Star Trek - the captains

Arantor

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I've watched pretty much all of Star Trek that's out there at this point. (Though, curiously, I haven't seen the thing they made called "Star Trek - The Captains" which is a documentary(?) following Shatner and the others)

And in another thread the question came up of best captain.

I'm going to be pretty controversial and suggest that... all of them are Best Captain. Well, nearly all of them. Well, most of them. Spoiler tags mostly for wordiness sake, not because any of these are actual spoilers, and why I think they're the most awesome in their own way. Lower Decks doesn't count; the whole point is that we don't really see the captain so much (and I didn't particularly pay that much attention to it)

Jeffrey Hunter was not a good choice for initial captain of the Enterprise and I completely get how they ended up with the label of 'too cerebral' for the opening episode, The Cage. There's not really any proper cut left of the episode but large chunks of it are reproduced into season 1's The Menagerie, plus James Blish did a pretty decent adaptation of pretty much all the TOS episodes. But TOS Pike is just not relatable, he's too cold and clinical and just the tiniest bit of sexism in there. Understandable given the time - and the audience, though.

But Kirk? Kirk was iconic. Cool in that way that Austin Powers was later described as: the men wanted to be him, the women wanted to be with him. Kirk represents that well-rounded individual who is calm under pressure, resolute in his moral duty, the cowboy out on the frontier with no-one but his crew to accompany him. More than that, though, Kirk treated everyone below him with respect - based on his need for them to do their job and do it well, rather than what country (or planet) they come from. Genuinely ground-breaking stuff.

Picard (and Stewart) were divisive figures aboard the bridge of the all new Enterprise. Even the ship itself was contentious being less battle-ready explorer on the new frontier, and more diplomatic liner in spaaaaaaaace, with its sleek lines and curves and so much space for everyone and everything.

But what Picard really brought to the table was a subtle and clever evolution of Kirk; this was best part of a hundred years later, this is less about the new frontier and more about what that means in its wake. It means less about gunboat diplomacy, and a promotion on finding new solutions to problems; the introduction of a ship's counsellor reminded us that this wasn't ships out in the frontier making do, but a more seasoned, more evolved environment that understood what years in deep space would mean.

As someone who was bullied as a kid, it meant something to me to have a lead character who reasoned through things, who displayed empathy and gravitas and a stronger set of principles - it wasn't about going to weapons first or charging in physically. And it was a show that demonstrated a commitment to other ideas: we saw discussions about ethics, about the nature of what it means to be human, about the value of culture and heritage.

There are so many wonderful moments in TNG where Picard makes an observation and often a little monologue about what he's seeing. The obvious stand-out moments are when he stands up to Q (Encounter At Farpoint, Hide and Q - even to the point of quoting Shakespeare!), when he's defending Data (Measure of a Man), or when there is the trial of a possible saboteur turned witch-hunt (The Drumhead). The more complex stories needed a more complex captain.

When DS9 opens, Sisko is still mourning the loss of his wife, and his career somewhat hit the skids. He was a decent enough officer, worth keeping around but not quite enough to put him in the big seat, so posted him to what was expected to be a minor role: the liberated space station around Bajor, who were receiving Federation assistance with a view to joining. The wormhole wasn't a big deal at that point... so Starfleet gave it to someone that needed a posting but was expected to stay very much on the sidelines.

Sisko, though, soon found himself in a rather unenviable position - while both Kirk and Picard were viewed on occasion by lesser races as 'gods', Sisko was firmly something else. It was a role he didn't feel comfortable in, but he rose to the occasion. You could argue that Sisko's entire strength is 'rising to the occasion' but his journey is far more interesting: Kirk and Picard fly about the galaxy, but we never see what happens when they're gone. We never see what was left behind. DS9 is the journey of what happens when the flagship of the fleet isn't there with the peak cowboy diplomats and explorers to save the day. We get a dirtier, gritter - more authentic - view of the spaces in between.

