It’s time for part two of our TNG 30th Anniversary celebration. Today we’re talking about guest stars.
One of the great things about most TV shows is that there’s the one recurring character who you love, love to hate, roll your eyes at, or can’t wait to see. On Firefly, maybe it was Badger or YoSafBridge. On Haven, before he became part of the main cast (more or less), it was probably Dwight — and later Seth the Darkside Seeker or Gloria the coroner.
In seven years, Star Trek: the Next Generation had a lot of recurring characters. Let’s take a look at six of the best of them.
6. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) — O’Brien is kind of a gimme, in that he became one of the stars of the TNG spinoff Deep Space Nine, in sort of that wink-wink-nudge-nudge “let’s get someone from the original show over to this new show, but not someone too important” way. But O’Brien’s character got an awful lot of development on TNG, especially for a guest star. He got married, had a kid, dealt with his wife being temporarily turned into a 12-year-old, and even showed his pet spider to Barclay. By the time he left for DS9, he had enough going on that people would at least recognize him and be able to empathize with him as (in the beginning) he dealt with “it’s not the Enterprise” as everything on the station either broke or rebelled against him.
“It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.” (from “The Wounded”, 4.12)
5. Moriarty (Daniel Davis) — Moriarty is a great villain in any incarnation — Andrew Scott, Jared Harris, Daniel Davis, and every other one I can think of. But what makes him great in the two episodes of TNG he was in is that he’s not even a villain — he’s a pragmatist and a scientist. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone or destroy the Enterprise; he just wants to be recognized as a self-aware being and be allowed to explore the galaxy. That, I think, is what made this incarnation stick with me for so long: Conan Doyle used Moriarty as an evil foil for Sherlock Holmes, and in the BBC’s Sherlock, he’s very much chaotic-evil (he doesn’t want to hurt any specific person; he just wants to defeat Sherlock at any cost); however, on TNG, Moriarty is just like the rest of the crew, albeit in holographic form and stuck with 19th-century sensibilities. That’s what makes him an even better foil.
“A holodeck character? A fictional man? Yes, yes, I know all about your marvelous inventions. I was created as a plaything so that your Commander Data could masquerade as Sherlock Holmes. But they made me too well, and I became more than a character in a story. I became self-aware. I am alive.” (from “Ship in a Bottle”, 6.12)
4. Tomalak (Andreas Katsulas) — Tomalak really had the potential to be a Big Bad for the Enterprise crew. Andreas Katsulas portrayed the character in such a way that you just knew he was nothing but plans within plans within plans. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of the character notes for Tomalak were recycled for Gul Dukat and/or Weyoun over on DS9. However, the writers went in a different direction, and anyway season-long arcs for most TV shows were still a few years in the future. Still, I do believe that, had TNG come out in 1997 instead of 1987, the Tomalak character would’ve harassed the Enterprise crew (and probably Worf and Picard in particular) for a season or more until his untimely demise — or until he became a good guy, a la Spike on Buffy.
Tomalak: “Has Starfleet Command approved this arrangement?”
Tomalak: “I like it already.”
(from “The Defector”, 3.10)
3. Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) — Ensign Ro really was the first character to join the Enterprise crew who didn’t want to be there. She came from an enemy-occupied planet, managed to make something of herself, but got stuck living with the guilt of getting a team killed on a previous mission and throwing herself on her sword. She was patently unlikeable, at least in the beginning, and I think that’s what endeared me to her. Over time she became an even-more-interesting character, mixing Picard’s strategic mind, Worf’s willingness to fight for what’s right, and Mrs. Troi’s ability to get away with saying what needs to be said. The dynamic between Ro and Picard was particularly good, because all she wanted to do was make him proud of her (after a while), but she had to disappoint him in the end by doing what she believed was the right thing (joining the Maquis). The novels give her some redemption — she replaces Odo in the DS9 relaunch, and I believe somehow she has been promoted to captain (I’m a bit behind on the tie-ins) — and I think that, even though the novels aren’t canon, most of us still believe she somehow escaped the Dominion’s extermination of the Maquis and is alive, somewhere, doing the right thing and kicking ass as necessary.
“It looks like I’m the pilot.” (from “Conundrum”, 5.14)
2. Mrs. Troi (Majel Barrett) — I’ll admit this outright — I disliked the character of Mrs. Troi when she first appeared. She was overbearing, annoying, and took screen time away from our heroes by making fun of them. However, over the course of many TNG (and DS9) rewatches, I’ve come to look upon Mrs. Troi as a great character who was unfortunately saddled with a lot of badly-written episodes. I mean, her friendship with Odo on Deep Space Nine was a great example of odd-couple comedy, and throughout most of her episodes, she really did get the best lines. However, the writers on TNG pretty much used her exclusively as a humorous character (with the exception of “Half a Life”) who wanted nothing more than to find a husband, and that was a shame. The character was capable of so much more.
Mrs. Troi: “Doesn’t he realize that I am a daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed? Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx?”
Deanna: “The Sacred Chalice of Rixx is an old clay pot with mold growing inside it.”
(from “Menage a Troi”, 3.24)
1. Q (John de Lancie) — Right from the start, TNG tried to distinguish itself by being more enlightened than TOS, and they did so by putting humanity itself on trial. This introduced us to Q, a quixotic being who, as was said in the show more than once, treated the Enterprise crew (especially Picard) as lab rats or favored pets. But while Q was being a pain in the ass, he also consistently helped to teach the crew valuable lessons about misuse of power (“Hide and Q”), superiority complexes (“Q Who”), and even the dangers of changing the past (“Tapestry”). He would go on to torment Captain Janeway on a semi-regular basis, but I think he was at his best matching wits with Picard — John de Lancie injected just the right amount of humor and sinister-ness into his dealings with the captain, and it made him a memorable character that even now is still considered one of the best non-main-crew creations of Star Trek‘s “modern” era.
“It’s time to put an end to your trek through the stars.” (from “All Good Things”, 7.25/7.26)
Here’s a fun fact about Andreas Katsulas, who played Tomalak on TNG and G’Kar on Babylon 5: he was born on my birthday, albeit 32 years before me, and he died on my father’s 54th birthday. Talk about weird coincidences.
This article appeared in an earlier incarnation on escapepod.org.
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