The Best Star Trek Characters to Keep Fans Boldly Going

Star Trek: The Next Generation star trek characters

Thanks to its setting on the USS Enterprise, Star Trek characters captivated audiences when the show debuted in 1966. But although Uhura and Chekov had their moments throughout the series’ three-season run, the show directed most of its attention to Captain James T. Kirk, his Commanding Officer Mr. Spock, and the ship’s doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy. 

The sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation hewed to a similar model for its inaugural season in 1987. However, the show soon moved its attention past Captain Jean-Luc Picard, helmsman Geordi LaForge, and android navigator Data. Over its seven seasons, The Next Generation became a proper ensemble show, something that all other Star Trek shows have replicated. 

Thanks to that crew-heavy approach, the Star Trek franchise has birthed many notable characters, ranging from noble members of Starfleet to some of the most devious villains in the galaxy. 

1. Benjamin Sisko

Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

Star Trek fans love to debate about the merits of Captain Picard vs. Captain Kirk. That argument too often overlooks the obvious answer: Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko of the Federation Starbase Deep Space Nine. First introduced as a Commander, Sisko guided the Star Trek franchise into unfamiliar space on Deep Space Nine, the first series not set on a starship.

Sent to the titular Starbase around the emancipated planet Bajor, Sisko had to balance his duties as a single father to son Jake, the tensions between Starfleet and the religious Bajorans, pressures from the conquering Cardassian empire, and a new threat posed by the opening of a wormhole near the base. Thanks to a soulful and playful performance by Avery Brooks, Sisko never buckled under the weight of these demands but instead explored the complexities of Starfleet’s mission. 

2. Jean-Luc Picard

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

They made Patrick Stewart wear a wig. That’s how much Stewart’s baldness worried Gene Roddenberry and the Star Trek producers. How could they follow the swashbuckling Captain Kirk with a stiff bald Brit? In fairness, Stewart struggled to get into the role throughout the first disastrous season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But by the time the show found its footing and Stewart loosened up, he established himself as the ideal Starfleet captain.

Whether giving inspiring speeches or staring down brutal enemies, Picard comports himself with the dignity fitting his station, a quality he maintains even through the recent revival series Star Trek: Picard

3. Spock

Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek
Image Credit: Paramount Television.

Roddenberry and the original producers of Star Trek didn’t intend for Mr. Spock to overshadow Captain Kirk. Not only did the producers fear that audiences would reject the strange, pointy-eared Vulcan — even after abandoning plans to give him Devilish red skin — but they assumed the handsome William Shatner would draw more eyes than Leonard Nimoy.

However, audiences warmed to Spock immediately, thanks to Nimoy's internal drama in his half-alien/half-human character. Over the decades, Spock has come to represent everything great about Star Trek, whether played by Zachary Quinto in the reboot movies or Ethan Peck in recent TV series. Spock proves that self-improvement and communal harmony are the ultimate adventure. 

4. Captain Kirk

William Shatner as Captain Kirk in Star Trek
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

No, Kirk may not be the best character on Star Trek, but he’s pretty close. With a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face, Kirk loved to seek out new lives and civilizations, as explained in his iconic opening narration. William Shatner’s idiosyncratic line deliveries earned him years of mockery, but no one can deny he made the technobabble sing.

Whether fighting an opponent with his bare hands, outmaneuvering an enemy captain, or romancing an alien lady, Shatner’s Kirk brought the swashbuckling hero to sci-fi, creating a character that neither Chris Pine nor Paul Wesley could improve upon. 

5. Khan Noonien Singh

Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

When director Nicholas Meyer signed up to direct Star Trek II after the slow-moving Star Trek: The Motion Picture, he rewatched every episode of Star Trek to find a clear villain for the movie. He found it in Khan Noonien Singh, the bio-engineered warlord from the season one episode “Space Seed.”

In his initial appearance, Ricardo Montalbán played Khan as an intellectual titan, a man who won follows with sheer force of personality. But when he returned for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he played a man desperate as he is powerful. The standoff between Kirk and Khan gave Trek something missing from all the nautical trappings of the original series: a chess match between two strategic titans, neither willing to yield. 

6. Worf

Michael Dorn as Worf in Star Trek: Picard
Image Credit: Paramount+.