And we get the Federation with a new threat we've never seen it fight before: a war. A full scale war that's not a single skirmish to win or lose, but a protracted, multi-year struggle for supremacy, and with this guy who is by all accounts, a wash-out for the big chair suddenly in the middle of all of it. He's not ready for this, he's not prepared, and he's never sat in the big chair, but now he's in the hot seat in the hottest corner of the quadrant.

The punctuation on all of this: a career officer, the representative of Starfleet - the emissary of the local gods, no less - has to do a number of things that go against his oath, his principles, ultimately a betrayal of everything he stood for. Kirk the cowboy and Picard the explorer, they got to go off and do mostly the right thing for mostly the right reasons. Sisko is someone who has to do some wrong things to make the right things happen.

If nothing else, I give you "In The Pale Moonlight" as an episode. A situation is brewing. Sisko has a chat with someone for whom the lines are blurred, and he has a suggestion. Sisko knows it's not a good suggestion. He ruminates that he should have just thanked his friend for the suggestion and walked away - but he doesn't. He knows this shouldn't go ahead but he lets it happen. He makes it happen. And, predictably, it blows up. Things happen, it goes sideways - only to learn that that was planned for.

So, this is a huge victory for the good guys! This may even be the turning point of the entire war! There's even a "Welcome to the Fight" party tonight in the wardroom!… So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover up the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it…

Darker times call for darker measures, and sometimes you need someone who can make it happen, to step up and rise to the occasion. I don't know how the Dominion War would have played out if Kirk or Picard had been stationed at Deep Space 9. Neither of them would have built the Defiant, neither of them would have faced down the Maquis the same way, but likely as not, Starfleet would never have posted either there. We saw, for the both of them, their first, best destiny. Sisko, though, makes the calls that see Starfleet through the war, some of which only he could make.

It is not for nothing that there is the meme of the Defiant being just the polite name for "Sisko's MF Pimp Hand", you know, gonna smack you for talking out of turn.

Janeway had an interesting situation thrown at her and one that, all things considered, she managed to get through without it being the most awful disaster. She brings elements of all her predecessors; the easy-going joviality-meets-professionalism of Kirk, along with his trademark playing it fast and loose when the situation arises; the staunch moral authority of Picard; the willingness to do what it takes to get the job done, and willingness to do a deal with the devil when the situation arose.

The armchair theorycrafters would suggest that 'well, Picard would have solved the situation of the Caretaker with a timer and would have been home in time for tea' or that 'Kirk would have just stared down everyone'. Maybe true, maybe not, but they weren't the ones coping with a hybrid and fractured crew, enough distance from home that they'd reach it in 70+ years without any external help. Then, of course, encountering the arch-nemesis of the Federation: the Borg. And, then Species 8472. Suddenly the predator is the prey, and the roles of the scorpion and the frog must also play out as they always must.

She might not have been the first female captain we'd seen but as the first female lead, she also brought a representation we hadn't seen before: that a woman, and a scientist to boot, could be in the big chair. Out of universe, this was *huge*.

Archer was an interesting character. You can see the kind of proto-Kirk thing going on, in the universe prior to the United Federation of Planets. Before the universe as we fully understood it, before the Prime Directive. When the frontier really is the new frontier. Much more making-do, more making the rules up as he went along because he didn't have any choice; the rules hadn't been written yet. A different kind of captain for a different kind of era, between the Temporal Cold War and the Xindi War.

Interestingly I have less to say about Archer because by the time of ENT, the formula for what made a Trek show work with an ensemble cast was better understood - and Archer shines in no small part because of the excellent ensemble, in particular Reed and Phlox, but let us not forget Shran.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Discovery. I think there's a lot of commentary about 'wokeness' that feels awkward and forced and trying too hard. The inability to follow the chain of command irks me no end; it feels less like a quasi-military ship fresh off a war footing and more like a frat house. And Trek had handled all kinds of gender fluidity issues before, but the way it comes out in Discovery feels antiquated and stale; by even the 23rd Century this should have been normalised.

Georgiou was a decent enough captain for the short while we saw her. Capable tactician, but had a complete blind spot for Burnham. Honestly, the flashes we got of Georgiou as captain would have been a far more interesting show than what we got; the moments of her doing her thing - the signal drawn in the sand, taking Saru and getting him into the Federation - these pointed to a vastly more interesting and rounded character than most of the rest of her crew.

