One of the best aspects of Star Trek was how it could introduce seemingly minor characters and slowly build them up into major deals. The original series boosted Chekov and Sulu from just helmsmen to winning characters with Sulu becoming a star in his own right. Next Generation could beef up parts for the likes of Troi and Worf while O’Brien went from a transporter technician to a major role on DS9. Deep Space Nine was perhaps the best as Rom and Nog went from forgettable parts into key regular characters. Even Voyager boosted the Doctor up into a big role while Enterprise sadly didn’t have as many great ones. It can often depend on the actor and how well they connect with the audience. Many a writer has credited the actor with introducing aspects of the character they never considered to beef them up into a bigger deal.
This also has led to the many recurring characters introduced over the course of the series. Not all of them work out well. For example, TNG intended the “Outrageous Okana” to be a recurring face only for fans to hate the guy. A character can be intended as a bigger deal but not be a regular yet still a recurring force. More notable are characters never meant to be that major yet through a combination of the performance and sharp writing, end up becoming big hits. A few have made just a handful of appearances while others were so often, they were nearly regulars. There have been scores of them but many stand taller than the rest to be major parts of their shows. Here’s how 20 of the best Trek recurring characters rank to show how the franchise was genius making even “small parts” be winners.
20 HARRY MUDD
He made just two appearances in the original series but that was enough for Harcourt Fenton Mudd to become a Trek legend. In “Mudd’s Women,” the Enterprise rescues Mudd, claiming to be a nice captain with some female crewmembers. Mudd turns out to be a con artist of the highest order using a special drug to make these women appear more beautiful. He goes to jail but returns in “I, Mudd,” where he’s now ruling a planet of androids. Roger C. Carmel was fantastic in the role, wonderfully hilarious and selling the humor of Mudd with his fast talking and putting himself first.
There were plans for him to return in the third season but it never happened. However, various books, comics and even a newspaper strip have the crew running into Mudd again, always causing some major trouble and somehow managing to get away with it. It got the point of Kirk willing to face a full Klingon fleet rather than deal with Mudd’s antics. While Rainn Wilson played a younger Mudd on Discovery, he lacked the lovely campy fun Carmel brought that made the character a loveable rogue.
Every now and then, a TV show accidentally finds a great gag and runs with it. Morn was originally crafted as one of the patrons of Quark’s bar, notable for his massive mouth. To the annoyance of the mask’s designers, and actor Mark Allen Shepherd, all of Morn’s lines in his first episode were cut out. This led to the genius idea that made the character notable. Throughout the series, you will hear other characters talk of Morn as being a chatterbox who never shuts up, a hard drinker, a man who can move from bawdy jokes to deep philosophical thoughts, an ace gambler, a tough fighter, a terrific ladies’ man…
Yet every time the audience sees Morn, all he’s doing is sitting at the bar and not saying a word. The idea this guy is a major boisterous character whenever the camera isn’t on him is priceless. This led to him winning fans over nicely. The episode “Who Mourns for Morn?” has him seeming dying but really coming back alive as part of a scheme. The writers were tempted to have him speak in the final episode but didn’t want to ruin the gag. It’s rare a character can become so popular without an on-screen word but Morn’s off-screen antics made him a huge fan favorite.
The early episodes of Voyager play on the conflict of the Starfleet officers and the Maquis forced to integrate into a single crew. Seska was a Bajoran Maquis who clearly had a relationship with Chakotay. They continue to click but Seska isn’t happy with how Chakotay is backing Janeway so much. She soon starts handing technology over to the Kazon to build up their power. It also turns out Seska is actually a Cardassian posing as a Bajoran who infiltrated the Maquis. She leaves the ship, taking back her old heritage as she joins the Kazon.
Martha Hackett was fantastic in the part, showcasing Seska’s transformation from supposedly loyal fighter to a scheming vixen. She still has a love-hate relationship with Chakotay to the point of using his DNA to create a child. Her schemes are great as Hackett ate the screen up. Even when the character met her end, the writers kept finding ways to bring her back from time travel to a hologram. In any form, Seska was easily Voyager’s best villainess and her appearances sparked the show nicely.