Of course, Klingons preceded the introduction of Worf, Son of Mogh, having appeared in seven episodes of the original series and in the first and third Star Trek movies. However, those appearances felt like mere sketches of what the Klingons would become, starting as smirking blowhards in the original series and becoming inarticulate beasts in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It wasn’t until Michael Dorn took on the part of Worf that Klingons became the noble race fans know today.

Despite having to work under heavy makeup obscuring his eyes, Dorn gave Worf depths of emotion and internal conflict. Even better, Worf often served as the funniest character in the Star Trek universe, a quality Dorn showed off in the recent revival series Picard. 

7. Uhura

Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Image Credit: Paramount+.

Nichelle Nichols wanted to quit. And Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay. That titanic story, in which Reverend King convinced Nichols to stick with the show despite her underwritten role does overshadow how little the show’s creators failed to take advantage of her skills as an actor. In fact, while Zoe Saldana played a fun, action-hero version of the comms officer in the 2009 reboot movie, Uhura is just now getting her due. 

Celia Rose Gooding plays Ensign Uhura in the prequel series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, looking beyond the legend to portray her as a woman unsure about her future and dedicated to the joy of exploration. Within the joy of innocence of Gooding’s performance, as seen in the musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody,” it still honors the path blazed by Nichols, building on the foundation she set. 

8. Q

John DeLancie as Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The original Star Trek had more than its share of godlike beings — the playful Trelane, the petulant Charlie X, the Greek gods in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” — but none felt like a real character. That changed in the premiere of The Next Generation when the all-powerful Q put the Enterprise — and, by extension, all of humanity — on trial.

From that grandiose opening, Q returned again and again to irritate Captains Picard and Janeway (and Sisko, but just once). Over time, those appearances grew more and more goofy, save for the depressing grimness of his return in Star Trek: Picard, but John de Lancie made him always interesting, even if the stories didn’t do their part. Plus, Q sending the Enterprise into Borg space remains one of the scariest Star Trek scenes of all time. 

9. Data

Star Trek The Next Generation
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Roddenberry imagined Data as an updated version of Spock for The Next Generation, an outsider trying to learn about humanity via Starfleet exploration. Without question, actor Brent Spiner could handle that assignment, finding notes of sympathy in Data without reminding viewers that he’s not a real robot. However, Spiner’s immense talent gave writers a reason to accelerate Data’s development. Thanks to Spiner’s versatility, Data tried his hand at fatherhood and romance, gained an obnoxious sense of humor, and, best of all, a devoted member of the Enterprise crew. 

10. Miles O’Brien

Colm Meaney as Miles O’Brien in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

There’s a reason that the animated comedy series Star Trek: Lower Decks chose Miles O’Brien as the Starfleet member most deserving of a statue. O’Brien first appeared as a background transport chief in The Next Generation, rising to the status of a reoccurring character before graduating to a main cast member on Deep Space Nine.

Across these shows, Colm Meaney plays O’Brien as a salt-of-the-earth working man, a non-commissioned officer who earned his job through his skill and stick-to-it-ness. The fact that writers wrote at least one episode per season in which O’Brien suffered a horrendous catastrophe cemented him as the most relatable of Star Trek characters. 

11. Gul Dukat

Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

Khan might be the iconic villain of Star Trek, but Gul Dukat is the most complex.

A brutal dictator who governed Bajor for the Cardassian Empire, Deep Space Nine writers could have made Dukat nothing more than a simple thug. But those writers got a true gift when producers cast Marc Alaimo in the part, letting him play the evil lizard creature with mega-watt charisma. Thanks to Alaimo’s performance, viewers believed Dukat when he wondered why the Bajorans didn’t erect statues in his honor.

Passionate, compelling, and unrepentantly evil, Gul Dukat sets a standard that few Star Trek villains can meet. 

12. Christopher Pike

Anson Mount as Christopher Pike in Star Trek: Discovery
Image Credit: Paramount+.

Like all of the older original series characters on this list, multiple actors have played Christopher Pike, starting with Jeffery Hunter as the original captain of the Enterprise in “The Cage,” the unaired first pilot for Star Trek. Although Hunter reprised his role as a traumatized Pike in the mainline episode “The Menagerie,” Pike remained a mainstay in non-canonical stories.

