Captain's Blog pt. 99: The Best TOS Villain

My friend Mike sent me a link to this "Who is the Best Star Trek Villain?" list. Ugh. Where to begin. I'm always skeptical of lists that don't provide their evaluative criteria (no annotations explaining your choices? You realize these are Trek fans who will be reading this, right?), but this one in particular seemed way off. When you've got Landru in the bottom ten, it's a sign you're on the wrong track, and it doesn't get much right-er from there.

I figured I could both provide some course correction and also honor Trek's 50th birthday by compiling my own, less-wrong list. And so:


Why 50 and not 79, the total number of TOS episodes produced? Because not every episode had an actual villain. Sometimes the plot conflict the Enterprise crew had to overcome was a virus or a political situation or the fallout from some previous away mission. ("The Naked Time," "Friday's Child," and "Piece of the Action", respectively, though those are certainly not the only examples. "A Private Little War" has a little of all three.) Or even a way of life, like "The Apple" or "The World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky."

So I dropped every episode in a spreadsheet, removed those that fit the above criteria and had a look at what was left. I assigned points based on performance, plot viability, iconic moments of Trek, etc. and extra mega points for any villain that provoked or complemented Shatnerian mayhem. (Because I'm not a madman.)

As we'll see almost immediately, I deviated from this course where I saw fit. File that under Not Believing in the No Win Scenario. Some remarks below are reproduced from my original TOS reviews because why-reinvent-the-wheel. Let us begin!


The only villain on this list to appear in two separate episodes, the second of which, "I, Mudd" I used to love in 7th grade. And if I squint hard enough, I can still see it from my junior high self's point of view and enjoy it. But what the hell were they thinking with this guy? As the aforementioned buddy-Mike wrote me yesterday, "the guy is basically an evil Andy Capp." 

"Mudd's Women" is one of the damn-strangiest episodes of TOS. I fully plan to give the full Captain's Blog treatment to the 29 episodes I left off my Desert Island Trek, so I'll be eviscerating both of them in due time. Something to look forward to.

Suffice it to say, welcome to the bottom of the barrel, population: Mudd.


Sometimes a terrible Trek episode features a great guest performance or a great episode features a mediocre one. "Plato's Stepchildren" a poor episode, and its villains (the Platonians, as led by Parmen (Roger Sterling) and Philema (Sam Malone's one-time agent) are uninteresting. And make little sense. Most of the episode is given to their torturing Spock and Kirk and Alexander by making them do humiliating things. That's all well and good, but the length of screentime such antics eat up is tedious. But screentime aside, the powers we see them (and later Kirk and Spock) utilize make no sense (how can they telekinetically make Spock recite verse?) and give rise to too many questions (why don't they heal themselves? Have they just been hanging out for centuries doing tricks and torturing poor Alexander?)

If you skip ahead to #18 in this countdown, you'll find these same sort of conceptual problems, yet that one's way up ahead and this one's second-to-last. What's the difference? In a word: Shatner. And while Shatner certainly gives it his all here, it's to little purpose. 


My buddy Jeff loves this episode, and his affection for it always makes me wish I could find my way into this one. But every time I watch it - and I've been giving it one-more-shot since Reagan was in office - I end up liking it less. "Court Martial" shoehorns Trek into a Perry Mason format that makes little sense for the 23rd century. And it's filled to the brim with over-the-top speeches and insincere drama.

But mainly, it's Finney. It's not just Richard Webb's performance, it's everything attributed to his character in the story. It's unlikely to say the least Finney could or would be able to do any of these things the plot hinges on his having done. I like how Spock knows something is wrong because he's able to beat the computer at chess, but that's about it. 

Not that I won't keep trying. There's Trek to be had in there, after all.


These two jagoffs... I'm actually surprised this episode isn't more popular these days; oversimplified so-on-the-nose-they-might-as-well-be-your-glasses race parables are so in these days. And hell, I suppose "LTBYLB" is more nuanced than something like Crash, but that's not saying too much. 

Bele and Lokai's powers - mentally wresting control of the ship - are problematic, as well. All in all, this is the type of leaky-roof story you get when you start with the symbolic conclusion you want it to reach without building it from the ground up. Measure twice, cut once.


To be honest, had Jeffrey Combs not brought Shran to life so memorably in Enterprise, I'd probably bump Thelev up more in this list simply for being the only memorable Andorian in all of Trek. And while it's probably unfair to let one actor's performance on a show several decades later retcon my appraisal of the very first Andorian the Trek audience ever got, well, here we are.

There's nothing wrong with either William O'Connell's performance or even Thelev as a part of "Journey to Babel"s story diagram. But the truth is he's just not very memorable for me. He got the only check in the "Stabbed the Captain" column, though. That's something.


What can you say? Dr. Sevrin. It is what it is. I do like the good doctor's speech about being allergic to the wonders of Federation technology. I can relate to this, even if with each passing minute year I grow more and more tone deaf to the anguish of hippies and yippies. Suck it up, ya dirt-eating Druids.

"The Way To Eden" just might be out-subtled by "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," by the way. Not a feather in its cap. (It would amuse me to update this episode and have all the Sevrin hippies be anti-vaxxers who think Big Federation is the reason essential oils aren't in Sick Bay.)


Another hey-what-do-you-want-me-to-say entry. Charlie's gotta be Charlie. Robert Walker does a decent enough job and the episode does have its moments, but not enough to pull either the character or the episode up from the dreck. Tonally off from start to finish, with mixed messages galore.

"It's like the ship keeps running afoul of the animator from 'Duck Amok.'" - Zach Handlen.


"We killed thousands and they still came..."

Oh boy. The way Morgan Woodward delivers that line is something else. But it's only a drop in the proverbial bucket against the swirling sandstorm of madness that surrounds it. And is not enough to lift Captain Tracey to, say, Garth (LORD Garth!) of Izar levels.

