This week, 35 years ago, Star Trek: The Next Generation made its way on television sets everywhere with its premiere episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.”
The third Star Trek television series followed Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-D and their voyages across the Alpha Quadrant in the 24th Century. We previously focused on the senior officers on the Bridge, highlighting their most underrated episodes. During the summer Villain Showdown, we covered several treacherous encounters Picard and his crew had with the likes of Q, the Borg, and the Cardassians.
Now, we’re going to shine a spotlight on a couple recurring characters who add to what makes this series so special!
If there was ever a character who could stop Picard in his tracks, the distinction would belong to Lwaxana Troi — daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed. When she’s not trying to seduce to Picard, Deanna Troi’s eccentric mother sought to enjoy the fruits of middle age. Her over-the-top behavior was balanced by her magnitude of compassion. After enduring the tragedies she had in her family life, it's no wonder she sought out misfits such as Worf's son Alexander and the brilliant Dr. Timicin bound to his home world's Resolution, and wanted to ease their loneliness.
Despite only appearing in eight episodes across the latter half of the series, Ensign Ro Laren made an impressionable impact on the crew and the show. The arrival of Ro gave audiences their first look at Bajor and the Bajorans as well as their plight during the Cardassians' occupation of Bajor.
While she was not initially welcomed by the crew of the Enterprise due to her defiant nature and court-martial, she would eventually be taken in by the senior officers. Not only that, she got Guinan's seal of approval and developed a father-like/mentor relationship with Picard. Her presence serves a greater purpose in ultimately demonstrating the limits of Picard's ideals, the Federation's approach, and sowing the seeds of his disillusionment.
When the senior Bridge crew seemed too infallible, it was officers like Reginald Barclay and Miles O’Brien who proved Starfleet, let alone the flagship Enterprise-D, would not function as smoothly as it does without the likes of everymen such as themselves. Not everyone can be as charismatic as first officer Will Riker, nor should they be expected to be. Plus, nothing could be more relatable than escaping to the Holodeck to release your day-to-day work tensions. Besides, he won over the toughest critic aboard the starship — Spot.
As a senior Starfleet officer and series regular, Worf is easily one of the best Klingons on the show. One of Worf’s recurring struggles was trying to embrace his dueling cultures as a Klingon warrior and an orphan raised by humans who would find a home within Starfleet. Like father, like son, this dichotomy would later extend to his estranged son Alexander Rozhenko.
Shortly after learning about his son, Worf was thrusted into the life of a single parent when Alexander’s mother K’Ehleyr was murdered by Duras as she investigated the Khitomer Massacre and Worf’s discommendation. Still duty bound to Starfleet, Alexander would live with Worf’s adoptive parents, Sergey and Helena Rozhenko, on Earth. However, every time he visited Worf, he would challenge Worf’s rigid beliefs of duty and honor. However, he used the Holodeck to great affect when he forced Worf to take some much-needed time off on an Old West-program, designed by Barclay, or receiving lessons from Lwaxana Troi on breaking rules.
One of the more prolific recurring characters is Miles O'Brien, who would go on to be series regular on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The sensible, working class man gave us a glimpse of the crew that comprised the Federation flagship — of someone who's damn good at his job but didn't need the glory of being a senior officer on the Bridge. Not only that, he was able to have what many couldn't — a family. His trauma from the Federation-Cardassian War, nor his possession by an antagonistic alien entity, didn't prevent him from a life-well lived; in fact, we get to see wake up each day full of pride and determination to be the best dad and husband he can be.
To further cement the everyman’s significance, Star Trek: Lower Decks has deemed O’Brien as “the most important man in Starfleet history.” Head on over to an interview with series creator and showrunner Mike McMahan to learn about this excellent Easter Egg.
HONORABLE MENTION: James Moriarty
While villains got their due during the summer’s Villain Showdown, we’d be remiss not to mention Professor James Moriarty among our list of spectacular recurring characters on TNG.
The crew of the Enterprise highly enjoyed their time on the Holodeck, none more so than Captain Picard and Data. They would find a worthy foil in Moriarty. Beginning as a hologram character in one of Data's Sherlock Holmes program, Moriarty's character evolved into a sentient being following a power surge as La Forge commanded the computer to create an adversary with "the ability to defeat Data," as opposed to Sherlock Holmes. Aware that he's not real, but discovering the banality of the program limiting, Moriarty yearned for a life beyond the Holodeck and Data's program.
"You - or someone - asked your computer to program a nefarious fictional character from 19th Century London, and that is how I arrived. But I am no longer that creation. I am no longer that character; I have changed. I am alive. I am aware of my own consciousness," proclaimed the Sherlock Holmes' foe. Moriarty's two episodes, "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle," are definite must-watch. Be sure to check out Daniel Davis' interview with StarTrek.com on the development of Moriarty.