May 13 2009 12:21pm

Encounter at Paley: Notes From the Starship Captain-off

Last night at the Paley Center, anthologist John Joseph Adams, TV Guide writer Matt Mitovich, Trekkian dating guru Bones Rodriguez, comic book historian Alan Kistler, and a roomful of fans gathered to debate the Greatest Starship Captain of All Time. It was a lively and often hilarious discussion that yielded several interesting points, and some real head-scratchers. Below are some highlights (and lowlights) from the panel; for the real effect, watch Kirk mack on a space princess every few bullet points.

– Some people came to the panel without having seen the new Star Trek movie. This was bizarre. Panelists attempted to discuss reboot!Kirk and Spock without spoiling the movie for anyone. This was hilarious. “Well, but his reactions make sense given...everything that happens!”

– If you’re wondering: Spock’s new characterization is terrible, except if it’s awesome.

– Despite several well-reasoned arguments about how each captain was the best for his era, Kirk’s position as best-beloved captain was never seriously in dispute. The cogent point that Picard is the captain least likely to kill one is superseded by the argument that Kirk is the captain one most wants to be. Majority rules.

– This did not stop people from cracking up when Kirk delivers stirring speeches as cavemen-clad Yangs listen to Kirk promise them that the Declaration of Independence is an infallible model for a Utopia. Really moving speech; really excessive eyeliner.

– Even though Picard’s greatest-hits reel included a scene of him forcing small children to sing French nursery rhymes, hardly anyone laughed; the shine off his head was hypnotic and soothing.

– If you wanted to talk about Sisko or Archer as captains, best of luck to you. Those two got handwaved away faster than time-space continuum contradictions.

Battlestar Galactica’s Captain Adama got a lot of face time for a non-Trek captain, including a clip that compared Janeway’s decision to split Tuvix to Adama’s telling Roslin he wasn’t comfortable signing off on the Cylon virus without her direct approval. Conclusion: Adama was a victim of plot and was made to “pass the buck” by the writers. (Or he valued the input and authority of the President of the Colonies, whichever. Is it because Roslin’s a lady that soliciting her judgment is passing the buck? Because Janeway’s like, “Girl, please.”)

– That was the only time Janeway was mentioned; better than Sisko, but barely. I blame Tuvix, who managed to induce giggles during his impassioned speech about how he accepts death and all the rest of them would have to live with what they were allowing to happen. Really moving speech; really bad hair.

– Among the captains not discussed: Captain Jeffrey Sinclair (Babylon 5), Captain John Sheridan (Babylon 5), Mal Reynolds (Firefly), Roj Blake (Blake’s 7), or anyone from Farscape (the Paley Center names the captain John Crichton, though I’m pretty sure the captain of that little space dinghy was Aeryn Sun).

– Seriously, we get a clip of SG-1 but no Sisko? Bajor’s gonna be pissed.

The panel ended with trivia questions rather than a Q&A (a cookie to the first person who identifies Xon), so the debate is far from over. So sound off, readers: which TV starship captain is most overlooked?

Jason Ramboz
1. jramboz
(Babylon 5 spoiler warning!)

Jeffrey Sinclair not only commanded a city in space (the first one to actually survive, I might add), chaired an interplanetary diplomatic body, and was a genuine war hero, he also went back in time, won a war against a vastly superior enemy, stole a space station (thought time!), and founded a civilization which endured for a thousand years.

He wins.
4. alreadymadwhenvulcanwasdestroyed
Xon was the full blooded Vulcan slated to replace Spock as science officer for Phase II of the original series.
Where's my cookie.
5. GoblinRevolution
Greatest Captain? Kirk, obviously. Although I must admit that Sisko and Archer deserved to be in the running. Both of them have excellent qualities to recommend them (especially after Sisko shaved his head).
6. Snowkestrel
Hey!!! I LIKED Dylan Hunt! For the first season, anyway...

Captain Robau FOREVER!!!!
James Goetsch
7. Jedikalos
I see that this panel did not address the issue with the seriousness of purpose the question required. I hereby sentence them to watch the last half of the Battlestar Galactica finale ten times in a row. No mercy.
Josh Jasper
8. joshjasper
Adama and Sisko for "would beat the crap out of everyone else in a fist fight." But I can't figure out who'd beat the other. I lean towards Adama because he's meaner, but Avery Brooks played Hawk, and that bleeds through into Sisko.

Still, the fight scenes between Admiral Adama and Lee Adama were so beautifully done, and Trek never had any fight scenes that good. So Adama wins at ass kicking on screen.
James Goetsch
9. Jedikalos
Are you kidding Johsjasper? One double boot flying kick thingy from Kirk and it would all be over!
10. Matt Kressel
Everyone knows the best space pilot of all time is Holly from Red Dwarf. She piloted that ship for three million years.
John Joseph Adams
12. johnjosephadams
@7: Damn, why don't you waterboard us while you're at it? I think what you're suggesting is not a proportional response.
13. Jeff R.
Most overlooked? Tarrant, who was the actual captain on Blake's Seven for three times the number of shows than Blake.

That or Geoffrey Tolwyn.
David Siegel
14. bigscary
When they do pick a captain, they end up agreeing on D'Argo. When he gets his own ship (Lo'Lann), John is basically "in charge" on Moya (though I'm not sure he's Captain per se). Crais, of course, captains Talyn.
Kurt Lorey
15. Shimrod
My choice would be Commander Marin from the Explorator IV.

The guy was in charge of a (peaceful) mission to check out a SETI possibility, which might have meant a First Contact. The captain of a ship sent on just about the most important mission an Earth spaceman could get. And, he doesn't even get a first name or out of the first chapter alive.

That's underrated (and unappreciated).
16. W. Andrew Robinson
People, people... You're all forgetting the greatest of them all... Commander John Koenig, Moonbase Alpha! City in Space? Battlestars? Bah! Even the beloved Enterprise is only a spec compared to the Moon!
David Lev
17. davidlev
Janeway better than Sisko? Man commands a freaking space station and is basically Space Jesus. Plus, badass and intelligent

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