The biggest problem with Tracey is that the reasons he gives for the decisions he's made don't add up. Sure we could just chalk it up to space craziness, but I think it's another prime example of the tail wagging the dog re: starting with the symbolic conclusion and working backwards rather than putting the story together properly. Actually, who knows - I like the idea of a spacewrecked Captain who "goes upriver," as it were, but then there's everything else.

This Trek tradition of every other Captain/Admiral in Starfleet being a psycho-dick more or less starts here.


Poor Skip Homeier, doomed to Trek posterity for two of TOS' poorest villains. Melakon is the stronger of the two, traditional-villain-wise, but again, the problem here is not with the performances but with the characters. Gill's decision to suggest Nazi Germany as the example for the Ekosians to follow is staggeringly hard to swallow, to say the least.

Really that's the whole problem: the episode's kind of a hot Nazi mess. I'll save further comment until I blog it up more comprehensively, but here's where its villains shake out for me.


It's probably my least favorite episode of the whole series. Arnold Moss brings gravity to the role of Kodos, but the performance of his daughter and the general non-sequitur of the script have always grated on me. It just doesn't feel like a scenario that would likely exist given the other things we've seen about life in Trek-land. Moss himself, though, is decent. 

And as with every episode in the first half of season one, the sound mix is fascinating.


Yarnek's kind of lame. Trek had already gone to this "Alien tests Humanity to discern concepts of Good and Evil" well a few times, so some of the shine is off right from the get-go. The episode fleshes out virtually nothing about the character or his species.

He had a wicked cool voice effect, though, didn't he? The "Next Voyage" trailer on Klum's and my old Laser Disc of this ended with his telling the viewer "Your existence is terminated." I loved that. Still do.

Why I consider Yarnek appropro for this list but not the Melkosians nor the Metrons is a mystery.


Not a great episode and Melvin Belli gives a rather one-note performance as The Gorgon. Which is fine - he wasn't a professional actor after all. That said, the Gorgon is scary AF in this episode. If this was a list of Trek's creepiest villains - regardless of the episode's other failings - he'd probably be up in the Top 10. 

The episode is just too uneven to make proper use of the Gorgon's screen presence. Too bad. It feels like there's a great story in here somewhere that just never broke out.


Apparently, immortality makes you really, really boring. James Daly can barely stay awake as Flint. Compare his performance here to "A Stop at Willoughby."

Perhaps if the episode itself made more sense, then so would his performance. As it is, I don't buy this guy as an eccentric planetside loner, much less a genius or the future version of Methusaleh, Brahms, et al. He's probably too high in the countdown even at 39, but I can't blame either his character or the performance. Daly showed up to work, but it just feels like the cast and crew took the week off without telling anyone.


I know at least one reader who loathes Finnegan. It's easy to see why - the character is totally ridiculous. But I've always enjoyed the un-real aspect of the character. He has the feel of a bully in a dream, and there's a psychotherapy-breakthrough moment between him and Kirk that is very gratifying. 

When Kirk believes he's broken Finnegan's back, for some reason he grabs his foot - I guess to see if he can move his foot? Though he's clearly moving it? -  and says "Can you feel that?" First Aid is not Kirk's strong suit.

But, we know this.


I like this episode a lot more than I used to, but William Windom's angry-breakdown-performance just never lands with me. I actually prefer "In Harm's Way" (the unofficial Star Trek: New Voyages sequel to this episode) and Windom's performance in it to anything on display here. 

The machine itself is fine and all. I almost didn't include it, because is it really a villain? But it's achieved something of an iconic status among Trekkies (to me it always looked too much like a Bugle) so I threw it into the spreadsheet to see what the numbers crunched me. And here it is.


Another cheat. Are the Lights a villain? Not according to the criteria I'm trying to stick to. Nevertheless, if only for the awesomely creepy sounds the Lights make upon possessing the crew, I had to include them. Like the Gorgon, far creepier than the episode surrounding it deserves. 

Perhaps the real villain of this story is Love, and Scotty its eternal victim.


Oh come on! Sylvia and Korob are terrible. How can I put them ahead of any of the above? Answer:

Just fantastic. I love the sound design for this reveal, too. ("Jackson is dead.") There's no other episode like this one in TOS. Which might be a good thing, I guess, since it's not exactly a successful story. But for what it's worth, Antoinette Bower and Theo Marcuse appear to be having a good time, and they interact well with the Enterprise gang.


Not the greatest villain and from one of the series' worst episodes. Yet somehow Robert Brown pulls off one of the more memorable Trek villains. (Spreadsheets, like friends, don't lie.)

Brown is not helped by this being one of your more didn't-read-the-manual episodes of TOS. His character exists only to give very generic explanations / nonsensical rage. Brown does the job required of him, i.e. alternate between insane and not insane, and he does get to scream "KILL! KILL! KILL! KILL!" before a commercial break. That's got to count for something.

At the end of this episode, Kirk delivers one of his rhetorical poetic asides to Spock. "But what of Lazarus... what... of... Lazarus?" Spock doesn't answer, but the logical response might have been to reach over and hit the Captain as logically as possible upside the head.


James Gregory's Dr. Adams of the Tantalus Penal Colony might be one of the more unsung villains of Trek. Everything about the character is sinister, and only the resilience of the Captain's dynamic mind stops the doctor from continuing his horrible experiments and frees those unfortunates already bent to his will. And who doesn't like a little poetic justice re: the neural neutralizer emptying Adams' mind at episode's end? 

It's interesting to compare and contrast this episode with "Whom Gods Destroy."


I don't know why I like these guys more than, say, Yarmek. They fulfill the same function for the story as Yarmek does for "Savage Curtain." If anything, I should like Yarmek more because he's got that cool voice and is made of molten rock and all. 

