One Trek Mind #11: Trek's Strongest Supporting Female Characters
It's January 16th, which means that Star Trek: Voyager made its debut mmfmmfmlm years ago! (Trust me, you don't want to know the exact number – oy, I'm getting old!)
I've spent a lot of time in bars ranting and raving to haters about how Voyager -- OK, it was 17 years ago -- had moments as fantastic as in any other Trek series. But one thing is undeniable: the show proved that you could have a successful sci-fi/action series with a woman at the helm. But this should come as no surprise to fans of Trek. Our franchise has always been at the forefront of promoting gender equality on television.
While it reached its pinnacle with Kate Mulgrew's fantastic portrayal of Captain Janeway, it began early with the truly revolutionary casting of Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura. While one can nitpick and say she was subservient to the boys (and there's definitely an argument to be made), the very fact that an African American woman was seen on the bridge had a direct impact on the viewing public. (Just ask Whoopi Goldberg!)
In celebration of Mulgrew and Voyager's triumph, I decided to take a look back – beyond the Dr. Crushers and Major Kiras - to some of the less-obvious strong women characters in the history of Trek.
10 – Captain Kasidy Yates
It takes a special kind of woman to win the heart of a space station commander, military leader and Emissary to the Prophets. Kasidy Yates is that women. She's a hardworking cargo ship captain (engaging in some light and mostly benign smuggling on the side) who refuses special treatment when caught or when it’s time to pitch in against the Dominion. Plus, she likes baseball. Yeah, Kasidy is awesome – let Sisko do the cooking!
9 – Yeoman Leslie Thompson
Okay, an odd pick, sure, but hear me out 'cause this is important.
How much was TOS in the vanguard? They were willing to have women beam down to planets as part of armed away teams. And sometimes (okay, once) they were willing to kill them off. Pretty radical! Yeoman Thompson was the redshirt (redskirt?) who was turned into the giant chalk Dungeons and Dragons cube and then crushed to death by that jerk from the Andromeda Galaxy in “By Any Other Name.”
8 – Romulan Commander
Hey, nobody said they all had to be good guys! While ultimately unsuccessful, the unnamed Romulan Commander from TOS' “The Enterprise Incident” was cunning enough that it took the wits of both Kirk and Spock to take her down. She had ambition and drive, as well as the courage to sacrifice herself for the good of the Romulan Empire. And did she actually get under Spock's Vulcan skin a little bit? That's up to your interpretation.
7 – Lily Sloane
“Blow up the damn ship!”
Most civilians from a pre-Warp era would just be freaking out that time traveling humans and aliens are bombarding Earth… but this sharp engineer keeps her head enough to offer military advice.
6 – Lursa
The true mastermind of the Klingon Civil War, the machinations of Lursa of the House of Duras left the Galaxy quaking for whole seasons. Even with all this going on, she found time to be a mother. Awww, right? Also, her death in Star Trek: Generations was cooler than Kirk's. Sadly, it was WAY cooler.
(Feel free to argue with me that Kai Winn shoulda got the “political puppet master” slot. It was a close call.)
5 – Captain Rachel Garrett
From TNG's “Yesterday's Enterprise,” a serious contender for best single episode ever in any series, we meet the captain of the Enterprise-C, Rachel Garrett. And we don't even KNOW that it is due to her bravery and sacrifice that the current timeline is as breezy and upbeat as it is today. (Guinan kinda knows, but that's complicated.) Tricia O'Neal's strong-yet-still-feminine portrayal of a starship captain no doubt paved the way toward Captain Janeway, another reason to offer her a hero's salute.
Y'know, I really love writing One Trek Mind, but all I want to do right now is walk away from my computer and watch “Yesterday's Enterprise” right now!!
4 – Dr. Carol Marcus
The woman who held, at least for a time, the heart of James Tiberius Kirk. But Dr. Marcus is no mere Captain's squeeze. She is an independent woman and a brilliant scientist whose Genesis Device is so powerful it was the focus of two movies!!
She also represents one of the very few times you'll see someone have a bone of contention with Starfleet prior to the creation of the Maquis.
(Again, here's your opportunity to scream at me for leaving a different brilliant scientist, Dr. Leah Brahms, off the list. This is hard work, people! And thankless, too. I felt the heat the other day for not including the Salt Vampire from TOS or the corpses from TNG’s “Night Terrors” in my column about Trek’s freakiest moments.)
Captain Pike's steady-as-a-rock first officer, Number One was a brilliant tactician who wasn't afraid to bring out the laser cannons, or to sacrifice herself with an overloaded phaser rather than suffer indignities at the hands of the Talosians.
If you think her story ended with “The Cage,” oh, how wrong you are. Drop everything and read John Byrne's fantastic comic series Star Trek: Crew to see Number One's really whacked-out adventures both pre and post her time on the Enterprise. Then pick up some of Peter David's New Frontier novels and focus on the Morgana Prime character. (I was there at New York Comic-Con a few years ago when David basically admitted that Morgana - Robin Lefler's mother - was actually Number One!)
2 – Ro Laren
Hey – look at that picture. Ro Laren is smiling!
One of the richest figures in Trek, the Bajoran nationalist was the first character we ever met whose antipathy toward Starfleet ever seemed justified. Still, her loyalty to Captain Picard (and attraction to Commander Riker) kept her in line... most of the time.
Ro Laren was such a badass that even the woman who played her, Michelle Forbes, had to swim upstream. She rejected the offer to be a lead on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, causing the show's producers to create the (at first) somewhat similar character of Kira Nerys. I think ultimately it worked out for the best, but, oh, if only we could glimpse into that alternate timeline!
1 – Edith Keeler
Imagine a woman whose soup is so powerful it could change the course of World War II.
In “The City on the Edge of Forever” it is this loving, warm, caring pacifist who must be silenced for evil not to conquer the world. (Hey, blame Harlan Ellison; he's the sicko that thought of it!) Edith Keeler isn't just a character; she's a philosophical construct, a topic worthy of intellectual debate that the finest scholars could argue about for ages. And just thinking about her (and the phrase “He knows, Doctor. He knows.”) is enough to send an army of Star Trek fans blubbering.
Did I leave your picks off the list? Please, feel free to let me have it in the comments. Ladies first, of course!
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.