Lorca... I didn't even mind the weird mirror universe plot, it wasn't really necessary, but the notion of a captain that was a little more like Sisko was interesting. A captain who was a strong tactician, who was fully prepped for a war footing, something you never really see Starfleet ever prepping for - even most of a century later by the era of DS9, Starfleet isn't really ready for a war footing, but it makes do eventually. Lorca represents that side of Starfleet it doesn't want to acknowledge but absolutely must.

Saru, lastly, another deeply interesting character: the Kelpians are an interesting species and the setup of their fear reaction made a truly interesting situation for a captain. He also managed to unify the crew in a way that they weren't really coping with in the aftermath of Lorca and Burnham.

You'll notice that Burnham is not in my list. I do not think of her as a good captain. I don't even think of her as a well written character, because Burnham essentially is barely two dimensional, let alone three.

Also, while Pike was a key part of Discovery, I'll talk about him under Strange New Worlds.

There was a lot of room for mild disappointment in Picard seasons 1 & 2. (I am looking forward to S3 with some anticipation.) As ever, hats off to Spiner for playing multiple members of his own genetic family, but it smells of fan service, and diminishes the roles of everyone else around them.

But Rios? Rios was a really interesting character. The washed out commander, with his own demons, but willing to give it a shot for something to believe in, willing to stop running for once, especially once he met someone else who shared that outlook on life. I think it's a shame how they ended the arc in S2 but that's the decision they made. Really should have had more screen time.

And Captain Riker of course, how could that not be a moment of awesome - it was about damn time. And staring down the Tal-Shiar fleet? Moment of bad-ass, and he was long overdue that one.

Whatever I might have thought about Jeffrey Hunter's take on Pike, Anson Mount completely steals the show in his interpretation. Ever since he came aboard in Discovery, he was a strong contender for best captain. But it wouldn't have been fair to compare him to Georgiou, Saru or even Lorca when he was really coming in from the sidelines mostly as a plot device.

But in SNW? Damn, son. He brings a thoughtfulness to everything he does; plays it cool and loose the way Kirk did - because he's of Kirk's era, and he's clearly a good influence on Kirk on how to inspire loyalty, how to bring the unexpected to the party, how to get the job done without causing interstellar incidents, but without sacrificing any of what makes him and Kirk different.

Pike shows us, admittedly after the fact, how Kirk became the legend that he did. And remember, Pike is the captain Spock was prepared to commit mutiny for. SNW shows us how awesome Pike was.

But yeah, they're all awesome. Change my mind ;)
 

Retro

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You're brave posting this during the server maintenance window with the little outages. :p

Now let me check this out...
 

Retro

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Right, I've had a read now and I still like Picard the best, but they all had their merits.

I don't think you get to cop out about Burnham because you didn't think much of her. :) C'mon, we need some detail on why you think she's two dimensional. Personally, I think she's ok, but there's something lacking in the show overall. I'm currently watching season 4, but can't really get into it, which is a first for Star Trek for me and haven't watched an episode for a couple of weeks now. There's only 13 of them, too.

And Trek had handled all kinds of gender fluidity issues before, but the way it comes out in Discovery feels antiquated and stale; by even the 23rd Century this should have been normalised.

I think more "now" than antiquated and stale, but I think it looks like this, because the show is written for a 21st century audience so they want to make it relatable and get across that being gender fluid is actually ok etc. Indeed it is, but personally, I think they lay it on a bit thick and should tone it down a little.

I really liked Lower Decks, a good comic parody with some great laughs. Very refreshing and I look forward to the next season.

And finally, I've got a Kindle Voyage. It's possible to give it a system name of your choice, so I called it the USS Kindle Voyager. Yup, totally influenced by Star Trek: Voyager!
 

Arantor

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we need some detail on why you think she's two dimensional
Two dimensionality is a step up, sorry.

But before I get into Burnham specifically I need to address Discovery in general.