The great character actor Bruce Greenwood gave fans Pike as Kirk’s inspirational mentor in the 2009 movie and its sequel, but the best Pike came in the form of Anson Mount. On Star Trek: Discovery and Strange New Worlds, Mount plays Pike as a thoughtful big brother to his crew. No longer a first-draft version of Kirk, Mount makes Pike into a captain with his own identity because he supports other people. 

13. Seven of Nine

Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

As made clear by the skin-tight uniform she donned throughout her appearances in Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine joined the cast less to put a new twist on longstanding baddies the Borg, and more to add an attractive person to the list. Despite their meager goals, Voyager producers lucked out when they got outstanding actress Jeri Ryan for the part.

As Seven loses the confines of the Borg Collective and discovers more about her human identity Annika Hansen, she puts a unique twist on the common “learning about humanity” trope. Fans got to see how far Seven has come in Star Trek: Picard, which found her at peace with her identity and ready to command her own starship. 

14. Garek

Andrew Robinson as Garek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

To hear him tell it, the Cardassian Garek is no more than a tailor, plain and simple. But behind his beaming smile and customer service acumen, a dark past haunts Garek. In time, viewers learn about Garek’s past as a deep-cover spy in the Cardassian secret police the Obsidian Order, an experience that left him with a complex moral code. Even as unsavory parts of Garek’s past come back to the fore, actor Andrew Robinson never loses the audience’s love. Thanks to this complicated approach to Star Trek’s core values, Garek best represents the shades of grey that made Deep Space Nine such an exciting show. 

15. Kathryn Janeway

Kate Mulgrew as Katherine Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

All Starfleet Captains have to make hard decisions. But no one makes them with the utter confidence of Kathryn Janeway, Captain of the starship Voyager. Whether dealing with a fusion of two of her crew people, body-part-stealing invaders, or a godlike creature enslaving a local race, Janeway never wastes too much time dithering or indulging regret.

That approach doesn’t work for every viewer, and she does get undercut by Voyager writers refusing to serialize their stories. However, no one can deny the excitement generated by every challenge that Janeway faces, which she resolves by growling a one-liner, delivered with perfect tone by Kate Mulgrew.

16. Trip Tucker

Connor Trinneer as Trip Tucker in Star Trek: Enterprise
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

Even the biggest fans of the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise would admit that the show didn’t have the greatest set of characters. But even the biggest Enterprise hater has to love Trip Tucker, the Southern-fried chief engineer of Earth’s first warp-capable ship the NX-01.

More than any other member of the Enterprise cast, Tucker actor Conner Trinneer captures the theme of the show, drawing a connection between real-world pilots like Chuck Yeager and Trek captains like Kirk. Even when Tucker’s can-do attitude gets him in trouble (see “Unexpected” from season one, in which holding hands with an alien gets Tripp pregnant), he remains the best reason to watch the uneven Enterprise

17. Kira Nerys

Nana Visitor as Kira Nerys in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

If producers of Deep Space Nine had their way, The Next Generation fan-favorite Ro Laren would have joined the show as a Bajoran freedom fighter working with Commander Sisko. When Ro actor Michelle Forbes turned down the part, making way for Nana Visitor’s Major Kira Nerys. A veteran of the wars to liberate her planet, Kira had a no-nonsense attitude that often complicated Sisko’s mission. However, she balanced that rigidity with a deep religious faith, creating a tension that grew more varied throughout the series’ seven seasons. 

18. Guinan

Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

When Whoopi Goldberg heard about a new Star Trek series, the popular comedian and Oscar-nominated actor used her clout to join the show. Goldberg had been a fan ever since she saw Nichols as Uhura, and wanted to add to the continuing mythos. As bartender Guinan, Goldberg brought a level of star power rivaled by Patrick Stewart alone, and her character soon became Picard’s closest confident.

Although Guinan gave Goldberg some chances to show off her considerable comic skills, the character most often served as a constant reminder of the unknown. As a powerful being older than any of her clients understood, Guinan represented the goodness and welcome that every member of the Enterprise hoped to find in the universe. 

19. Beckett Mariner

Beckett Mariner in Star Trek: Lower Decks
Image Credit: Paramount+.

Starfleet counts among its ranks the best of the best, which doesn’t lend itself to ongoing comedy characters. Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan got around that problem by embracing this tendency for his lead character, Ensign Beckett Mariner (voiced by Tawny Newsome). Mariner has all the strength, smarts, and tenacity one expects of a Starfleet officer, especially an officer whose mother and father are both Captains. However, she also has a rebellious streak that drives her to self-sabotage, making for both great comic setpieces and a compelling character arc. 

