I love sci-fi and space exploration shows. There’s something about people gallivanting through universe in search of what’s beyond the stars that speaks to my heart in ways few other genres can.
At the center of many of these stories is the captain, the person most often made the protagonist or at the very least a person to look up to during the journey. TV has been the birth place of many of the most beloved captains in all of science fiction/fantasy, but among all the names, who stands above the rest?
I set out to answer this question using the following criteria:
1. How cool was the captain as an individual?
2. How cool was the captain’s ship or vessel?
3. How adept was the individual at captaining said ship(s) and managing the crew (only ships with crews count, no one seaters on this list).
With those criteria in place, I soon had my list.
Oh, and to preemptively nip any complaints about featuring so many Star Trek captains in the bud, understand that Star Trek is one of the longest lasting and most important franchises in all of science fiction and to try and limit myself to one captain in all the series’ history is an insult to this outstanding franchise. Plus it’s my list, so tough toenails.
10. The Doctor
Ship: Type 40 TARDIS
I love the Doctor. I’ve written plenty of articles on him and have reviewed a bunch of Big Finish audio dramas starring him in my series Big Finishing Move here on One Of Us, so you can say I’m a bit of a fan. He is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. His ship, the TARDIS is easily the most impressive vessel of all the captains on this list as it can travel through all of space as well as time.
Why then if I love him so much do I rate the rouge Time Lord at the bottom of this list? To put it simply, the Doctor is a lousy captain. Not only is his command of his ship tenuous, but his crew never listens to him. Many of his companions over the years are known for their willingness to blow the Doctor off and do their own thing. The Doctor may be one of the universe’s greatest heroes, but his abilities as a captain leave much to be desired.
9. Turanga Leela
Ship: U.S.S. Planet Express Ship
Leela was the hardest one to place on this list. For a good while, she didn’t even make the cut, but the more I thought about it, the more her addition became a necessity. A competent pilot despite having only one eye (and thus no depth perception), Leela was easily the most competent and bad-ass member of the Planet Express team. She could even get the other employees to actually do their jobs on rare occasions. Fry exercised his good taste when he fell for this beauty.
True, she could be more than a tad self-absorbed and self-righteous, but her time with Fry and the others and the revelation of her terrestrial mutant roots softened her and made her a better overall person. The Planet Express Ship is pretty impressive as well. It’s one of the fastest vessels out there, it’s well armed, and it’s able to take quite a beating. A classy ship for a classy lady. I’m sorry I doubted you Leela, you’ve more than earned this spot.
8. Jet Black
Ship: The Bebop
It sucks to be Jet Black. Every day he wakes completely broke with a crew who can’t be bothered to listen to him. Because he was an honest cop, he was set up to be killed by his partner, a hit he managed to survive at the cost of an arm. Seeing the unending corruption in the Inter-Solar System Police left him disillusioned and disgusted. However, he was really only driven to do one thing: hunt down bad guys, so he took what money he had, bought and modified an interplanetary fishing ship for long term flight, and slapped some bigger engines on it and began his career as a bounty hunter.
All this crappiness is hard enough to bear, but he cares deeply about his crew (way more than he can bring himself to admit), the only people he has left in this world, and he knows deep down that their paths will ultimately end in him getting his heart broken once again. It is enough to make a guy just turn over in his sheets and quit, but Jet gets up anyway, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. The Black Dog just won’t give up on the bone called life. He loves and maintains the Bebop the best he can and he’s reluctant to take it into battle, not just because the ship isn’t overly armed, but because if it gets wrecked Jet no longer has a home. No matter how hard it gets, Jet and the Bebop will keep on truckin’.
7. William Adama
Ship: The Galactica (BS-75)
The people under Bill Adama’s command understand one unofficial rule: no matter how bad the situation is, just follow the “Old Man” and you’ll live to see the other side of it. Adama is the guy you call when you need to get stuff done, and it’s a good thing he excels at that because he’s crap at everything else.
