The 10 Best Star Trek Villains Ever (Besides Khan)
As the release of the latest Star Trek sequel draws near, discussion and debate of the classic franchise’s pantheon of villains has reached an all-time high. This sudden enthusiasm for antagonists has no doubt been fuelled by the storm of speculation surrounding the identity of the vaguely teased but explicitly menacing villain portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. Is he John Harrison? Possibly Gary Mitchell? The legendary fan fave Khan? Despite being a show that was usually more about philosophy than fisticuffs, Star Trek has no shortage of nefarious evil-doers keeping things interesting in the distant future. Below is a list of the best, arranged in order of ascending menace. Khan has been decidedly left out as he’s always at the top of these lists and everyone has already discussed him ad nauseam. I’ve also tried to refrain from labeling entire organizations or races as evil, in order to focus on particularly villainous individuals.
“All I ask for is a tall ship—and a load of contraband to fill her with.”
Quark, the Ferengi who owns and runs the bar on station Deep Space Nine, is often brushed off as little more than an irritation. Sometimes Quark can be persuaded to act on behalf of the greater good—usually when it overlaps with his own self-interest. His many plots have placed the entire station and its crew in peril more than a few times, all in the pursuit of profit. Quark’s the kind that will steal your watch and then sell it back to you. Sure, he’s a deceitful, scheming con man and a thief, but he’s the devil we know and love, and living on DS9 would almost be boring without him behind the bar.
“I do not threaten, Captain. I merely state facts.”
If you’ve ever wondered why evil twin versions of characters in sci-fi are often depicted with goatees, this guy is your culprit. After a transporter accident, Captain Kirk arrived in a parallel universe that was a twisted reflection of our own. The Enterprise was a warship for the brutal and aggressive Terran Empire, and Kirk met evil versions of all his crew, including a mustachioed Spock as his duplicitous, back-stabbing first officer who can’t wait to annihilate a planet full of unarmed people. Apparently it was common for Imperial officers to advance in rank by slaying their superiors—that was how evil Kirk got the job, and Spock planned to do the same. However, an inspirational speech from the real Kirk shows evil Spock the illogical error in being so evil all the time. A hundred years later we learn that Mirror Spock changed the Empire and made it more like its compassionate and peace-loving counterpart… just in time to be decimated by the Borg. The Mirror Universe is not a nice place to visit.
“You’ve proven a worthy opponent, Captain. I would’ve preferred to die fighting you.”
Silik was a senior operative of the Suliban Cabal, an interstellar terrorist organization that was active in the early 22nd century. The Cabal took its orders from a mysterious benefactor that exchanged future tech and weapons for their service as foot soldiers in the Temporal Cold War. Silik is the ultimate henchman of Star Trek: he’s a genetically enhanced warrior with superior strength, senses and reflexes, as well as the ability to change his form and even turn invisible, making him perfect for covert ops. When the cold war escalated into open conflict, Silik attempted to change key events in history to serve his benefactor’s interest. This included kidnapping a Klingon delegate to destabilize the Empire, killing an agent from the 31st century and stealing his map of time, and even abducting and torturing the captain of the Enterprise. It’s fortunate that Silik was ultimately defeated by lazy writing and the cancelation of Enterprise, because he was shaping up to be a formidable adversary.
“Cry havoc, and let slip the Dogs of War.”
General Chang was a Klingon war hero, and chief of staff to the Chancellor of the High Council. His eye-patch was nailed to his face with custom-inscribed bolts, so that there is no question about whether or not he is a badass. They called him Chang the Merciless, and it was a well-deserved title—he commissioned the secret construction of a stealth warship in order to assassinate his own government’s leader so that he could frame Captain Kirk for it and finally ignite open war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. How did he come up with such a twisted scheme of betrayal, you ask? It turns out the General was a huge fan of Shakespeare, though he preferred to read it in its original Klingon.
“The course the Prophets choose for us may not always be comfortable, but we must follow it.”
Winn Adami was a priest in an orthodox fundamentalist sect of the Bajoran religion, before eventually becoming Kai, the equivalent of a pope. Despite outwardly preaching peace and love, Winn backed an armed coup of the Bajoran government, then betrayed her co-conspirators to cover herself when it failed. She attempted to assassinate her chief competitor for the position of Kai, and then blackmailed him into resignation when that failed. Winn is that most insidious of villains—the one that everyone else thinks is a hero. As Kai she is able to preach racism, intolerance and hatred with a smile, couched in the soothing language of faith. The Will of the Prophets is her excuse for every new crime, but the only will she acts on is her own.
“We are Lursa and B’Etor, of the House of Duras.”