20. Leonard McCoy

DeForest Kelly as Dr. Leonard McCoy
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

Gene Roddenberry imagined Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the Stars,” a sci-fi update to the Westerns and frontier stories of his youth. No one on the original cast embodied that goal like DeForest Kelly, who played Doctor Bones McCoy. Kelly channeled his discomfort in the futuristic setting into McCoy’s irritation with almost everything about space travel, including his logical shipmate Spock. McCoy’s blunt attitude belied a deep compassion for all living things, making the gruff Doctor a key part of the success of the original series. 

21. Michael Burnham

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery
Image Credit: Paramount+.

Due to behind-the-scenes changes in the scope of Star Trek: Discovery, Michael Burnham went from the protagonist of a one-season story about an experimental Starfleet vessel to the main character of multiple seasons of adventures that span centuries. The change has resulted in complaints that Burnham takes too much space in Discovery stories (a charge they don’t level against Kirk, who puts himself in the center of even more episodes). The magnetic performance by Sonequa Martin-Green helps limit that complaint, as does the end of her character arc, which sees Burnham becoming the Captain of the Discovery in the 32nd century. 

22. T’Pol

Jolene Blalock as T’Pol in Star Trek: Enterprise
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

Like Jerri Ryan before her, actor Jolene Blalock received not a standard uniform but a form-fitting outfit (and sometimes less) to play Vulcan liaison to Earth on Star Trek: Enterprise. And like Ryan, Blalock proved herself a canny performer who brought layers to her character.

T’Pol rejected the condescension that most Vulcans held toward humans, albeit in subtle ways. By the time she and Trip Tucker deepened their friendship in the Xindi crisis depicted in later seasons, T’Pol accepted her role as an ally to the humans and key player in the first days of the United Federation of Planets. 

23. Bradward Boimler

Bradward Boimler in Star Trek: Lower Decks
Image Credit: Paramount+.

Where Beckett Mariner makes comedy from her self-destructive impulses, Lower Decks co-lead Bradward Boimler gets laughs from his desperate need to prove himself. Voiced by the lovable Jack Quaid, Boimler has all the skills required of a Starfleet officer. However, he lacks the confidence possessed by his crewmates, leading to awkward outbursts and embarrassing gaffs. Rather than turn the audience against him, these pratfalls make Boimler one of the more relatable Star Trek characters, the promise that even a goofball has the potential to go where no one has gone before. 

24. Jankom Pog

Jankom Pog in Star Trek: Prodigy
Image Credit: Paramount+.

With only one season under their belt, the kids of Star Trek: Prodigy haven’t had the same amount of development as other characters on this list. Despite that limited screen time, the Tellarite Jankom Pog makes his mark, thanks in large part to comedian Jason Mantzoukas’s boisterous take.

One of the few members of a familiar alien race on Prodigy, Pog has both the irascible attitude and technical know-how that one expects from a Tellarite. He combines that with the youthful energy of his fellow members of the USS Protostar crew, at once looking back at Star Trek’s past while making light-speed jumps forward. 

25. Kor

John Colicos as Kor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

Viewers first met Kor in the original series episode “Errand of Mercy” as the leader of a group of Klingons sent to challenge Kirk. In those and subsequent original series episodes, Kor best embodied the first version of the Klingons, an arrogant jerk who took pleasure in needling Kirk.

When Kor came back as an aged warrior in the Deep Space Nine episode “Blood Oath,” he had the forehead ridges and long hair of the modern Klingon design. Returning actor John Colicos added a layer of regret and depth to the character. And yet, despite the visual differences between Kor of the past and present, Colicos maintained a continuity across the character, showing how both the Klingons and Starfleet can grow past their initial grievances. 

Author: Joe George

Title: Pop Culture Writer

Expertise: Film, Television, Comic Books, Marvel, Star Trek, DC

Bio:

Joe George is a pop culture writer whose work has appeared at Den of Geek, The Progressive Magazine, Think Christian, Sojourners, Men's Health, and elsewhere. His book The Superpowers and the Glory: A Viewer's Guide to the Theology of Superhero Movies was published by Cascade Books in 2023. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critic's Association.