The Star Trek movies have brought us some of the franchise's best villains, but the greatest of them all is Gul Dukat who canonically only appears in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Some of the best Trek bad guys were either introduced, or made more famous than ever, in the film series and alternatively many of the best entries in the franchise earned their status largely because of the villains. Ricardo Montalban returning as the titular genetically enhanced warlord in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan comes to mind, as does Alice Krige as the darkly alluring Borg Queen in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact. In spite of all these amazing anatagonists, the absolute best of them is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat.
Understandably, a lot has already been said about how the serialized nature of DS9 distinguished it from all the previous Star Trek series, and that’s never more true than it is in the example of Gul Dukat. Trek had plenty of recurring bad guys in terms of different alien species, but before DS9, there were few individual characters who showed up more than one or two times.
Before Star Trek introduced Gul Dukat in the DS9 premiere, the only recurring antagonist character who showed up more than a handful of times was John de Lancie’s Q. Even Brent Spiner‘s Lore had only showed up twice by the time “Emissary” aired (though that would change five months later with the first half of the two-part TNG episode “Descent”).
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s serialized storytelling allows Gul Dukat to evolve more over the course of his story than any Trek villain before or since. The Dukat we meet in “Emissary” is nothing like the Cardassian who faces Sisko (Avery Brooks) at the end of “What You Leave Behind.”
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s premiere, Gul Dukat is essentially the villain who comes to define what we learn about Cardassians: he’s a highly intelligent, power hungry, status seeking, deeply insecure tyrant who prefers using subterfuge to get what he wants than direct confrontation. The recovery of his half-Bajoran daughter Tora Ziyal in Season 2’s “Indiscretion” — and Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) successfully convincing him to spare her life — is the first big catalyst for much of the change Dukat undergoes in the series.
Ziyal was played by 3 different actresses in the series — Cyia Batten, Tracy Middendorf, and Melanie Smith — as remembered by Memory Alpha.
We begin to see unexpected sides of Dukat after Ziyal enters his life. While his ambition often outweighs his caring for his daughter, he is nevertheless a loving father. Between Seasons 2 and 5 he is still more than willing to work against the wishes of Star Trek’s heroes, but Gul Dukat also sometimes proves an ally to Sikso and co. (if not always the most reliable one).
Once Dukat betrays the heroes by allying himself with the Dominion and using them to take over Cardassia, he goes from being an overconfident and insufferable warlord to — after Ziyal’s death — a delusional and unhinged villain desperate for Sisko’s approval, a cult leader and spiritual con man, and finally to a full blown fanatic and vessel to the malevolent Pah-wraiths.
You could make an argument that few Star Trek characters overall evolved as much as Gul Dukat, but it’s undeniable that no single Trek villain changed so drastically or more believably as Marc Alaimo’s bad guy does. He’s the greatest antagonist of the franchise and, as much as I enjoy both new and old Trek, I doubt the Cardassian’s status as the best bad guy will be changing any time soon.