17 MICHAEL EDDINGTON
Arriving on DS9 in the third season premiere, Michael Eddington is a Starfleet security officer who clearly thinks Odo isn’t handling his job very well. Despite that rough start, the two get along well and Eddington becomes a good member of the DS9 crew. He’s duty bound to orders such as being totally up front on sabotaging a mission on Starfleet commands yet respects Sisko’s authority. Which was why it was so surprising when, in “For the Cause,” Eddington turns on Starfleet to join the Maquis. He gives Sisko a blistering speech on how the Federation cares more about the Cardassians then their own people to justify his actions.
Kenneth Marshall was quite good in the role and it got better when Eddington left Starfleet to be a conniving figure. It became clear Eddington thought of himself as a heroic figure from his books fighting for freedom. He got a rude dose of reality when, after he was arrested, the Dominion helped wipe out the Maquis. His farewell (in the appropriately named “Blaze of Glory”) has him going out just as he wanted, fighting against enemy forces. His arc was a bit tragic, showing a good officer who made some mistakes doing what he thought was right yet Sisko had to note him as “the most loyal man I ever met.”
Jeffery Combs loves to joke about he’s been on several Star Trek shows but can forgive fans for not knowing it. He was the conniving Weyoun on DS9 and a wicked fight promoter on a Voyager episode. For Enterprise, Combs played Shran, an Andorian commander who would clash with Archer a lot. At first, he was the heavy, coming off arrogant and rather racist like many of his people. However, as time goes on, he makes it clear he actually likes Archer and sees what they have as a friendly rivalry that slowly gives way to actual friendship.
Combs was terrific showing Shran shifting from villain to a hero and a fantastic cool vibe in the role. While he works against Archer at times, he makes it clear it’s nothing personal, just Shran as loyal to his people as Archer is to Earth. Fans soon warmed to the character as he aided Archer against the Xindi. Indeed, had Enterprise gotten a fifth season, one of the plans was for Shran to join the crew as a regular. As it is, he’s easily the best recurring one the often overlooked Trek spin-off had.
Michelle Forbes has a historic place in Star Trek lore. She was the first-ever on-screen Bajoran ever shown and those nose ridges were quite notable at the time. A former resistance fighter on Bajor, Ro joined Starfleet but was court-martialed when her decision to disobey orders led to some deaths. She joins the Enterprise to hunt down Bajoran terrorists only to find it’s really the Cardassians pulling the strings in a plot. The character has a chip on her shoulder but still manages to bond with the crew. When Guinan calls her a friend, Picard knows Ro is something special.
Her episodes could be interesting as she clashed a few times with Troi. A fun bit was how she and Riker were constantly at odds but, when they both had amnesia, ended up in bed together. The plan was for Ro to be part of Deep Space Nine but Forbes turned down the offer. Instead, Ro would infiltrate the Maquis on a mission only to join them for real. The character has since joined DS9 in the post-show books and still remains a notable character many wish could have been a regular.
14 GRAND NAGUS ZEK
Ferengi, by nature, are conniving and duplicitous money-hungry schemers. So it makes sense the guy in charge is the worst of the bunch. The aged Zek is Grand Nagus of the Ferengi whose very presence throws everyone off. Veteran actor Wallace Shawn was a great choice for the part, allowing the makeup job to work for him and putting on a great voice. Zek’s schemes are wild such as faking his death to test Quark as a successor and even trying to make a deal with the Mirror Universe that blows up in his face. A hilarious episode has the wormhole aliens turning Zek into an altruistic type who wants to change the Rules of Acquisition into a list of good deeds.
An inspired turn was Zek falling in love with Quark’s mother, Ishka. The idea of the Grand Nagus as his father-in-law was enough to drive Quark up the wall. Inspired by Ishka, Zek would alter Ferengi law to give women equal rights which nearly led to him being deposed. In one final crazy move, Zek appointed Rom the new Grand Nagus before retiring. Any visit by Zek was the cue for some fun and insight to how nutty the Ferengi can be.
