The “rebooted” Star Trek universe—if it can even be called that (technically it’s an alternate timeline)—offers a certain luxury for the writers: it uses established characters. Though the recast Kirk, Spock and the like bare little semblance to their classic incarnations, for the writers, penning a story with at least marginally recognizable characters becomes much easier. The Enterprise crew doesn’t need to establish themselves, so long as the actors have personality and spout familiar catchphrases. This will come in handy, we’re sure, when Star Trek Beyond arrives in theaters later this month.
As history shows, creating a beloved Trek character isn’t exactly easy. For every Data, Odo or Picard, there’s… well, the entire cast of Enterprise (the TV series, not the ship), for example. Great Star Trek thrives on the interactions and philosophical debates among its characters, and the more vibrant a character, the better the adventure.
Which brings us to today’s list: the characters listed here in no particular order represent the utter failure of the writers to tap Trek’s best asset. In other words, the characters are just plain bad. Some have honorable beginnings; writers intended for the character to stand in for a portion of the viewing audience, or as worthy love interests, family or adversaries for beloved heroes. In any case, they come off more pedestrian than interesting, and more annoying than compelling. Here are The 15 Worst Characters In Star Trek.
Voyager ostensibly tried to mess with the Trek formula first established with Next Generation, though it didn’t take many risks. One attempted change-up: swapping out food replicators in favor of a ninny of an alien chef. Now, Neelix does have his moments as a character, and has something of a cult following. He also has an angry mob following, wanting his mohawked head on one of his serving platters.
Neelix spent most of the Voyager TV series panicked over what he would serve for dinner in ten-forward, no matter what the threat. Kazon pirates? Neelix is worried about trail mix. Borg invasion? Neelix frets over if the Borg like pasta or some other insipid concern.
In fairness, Etan Phillips tries his best to make Neelix endearing, and the direction the character takes over the course of the series is probably not one the creators had intended. Neelix opens Voyager smitten with the Ocampa empathy Kes, though when the producers omitted Kes from the show in the fourth season, it left Neelix without an object of desire… or much of a storyline. Neelix did, however, find new life as a merchandise peddler, headlining the Star Trek Cookbook in bookstores everywhere.
14. Nurse Chapel
Majel Barrett’s status as “First Lady of Star Trek,” while deserved, has some dubious origins. Chapel had begun as a contract actress for Desilu Studios, appearing on shows like I Love Lucy before she landed the recurring gig on Trek. It helped that she was the mistress—and later wife—of creator Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry had wanted Majel to play the second lead on the show, a cool, logical character called “Number One.” When the network rejected the pilot, Roddenberry retooled the show to omit Number One and recast Barrett as Nurse Chapel.
Unfortunately, when Roddenberry had her return to the show as Nurse Chapel, he didn’t write the character to her strengths. A talented actress, Barrett had a knack for more comedic roles rather than drama, and as a result Nurse Chapel, often lovesick for Spock or a long-lost beau, never became a fully realized role. In essence, the character felt superfluous to the show, further evidenced by Chapel’s almost total omission from the Trek film series. Chapel has just a minor role in The Motion Picture with no real function in the plot, and apart from a brief cameo or two, vanished from the series altogether.
Hold on, don’t set phasers to kill yet!
John DeLance’s knack for comic sarcasm helped make Q into one of the most prominent recurring characters in Trek canon. For that DeLance deserves all the credit in the world, especially considering the actor is saddled with a totally awful character.
Trek lore holds that Gene Roddenberry created Q in an 11th hour act of desperation. He’d planned for only a one-hour pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and when Paramount dictated that the pilot needed to be two hours, Roddenberry took D.C. Fontana’s script for the pilot episode and injected Q for additional material. Fontana hated the changes, as well as Roddenberry’s excuse that the network wanted him to write the pilot himself (not true). In creating Q, Roddenberry also succumbed to one of his worst habits—making God into a character, something which even writer Brannon Braga acknowledges. The fallibility and sadism of God had long been a preoccupation in Roddenberry’s work, and Q made no exception.
Q’s initial appearance as a cosmic judge had, as Fontana points out, little to do with the core plot, and his scenes are the weakest in the Next Generation pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint.” In fact, the character is downright insufferable, serving no real purpose but to extend the episode! Only later, when DeLance played the role to comic effect, did Q take on any dimension, and even then, much like life on the Enterprise, the show always screeched to a halt whenever he turned up.