And yet here we are. I think it's the eeriness of the Zians' set-up that appeals to me. Which is more a point for set design than for memorable villainy. Nevertheless, the undressed-theater-set-from-Hell vibe lends them an extra creepiness. That they're scientists who are actually pursuing a noble end also puts them ahead of Yarnek. 


Look, I'm not here to tell you Janice Lester (played by Sandra Smith) is a memorable villain. She (Sandra Smith) does the best job she can with a thankless role, and she actually channels Shatner pretty well considering she was likely not getting much cooperation from a disspirited cast and crew only a few days away from unemployment. (This being the last episode of TOS).

But you're out of your Vulcan mind if you don't consider Shatner's absolutely insane antics here to be a highlight of the entire damn series. I'm routinely shocked at how dismissive people are of this episode. Sure it's crap and sure it's sexist - these are the Captain Obvious remarks to make, yet it seems to be as far as most reviewers care to go with things. Did they not notice Shatner's insanity? This short preview is a decent greatest-hits of it. And of how many times and how many ways people say "mutiny.

One other thing: so much is made of the episode's sexism that the progressive, dynamic vengeance of Janice Lester is completely overlooked. She's a ridiculous character but a bit of a Bond villain. In some alternate universe, Harve Bennett chose "Turnabout Intruder" as the pertinent episode to revisit for Star Trek II


Ambassador Hodin (David Hurst, whose most memorable role for American TV was probably his recurring character Justin Collins on Dark Shadows) is not an especially exciting or malevolent villain. But he's a good example of the bureaucratic incommodiousness the series explored on more than one occasion. I can't call any of the various ambassadors or diplomats who trip Kirk and Spock up villains - even calling Ambassador Hodin a villain is a bit of a stretch, but he's closer than the guy from "Galileo Seven" or that popinjay Fox from "A Taste of Armageddon." 

Another feather in Hodin's cap - he and Spock communicate almost entirely in numbers for an absurd amount of screentime, yet he actually manages to imbue his recitation with appropriate levels of evasion and sarcasm.


"Wait! Wait! Hear me! We can't wager for trifles like quatloos."

They're just three brainlike sponges under a dome, prattling on about quatloos and maybe they're a rather generic and familiar aspect of many a sci-fi-story. Nonetheless, who doesn't love these guys?

Well, maybe love is too strong. But still, these guys are pretty iconic to the series, I'd say. The voice of
Provider #3 is the guy who did the mission tapes from Mission: Impossible - one for Trek Trivia Night. The others are Bart La Rue and Walker Edmiston, who racked up quite a lot of other voice credits, among them Yarmek and the Guardian (as in the Guardian of Forever from "City on the Edge of Forever") for La Rue and Ludwig Von Drake for Edmiston. 


Originally these guys were further down the trough, but I re-watched this last night and I quite like what both actors (William Smithers and Logan Ramsey, respectively) bring to the table, and their dynamic with Kirk. 

Compare and contrast to John Gill and Melakon from "Patterns of Force". Not only is this episode a better example of the same sort of idea (substituting Romans for Nazis) but Merik and Marcus are much better fits for their respective plot diagram than Gill and Melakon are. 


Yes, yes, yes. I've heard it all before. "Spock's Brain" is misunderstood. And once you understand it, at least according to what Ernst Blofeld would call the higher realm of my own thinking, you have to re-evaluate Kara's role in things. Marj Dusay brilliantly subverts the gender dynamics of classic sci-fi while rocking thigh-high go-go boots, uniting both worlds along the neo-feminist lines of Camille Paglia or Jean-Claude Forrest.

I exaggerate, of course. But regardless of what your take on the episode is, the lines Kara gets to deliver and the delicious weirdness of her switch from "Brain! Brain!" talk to the Teacher's High Priestess (right before falling for the ol' Scotty's-gonna-faint trick) voice are undeniably among the series' most memorable. (Perhaps "most notorious" is more accurate.)
And hell, she breached the bridge of the Federation's flagship and stole Spock's damn brain, so right there she's in the upper echelon of Trek villains.


Of all the villainous clouds of dikironium that smell like honey and have a distaste for copper-based blood and an intimate connection to the Captain's past, the cloud creature from "Obsession" is easily the most memorable. 

I never consider this episode for any of my best-of lists, and while it's not a favorite, I was taken with the creature more than previously on my last re-watch. They do a good job of selling the danger. 

Compare to the cloud-creature on Lost. Biggest difference? This one isn't among the dumbest letdowns in television history. 


"I am for you, Sulu..." (How has that never been sampled?)

Don't confuse the generally perceived level of crappiness of this episode with the effectiveness of Lee Meriweather's Losira, the ghost sentinel of an alien species doomed to oblivion centuries before. The mystery of who she is and what she's doing - and the very mortal danger she poses to the away mission crew - is teased out quite well.


"You cannot reach me... your manual overrides are extremely limited in life!" (Best smack talk ever.)

Jack the Ripper in space! How can you go wrong? Beyond the psycho-tricorder stuff, the entity is a bit like Pennywise from Stephen King's It, lying low for long intervals, then awakens to feed in a mass killing spree. Another parallel: both It and Rejik feeds not just on on death but the terror that accompanies it.

Unless I'm misunderstanding, this Space It waits until Scotty is alone with a woman and then shoves him aside and kills her? Or possesses Scott and does the same? Yet also resides in Mr. Hengist? If it possesses the ability to flip between hosts as necessary, why doesn't it just leap into Kirk or Spock?

It doesn't matter, I know, I know. I know forever. But if it can even inhabit the computers... I mean, come on. 

Still: Jack the Ripper in space!


"But first, the Tranya..."

Another of Trek's most memorable villains, thanks to constant visual re-enforcement in the end credits. Which even the most casual Trek viewer has seen dozens of times, I bet.