The Vorta had at first appeared to be the Founders, the leaders of the Dominion. They were soon revealed to be an engineered race meant to be the agents and ambassadors who literally worship the Founders as gods. There were several yet Weyoun connected nicely. A charismatic man, he shows up working with a downed Jem’Hadar unit temporally allied with the Federation. His own men end up vaporizing him and that seems to be that. But Jeffrey Combs was so engaging in the role that the producers came up with the idea that the Vorta were clones, meaning Weyoun could keep coming back.
The key to the character is how he has no idea how he comes off. He thinks of himself as a charming person who sets folks at ease and very insightful to human nature. To everyone else, he’s a weaselly sycophant whose phony friendliness is annoying and has no clue what makes people tick (he honestly thinks Sisko will serve the Dominion as ruler of Earth). While sinister, he could still be funny and the way he comes back from death was intriguing. The finale indicates all the Weyouns are gone but fans wouldn’t be surprised this weasel found a way to survive and remain as bizarrely appealing as ever.
He may be the man who saved the Alpha Quadrant. For a while, Damar was just the underling to Gul Dukat who was concerned about his boss’s love for his daughter Ziyal. When the Federation took back DS9, Damar shot Ziyal which seemed to land him on the bad guy side for good. He kept it up working for the Dominion and leading attacks on the Federation. Casey Biggs made the character stand out more as it became clear Damar was chafing under the Dominion rule and taking to drinking to cover his issues. He finally realized where his duty lay with his people.
Just as the Federation reels from a hard loss, Damar shocks everyone by turning on the Dominion with his own forces. He’s soon instigating a full Cardassian rebellion, encouraging his people to rise up against the “allies” who have conquered them. It costs him his family yet he keeps fighting on. Damar gives his life in battle which makes him a martyr for the rebellion to rally around. From an underling to an inspirational leader, Damar helped turn the tide of the war to save billions of lives.
11 KAI WINN
The casting of Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher was the key to this character taking off. Debuting in the first-season finale of DS9, Kai Winn is a priestess who clashes with Keiko O’Brien on whether or not the “Prophets” are true gods. It doesn’t take long for it to be clear that, while she preaches peace and love, Winn is a power-hungry opportunist who puts herself above others. She even comes close to becoming the leader of Bajor before Shakaar steps into the election. Even after that, she remains the head of the Bajoran religion and clashes with the crew.
Fletcher was magnificent in the role, always cold and fans couldn’t get enough of how she could barely hide Winn’s condescending tone and scheming. Yet there were some humanizing aspects such as Winn pointing out how she suffered as much as anyone under the Cardassians and truly believing in her faith. She fell into the dark side in the series’ final episodes by joining Gul Dukat (in more ways than one) and paying the price. Fletcher’s performance ensured Winn remained a character fans loved to hate.
Klingons are always a fun sight on Star Trek and Martok was no exception. He first appeared in the fourth season DS9 premiere when the Federation and the Klingons have a falling out. The fifth season premiere reveals Martok has been replaced by a changeling who’s secretly been undermining the Klingon war effort. J.G. Hertzler was good in the role and the writers hated to lose that. So in a later storyline, Worf finds the real Martok, who’s been held prisoner by the Dominion. They escape and Martok becomes a key aid to the crew. He has the usual love of war yet also a capable tactician.
The character got more attention as he was proud of his ways yet not afraid to stand up to his leaders if need be. He and Worf got along great to the point of Martok “adopting” Worf into his house. The series ends with Martok now the Klingon Chancellor and ready to lead his people into a new era. It’s a terrific showcase for how a proud warrior can succeed well and a character can rise up nicely.
A constant sight at Quark’s bar were the “Dabo Girls,” beautiful women whose task was to just stand around and look attractive for the clientele. Leeta was one of them and Chase Masterson figured she’d just be in the background for an episode or two. But something about those Bajoran nose ridges on that beautiful face appealed to the writers to beef up the part. Leeta turns out to be a good friend of Dax’s and her bright humor won Bashir over as well. To the shock of everyone, Leeta reveals she’s actually in love with the goofball Rom. She even joins him in an effort to form a union of the bar employees.
