With so many villains in the Star Trek lexicon, it wasn’t easy to whittle them down to just ten. But we’re up to the challenge. Here’s our picks for the top 10 Star Trek villains ever.
You know it’s true: If somebody says, “Star Trek villains,” Khan is the first name that comes to your mind. He’s the only Original Series villain that most people still remember. And that’s mostly due to Ricardo Montalban’s unforgettable performance. Suave, brilliant, malicious, and powerful, Khan Noonien Singh debuted near the end of the show’s first season. He was a banished warlord, a cryogenically frozen relic of the Eugenics Wars where he and his fellow super-soldiers seized control of at least a third of the Earth. He nearly stole the Enterprise the first time he met Kirk, and almost destroyed it the second. In Star Trek II, he becomes Captain Ahab, bent on pure, ice-cold revenge. And boy did he get it. An old writer’s adage says that the measure of a villain is how much they strengthen the protagonist; Kirk was never better than when he fought Khan.
2. The Borg
I’m not including races on this list (just individuals) but I have to make an exception in this case. Who cares if they were a riff on Doctor Who‘s Cybermen? There was something almost zombie-like about the Borg‘s relentless, efficient crusade to assimilate every sentient species in the universe into their collective consciousness. The Next Generation introduced them and used them to create what’s still the best cliffhanger in Star Trek history, Captain Picard’s transformation into Locutus. (Later, Next Gen tried to neuter them with the “Hugh” storyline, but let’s not dwell.) They were also handy for starring in the best of the Next Gen movies, the dramatically compelling First Contact. That outing introduced us to the Borg Queen, an avatar and mouthpiece for the Collective. The Borg would finally go on to single-handedly save Star Trek: Voyager by giving it a defining villain for Captain Janeway & crew to fight.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a treasure trove of colorful, complex villains, but none more so than Dukat. No other baddie on DS9 continually reinvented himself while always maintaining the absolute conviction that he was a hero. Captain Sisko’s arch nemesis was a complicated guy, played with nuanced charm by Marc Alaimo from the show’s pilot all the way to its finale. Dukat had so many highs and lows and even went insane at one point, but his most dramatic turn had to be when he signed the Cardassians up as members of the Dominion and facilitated their invasion of the Alpha Quadrant. He later murdered poor Jadzia Dax, and who can forget the time he had his features surgically altered to appear Bajoran so he could seduce Kai Winn and use her to release Bajor’s mythical demons, the Pah-wraiths?
4. The Female Changeling
The twist of the Dominion’s “Founders” turning out to be Odo’s people was a rare example of an explanation being just as compelling as the mystery surrounding it. The female Changeling was the payoff of this revelation, popping into Odo’s life every now and then to shake up his convictions and muddle his loyalties. Then when the war started, this nameless female (it’s a shapeshifter thing) played by Salome Jens turned out to be more wicked than we ever imagined. She was ultimately responsible for the destruction of hundreds of inhabited worlds and billions of lives. I can’t think of a more homicidal or bloodthirsty Star Trek villain. Why did she kill so many? Because she hated “solids” — essentially making her a racist. Now that’s evil.
I will always believe that Next Generation‘s biggest mistake was never giving Picard a true counterpart villain. Kirk had Khan, Sisko had Dukat, Janeway had the Borg Queen, even Archer had that weird Silik guy. But Jean-Luc Picard never had that one enemy that defined his heroism. (The Borg are probably the closest thing he had; they certainly affected him more profoundly than anyone else.) I think, from watching TNG‘s earliest episodes, that Q was originally meant to fill this role. He started out on the right track; he was Picard’s intellectual equal, but where Picard was reserved and rational, Q was egotistical and mischievous. Q was the Loki to Picard’s Thor. But although he often served as an antagonist, he never crossed over into true evil, and he and Picard never actually fought. In the end, he turned out to be a friend to Picard. Sort of.
Android Data was always TNG‘s most fascinating character, so our minds were blown when we learned that he had an identical twin “brother.” But Lore was nothing like his innocent, well-intentioned twin. Lore had an emotion chip that allowed him to feel things that Data couldn’t; but instead of being a more fully-rounded individual, Lore was cruel and vicious. But he was brilliant, too, always planning several steps ahead of others. He tried on numerous occasions to recruit his brother and destroy the crew of the Enterprise, and usually it was only Data that was able to defeat him. (Side note: I almost included Mirror Spock on this list, but decided to go with just one “evil twin.”)
7. Winn Adami
Another delicious, complicated baddie from DS9‘s huge rogues gallery, Vedek Winn — who later became Kai Winn, Bajor’s religious leader — craved power from the start. Every bit as scheming and duplicitous as Dukat, she stands out in our memories because of her way of smiling sweetly while she ripped you to shreds. Played with relish by Academy Award winning actress Louise Fletcher, Winn was the frequent adversary of both Sisko and Kira, always hiding her machinations behind what was supposedly best for Bajor. Even though she committed many selfish crimes, she always had a hint of sympathy about her, since she had fought the Cardassian occupation of Bajor in her own way and been beaten and tortured for it. She wasted her last chance at redemption in the show’s final season, teaming up with Dukat of all people and releasing the Pah-wraiths — though she did come to her senses just in time to offer Sisko a helping hand before taking her final breath. I suppose that’s something.
8. Norah Satie
Some are going to disagree with me on this one, but Admiral Satie proved herself an antagonist of a particularly devious kind — one who hides behind the laws of society. Satie instigated a witch hunt aboard the Enterprise-D and very nearly took down Picard and several members of his crew. She’s a different kind of villain to be sure, as played by the late Jean Simmons, because she fought with words and authority. But I found her manipulative, opportunistic twisting of the truth — all in the name of adding one more win to her list of accomplishments — repugnant. As well as resonant with how many of our officials in modern government behave. And she gave Picard one of his most exemplary moments of rational, intelligent heroism.
9. Luther Sloan
Section 31 is Starfleet’s black ops division, a secret spy agency that long ago got so good at what they do, they excised themselves from Starfleet’s oversight and became a clandestine operation acting of its own accord. They may have once had something resembling a noble purpose, and even by the time of Deep Space Nine they still claimed to work in defense of the Federation, but they had lost any sense of ethical responsibility. Luther Sloan was one of their very best, a master manipulator who rarely took action personally; he preferred coercing others (like Dr. Bashir) into doing his dirty work for him. As Star Trek‘s own Machiavelli, Sloan’s stock in trade was collecting secrets, and he knew more of them than probably any other Trek character, ever. And he was perfectly portrayed by veteran character actor William Sadler.
As the chief conspirator of Star Trek VI, General Chang worked with Starfleet Admiral Cartwright, a Romulan ambassador, and the Enterprise-A‘s duplicitous Vulcan navigator, Lieutenant Valeris, to orchestrate the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon and spark a new Federation-Klingon war. (It was something to do with fearing change.) Christopher Plummer chewed up the screen every time Chang appeared, and the movie never even tried to convince us that he might be good or misunderstood. He was just a Klingon general opposed to peace, and he was tremendously fun to watch. Plus, he had style. How many bad guys can you think of that command a stealth warship while quoting Shakespeare? And do I even need to mention the eyepatch bolted to his face?