Is this one of the best reveals of the series? I can remember the Saturday morning I first watched this when I was 8 or 9 clear as a bell. Not sure why - it wasn't a particularly memorable day or it's not my favorite episode or anything, but memory plays by its own rules, and keeps them to itself. 

Clint Howard's finest hour. This or The Waterboy.


The series was still finding its way in the early episodes. But Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman deliver two strong performances. Neither are my favorite characters, but this feels about right as far as an objective appraisal of both their work here and the effectiveness / impact of their villainy. Although never referenced again, we've got to assume losing Mitchell to the space-god-madness is an experience that will daily motivate Captain Kirk for the rest of his life. 

I guess they're not using Gary Mitchell for the Kelvin (aka NuTrek aka Lens Flare) timeline? I haven't seen Beyond yet - if he's in there, I apologize.


Deela is actually one of my favorite female guest stars on TOS. She's always likable, even when detailing how, regrettably, everyone must die. She's sexually forthright, not in a Sex and the City way (i.e. "get! in! my! vagina!") but just in a matter-of-fact wants-what-she-wants way. And well, you can't beat that outfit. This looks like it could be worn to an Awards Show or be a Superhero costume - versatility!

Deela's and Kirk's relationship is interesting. Her world-weary resignation mixed with catlike toying is fun. They're both manipulating each other, yet a genuine affection develops between them. It lends unexpected poignancy to the end, when Kirk bids her image farewell on the viewscreen.


Michael Forest is one of the all-time great Trek villains. His Apollo is appropriately bombastic, arrogant, commanding, and, ultimately, sympathetic. To judge him too harshly - as Kirk realizes - is to judge ourselves. 

But: defy him we must.

Apollo's infatuation with Lt. Palamas (Leslie Parrish) and her surrendering to his charms is the other arc of the episode. Shades of Horace - and yes, I'm the kind of guy who says stuff like Shades of Horace... - "Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium." As originally written, Palamas discovers she is pregnant with Apollo's child at episode's end. (Something expanded upon in Peter David's Star Trek: New Frontier.) I'm not sure why that was changed - it's an excellent ending - but a likely explanation is the network censors. No sex with the gods, please; this is NBC.


It's possible I'm overrating Anan-7's true villainy; at the end of the day, he's just another government official. But as we've seen elsewhere in the series (and everyday in the real world) even government flunkies and bureaucrats can be formidable obstacles. He's no match for Kirk, of course, but who is? I like Anan-7's conviction of his people's way of life. It would have been much easier (but far less interesting) to play it broadly.

STAR TREK CONFESSIONS: I spent a significant portion of my childhood thinking this guy (David Opatoshu) was a young Gene Hackman.


The episode might be silly, but Steve Ihnat (who died of a freak heart attack at age 37 at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972)'s line delivery is impeccable. He really goes for the jugular in a lot of scenes. Whether screaming "REMOOOOOOOOVE THIS ANIMAL-L-L!" at Spock or exasperatedly telling Kirk that he's blind, "truly BLIND!" or alternating between amusement and fury at Marta, he sells the crazy well. And it's contrasted nicely by the end, where he's dazed and somewhat bashful.

Garth's "cellular manipulation technique" allows him to shape-shift. I'm not sure how one learns how to shape-shift through study (as it's mentioned here.) But he's Garth "of Izar," so maybe his alien chemistry is more adaptable. (Izar was later decided to be a human colony, which obliterates this reasoning, but contemporaneously, it works.) It's worth asking, though, how he (or Odo on DS9 or many other examples) can turn organic matter into working machines like phasers, etc. During one of his transformations, a phaser materializes at his side that wasn't there. Was it part of the clothes? If (as we've seen on Trek elsewhere) shape-shifters can also convert inorganic matter, can they transform into warp cores? Where exactly does it end?I'm not saying it's a dealbreaker. Just one of those Trek things that when you really start thinking about raises a lot of interesting questions.

Well, "interesting." YMMV.


William Campbell is great as Trelane. An energetic performance that truly captures both the childlike spirit and the martial-Old-Europe-fop that the part calls for.

It's been suggested that Trelane is actually a Q. Personally, I prefer to think he's a separate entity, but it's certainly plausible enough. Obviously, no one had Q in mind when this originally aired, but if it was retconned that way, I don't think anyone could reasonably cry foul. There is a pretty good Marvel comic that has Q and Trelane playing chess and pitting Kirk and Picard against one another for their own amusement. 


The Kelvans are some of my favorite aliens in Trek: immense beings with a hundred tentacles (who might have trouble with the turbolift) succombing to human passions and frailty through the deft manipulation of Captain Kirk and the gang. All the Kelvans are individualized nicely, but Rojan (Warren Stevens) is my favorite. I must quote his "We conquer. We rule!" at least once a year, regardless of whether the context calls for it or not. (Also Kirk's "I'm stimulating him" as answer to Spock's unspoken question re: why he's baiting Rojan as hard as he is near the end.)

I realize Rojan wouldn't listen until he learned how uncontrollable human sensations could be, but it's kind of odd that he suddenly sees the light at episode's end. Kirk made the same offer of Federation assistance/ a planet of their own several times prior to this.


Okay, I know this is supposed to be "the Horta," and that's perfectly valid. But the point of the episode is that villainy is sometimes only a matter of perspective, right? And that the Horta – reacting to the genocide (unplanned but no less urgently real) of her race – is no villain but among the most sympathetic creatures in all of TOS. So, we could name the Horta as the villain – and if we did, I’d put her right up in the top 5 for sure – but I’m going to come at things from a different direction and nominate the miners of Janus VI. Who are no less sympathetic, of course, and once they discover what their actions have wrought they make immediate amends. It doesn’t alter the the we-have-met-the-enemy-and-they-are-us theme whatsoever – in fact, I’d say it re-enforces it all the more.

