While Enterprise was the fifth, and final, Star Trek television series, it was actually the first in the timeline as it takes place towards the beginning of the United Federation of Planets (UFP).
Capt. Archer seemed very confused about what it meant to be a Captain through out the run of his series. He went from a wide-eyed explorer who loved the stars to a commanding officer who was willing to make morally questionable command decisions as the series went on. He was also the first Captain to display open racism and hostility. Which was his dislike of Vulcans
Perhaps it could be chalked up to the fact the UFP was still in its infancy, and they hadn’t set down a lot of rules yet, such as “the prime directive”,or the Reid alert, but he just seemed to never fully understand what it meant to be a captain, and never had that “take no guff” air of command about him without swinging to the extreme ends of the pendulum. He also got beat up and thrown in prison a lot.
Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series
Oh, Kirk. He was the first exposure so many people had to the world of Star Trek, and so they judge everything since by the standards he set. And oh what standards those were! Just as all Bonds are compared to Sean Connery.
The problem with Capt. Kirk is that he was an adrenaline junkie. He never met an alien he didn’t want to shoot or sleep with. Diplomacy? What the heck is that?!? His bargaining tool was a torpedo or a round house.
It’s hard to say how good he was as an actual officer, but there is no question that his crew was loyal to him, and would have followed him any where he went. Course, that may have lead them into an even worse problem, but who cared at that point?
Of all the Captains, Kirk was clearly the most ‘by the seat of his pants’ one in the history of the franchise. He seemed to luck into solutions to situations more than actually solving them, or he would end up solving it to his crew which always seemed far more capable than him. But he did not believe in a no win scenario, a good Captain makes use of those around him.
He was clearly a product of the time frame this show was made in, but that carried over to the movie franchise, so I’m not sure that can even be used as a defense. He was a decent Captain, just probably not the best.
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
If Capt. Kirk wasn’t your introduction to Star Trek, then it was Capt. Picard, and then he’s the one you judge everyone else by. However, unlike Kirk, he actually seemed like an actual Captain.
Unlike his predecessor (in the history of Star Trek, 70-some years separated Picard and Kirk, so I mean as characters), Picard was truly a commander. He was enough of a diplomat that he would be called upon to serve as the arbitrator in peace negotiations, but he was a man of action when needed, and at that he was a brilliant tactician. But violence was always the last option. Where as With Kirk it was always first.
One thing the UFP (yes, really the show’s writers) did between the original series and this one was to make the rule that the Captain of a starship couldn’t go on “away missions”. This eliminated a lot of the potential for Picard to go all Kirk on an alien race (“Should I sleep with it or kill it?!?”), and that was all left to his second in command, Cmdr. Riker. Who lets be honest more than filled those shoes.
I think Picard brought a certain elegance to the rank, and it wasn’t just Patrick Stewart’s Shakespearean training, it was that the writer’s realized a Captain shouldn’t be so much of a cowboy, but someone that people would actually want to follow into battle. He instilled confidence in himself and his crew.
The downside his crew where a little to perfect.
Capt. Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Capt. Sisko is a tough one to talk about because he was in such a different situation than any other commanding officer in the history of the series.
While he did start off at the rank of Commander at the beginning of the series, he was promoted to Captain later in the series. No matter what his rank was, he was still the top ranked officer on Deep Space Nine and on the U.S.S. Defiant. Which made him a Captain in all but name at the beginning.
While this was not actually my personal favorite of the five series, I have to call it as it is, and Sisko was always more of a glorified dock manager than a “Captain”. He came from a Ship plant to a space station.
Yes, there were moments that you could say were Captain like, especially when fighting the Dominion, but his primary job was to keep the station running smoothly, which was essentially a seaport.
I think if he had been out running around the galaxy like all of the other Captains he would have proven himself a very capable Captain, but going simply by what we saw on screen, he just didn’t really have the opportunities the others did.
That said i doubt other Captains could have taken on the roll. His laid back up bringing and demeanour made him perfect for running a station of thieves,spies and manned by people who did not want the Federation there.
Capt. Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager
Voyager was the series I was personally most disappointed with because they missed an oppurtuinty to have the ship come home with pipes sticking out at odd angles in the hallways, plates missing from the hull and so on. Year of Hell being a prime example,just hit reset and carry on.
Instead the ship came home looking like it had regular servicing at a Starbase, and a glorious oppurtunity to show a less than shiny Starfleet vessel was totally missed.
That aside, Janeway was probably the Captain with the most weight put on her shoulders. 70,000 light years from home, a crew made up of Starfleet regulars and Marquis renegades, and yet she kept them together until they found an eventual way home. If this wasn’t a true example of someone acting like a Captain, being a true leader of people, I don’t know what is.
While the show may not have been the best,mainly due to the writing rather than the acting, it was actually the best they ever did at showing a Captain under trying circumstances. It doesn’t mean she was the overall best, but it certainly shot her up my personal rankings. She had to be many things to many people. I just wish the writers had made her more scientifically minded given her back ground.