Allegations of “franchise fatigue” began to arise with the third major Trek spinoff, Star Trek: Voyager. To some degree, the franchise had started to stall, as evidenced by the stock of forgettable characters populating the ship. Perhaps the most boring of any of the Voyager crew: Chakotay, the former Maquis terrorist who becomes second officer of the ship. In a post-War on Terror world, that dynamic could have fueled some fascinating character dynamics, but in the mid-90s, the writers just used it as a way to integrate the crew.
The writers had intended Chakotay as a groundbreaking Native American character to further broaden Star Trek’s diversity. Unfortunately, they forgot to give him a personality too. Actor Robert Beltran complained that the writers had conceived the character as stoic and lacking in personality while providing him with lots of stereotypical Native American qualities. At one point, the character would have even had a spirit guide!
Beltran also complained that in later seasons, the writers forgot about Chakotay altogether, as characters like Seven of Nine and The Doctor began to upstage him. The actor later compared his work on Voyager to working in a factory—repetitive, uncreative and totally boring. In fact, Chakotay might be the dullest character in any Trek installment!
Trek lore holds that the reception to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was so negative, nobody in the franchise can ever reference it again! That may or may not be true, but there’s little doubt that The Final Frontier marks an all-time low for the original cast films, and has since become something of a joke among cinephiles.
The premise alone should have discouraged Paramount from giving it a go-ahead. A charismatic Vulcan cult leader takes several hostages on a distant planet, and of course, the Enterprise must intervene. Said Vulcan nut turns out to be Spock’s half-brother Sybok, who still has his emotions and uses his psychic powers to recruit followers. Sybok takes control of the Enterprise and sets off to the center of the galaxy in search of… God.
Through no fault of actor Laurence Luckinbill, The Final Frontier suffers from an uncertain tone, dreadful effects and untenable premise. That Sybok manages to destroy the Vulcan mystique with his emotional polemics doesn’t help either. His quest for God would seem to offer possibilities for the character, but Sybok is so self-assured, and Trek V so all over the place, Luckinbill doesn’t get to explore him much. Had the actor had a chance to bring some depth to the character, maybe Sybok wouldn’t be one of the worst Trek has ever offered!
Speaking of lackluster Trek outings that waste good actors in bad villain roles, who could forget Tom Hardy’s work as the Picard clone Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis?
If you answered “anyone” to the above question, you’re totally right, though the fault does not rest on the shoulders of Hardy. A gifted actor, Hardy tries his best to make Shinzon interesting, though can’t rise above a stilted movie. Nor does culpability rest with screenwriter John Logan, who injected some interesting ideas into the script. This time the failure belongs to Stuart Baird, the director of Nemesis who knew nothing about Star Trek. His lack of knowledge shows…
But wait a second, shouldn’t Logan take the blame for a character that makes no sense? Not in this case. Logan’s original script did make sense of Shinzon (not to mention portrayed him having a full head of hair), his relationship with Picard, and his obsession with Counselor Troi. Unfortunately, when a rough cut of the film ran long, Baird cut a number of vital scenes from the final release which would have given the film a greater sense of cohesion. As such, Hardy’s performance as Shinzon suffers: what was intended as a man suffering from a confused identity and going mad from disease became just another Trek bad guy.
If we asked you to name the Star Trek film which featured a bald Romulan villain with a superpowered ship trying to destroy the Earth for no explicable reason at all, which movie would you name? If you said Star Trek: Nemesis, you’d be right, though the same is true for the 2009 reboot.
Audiences enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek reboot despite its flaws, including a lack of a great villain. Eric Bana plays the mad Romulan Nero, commander of the inexplicably over armed ship, the Narada. Bana, a fine and respected actor, looks great—bald, tattooed and carrying a really big spear, he certainly meets the physical expectations for a great villain. It’s in the writing that the character falls apart… assuming he ever coalesced to begin with. For all his ruthlessness and supposed cunning though, Nero isn’t too bright: he blames Spock Prime for the destruction of Romulus in the future, and then, when transported to the past, decides to destroy Vulcan and Earth rather than save his homeworld!
Apparently Back to the Future isn’t required viewing for cadets in the Romulan Star Empire.
Bana grunts and snarls his way through the part, though even his talents can’t make Nero sympathetic, or even credible as a sentient being. Nero’s backstory of a dead wife, and his refusal to surrender in the face of death recall the massive ego and bitterness of Khan in The Wrath of Khan, though he possesses none of the complexity. In the end, Nero is less a real character than placeholder villain: blustering, destructive and totally forgettable.
