Many icons can trace their longevity to the breadth and depth of their rogues gallery, and Star Trek has a pretty great one. As Trek once again plans to expand its collection of villains by one (or perhaps not?), here’s a look back at ten villains who make Trek memorable.
10. The Gorn, Original Series (1967)
The Gorn is often singled out as an example of the “laughably inept” effects budget of the original Star Trek. And yes, the notion of a man in what is essentially a big green dinosaur costume with a loincloth does sound a little silly. And maybe he even looks a little silly, especially when he goes mano-a-mano with Captain James T. Kirk. But the Gorn, who is pitted to a fight to the death against Kirk by all-powerful aliens, represents some of the best of Star Trek in his own way. The Gorn’s raspy voice, hideous scales and scary teeth make him a surprisingly effective villain. What’s more, Kirk eventually defeats the monster and is primed to kill him before tossing his weapon aside, refusing to stoop to such barbarism, a decision that makes him worthy in the eyes of his captors. That philosophy of using violence in defense and not out of spite is a cornerstone of the Star Trek tradition, showing that much of the time, differences can be worked out.
9. Luther Sloane (William Sadler), Deep Space Nine (1998-1999)
The head of a super-secret Federation shadow organization called “Section 31,” Luther Sloane represented the dark underbelly of Gene Roddenberry’s imagined utopia. Section 31 specialized in dirty tricks, all of them carefully calculated to better the security and stability of the Federation. Sloane, the very personification of “ends justify the means” villainy, enlisted Dr. Julian Bashir to his cause, and even when Bashir quickly grew a conscience and conspired to bring down Sloane, the master spy was always two moves ahead of him. In the end, we learned Sloane was just a frightened man, all too human, once again reminding us that in Trek—and in real life—the line between humanity and inhumanity is all too thin.
8. The Xindi, Enterprise (2003-2004)
A collection of multiple races united under one banner, the Xindi were xenophobes and extremists who launched a devastating attack on Earth that made them public enemy number one for the Federation, launching a lengthy espionage mission for the Enterprise NX-01 that brought the crew face to face with their own eroding values. The Xindi, and their actions, became a springboard for a very post-9/11 ongoing discussion about heroes, politics, extreme measures and borders, and while the race themselves were arguably a group of ciphers (we still know not very much about them), they did provide the franchise with its last consistent era of superb storytelling.
7. General Chang (Christopher Plummer), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
The best Klingon villain of all time, Chang was a military monster who operated under the pretense of offering Klingon peace with the Federation, but later assassinated his own chancellor and framed Kirk for the operation, as part of an elaborate plot to ensure that the Klingons and Federation would never ally. Some villains need a cool ship, so Chang also possessed a prototype Klingon bird of prey that could fire when cloaked, making it an invisible, near-unstoppable menace. Played with delicious, unrepentant ham by Plummer, Chang also liberally quoted from Shakespeare and took delight in his attack on the Enterprise crew, his efforts only thwarted by a solitary, lucky torpedo. To be or not to be, indeed.
6. Gul Madred (David Warner), The Next Generation (1993)
In a two-part episode of The Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard was captured in the middle of an espionage mission, and brought before the grand Cardassian interrogator, Gul Madred. Madred was a prototype for all the snaky, sneaky Cardassian villains that Star Trek would later deliver (Cardassians love evil speeches and psychological gamesmanship). Madred stripped Picard naked, implanted a device in his chest so that he could inflict pain through remote control, and deployed physical and mental torture on the captain, punctuated by wrenching moments when he demanded Picard recognize the four lights behind him as actually numbering five (in a tip of the hat to 1984). Weakened to an inch of his life, Picard came the closest he ever came to breaking, capped by a scene where he was freed, after defiantly telling Gul Madred…that there were four lights.
