Three years before he first appeared as disgraced former Starfleet officer Tom Paris in the premiere episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Robert Duncan McNeill made his debut in the franchise as soon-to-be disgraced Starfleet Cadet First Class Nick Locarno in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “The First Duty.” Locarno unintentionally causes the death of another cadet and he forces his classmates–including Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher–to lie for him. Not only does McNeill return to voice Locarno in this week’s episode of Paramount+’s Star Trek: Lower Decks, “The Inner Fight,” but he may be the season’s secret villain.
Robert Duncan McNeill returns for this week’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, but not as Tom Paris–as his one-off TNG character Nick Locarno
Like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks is episodic, but the current season has featured brief scenes with a recurring mystery ship showing up to seemingly destroy non-Federation vessels. A couple of weeks ago–in “A Few Badgeys More”–we learned the mystery ship has not been destroying the vessels but transporting them.
Toward the end of the episode, Mariner is transported to the mystery ship and finds Locarno on board, voiced by the Star Trek: Voyager alum Robert Duncan McNeill. The former cadet ends the episode inviting Mariner to “cause some trouble” with him.
This isn’t the first time the Star Trek: Voyager veteran has given his voice to Lower Decks. McNeill reprised his more well known part of Tom Paris in the Season 2 Lower Decks episode “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” when the character visits the USS Cerritos.
A Star Trek First?
This may be a first for the franchise, even though McNeill is far from the first actor in Trek who had a smaller, separate role in the franchise before landing a part in a regular Trek cast.
In fact, Star Trek: Voyager in particular had a few regular cast members who’d already played other characters in the franchise. Along with McNeill there was Ethan Phillips (who appeared in TNG) and Tim Russ (who appeared in TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and 1994’s Star Trek: Generations). DS9‘s Armin Shimerman had shown up in TNG as both a Ferengi and, later, as a, um. Well, as a box.
Even Diana Muldaur, aka Dr. Pulaski in Season 2 of TNG, enjoyed two separate one-offs in Star Trek: The Original Series before becoming everyone’s least favorite space doctor.
But this episode of Lower Decks may have given us the very first time one of the regular Trek cast members returned to one of those earlier, smaller roles.
Another Star Trek Reunion?
We’ll have to wait until next week to know for sure, but we could very well be seeing a return other than Star Trek: Voyager‘s McNeill. Also appearing in “The First Duty” was the Bajoran cadet Sito Jaxa. In this week’s Lower Decks episode, we find out Mariner and Sito were best friends in Starfleet Academy.
Actress Shannon Fill reprised the role of Sito in the TNG episode “Lower Decks,” from which the animated series took its name. Sito is an ensign by then, and the episode ends with the the Bajoran believed killed by Cardassians though her body is never recovered. Considering her prominent mention this week and how her TNG story ended, it wouldn’t be a surprise if next week we find out she’s still in the land of the living.