Star Trek Changed Voyager’s Best Character For A Dark Reason

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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The most recent season of Star Trek: Lower Decks brought back Nick Locarno, a character we last saw as a disgraced Starfleet Academy cadet in The Next Generation. He was played by Robert Duncan McNeill, who would later play the very similar character Tom Paris on Voyager. Many fans have wondered why Trek producers didn’t simply use the same character again for the Delta Quadrant spinoff, and the surprising reason is that they ultimately deemed Nick Locarno too irredeemable to become a main character.

A Popular, But Incorrect, Theory

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When it comes to Star Trek producers not bringing Nick Locarno to Voyager, one of the most prevalent theories is that producers wanted to avoid paying royalties to that character’s creator. Locarno was introduced in The Next Generation episode “The First Duty,” and he was originally going to be a main character on Voyager before he was changed to Tom Paris. According to the fan theory, Star Trek producers changed the character because they would otherwise have to pay continuous royalties to “The First Duty” writers Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar.

However, this Star Trek theory is unlikely to be true for a variety of reasons. For one thing, most contracts involving major franchises like Star Trek do not pay out royalties for reusing characters, and even the writers in question have expressed doubts about whether they would have gotten royalties for Nick Locarno getting re-used. 

Nick Locarno Did Eventually Return

Additionally, Moore was a staff writer and Shankar was an intern, so everything they created for Trek as employees is likely to be the property of Paramount. Finally, Lower Decks brought Locarno back while the franchise was working with a stricter budget, so we doubt the writers would do that if it meant paying extra royalties on top of production costs.

Locarno Was Judged Irredeemable

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What, then, is the real reason that Star Trek: Voyager features Tom Paris rather than Locarno, especially when they are so similar (both are rebellious Starfleet washouts)? According to producer Jeri Taylor, everyone felt that Locarno shouldn’t return “because he was somewhat darker and more damaged” to such an extent that he “couldn’t be redeemed, and we wanted to be on a journey of redemption.”

Was He Truly Irredeemable?

While some Star Trek fans cling to the royalties theory, Taylor has provided the official reason for why Locarno didn’t join the crew of Voyager. Not everyone buys the idea that Locarno was irredeemable, though: “The First Duty” writers Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar, for example, felt that the actions of Tom Paris were just as bad as Nick Locarno. However, Paris actor Robert Duncan McNeill essentially agrees with Taylor, and he argues that Locarno “was rotten” but that Paris is “a good guy” who “just made some mistakes.”

Locarno And Paris Are Not The Same

Interestingly, Star Trek: Lower Decks ended up destroying another major Voyager fan theory when they brought Nick Locarno back. For years, fans have speculated that Locarno and Paris were one and the same and that our favorite helmsman had simply attended Starfleet Academy under a fake name thanks to his famous admiral father. Now, we know the characters are quite separate, with Locarno being quite dead and Paris being very much alive.

If Paris has to sign a few more commemorative plates for fanboys like Ensign Boimler, however, he may wish that he could swap places with his evil counterpart.