First up I despise the disrespect to canon. All of it is cheap and completely unnecessary. Want to do a spore drive? Sure. Do it sometime TNG/DS9/VOY. Make it future tech. Hell, go all in and just set it straight in the 32nd century in the era of the decline of the Federation.

Setting up Disco explicitly in the era of Pike/Spock just to make Michael some weird oh-look-another-family-member-Spock-doesn't-talk-about... like, jeesh, the appeal to fan service here is over the top and *wholly* unnecessary. It's a very nasty disservice to both Spock and Sarek, much beloved characters whose arcs are complete and that digging into this really wasn't necessary. The whole Battle of the Binary Stars war thing, unnecessary. The redesign of the Klingons, unnecessary. Making it so she was the first mutineer in Starfleet (not her brother, who was accused of mutiny and the first officer so implicated, as per The Menagerie), unnecessary. Just, stop it. If you're going to dig into the material in this sort of way, get it right or just don't bother.

Secondly, I despise the utter dysfunction of the Discovery. Starfleet is a military organisation - *especially* in the war scenario after the Battle of the Binary Stars, so it should act like one.

Kirk's era didn't have this BS where people could just say what they wanted and it was magically OK (heck, even SNW doesn't pull this and Pike is more than willing to listen to his crew). If that wasn't enough, we have Stamets who would never reach that position in Starfleet by simple fact that he's a smug insufferable ass that no-one would take seriously enough to make him that senior, engineering prowess be damned. You don't make it that high up unless you have people actually willing to follow your orders. Ensign Tilly would have been booted off the ship for insubordination a loooooooooong time ago for not understanding when to keep her mouth shut - genius or not. Again, military organisation. Kirk confined bridge crew to quarters for less (see Bailey, The Corbomite Manuever)

Third: so many wasted opportunities. Airiam could have been way cooler; as a human-retrofitted cyborg, there would have been all sorts of room for discussion on the ethics of that, of the journey into what it would mean to be essentially transhuman. That's kind of the tragedy in writing; more exploration of that idea was done in under 2 hours in the film Robocop than was done in the season and a half we got of Airiam. Lorca and Georgiou, too, such potential there for what could have been and we went with mirror universe (yawn, it's been done before, and better, in multiple of the Trek franchises).

Fourth: on the writing, I have issues with, as I said, the woke representation. I don't have a problem with the idea of Stamets/Culber having a relationship. Bring it on, these are how people are living, so let's represent it. Or Adira/Grey, bring it on, get it in there. The problem is that they're projecting 21st Century views and morals into the 23rd and beyond. The point is these things should already be completely normalised by that point in time. They'd *honestly* have done a better job by just introducing these people and then everyone else completely ignoring it and treating it as though this were any other time/place/situation because by the 2250s *this should be normal*. Heck, Spock had his heritage - and he's *never* treated oddly by *anyone in Starfleet* for being 'mixed race'. (Except that one time in Balance of Terror, but that's because he's Vulcan, not because he's half human.) Heck, SNW does this so much better, e.g. with Hemmer and his blindness (and they got a blind actor to play the part!), but he's not the only one.

But let's get onto Burnham specifically.

Problem 1: the writing SUCKS. Burnham is single-handedly the Most Important Person In The Universe. Whether as instigator or resolver of drama and tension, it's basically always Burnham at the centre of it. It's sloppy writing at its finest.

Problem 2: Burnham seems to only have about three emotions: gurning facial angst, rage barely concealed behind a mask of stoicism and a stoic doing of duty. How Burnham ever got through the psych evals necessary to get to a command level position is beyond me.

Problem 3: Burnham is this weird juxtaposition of exceptionalism as normality and critical failure as normality. There's no nuance, there's limited growth. She's a rising star in Starfleet, trusted 2IC to Georgiou and then BAM, cause of the Battle of the Binary Stars. BAM, first mutineer of Starfleet. BAM, Lorca's adviser. It's enough back and forth to give you whiplash.

