Who else could it possibly be? Sure, Data’s (Brent Spiner) struggles to understand and emulate humanity brought about some of the best moments of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Michael Dorn’s Worf was Trek‘s first attempt to give a sympathetic face to one of Starfleet’s most frequent antagonists. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) faced a challenge no one else in the franchise we’d met by that point had to deal with — raising a child on a starship. But at the end of the day, no one else was quite as engage-ing (subtle) as the man who commanded the Enterprises D and E between TNG‘s premiere in 1987 and the final pre-Kelvin Timeline film, 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis. The fans agree: the best TNG character is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart.
Slash Film polled its readers recently for their choice of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation character. Stewart’s Picard won, and it wasn’t even close. The man who made “Make it so” a catchphrase won out as the favorite over seven other contenders with a downright abusively decisive majority of 32.3%. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone. With Picard, Trek gave its fans an Enterprise captain just as adventurous as his predecessor Captain Kirk (William Shatner), but with more dimension and humanity.
When it comes to some of the best Picard-focused episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps, you could switch out Picard with Kirk. The earlier captain would no doubt have a similar reaction to the McCarthy-esque witch hunt unfolding on his ship as Picard did in “The Drumhead.” Taking out space thieves like Picard does in “Starship Mine” would be a relaxing weekend to Kirk. Like Picard, Kirk would’ve been able to figure the titular alien’s method of communication in “Darmok.”
But between his 1966 introduction in Star Trek: The Original Series and his soul-crushingly disappointing ending in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, Kirk never once showed the kind of vulnerability Picard displays in the powerful Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Family.” Would Kirk have withstood the torture Picard endures in “Chain of Command?” Absolutely. But could he have admitted, like Picard does in the episode’s final scene, that he was seconds away from capitulating? Never. Could Kirk have ever allowed himself to give up the fight so he could experience a life within minutes, as Picard does in arguably the most emotionally powerful episode in the franchise, “The Inner Light?” Probably not.
Commander Data misses the second place spot by just about half a percent of the vote. Picard’s loyal Number One, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) gets instead the Number Two spot with 15.85% of the vote, while Enterprise’s resident Tin Man, Data, secures third place with 15.35%. Worf comes in fourth, though for some reason Slash Film neglects to include the percentage. Dr. Crusher comes in fifth, while Geordi (LeVar Burton) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) tie for sixth with 5.01%. Coming in dead last is Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher with a measly 4.68% of the vote. May the “shut up, Wesley” jokes commence.