Ten Best Multi-Character Performances by Star Trek Actors
Leonard Nimoy is Spock. His second book says so right in the title. (Pay no attention to the title of his first book for the purposes of this argument.) He is a singular actor associated exclusively with an iconic role in the Star Trek Universe.
Not every actor in our beloved franchise enjoys this same specificity of purpose. Indeed, some actors in the larger company have played more than one character. And, no, I don't mean Lieutenant Broccoli goofing around in the Holodeck. I mean same person, different role, and we're supposed to pretend we don't notice. Even the times when there's no makeup involved.
To some super fans this list won't be so revelatory, but the newbies may be surprised. With this in mind, let's list the Ten Best Multi-Character Performances by Star Trek Actors!
The ranking will be by how memorable the multiple roles are by the same actor. And, no, we're not going to include “Far Beyond the Stars” because then everyone will be on here . . . and those characters may not actually be “rea,l” but a projection, anyway. (Those that were in “Far Beyond the Stars” will get automatic “Far Beyond the Stars” gold stars.)
The TNG doctor few people liked knew her way around a starship.
Dr. Pulaski, the tough ol' dame who didn't much care for androids, had not one but two appearances on TOS.
In “Return to Tomorrow,” she was astrobiologist Dr. Ann Mulhall. She, along with Kirk and Spock, got possessed by nefarious beings that had previously been encased in white orbs. (It happens.) Just to keep it simple, the entity which inhabited her, Thalassa, was female. We didn't get to gender-bending consciousness possessions until “Turnabout Intruder.”
In “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” Muldaur was back, again as a doctor. Dr. Miranda Jones was a telepath who spent a number of years on Vulcan. It is because of her that there's that great picture of Spock with a gigantic red visor over his face.
Odo was, indeed, a shapeshifter.
The mustachioed villain, named Colonel West (a slight dig at Lt. Col. Oliver North), may be a little hazy in your mind. Most of his scenes were cut from the theatrical version of the movie, and, depending on which DVD or Blu-ray you've got at home, he may or may not be in there. Ah, what good would science fiction fandom be if there weren't a million variants of everything?
Later, on Enterprise (or is that earlier? I never can remember . . .) Auberjonois appeared in the first season episode “Oasis” as a human named Ezral. This is the one where he's crash-landed on a planet and has created a holographic crew to assuage his guilt. Yeah, not really the most memorable episode, especially since the same ground was covered in DS9's “Shadowplay.”
Here's a weird example where a character that only appeared once is, in my opinion, more memorable than the recurring role.
No disrespect to Worf's brother Kurn – because disrespecting a mighty warrior from the House of Mogh is to sign your own death warrant – but it's Todd's performance as the elderly Jake Sisko in an alternate reality that really breaks my heart.
“The Visitor,” regularly cited as one of the best DS9 episodes ever, presents a parallel timeline where a life of obsession, guilt and depression destroys Jake Sisko as he attempts to save his father. It also shows how Ben Sisko would likely sacrifice himself to a non-existent oblivion if it meant helping his son. It's all so very touching.
Loyal Tuvok. Noble Tuvok. Is there an indecent bone in your body? (I mean, other than during the Pon Farr?) Turns out there is. The thrilling episode “Starship Mine” (from TNG's 6th season, the greatest season of all television anywhere) shows Russ as a human terrorist trying to take over the Enterprise. Luckily, Captain Picard is able to subdue him using, ironically, a Vulcan nerve pinch.
Russ also showed up as a not-so-nice Klingon in the DS9 episode “Invasive Procedures.” He kicked O'Brien right in the spot where he'd been hit with a phaser. What a jerk!
It wasn't all bad, though. Check out Star Trek Generations again. That's a pre-Tuvok Tim Russ on the Enterprise-B trying to lock onto El-Aurians and transport them out of the Nexus.
There! Are! Three! Characters!
Gul Madred, the sadistic Cardassian who tortured Captain Picard in “Chain of Command,” had been a member of the Star Trek team twice before.
Most notably as Chancellor Gorkon, the martyred Klingon with the olive branch whose death almost spiked the Khitomer Accords in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Yes, it was his purple blood that swam around in zero-g making bloopy noises.