Problem 4: At no point do you ever get the sense that Burnham is growing as a person through any of these events. Everyone else, such as they're given screen time, has some personal journey. Saru gets a decent amount of screen time and has a journey; Stamets and Culber have journeys, albeit not brilliantly written ones; Tilly has a few moments of character development. Hell, Pike gets more plot development than Burnham does - and Pike's plot development is just establishing the setup for what we know will happen in the future. The only time that Burnham is ever *hinted* as having growth is her personal journey in season 3, which isn't much of a journey and is mostly 'gurn gurn I don't want the big chair but maybe I do but I don't fully believe in Starfleet because the last year made me not believe also I think I love Book gurn gurn'. It's not character development, it's character events that occur and mostly seem to bounce off.


The worst thing is, the entire cast of Disco is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more talented than dreck they've been served up as a script. And it's not even like they don't have some good ideas, because they do, but the execution of what they do have... oh *my*.
 

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I admit I'm more of a Star Wars fan, but I was always quite partial to Captain Kirk.
Oh no, we have an enemy in our midst! 😲

Wouldn't it be hilarious if they did a spoof of Star Wars fighting Star Trek? 😂
 

Arantor

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If you want to see what that would look like, theres any number of armchair debates on Quora. 98% of them hand wins convincingly to the Trek folks on account of apparently superior technology, not least the transporters, photon and quantum torpedoes and shields, though the Starfleet folks are usually argued to be slower but more manueverable than the big capital ships. Many of these debates point to the various “technical manuals” that have been published as to energy outputs as justifications but honestly, most of these are utter nonsense made up numbers to fit the story.

The reality is that the two franchises live in different genres; Trek is sci-fi (and veers between softer and harder over the course of its run) while Wars is space opera, and the two rarely actually have overlap. This makes the aforementioned appeals to authority in the form of technical manuals even more ridiculous - ships in Wars fly at the speed of not boring the audience, ships in Trek strictly at the speed of plot grounded in some attempt at thinking about it reasonably.

Trying to really compare the two would be like pitting Gandalf vs Geralt “because they’re both fantasy” and trying to rules-lawyer the outcome. (Much as I’d want Geralt to win by sheer virtue of being bad-ass, he’s up against basically a senior-made-chief angel from the second choir, resurrected by God Himself after fighting a major demon. There is no way Geralt is walking away from it if it is a fight to the death.)

Besides, we all know that Spock would find a clever weakness and Kirk would exploit it with a desperate ballsy move in the nick of time. Or Picard would out-think his opponents, egged on by Will, with Geordi pulling a clever engineering move and the whole thing calculated by Data because Guinan said something prophetic.

Space opera is about drama and spectacle, sci-fi about what it means to be human against adversity.
 

Arantor

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I would love to see the Defiant give the Millennium Falcon a proper run for its money.
 

Arantor

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Blimey Arantor, I can't even begin to try to top that! Brilliant. :cool:
Quora is full of the ... enthusiastic people. I've seen walls of text arguing over which classes of ship have the most energy output and comparing types of weapons to types of shields. They're a lot enthusiastic.

Then again so many of the ones that dwell in the LOTR spaces on Quora seem to have missed many of the subtexts of the books (up to and including the notion that Gandalf is a stand-in angel for literal God), so only peer over the fence if you want to see *extreme* nerdiness.
 

Tiffany

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Captain Kirk- He was the James Bond of space. He perceived strength physically and mentally and then there was Kirk in beating the Kobayashi Maru test.

From @Arantor:
But Kirk? Kirk was iconic. Cool in that way that Austin Powers was later described as: the men wanted to be him, the women wanted to be with him. Kirk represents that well-rounded individual who is calm under pressure, resolute in his moral duty, the cowboy out on the frontier with no-one but his crew to accompany him. More than that, though, Kirk treated everyone below him with respect - based on his need for them to do their job and do it well, rather than what country (or planet) they come from. Genuinely ground-breaking stuff.

Captain Picard is my second choice because he was the opposite of Kirk and you were allowed in his head to see how he reasoned his choices.
 
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Tiffany

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Lol....:ROFLMAO:You are really good at your ST trivia!!
 
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