starships vanish in a heartbeat. We don’t need huge explosions or a punch-out to learn this. V’ger’s power is also confirmed by the reaction of characters. So as the film progresses, we know what’s at stake.

To change lanes completely, I happen to really like the aesthetic of The Motion Picture. It’s very 1970s in some ways – the orange and brown tones, and some of the uniform choices in particular, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Kirk’s uniform as an admiral happens to be one of my all-time favourite Star Trek uniforms. The high collar, the belted tunic, and the simple curved lines in grey and white combine with a metallic gold Starfleet insignia to make an understated yet interesting uniform. I’m not a cosplayer by any means, but if I ever were to make myself a uniform, that would be the one I’d go for. And while we’re talking about things that look great, the sweeping shot over the Enterprise when Kirk is being taken aboard by shuttlepod is absolutely perfect. Combined with an amazing score – for which composer Jerry Goldsmith was nominated for an Academy Award – the full sequence is one of the most inspiring and moving in all of Star Trek, speaking for myself as a fan. When the music ramps up right as we see the Enterprise from the front for the first time, it can be quite emotional. I could happily watch that sequence over and over again.

Many of the sets built in 1978-79 were in continuous use (albeit in modified form) right through to Enterprise‘s cancellation in 2005. Some of the reuses are quite apparent in The Next Generation, so in that sense, the design choices made in The Motion Picture carried through the next two decades of Star Trek as a franchise. The panelling and angles on corridors in particular can be seen on the Enterprise-D and the USS Voyager, and the idea of a warp core as a large upright glowing tube is also something that has carried on right through Star Trek – even cropping up in CGI form in the most recent of the Short Treks episodes. Much of what we consider to be “Star Trek” in terms of aesthetic has its roots not in 1966 but in 1979 – future productions built on what designers and artists had created here. The Next Generation and Voyager in particular owe significant parts of their design to The Motion Picture.

The storyline of The Motion Picture is certainly different from many science fiction outings. It isn’t a film about defeating and destroying an enemy, it’s a film about bridging the gulf and communicating with a new form of life. V’ger, set up to be the film’s antagonist, wanted to evolve – to merge physically with its creator. The crew of the Enterprise could’ve used that moment of weakness to attack it, and maybe even destroy it – and in a different film perhaps that would’ve been the finale. But The Motion Picture builds up to this moment, and it isn’t the death and vanquishing of a foe that we see, but communication, and ultimately the creation of new life. Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and the like may be fun to see on screen, but Star Trek is all about “seeking new life” – and what could be newer and more different than a hyperevolved, massively intelligent machine?

This side of Star Trek, though, has always been more of a niche product. When fans are asked about their favourite films, The Wrath of Khan and First Contact are usually somewhere up near the top, as well as episodes like The Best of Both Worlds, or DS9’s The Way of the Warrior. These are all action-heavy stories, and while Star Trek has enough room for both these and the slower-paced, thought-provoking ones, The Motion Picture falls firmly into the second category. With that comes being underrated and overlooked by fans who prefer more action-oriented stories.

When Spock describes V’ger as being little more than “a child”, he sets the stage for understanding, and from that, communication. The ultimate revelation that V’ger was, in fact, a probe of human origin was truly unexpected. The Motion Picture had an incredibly ambitious story which sought to blend these elements together. The cyclical nature of a returning spacecraft, the massive differences that almost certainly will exist between humankind and anything we might encounter in outer space, and at the heart of it all, the returning characters – not all of whom had enough to do, arguably. But the core dynamic between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was still there. Perhaps The Motion Picture needed more fine-tuning, and perhaps its scope was too vast for a single film to properly encompass, but as a story it makes you stop and think. The galaxy isn’t just going to be humanoids, there are going to be things out there completely beyond our understanding. And the choices we make today – like probing outer space – may have consequences well into the future that we could never foresee.

As an inspirational message, I think that can’t be understated. Seeking out new life and new civilisations – the raison d’être of Starfleet – isn’t always going to be smooth sailing. But if we’re willing to look at things from a different point of view, to listen, to understand, and to communicate, we can find a way to coexist even with someone who seems to be big and threatening. I know the real world doesn’t always work that way, but Gene Roddenberry was always about showing us how humanity can be better than we are in the present day. Speaking personally, I find that aspect of The Motion Picture to be inspiring. As a work of science fiction, that’s the kind of message I admire and what I’d like to see more of on our screens.

Above all, The Motion Picture relaunched the Star Trek brand for a new decade, one which would culminate in The Next Generation and a return to television. If it weren’t for this film, Star Trek would look very different today – if it even existed at all. We can argue about which Star Trek film we like best, and at the end of the day it’s always going to be a subjective choice, but I’d definitely rank The Motion Picture highly on any list. Not just for what it did for the franchise, though that is incredibly important, but as a work of science fiction that wasn’t afraid to tell a thought-provoking story.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The film is also available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray. Star Trek, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and all other Star Trek properties mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS and Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.