Thrust into a position that is equal parts soft power and hard power with the destruction of the Colonies, Adama shows about as much mastery of political subtlety as a tactical nuke. In Adama’s mind, everybody would be better off if they just shut their traps and did what he told them. Given how bad things sometimes got for the fleet, it is possible to make the argument that he was right. Adama busted his ass every day to keep the fleet going and thrived under the kind of pressure that would break any normal captain. His ship was a perfect reflection of its captain: past its prime, yet too old, tough, and stubborn to quit. The Galactica, like the man who commanded it, wasn’t pretty, but it had the goods in every way that counted.
6. Malcolm Reynolds
All Malcolm Reynolds wants in this life is the ability to come and go as he pleases and make his own way. Too bad he has an entire galaxy against him on that one. A veteran of the losing side of the Unification War, Mal has become an outlaw and smuggler on the outskirts of the galaxy as his own form of continued protest and rebellion against the Alliance. Mal has a simple, straightforward approach to life and command: don’t mess with him and you’re fine, screw with him or anybody he cares about and if your lucky he’ll only shoot you.
Mal’s rebellious spirit shines through in his choice of ship, an old transport ship named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, the last big encounter of the war. Perhaps Mal feels that as long as he has that ship, the battle of Serenity isn’t totally lost. Serenity herself is a bit of a clunker, and it’s absolute garbage in a fight. Fortunately, it can run like hell, living to be free another day. Burn the lands and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from Mal.
5. James T. Kirk
Ships: USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and (NCC-1701-A)
No, you aren’t seeing things, Kirk only barely breaks into the top five on this list. While Kirk had brass balls and enough swagger to make even the Klingons flee, being a captain in Starfleet is so much more than that. I always scratched my head when they sent Kirk on diplomatic missions. His reputation did buy him some clout, but not enough to make up for the fact that he was bad at negotiations.
Don’t misunderstand me though, I still love me some Kirk. He walks into the room and just owns the damn place because that is just who he is. Kirk make getting out of the worst dangers in the galaxy look easy. Aside from the man himself, you have his crew who are all winners as well: Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, need I even go on? Furthermore, do I even need to bring up the Enterprise? There aren+’t many names I have an automatic respect for, but Enterprise is and always shall be one of them. Here’s hoping for many more fine adventures of Kirk and company in the years to come.
4. John Crichton
Ships: Farscape One and severely unofficial Captain of Moya
Every captain’s worst day on this list is John Crichton’s every day. Sucked up and shot out of a wormhole with little to no chance of ever getting home, Crichton had to adjust to being on the ass end of the universe and the fact that aliens exist in a matter of minutes. Scooped up by the escaped prisoners aboard the living ship Moya simply because they didn’t know what he was and thought he might be useful, Crichton found his fate now tied to these people whether he liked it it or not. Not a good way to start the day.
Chased around creation by those wanting revenge or the secrets behind the wormhole that deposited him from Earth to Peacekeeper space, John nurtures a long list of enemies. The nicest of these individuals only wish him dead. The worst of them is Scorpius. Tortured, beaten, frozen, duplicated, you name it, they’ve done it to John, but Crichton always makes it back alive, not necessarily sane, but still kickin’ none the less. About the only thing good about this whole mess is Crichton met the love of his life, Aeryn. Even if you contest his being the unofficial leader of the Moya crew, a fact that almost all his crewmates would dispute due to ego or otherwise, it is undeniable that he is the glue that keeps them together. Even not counting Moya, Crichton still manages to meet all my criteria as he modified his module into a two seater so he still meets the crew requirement. Cricthon meets the impossible every day, and somehow makes it work.
3. Benjamin Sisko
Ships: USS Defiant (NX-74205) and (NCC-75633)
Ben Sisko doesn’t play games, unless that game is baseball. He never tries to be fancy or overly clever, he just does his job, kicks your ass if needed to and goes home to take care of his son. He doesn’t give up, he doesn’t relent, he simply keep coming at you until he’s won. Even in retreat, he wants you to know that he’s only leaving to go get more stuff with which to kick your ass. Sisko didn’t start out as a great diplomat, but the needs of running Deep Space Nine, taking on the Dominion threat, and handling being named as the Emissary to the Prophets (the wormhole aliens that the Bajoran people worshiped as gods) forced him to develop the skill.