I realize the message we're supposed to take from the end of the episode is that mutual cooperation between alien cultures is beneficial for all, but I couldn't help but wonder what exactly the Horta will get out of the arrangement. The right to exist on its own planet? In exchange for dramatically increasing the mining operations and personally enriching the miners? Not to mention taking on a sizable work load for them? I can only hope some of that wealth is re-invested in the Horta's way of life. (Whatever that is. Good thing personal computers seem to have moved beyond silicon in the 23rd century.)


The flying pancakes? Totally iconic. There's a lot in this episode that doesn't make sense, but a) would you change anything? and b) I'm of the opinion that flying pancake monsters make their own damn sense. 


Has anyone ever cut all the Talosian scenes to the theme song from "The Golden Girls?" (As intercut with other appropriate scenes from "The Menagerie," of course.) If not, what a missed opportunity. You youngsters who do such things, get on this!

The Talosians are great. I love the idea of a taboo planet of old-lady telepaths. One nitpick: The Talosians' sense of telepathy is advanced enough where they shouldn't need an owner's manual to "put Vina back together:" just pluck a picture of herself as a pretty young thing from her memory and voila. Their failure wasn't about their abilities as illusionists/ telepaths, of course, but as reconstructive surgeons, or beings-who-operate-reconstructive-machines. But the line is "Everything works, but they had never seen a human." This seems to imply her patchwork appearance is due to not knowing what a human looks like. Considering the "Spock's Brain"-like complexity required for the "everything works" statement to make sense - ah, screw it. It's a great twist, serves the metaphor well, and daylight's wastin'.

As for Pike, good lord, what branch of Starfleet Medical worked on him?


Now wait a minute - that's just Nimoy, isn't it? Does that count? Of course it counts, you silly such-and-such. 

It's interesting to compare this episode to both "Turnabout Intruder" and to "By Any Other Name." And while we're at it, Henock (and the other survivors of his unnamed race) to Janice Lester and the Kelvans. Despite Sargon and the gang's considerable powers and evolution, they are recognizably motivated by the same things Kirk and the gang are: science, compassion, intelligence, love, and - as we see with Henoch - not above a little murder, abuse of power, and deception to achieve those ends.

A very complex and pure sci-fi-y episode, and Nimoy's turn as the villainous Henock is a huge part of why it works as well as it does.


I couldn't decide between my two favorite Klingons (who aren't named Worf) so here we have a tie. Both episodes have their problems and their delights, but any Trekkie will agree (one would hope) that John Colicos' Kor and Michael Ansara' Kang are the definitive Klingons of TOS

Colicos plays his more like a Russian general while Ansara plays his more like an Arab warrior. Or at least the Hollywood conception of either. Interesting choices. 

One could reasonably argue that the true villains of either episode are the Organians and the shimmering blob of alien-hate-hunger that invades the Enterprise in "Dove." I hear you - but I'll give the nod here to the Klingons.


"You can't! Protect someone who's! trying! to! destroy! you!"
- one of Kirk's many wise sayings.

Just a perfect episode. And a big part of it is Ted Cassidy's performance as Ruk and Dr. Korby's compellingly sleazy performance. Both die sympathetically, and in Dr. Korby's case, somewhat suggestively. 

Roddenberry's gotta' Roddenberry, amirite?

I probably should include both Andrea and Dr. Brown among the villains, too. Dr. Brown doesn't do a whole lot, but Andrea is a vital antagonist. 


"No-mad! Undercover of the veil of your disguise! 
The men who fear you are the ones that you despise!
 No-mad! No man's ever understood your gen-i-ii-us...! 
No-o-mad! You're the spirit that men fear in u-u-us!"   

How is it possible that the only illegitimate son of Kirk's to come back screaming for vengeance is this mechanical beastie? That's the progeny of the wrong Kirk, to boot. You'd figure this would be more of a regular occurrence for our Captain. 

At episode's end, Kirk risks a premature explosion by taunting Nomad one last time while he's on the transporter pad. On one hand, it's totally hilarious that he stops things to get in one last dig at Nomad before beaming him into "deep space." But on the other, it makes sense - got to make sure he's irreversibly on the path to self-sterilization. (Through embarrassment.) Kirk's laughing at the superior intellect, again. DAMN YOU!


Joanne Linville as the unnamed Romulan Commander is probably the most bad-ass female guest star of TOS. Well, bad-ass to me, anyway. The episode's writer, DC Fontana, thinks she was watered down from her original script. I'm sure she was, and Fontana has all my sympathies, but Linville exudes a coolness and sophistication that has always stayed with me. Actually, she reminds me more than a little of Janeway, which makes me wonder if the Voyager writers had this episode in mind when creating her. If so, it's never been mentioned, to my knowledge. 

Maybe it's just a similarity of their command position and the way they speak. Barbara Parkins had the same sort of speaking style, so maybe it's just a particular theatrical diction of some kind. Or maybe it's just me. 


"For the good of the Body, obliteration is necessary. It... is a great sorrow."

It absolutely baffles me that someone (the author of that Uproxx list that kicked this post off) would put Landru/The Body in the lowest tier of Trek villains. I'm used to "Return of the Archons" being overlooked as TOS' best episode, but if someone's radar is malfunctioning enough to place it (or Landru) among its worst, there should be some kind of Citizen's Arrest for that.

"Archons" is a pitch-perfect representation of certain aspects of Trek: thinly-veiled social critique (in this case, religious conformity, the danger of programmed morality, America coming out of the 1950s stuff) and well-written sci-fi adventure with compelling characters. Landru and his zombie-like minions dressed in Americana clothes, as watched over by robotic-voiced "stone Age characters in robes", is the ultimate high priest of we-know-better-than-you elitist conformity, masquerading as enlightenment. Jon Lormer affects just the right tone in every line he delivers.