F. Murray Abraham gave a brilliant performance in Amadeus, so adding him to the cast roster of Star Trek: Insurrection should have made for a good movie. In short, it didn’t.
Insurrection finds the Next Generation crew intervening in a territorial conflict between an alien species that never ages courtesy of some special interplanetary radiation, and an alien species that has a lot of face lifts. Seriously.
Abraham plays the lead face-lift alien, Ru’afo, underneath layers of make-up that render him unrecognizable. He throws himself into the part, but like so many other characters listed here, he doesn’t have much to do. Abraham, by his own confession, “chewed the scenery,” though even his ravenous appetite for hamming things up under the make-up couldn’t help him give an effectual performance. It doesn’t help that the entire dilemma of Insurrection could be easily resolved without violence or even inflicting inconvenience on the youthful aliens. Roger Ebert, in his review, wondered why both species couldn’t just inhabit the planet (since that’s ultimately what they do anyway), or for that matter, why the residents wouldn’t just open a galactic spa?! If the plot doesn’t make much sense, its villain makes even less: Ru’afo isn’t just a flat character, he’s a stupid one.
7. Dr. Katherine Pulaski
Otherwise known as the reason Trek fans change the channel, Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced Dr. Pulaski in the second season, played by actress Diana Muldar. The show had tough beginnings, which included several cast changes. Denise Crosby left the show—her character Tasha Yar got killed off—and Gates McFadden’s character Beverly Crusher left the Enterprise for Starfleet Medical.
Fans have speculated that the producers created Dr. Pulaski in the same mold as the curmudgeonly Dr. McCoy. Indeed, Pulaski had a penchant for interrupting people and bickering with the most logical member of the crew, the android Data. Whereas McCoy and Spock’s disagreements amounted to little more than petty squabbles, however, Pulaski seemed to actually hate Data. Whether or not she even considered him a form of life or sentient being is open to debate itself.
Thankfully, Pulaski’s run on the Enterprise didn’t last: fan outcry demanded the return of the good Dr. Crusher. As it happens, the cast felt uncomfortable around Muldar—Patrick Stewart described it as “awkward”—in large part due to McFadden’s sacking. Muldar happily bid Next Gen goodbye at the end of Season 2, citing the uncomfortable behind-the-scenes environment and demanding technical requirements of the show. McFadden, as Dr. Crusher, returned in Season 3, and nobody ever mentioned her on the show again!
6. B’Elanna Torres
Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the creative navigators for the Next Generation phase of Trek history never quite got over the loss of Tasha Yar. The dynamic of the Enterprise changed when Denise Crosby exited the series, and Berman and Braga would never stop trying to recreate the tough, warrior female character. Ro Lauren came close on Next Gen, though Michelle Forbes never wanted a series commitment. Deep Space Nine tried with both Jatzia Dax and Major Kira, though neither quite had fan base that Tasha commanded. Least fortunate of all, Voyager had B’Elanna Torres, the half human-half Klingon hothead engineer.
Don’t blame Roxann Dawson, the actress to don the prosthetic Klingon head either. The writers never gave Dawson much to work with: B’Elanna was uptight and quick to anger, and that was it. She came the closest to reliability with her relationship with Tom Paris, though even then, the writers never quite knew what to do with her. Poor Dawson would become symptomatic of a growing problem with Voyager and Star Trek as a whole: characters no longer had real arcs, or even characterizations. Rather, they just spouted technobabble as the lights flashed and smoke filled the set. It’s as if Berman and Braga gave up trying to tell stories and instead started having characters read scientific jargon instead.
Oh, Whoopi. Ms. Goldberg is one hell of an actress, having snagged an Oscar for her work in Ghost. At the time she inquired about joining the cast of The Next Generation, Goldberg had reached megastardom…to the point that Paramount thought her interest was some kind of joke!
It wasn’t. Goldberg has described herself as a Trekkie from a young age, and idolized Nichelle Nichols work as Uhura as a groundbreaking performance for women and for people of color. Goldberg wanted to make her own contribution to Star Trek history, however large the part. The producers then created the role of the big-hat wearing bartender Guinan with the intention of using Goldberg as a recurring cast member. The character would exhibit near-empathic abilities, and have a mysterious past to add to her mystique.
Unfortunately, that’s where the writers stopped. As much as the crew build up Guinan as some psychotherapist-cum-fortune teller, they never pay off her supposed extraordinary character! A clearer backstory would have helped, in particular, one that explores her long friendship with Picard, or the history of her rivalry with Q (which would have helped his character too!). Without one though, Guinan’s “mystery” feels more like a plot hole the writers forgot to plug, and a missed opportunity to create a great character.