Lursa and B’Etor were the granddaughters of Ja’Rod Duras, one of the vilest traitors in Klingon history, responsible for the Khitomer Massacre. They supported their father’s campaign to become the next Chancellor, and continued to try and restore their house to power even after he was slain in vengeance by Worf. The Duras Sisters know what they want, and they will seduce or slash anyone in their way. They even carried on the family tradition of treason by forming a secret alliance with the Romulans for military aid as they plunged the Klingon Empire into civil war. Even with their house fallen and their armies decimated, Lursa and B’Etor never gave up. Over the years they were often caught trying to buy weapons and hire mercenaries, until the Enterprise finally brought the epic of the House of Duras to an end.
“We deal with threats to the Federation that jeopardize its very survival. If you knew how many lives we’ve saved, I think you’d agree the ends do justify the means.”
Operative Sloan worked for Section 31, a clandestine intelligence agency that performed black ops without official sanction from Starfleet. They do the dirty work to protect utopia, no matter what line they have to cross. Section 31 is willing to resort to kidnapping, torture, assassination or even commit genocide to protect Federation interests. The enigmatic Sloan was a master manipulator, able to achieve his objectives by playing various people like pawns, seldom acting directly. Even if you think you’re working against him, that’s exactly what he wants you to do. Sloan has been able to place covert operatives in the highest levels of alien governments and has a talent for staging deaths from natural causes. A lifelong spy, Sloan was a man made of secrets, and he died protecting them.
“One man’s villain is another man’s hero.”
Gul Dukat was the military commander in charge of Bajor during the last years of the Cardassian occupation. Since he was in charge when Cardassia lost control of Bajor, Dukat lost favor with the Central Command and became obsessed with reconquering the world to prove his worth. What makes Dukat such a compelling villain is that he’s utterly convinced that he’s the hero of the story, fighting to restore the glory of the Cardassian Union. He was a mad tyrant who had delusions of being a benevolent dictator simply because he raised the prisoners’ food rations and cut back on the summary executions. Despite the fact he presided over the genocide of the Bajoran people, he wants you to know that he’s really a very reasonable guy. Dukat can be quite charming and very loquacious, and he’ll smile while he stabs you in the side. Not to be trusted or underestimated—those who think Dukat has been defeated for good are often proved wrong.
“Resistance is futile.”
Remember when I said I was going to refrain from demonizing an entire race? Meet the exception. The Borg are a race of cyborgs who look for advanced civilizations to “assimilate.” They absorb whatever technological distinctiveness their victim might have, and then turn its citizens into soulless drones. Since the entirety of the race has only one goal, and that goal is conquest of the universe, I felt fairly safe making this generalization about them. The Borg are the most implacable of foes—they can adapt to become impervious to any weapon, turn your strengths into weaknesses, and their opponents’ fallen just swell their armies. At one time they even assimilated Captain Picard and turned him against his own people— a single Borg ship was able to destroy an entire Federation fleet at the Battle of Wolf 359. The Borg’s list of atrocities is one of the lengthiest in the known galaxy: they have stripped worlds bare and exterminated entire peoples with cold, mechanical efficiency. Part of what makes them such a terrifying enemy is that they embody our deepest existential fears—are we just organic robots going through the motions of life, caught in an endless, meaningless cycle of consume and replicate? They are so far removed from their own humanity that such a question would never even occur to them. The Borg have little use for philosophy.
“I add a little excitement, a little spice, to your lives and all you do is complain. Where is your adventurous spirit, your imagination?”
Q is a powerful entity of an immortal species called the Q, who come from a dimension known as the Q Continuum. Get all that? Although Q is an omnipotent being of god-like power, his divine aspect ends there. He is frequently rude, often acerbic, and utterly obnoxious. One of his favorite pastimes has always been teasing and tormenting mortal creatures, like the crew of the Enterprise. He placed humanity on trial, sent the crew to battle each other in Sherwood Forest, introduced the Enterprise to the Borg, and almost stopped intelligent life from ever forming on Earth. That is, when he wasn’t puncturing his favorite pincushion and straight man, Jean-Luc Picard. Q defies everything this rational human believes in just by existing, making him the perfect antagonist for a show that champions secular wisdom and the scientific method. Picard described him as devious, amoral, unreliable, irresponsible and definitely not to be trusted, so it makes sense that more than one world throughout the galaxy knew Q as “The God of Lies.” Q has even pestered Captain Janeway and Commander Sisko, but the former rebuffed his not-so-romantic advances and the latter punched him in the face. While Q is often viewed as merely a troublemaker, he’s never had a problem sacrificing lives to make a point or raise the stakes, and the finale of TNG made it pretty clear that humanity and other races like it exist only as long as it continues to amuse the Q Continuum. We live only at the sufferance of capricious gods? That’s a pretty dark message for Star Trek.
So there’s the worst of the worst in Star Trek. While it’s never been the kind of show that needed a villain to tell a story, that hasn’t stopped them from producing some of the best sinners in sci-fi. How will Cumberbatch’s mysterious villain rank? I can’t wait to find out. I’m sure there are some I missed (besides Khan), so be sure to let me know who else deserved to make the list in the comments.
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