Joan Collins comes close, arguably, but no Trek guest star casts a longer shadow than Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh. Probably would've worked out that way even had The Wrath of Khan never been made.

As mentioned elsewhere, Khan's middle name is a shout-out to one of Gene Roddenberry's old Pan Am buddies, who returned to China during the events of the Cultural Revolution and was never heard from again.Montalban is fantastic. Really, 'nuff said, but he somehow conveys both a man of the past and future (as the 90s were, obviously, to the 60s) seamlessly. His sense of physical and intellectual superiority is in every glance and line. (Uncomfortably, at times.)   

George Lucas said that because of his friendship with Francis Ford Coppola, he knows what the great men of history must have been like in person, their deadly charisma, personal magnetism, grandiose ambition, paranoia, etc. The same can be said of Khan and "Space Seed."


The Romulans are rarely used effectively outside of TOS, and their introduction here is arguably their finest portrayal. (They come across pretty good in TNG, I guess, but I vastly prefer their outfits and ship design in TOS.)

"He's a sorcerer, this one!"

Mark Lenard pretty much showed all future actors what a Romulan is like. (Someone should have told John Logan.) His performance is pretty much flawless. I ranked this one way too low in my original runthrough; it's just such a masterpiece. 

As is:


Another masterpiece of an episode, another of Trek's most iconic creations. The idea of a Lizard Starfleet out there with warp ships and what not remains untapped in the franchise. (Ditto for the Warp Speed Dinosaurs of Voyager.)

Eugene Myers summarizes the theme pretty well: "Though Kirk wins the battle because of his intelligence, true victory comes from his display of mercy and compassion for his violent opponent. We’re meant to learn a lesson when Kirk overcomes his assumptions about the Gorn, which were based on his appearance and misinterpreted actions, and chooses a peaceful way of settling their dispute."

I hold out hope that someday this might still, eventually, be said about homo sapiens sapiens. 


Sometimes I'll see Bearded Spock on Best Trek Villain list, and of course he should be there. But what about everyone else? Hell, for Evil Kirk's antics alone in the minute of screentime he gets ("Power, Spock? I can get that for youuuuu...!") he cracks the top ten. Put 'em all together and where else could they end up? The power of this episode rests in the contrast between the crew we know and their evil doppelgangers. Everyone does top notch work.

Of course, it is Bearded Spock's episode. He's so much more than just Spock-with-a-goutee; as he did with Henock, Nimoy brings an almost entirely new character to life, seamlessly. 

And finally...


The Uproxx list that started me down this path clocks in Evil Kirk at spot #23. I can understand if Evil Kirk isn't you number one choice, but not even in the top twenty? Great googley-moogley.

Shatner gets to play three characters in this episode - Kirk's Id, Ego, and Superego. Maybe it's not much of a stretch for him, and maybe he plays all three at the same time just in his routine exploration of the character. The case could be made.

Whatever the case, if you're looking for Trek's most iconic villain, of course it's going to be the Crazy Id of its most iconic Starfleet Captain. 

Thanks for reading! Feel free to tell me what I got wrong in the comments. 

(insert beam-out noise)


  1. Fun list! I'm off to watch "The Enemy Within" now....

  2. If you did the same list for TNG, where would Gene Roddenberry rank?

  3. A few comments:

    #50 -- Mudd wouldn't be my personal cellar-dwellar, but he'd be very close. "Population: Mudd" is awesome. Remember when there were rumors of Jack Black playing Mudd in one of the Kelvinverse movies? Kill me before that happens, please.

    #49 -- Aw, I kinda dig "Plato's Stepchildren," although I'm not sure why. I never again need to hear about that weak-ass kiss (which looks fake as all get-out) being THE FIRST INTERRACIAL KISS ON TELEVISION, though, so I'm okay with it.

    #48 -- I like "Court Martial," but Finney is indeed weak sauce.

    #47 -- You make a good point about the SJW-ishness of "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Counterpoint: you've got to figure that a goodish number of kids in the late '60s saw this and had their minds expanded significantly by the on-the-nose nature of it. I don't like the episode, but I can't find much fault with the intent behind it, especially as a product of its time.

    #45 -- I'm a bit of an apologist for "The Way to Eden." I find most of the hippies to be fairly likeable, and all things considered, I think it's a more two-sided look at that phenomenon than one might have expected. Still: not great.

    #44 -- One thing I like about Trek is that there are a lot of times where you can have a conversation about whether the villain is actually a villain. This is one of them. Not one of my favorites, but I probably like it more than you do. Did anybody ever write a follow-up novel about him? I don't think they did, and that's rather surprising.

    #41 -- I like "The Conscience of the King," but feel bad about it. I think I probably just like the cinematography and most of the acting. Kodos is a good idea, but it's a bigger idea than you could fit into a single episode of anything; you'd need a long arc to really pull that off.

    1. 45 - Oh, me too most definitely. It and "Spock's Brain" I'm always sticking up for more than most.

      41 - I still feel like one of these days I'm going to re-watch this one and it'll click with me. Still trying 30+ years later from when I first saw it, but I still feel motivated to get there.

    2. It's nice to have a few episodes that you can defend against the hordes. It keeps you true to yourself. I think that the urge to do that is kind of hardwired into Star Trek fandom; that urge to fight for Trek against the vast, unwashed masses who didn't get it is almost certainly part of what kept it vital during those in-between years of the seventies.

      Me, I tend to gravitate toward defending the first couple of seasons of TNG, which I don't think are anywhere near as bad as most people say. I'm even a big Pulaski fan -- kinda wish Crusher had never come back.

      But, then, I tend to enjoy Trek when it's at its most Roddenberrian; taking Gene out of Trek doesn't always work for me.