As weird a couple as they may be, the two wonderfully clicked together. Leeta was there to give her love some pep talks and they were married. Leeta was tougher than she seemed as she worked with a resistance cell when the Dominion occupied the station. She and Rom could clash over their differing backgrounds yet still remained a loving couple. The show ends with Rom made Grand Nagus and Leeta ready to join him on Ferengiar and Leeta was a key reason Rom ended up becoming a leader.
Whoopi Goldberg was the first big-name guest star TNG managed to land. At the time, she was well known as a comedian and would grow into an Oscar winning box office star as the series went on. At first, Guinan appears to be just the ship’s bartender known for her outlandishly large hats and no eyebrows. The character soon showed a truly mysterious side to herself and an innate ability to know what others were thinking. Her long life was played on (“Time’s Arrow” had the crew discovering she’s centuries old and once lived on Earth) as well as some sort of strange powers she wouldn’t explain.
Goldberg was also good in the part as she knew exactly what others needed to heart to help them over issues. She wasn’t perfect as “I, Borg” showed she had a massive hate for the monsters who had wiped out her planet. Yet in any appearance, Guinan was a great person who, like any good bartender, knew that having people listen to their own talk was more important than doling out advice. While absent from later movies, Goldberg helped make Guinan a very important member of the crew.
7 KEIKO O’BRIEN
Miles O’Brien was just a random character on TNG but grew so popular that he was made part of DS9. His wife, Keiko, likewise grew larger. She first appears when the two are getting married in “Data’s Day” and bond well. Her first big spotlight is in “Disaster” when the Enterprise is badly damaged and Keiko goes into labor (poor Worf has to deliver the child). Keiko showed her backbone when Miles was among various crewmembers taken over by alien entities as she declared she’d gladly lay down her life to save her child.
Keiko and O’Brien’s marriage was tested a lot on DS9. Indeed, critics have cited how realistic it is for them to feel strains with so much conflict around them. But Keiko was still strong, running a school on the station and backing her husband. She had crazy storylines such as being taken over by an alien herself. She became pregnant only for an accident to force Kira to carry the baby to term. Yet, for all the ups and downs, the O’Briens remained a strong couple with Miles crediting Keiko for keeping him grounded. It made sense that at the end of the show Miles goes to Earth to give his family a quieter life as Keiko proved her own worth as O’Brien’s better half.
6 REGINALD BARCLAY
Intended just as a one-off character, Barclay somehow clicked with fans. He’s an engineer who’s quite brilliant but falls apart when around other people. In “Hollow Pursuits,” Barclay uses the holodeck to recreate the ship so he can be the big shot he dreams of being. Dwight Schultz made the character fun to watch and fans could understand his desire to be seen for his mind, not his social awkwardness. The producers listened and brought Reg back more and more. In “The Nth Degree,” an alien artifact makes him the smartest human to ever live while “Realm of Fear” has his paranoia about the transporters revealing a danger
The character returned on Voyager where he turned out to be a key figure finally contacting the ship. He could be played for laughs such as the great episode where he has to mediate issues between the Doctor and his creator Dr. Zimmerman. But Barclay was still dedicated to helping the ship and played a vital role in getting it home. Indeed, the Voyager crew named Barclay an honorary member. Sure, he can still be a stammering wreck at times but in so many ways, Barclay spoke for the Trek audience better than other characters.
Mark Lenard has the honor of being the first on-screen Romulan on Star Trek. He played a captain of a ship in the classic episode “Balance of Terror.” The producers liked him and so brought him back in “Journey to Babel” to play Sarek, Spock’s father. The episode plays on how the two have long been estranged due to Spock’s decision to join Starfleet. When Sarek needs an operation, Spock has to choose between saving him or aiding the ship. The episode ends with the duo having mended some fences.
Lenard was terrific in the role, showing the same Vulcan strength and logic but a good chemistry with Leonard Nimoy. He would reprise the part in the classic Animated Series episode “Yesteryear” and then play the role in several of the movies. Lenard played an older Sarek on a TNG episode where he has to deal with the loss of his emotional control. His final appearance was a good send-off to the strong character. While Ben Cross was good in the JJ Abrams movies, Lenard’s Sarek remains a key character for fans.