4. Reg Barclay
Seriously, why does this guy keep popping up in Trek outings?! He’s on Next Generation. He’s on Voyager. He’s in First Contact, and never with anything interesting to do! Ok, maybe it got interesting once…that time aliens made him super smart and he took over the Enterprise. For the most part though, Reg Barclay is more akin to a rash: he keeps popping up just when the audience thinks he’s cured!
As played by Dwight Schultz, Barclay’s stammering and constant self-doubt grate on the nerves like a fire alarm that won’t shut off. Don’t blame Schultz, though: the writers burdened him with an obnoxious role. Barclay’s habit of clumsy decision-making also raise the question of how he ever got into Starfleet in the first place!
As for the origins of the character, writer Sarah Higley created Barclay as the personification of socially inept Star Trek fans. That’s a double sin: Barclay becomes a “Mary Sue” character. He has little to no conflict with the other crew members and is generally well-loved by everyone.
3. John Harrison/Khan
Early publicity for the generically titled Star Trek Into Darkness assured viewers that the film’s villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, would absolutely not be Khan, the famed villain played by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Of course “John Harrison,” as publicity materials referred to him, turned out to be Khan, who somehow morphed from an Indian (albeit played by a Mexican) into a very white Englishman. Khan’s superhuman abilities also inexplicably changed: instead of a powerful mind, he suddenly gained superhuman strength and agility. But wait, anything is possible since the Kelvin timeline diverged from the original, right? Wrong—Khan went into stasis in the 20th century, so his conception would not have been affected by Spock Prime and Nero (see above) tinkering in the past.
The ironic thing about all the lies about “he’s totally not Khan” is that any Trek fan automatically knew Cumberbatch would be Khan based on the plot of the movie, and to viewers going in without knowing Trek history, calling him Khan openly wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. John Harrison/Khan, like Into Darkness itself, represents a total failure of creativity, and a new nadir of Trek writing. It’s not enough that the film’s villain is totally unoriginal and boring—the movie had to destroy a beloved character to use him.
2. Travis Mayweather
We were tempted to use this entry as a catch-all for the entire cast of Enterprise—a group of lazy, tired characterizations that became emblematic of the creative dearth affecting Star Trek at the time. Instead, we’re focusing on a single character that symbolizes the underdeveloped roles that came to plague the series. Like Harry Kim and Chakotay, Travis Mayweather became the character the writers forgot to write, instead giving him next to nothing to do beyond spout technobabble and get injured on away missions. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Mayweather got hurt or “died” more than any other character in Trek canon!
Even actor Anthony Montgomery admitted that he never quite knew how to approach the character, given that the writers provided him with so little backstory. Montgomery ultimately decided to play the character like himself, though even then, repeated attempts to get the producers to allow him more character development never bore fruit.
From the outset, the character of Mayweather attracted criticism for a lack of development or even any distinctive personality traits. Authors Mark Jones and Lance Parkin attacked Enterprise for marginalizing the character rather than developing him. While nowhere near as loathed as some of the other characters detailed here, Mayweather never the less represents an utter failure of creativity, more a placeholder for a character than an actual role.
1. Wesley Crusher
Oh, like anyone else could ever be more hated! It seemed like a good idea in 1987: with families living aboard the new Enterprise, which became more like a city than a science vessel, why not include a super-smart kid as part of the Enterprise crew? He would speak to all the mega nerds in the audience, and allow the show to explore clichéd coming of age plots like teen dating and learning adult responsibility.
Yeah, look how well that turned out.
Even actor Wil Wheaton hated the character of Wesley Crusher finding him—like much of the viewing audience—annoying. The role attracted immediate derision after the premier of The Next Generation. Critics and fans alike characterized Wesley—who took his name from Gene Roddenberry’s middle name—as a “Mary Sue.” Much like Barclay, Wesley had little conflict with the other characters and always seemed to save the ship at an opportune moment. Hell, even Roddenberry admitted in interviews that Wesley had been based upon him, though the creator somewhat modestly confessed he wasn’t “quite” as smart as the supergenius Wesley. The character had a nasty habit of outsmarting everyone, which generally turned off viewers—episodes revolving around Wesley tend to be the most unpopular of the show. Eventually, wiser heads prevailed by having Wesley written out of the series, and the crew (including the character’s mother) seemed none too sad to see him go.
Can you think of any other horrible Star Trek characters that deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!