      I just started reading "These Are the Voyages" and am looking forward to wading through all three volumes.

  4. #40 -- There's something more personal about Yarnek than there is with, say, the Metrons. Plus, he looks cool (in a really lame way).

    #39 -- There you go: the Gorgon, my personal cellar-dweller. This fucko is the worst, and is probably the worst villain in all of "Star Trek" for my money.

    #38 -- "Requiem for Methuselah" is an episode I loved as a child but have really lost my taste for as an adult. Back then I bought into the love story; today, it seems flimsy as hell. Adult me is right.

    #37 -- Finnegan is terrible, but on purpose, which makes him kind of great. "Shore Leave" is a whole pile of WTF, but that ain't all bad.

    #36 -- Oh, man. I'm a MUCH bigger fan of "The Doomsday Machine" than you are. I'm with you on Windom's performance, though. And while I prefer the original, I do dig "In Harm's Way."

    #33 -- I agree that the performance is not the problem with "The Alternative Factor." Still, boy do I hate that episode. For that reason, I'd have Lazarus in my bottom five.

    #32 -- "Dagger of the Mind" might actually be one of the most unjustly-unsung episodes of original Trek. It's pretty great, and Adams is indeed a solid villain.

    #31 -- A lot of Trekkies shit all over "The Empath," but I kind of like it. The baddies aren't iconic in any way, but they ge tthe job done.

  5. #30 -- "Turnabout Intruder" is a hell of a thing. I don't know what more to say about it than that. Wait, yes I do! I'd love to see that alternate-universe "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Lester" flick. Oh, also this: the new episode of Star Trek Continues takes on SJW-type feminism head-on. It tries very hard to come at it from both sides simultaneously, and it's intriguing stuff. How successful you feel they are is entirely in the eye of the beholder, but I give everyone involved major points for making something that feels like genuine sixties-era Trek (for good and bad).

    #28 -- One thing the Providers have going for them is that they feel genuinely threatening. They feel like they'll stoop to any level to get what they want; in that sense, they feel more dangerous to me than a lot of the omnipotent villains.

    #26 -- I can't think of anyone who looks as good in those go-go boots as Kara does in "Spock's Brain" as a villain. I've tried; I just can't. In that scenario, I just look at her and assume everyone else is wrong.

    #24 -- "That Which Survives" isn't a great episode, but it's okay. Losira inspires some real dread in me; when she knows up, you KNOW somebody's shit is about to get wrecked. Plus, bonus points for making Lee Meriweather saying "I am for you" be a creepy thing. That's an achievement.

    #23 -- "Wolf in the Fold" is one of my least-favorites among the well-respected episodes. So middle of the pack overall, but I'm not a fan. But it has its moments, most of them creepiness involving Rejik.

    #22 -- I can't think of Balok as a villain. I know he's viewed as a villain for most of the episode, so I get why he'd fit well onto this list; but still, I can't do it. "The Corbomite Maneuver" would probably make my top-five-episodes list.

    #21 -- Nope, no Gary Mitchell in the Kelvinverse. Makes sense, but still, it's a missed opportunity. I like those movies, but they're a missed opportunity in general, really. Mitchell is indeed a great villain here; I think that I'd have him even higher up than you have him. Although, again, does the label "villain" really apply? It's fascinating how often you can ask that question in Trek.

    1. 26 - Those boots are amazing. There's one screencap in my original review of the episode that showcases the boots of all the Eye-morg as they file out of the conference room that always seems like it should be have Nancy Sinatra playing over it.

    2. I mean . . . that's GOT to exist in some fan-mashup on YouTube, right? I'm not going to check, lest I be disappointed.

  6. #19 -- Apollo is one of my absolute favorites. His position is actually enhanced, rather than hindered (which it could well have been), by the unofficial sequel they did as the first episode of Star Trek Continues. John Byrne recently did his own sequel in an issue of "Star Trek: New Visions." It's pretty good; very focused on that alleged baby of Palamas's.

    #18 -- I agree with everything you say there. "A Taste of Armageddon" is one of my favorite episodes, though, so I'm predisposed.

    #17 -- Wait, are you telling me that guy was in his thirties when he made that episode?!? He looks twenty years older than that! Lord Garth is a wee bit over the top for my tastes, but he is PRIME remake material. If the guys in charge of the Kelvinverse had had any sense, that's who Cumberbatch would have actually been in "Into Darkness."

    #16 -- I love Trelane, and I think it's totally logical to assign him honorary-Q status. But this is one of my big beefs with Trek fandom: so many Trekkies are always trying to make shrink the universe when they could just as easily expand it. Those some fans fall all over themsevles praising the series for its imagination and its progressiveness, and yet they so frequently fail to exhibit those tendencies in their fandom. I find it very strange.

    #15 -- Oh, man, I love "By Any Other Name." And not just for Barbara Bouchet. Rojan really is great; again, that's prime remake material.

    #14 -- I give this two thumbs up. More if I can use other peoples' thumbs.

    #12 -- The Talosians are really quite humanlike to not know how a human being should be put together. I can give that a pass; it's a peril of filmed sci-fi, by which I mean that if I can make myself mentally squint and imagine that the Talosians are actually quite alien in appearance -- an effect that could not be achieved due to the constraints of the production -- then it all begins to work much better. I'm willing to do that.

    1. 19- aw crap, can't believe I forgot to mention that first episode of "Star Trek - Continues!" Oops.

      16 - I agree, and especially more and more lately. Well-put, sir.

  7. #10 -- Of the two, I'd go with Kang, although Kor appears in the better episode. Too bad they couldn't use "Kodos" as a Klingon name. And hey, where's Koloth from "The Trouble With Tribbles"?!?

    #9 -- "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" is dynamite, for sure. Roger Korby is indeed one of the best.