5. The Dominion, Deep Space Nine (1994-1999)
Ruled by shape-shifters, middle-managed by cloned snake-oil salesmen, and enforced by brutish thugs, the Dominion were one of the most fascinating and complex political entities in all of Star Trek. Residents of the Gamma Quadrant (the newly-discovered trade route that put the station Deep Space Nine on the map), the Dominion grew tired of Federation travel through their territory, and eventually waged full-scale war against the human, Romulan, and Klingon powers, creating the most expansive and prolonged conflict ever seen in the Trek universe. The collected powers of the Dominion (The Founders, The Vorta, The Jem’Hadar) eventually allied themselves with the Cardassians but then turned on the entire race in order to squelch some pockets of rebellion, leaving billions dead. The face of the Dominion was most often supplied by Weyoun (played with delicious slime by Jeffrey Combs), and he perfectly captured the various sides of this cruel empire: intelligent, insidious, charming, and capable of shocking evil.
4. Q (John de Lancie), The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager (1987-2002)
A trickster of the highest order, Q is more an antagonist than villain, but at times he can display true, horrific menace. An omnipotent life-form from a group called “The Q Continuum,” Q is a prankster, a rebel, the kind of guy who on first contact with humans threatens to ban them from space travel for being “savage children,” but every once in a while returns to stir up trouble, like a child tapping the edge of an aquarium. In fourteen years of appearances, Q created deadly fantasies for the crew to play out, forced Captain Picard to come to terms with hard truths about himself and humanity, introduced humanity to its most horrific adversary (more on them later), visited Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and overall made the entire galaxy his own sadistic/affectionate playground.
3. Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
Deep Space Nine begin with the aftermath of the Cardassian occupation of the planet Bajor, which involved destroying the Bajoran culture and imprisoning civilians, and eventually turned to terrorism, collaboration, power abuse, rape, murder, and thoughts of genocide. In many ways, the Cardassians were the Nazis of Star Trek…making Gul Dukat their own Hitler. The prefect of Bajor, Gul Dukat was a narcissistic and vain monster who had an unquenchable thirst for power and a desire to be loved and respected by the subject of his every conquest, no matter how violent. Over the course of the course of the series Dukat tried to one-up the Deep Space crew at every opportunity, served as the face of Cardassian aggression and arrogance, took delight in forcing them to betray their principles, seduced Major Kira’s mother, sided with the evil Dominion, tried to restart the Bajoran occupation by retaking Deep Space Nine, and chose a path that allied him with the evil Bajoran pah-wraiths, making him the ultimate evil for the Emissary, Benjamin Sisko, to defeat. The final Dukat/Sisko confrontation, a tussle that saw both into a blazing inferno, is an epic capper for an extraordinary character.
2. The Borg, Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager/Enterprise (1989-2005)
The Borg are the zombies of the Star Trek universe, if zombies could articulate just how much they want you to be like them. Introduced by Q one day when he had a hissy fit, The Borg are a race of cybernetic organisms hell-bent on enslaving everything in the universe. They are the mirror image to Trek’s philosophy of uber-tolerance: a hive-mind who humanoid bodies, but with their souls stripped away in favor of cold programming. What’s worse, they use their collective power to “assimilate” other beings, a process that is essentially mental (and physical) rape. No matter how many Borg ships are destroyed, they just keep coming sometimes with their spooky, seductive queen (Alice Krige) in tow. They tangoed with multiple starships named Enterprise, plotted to change history, became the Voyager’s central foe, and even were responsible for the tragic death of Jennifer Sisko, proving that as far as Star Trek villains go, the impact of the Borg was felt far and wide.
1. Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), Original Series/Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1967,1982)
It’s the safe choice. But also the correct one. It’s very telling that amongst Trek fans, Khan is consistently dubbed the greatest of all villains, despite the fact that the franchise has only used him two times (perhaps three—we’ll find out later this week). What makes Khan so celebrated goes beyond the pitch-perfect performance by Ricardo Montalban (or his leather outfit and rock-hard abs). Khan is the best kind of villain, one filled with venom and pathos, a genetically-engineered superman turned grieving widow, who targets the source of his pain, James T. Kirk, for ultimate revenge. He’s cunning and ruthless, and his every word is laced with raspy, enraged poison. If Star Trek consistently forwards human evolution and improvement, then Khan is the nightmare of that ideal: supreme intelligence twisted to serve absolute evil.