Prior to this he played a human, a character that could have been really cool, in the ill-fated Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. St. John Talbot was the Federation representative to the so-called Planet of Peace, Nimbus III. If the movie was better, it would have dug in a bit more with this nasty character, one of the few non-Utopian Federation folks from the Roddenberry era. The character has popped up a bit on the sidelines in comics and novels – one day he'll get his due.
Before he was Joseph Sisko, gumbo cooking patriarch of the great Sisko clan, he was Admiral Cartwright in both Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
What makes Cartwright so interesting is that he has a little bit of an arc. In his first appearance he seems like one of the good guys. There he is in San Francisco as the Cetacean Probe is tearing up the seas. He's doing his best to keep everyone together – and to hear what Captain Kirk has to say.
Within a few years, though, he's at the center of the conspiracy to kill Chancellor Gorkon and muck up the Khitomer Accords!
When your neck is that gigantic, you can stick it out more than once.
Gul Dukat, the most evil man in the Galaxy when you get down to it, was played by a man who knew his way around a makeup chair.
Prior to the role that cemented him as one of the key figures in all of Trek lore, he played a Romulan, a human and a different Cardassian. In fact, TNG's Gul Macet was the first Cardassian we ever saw.
He also played an Antican named Badar N'D'D in the first season TNG episode called “Lonely Among Us.” This was an early example of some of the really out there makeup effects that the new wave of Trek would bring us. I remember sitting in my Grandmother's kitchen watching this episode back in 1987 and just being delighted by the half-wolf/half-fish lookin' dude. Then my older sister walked in and made fun of me.
Here are two major, groundbreaking roles played by the same individual. Even more interestingly, Sarek and the unnamed Romulan Commander from “Balance of Terror,” very unique characters, don't even look that different!
The Romulan Commander and Captain Kirk “could have called one another friend” in a different reality. They were both cunning tacticians, but on other sides of the battlefield.
Sarek is more of a puzzle. Spock's father, the Vulcan ambassador to the Federation, seems at first to be pure, cold logic. Yet his heart belongs to Amanda. Is this just a “logical decision,” done purely in service of his position? It's hard to tell. Maybe that's why Sarek is such a beloved character, and was brought back for the films, TNG and even has a (fantastic) book devoted exclusively to him.
Lenard popped up again in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the commander of the doomed IKS Amar, thus making him one of the first people to ever speak the fabricated language of Klingon.
There's a term used in the Jewish Passover seder called “Dayenu.” It means “it would suffice us.” If Jeffrey Combs were just Brunt of the Ferengi Commerce Authority, it would suffice us. If Jeffrey Combs were just the Vorta go-between Weyoun (and all of his clones), it would suffice us. If Jeffrey Combs were just Shran, the Andorian from Enterprise, it would suffice us. But Jeffrey Combs is all three of these terrific, memorable characters.
Not just that, he also played a different Ferengi (Krem) on an episode of Enterprise and a kooky alien named Tiron (of unnamed species) in one episode of DS9.
How, you are asking, could anyone possibly top Jeffrey Combs on this list? Well, there is only one way.
Ahead of Jeffrey Combs by just an inch comes Majel Barrtett. Why? Because she doesn't just play humans and Betazoids, she plays the disembodied voice of the Enterprise computer (from TOS right up to Star Trek ).
Yes, picture that. Someone had to blurt the word “WORK-ING” over and over again just to get it right.
Before killing it as the terrific, somewhat comic relief character Lwaxana Troi in many episodes of TNG (and DS9) she was, of course, Nurse (later Commander) Christine Chapel. Chapel was Dr. McCoy's right arm and represented us with her fascination (love?) of Mr. Spock.
Also, on Captain Pike's Enterprise she was the striking Number One. Even though this era of Star Trek got the boot (though it appeared in flashback in “The Menagerie,” of course) the inclusion of Number One was really way ahead of its time for positioning a woman in a position of prominence. While one or two of the comments about her may seem a little sexist today, for 1964/1965 it was absolutely revolutionary.
Considering the giant multiverse that is Star Trek, it's without question that I've left out one of your favorites. Please shout at me (politely) in the comments below. And let's raise a glass of bloodwine to Executive Officer in Charge of Radishes Neil Pedley for coming up with the idea for this column.