    #7 -- The comparison to Janeway is fascinating; they have similar voices, so that's part of it, but they do seem to in general come from the same school of femininity. I apply for a job at that school on occasion; usually don't get hired, but hey, them's the breaks. It's a shame this Commander never came back to the series in any way; she's great.

    #6 -- I applaud your restraint at not placing Landru higher. I think it could have been top-five handily, though.

    #5 -- Impossible for Khan not to be in the top five, I guess. It would be interesting to see where he'd rank if "The Wrath of Khan" had never been made. Still fairly high, I'd imagine; it's a great episode even without the sequel.

    #4 -- I guess he's got to be listed as a villain, but I -- again (sorry about the broke-recordness) -- can't see him as a villain. There is a reason why this is a beloved episode, though, and Mark Lenard is about 75% of it.

    #3 -- Know that I am mentally making Gorn noises right now. Okay, I'm not; I'm making them out loud.

    #2 -- Specifically, Evil Sulu, who is just a sonofabitch.

    #1 -- I tried to figure out what this was before I scrolled down to see it, and for the LIFE of me, I could not do it. But when I saw it, I said, oh, of course that's what it is! And frankly, I can't argue with it. Trek's biggest evil comes from within its most heroic character. Fascinating!

    1. 1- I was both surprised/ not surprised to see that result when I was tallying up my columns. It's funny - both Shatner and Nimoy both appear multiple times on this list. As it should be. Half of the reason the franchise exists is because of those two guys. This is not to take anything away from anyone else, just what the hell: what a crazy and memorable and fortuitous pairing.

    2. One of the all-time best.

      It makes you wish you could take a God's-eye view of the universe and find those weird nexuses in time where a show was primed and ready to become a cultural phenomenon, but didn't because one element failed to fall exactly into place. They cast one actress as opposed to another, for example, or used one director instead of the one that would have taken a good thing and given it that kiss of inspiration. Conversely, there's some universe where it was Martin Landau who played Spock instead of Nimoy, and the show ran one season and is mostly an obscurity in 2016.

      More work for the Ur-Kindle!

    3. Oh I forgot to mention - I didn't include Koloth from "Trouble with Tribbles" because that episode's kind of funny: he's not really the villain, nor is Cyrano Jones (who belongs with Harry Mudd on the USS Bad Idea, warping out for the Gamme Quadrant and beyond, hopefully silent running), nor are the Tribbles. But the one secret Klingon guy, Darvin, is the villain of the plot, in that he's sabotaging the station/ undercover spy, etc. Yet, I forgot about him. Originally I had him down to include but must have forgotten. Where would he end up? Somewhere around #30 or so, I guess.

      Additionally, there's the Klingon in "A Private Little War" and the Klingon on "Friday's Child." But are they villains? It's a tough call. I tried to omit those episodes that were mainly about political intrigue and proxy wars/ client states, etc. Perhaps I was wrong to do so.

      I like the idea of a Martin Landau/Jeffrey Hunter Trekverse. I'd love to peek into that reality.

    4. I've occasionally wondered if Cyrano Jones wasn't intended to actually be Harry Mudd at some point. Because really, why not?

      Good points all, though; except for Darvin, there really isn't a villain in that one. I believe I just accidentally revealed myself to be racist against Klingons by asking why-no-Koloth. But hey, "The Undiscovered Country" tells me that even Kirk is a racist, so I guess I'm alright.

    5. Me too re: Cyrano Jones. It would make sense, but I've never heard David Gerrold or anyone else say so. Googling it comes up with some uncorroborated anecdotal stuff about how Roger Carmel had a huge drug problem and was unavailable for "Tribbles," but who knows. Let me know if it comes up in These Are The Voyages, eh? I imagine it could be officially confirmed or denied in there.

  8. My low ranking for Thelev from "Journey to Babel" has been bothering me ever since I posted this. He should be higher, if only from a spreadsheet pov. Performance, effectiveness, credibility of villainy (ie stabbing the Captain), plot points, etc.

    I felt placing a relatively unheralded TOS villain as high as his spreadsheet totals earned him (up near Rojan) was too much, but I knocked him down too much. He's a minor enough TOS villain, despite his importance to the plot and the intimate wound he dealt the Captain, but he should be ahead in the countdown several places.

    1. These things are never perfect. But for what it's worth, I think I'd agree that he ought to move up a bit.

      I recently began prep work on my best-Bond-girls post, and boy howdy is that one going to be a nightmare. I hadn't intended to set ground rules in the form of scoring, but I may end up doing it out of sheer necessity.

      So I feel your pain for sure!

  9. Fun list, bro. Fits your criteria, to be sure.

    Your references to Kang/Kor and above that to shapeshifers (and mentioning Odo [although I don't think he [or any of the other changelings] ever took on anything other than the appearance of machines in any of the DS9 episodes) has me thinking more about the long overdue and "c'mon, Brad, you're never going to finish them!" DS9 blogs. I've started writing on 'em again, Bryan. There's possibly hope that I could finish them this year! *sheepish look*

    And your amusement with the pancake monsters and the gorn and all that makes me think you should download the Star Trek Online MMO (it's free to play and it's a model that actually DOES let you play for free and experience a lot of content). Their Agents of Yesterday expansion is such a nostalgia-driven homage to those episodes (and the Tholian Web and Journey to Babel) that I think you'd get a kick out of playing them even if you didn't do anything further with the game.

    And the Tholians! How are they not on the list when Harry Mudd is??? I mean, come on! :-)


  10. I should have mentioned the Tholians! I can argue that they're not really villains in that episode, but I could just as easily argue that they very much meet the criteria. A serious oversight - thank you for bringing it to my attention. They'd have to be at spot #20 or so, for sure.

    I need to check out that Star Trek Online, definitely. Maybe I'll make that my fall and winter project.

    The DS9 blogs will always be welcome whenever they materialize!