4 LWAXANA TROI
Majel Barrett was “The First Lady of Star Trek.” The wife of Gene Roddenberry, she had played the first officer in the original pilot for the series. She then portrayed Nurse Chapel and would voice the computers for all the later shows. Her biggest part was Lwaxana Troi, the mother of Deanna. Dressed in ravishing outfits, she carried herself as a mix of an ambassador and a well-meaning but overbearing mother. It was harder to tell who was driven crazier by her actions, Troi or Picard as Lwaxana would constantly put the moves on him.
Yet the character was shown to have more depth than this. A great episode has her falling for a scientist (David Ogden Stiers) whose culture demands he take his life when he hits 60. Lwaxana’s desperation not to lose him was heartbreaking. She also bonded with Odo on DS9 and a memorable episode had her dealing with a tragedy of her past. While the character was good for laughs, Barrett’s wonderful personality was the reason fans enjoyed any visit by the eccentric Betazoid.
3 GUL DUKAT
Some can argue this man was almost a full supporting member of the DS9 cast by its final season. Yet he worked better when his appearances were a bit more spread out. The former Cardassian commander of the Bajoran occupation, Dukat was intended from the beginning to be the show’s main villain. However, the performance of Marc Alaimo made the character far more complex with an innate charm to the role. At times, Dukat could be shown almost human as he truly loved his family and could be warm to a long-lost daughter. Indeed, for a period, it looked like Dukat would become an ally of the crew.
The writers ensured that just when fans would root for Dukat, his true colors would shine. He joined Cardassia with the Dominion and made it clear it was about his personal power. He was ruthless, cold-blooded and always put himself before everyone else. He crossed the line taking out Dax and then embarking on a mad plot to unleash a power to wipe out Bajor. It made sense the final battle of the series is Dukat and Sisko going at it to the death. If anything, the good in Dukat just makes his evil actions worse as it shows he might have been a decent sort. The tragedy of that character makes him one of the most compelling villains in Star Trek lore.
From the start, Garak loved playing games with his past. He and Julian Bashir bonded over lunches where Garak pretended to be a simple tailor and nothing more. Of course, it wasn’t long before his past as an agent of the Cardassian Obsidian Order came to light. Even then, Garak played loose with things. A famous moment is when Bashir asks which of his various stories were true and Garak replies “they’re all true…especially the lies.” Andrew Robinson was terrific in the part, mixing nice humor with some charm so it was surprising when Garak would just take out someone with no problem. That you never knew what he was doing half the time just made it even better.
There were touches to the character like his lifelong battle with claustrophobia and his relationship with mentor Tain. Garak bonded with Ziyal, the daughter of Gul Dukat, showing he had a loving heart as well. The show ends with Garak fighting for Cardassia and dealing with its destruction by the Dominion. For a man whose true thoughts could never be determined, there was no question how popular Garak was for DS9 fans.
From his first appearance, Q was painted as the villain. The pilot for TNG has this powerful omnipotent being putting humanity on trial as a danger to the universe. With a literal snap of the fingers, Q can do absolutely anything. John de Lancie was fantastic in the role, selling Q’s arrogance and how his constant put-downs of humanity have a point as he’s not human. Yet he also had a fun humor in the role that captivated fans and won them over. A major turn was “Q Who” when Q is stripped of his powers by the Continuum and has to learn some humility. Then again, he also introduced humans to the Borg which is a strike against him.
The fun was how, in a way, Q became fond of Picard. This led to bits like turning the crew into Robin Hood and his Merry Men and even reaching out to Picard to teach a younger member of the Continuum. Q was just as fun on Voyager with Janeway helping him stop a civil war among the Continuum. His last appearance had him trying to bond with his son (played by de Lancie’s real kid) which was driving him crazy. Even in offshoot projects like video games or debates with Spock, Q shone as a character whose mix of charm and malevolence made him a winner with fans.