Deep Space Nine wasn’t supposed to be any form of major assignment, it was a less than important gig where Starfleet hoped Sisko wouldn’t burn out any more than he already had. Turns out all Sisko needed was something to fight for and his time at DS9 transformed him from burnout into a great leader. Sisko’s crew didn’t all trust him at first, but his dedication and ability to get things done helped him win over even his harshest skeptics. After the death of his wife at Wolf 359, Sisko was was tasked by Starfleet to create a ship to take on the Borg and found himself on the design team for what would become his ship, the Defiant. Her name and design perfectly compliment Sisko’s approach to things: she is little more than guns, engines, and armor. A compact vessel designed for quick, precision strikes to take the enemy out. Long live the Sisko.
2. Jean-Luc Picard
Ships: USS Stargazer (NCC-2893), USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) and (NCC-1701-E)
When I think Star Trek I think of only one name after the Enterprise itself, and that name is Picard. TNG was my gateway into Star Trek. It was something my Dad turned me on to as a kid and we would sit and watch it together. For that it will always have a special place in my heart. However, if you think it is solely nostalgia that has led to Picard getting the number two slot, you’re dead wrong. Picard is as badass as the day is long. His was a severely unhappy childhood, but Picard grew into a young man that excelled at everything with ease, and the bravado that came with that made him a bit of a dick. It wasn’t until just after graduation when Picard was stabbed through the chest by a Nausicaan in a bar fight that Picard started to get his shit together (Picard has an artificial heart as a result of this altercation). You know you’re dealing with one tough sucker when their reaction to being run through with a knife is to start laughing. It taught him that he wasn’t indestructible so he better figure out more than one approach to everything.
In fact, Picard’s real strength comes not from his ability to kick your ass, but how little he chooses to use it. Picard holds violence in his back pocket, only bringing it out when others force his hand and then he makes them wish they never tested him. Picard is a man who uses his failures to push himself into being a better person. His greatest humiliation, being assimilated by the Borg and used as a tool to commit the atrocity of Wolf 359, stays with him despite it not really being his fault. He sees it as his duty to be better so those failures never happen again. Able to juggle political and military matters with ease, Picard is formidable on whatever front you choose to meet him on. He is a true warrior poet. Picard is very hands off with those in his command, which they respect because that gives them the freedom to do their jobs as best they see fit, provided of course that the job gets done. Once again, do I need to say anything more about the Enterprise other than I adore it? An elegant craft as multifaceted as her captain, if I had to serve on any Enterprise you can bet Picard would be the man in command.
1. John Sheridan
Ships: EAS Agamemnon, Various White Star
When I started this list I knew before anyone else who had the top spot, the person I believe is the the almost perfect blend of the traits that I admire from everyone else on this list, and his name is John Sheridan. Sheridan has a simple, straightforward, and practical approach to life and his command. He speaks plainly and often from the hip, but it isn’t because he stupid or uncultured, it just he finds it the most effective way to do things. When he does have to play politics (which he loathes) you’ll find he is as clever as anybody out there. Fighting is always the last thing he wants to do, but is also the thing he is best at. Test him at your own peril.
He brought together the largest coalition in galactic history. He’s stood against forces able to tear the galaxy asunder with nothing but the fire in his gut and a pair of brass balls. His found ways to win when no one, including himself, was sure that it was possible. Dogged in the pursuit of his goals, loyal to his friends, deceptively smart, and with just a dash of rebel spirit, John Sheridan is the total package. While the White Stars may have been the tools he had to use, the ship he felt most at home on was the Agamemnon, a big clunky Earth Destroyer. He loved that thing so much that of all the ships he could have commanded for the final liberation of Earth he chose the Agamemnon. Not just because it was a powerful symbol, but because it was home. If I was ever given a command, I’d want to be just like Sheridan. That is the highest compliment I have to give.
So what do you think of my choices? Who would you put on this list? Let us know in the comments below!