As each new Star Trek ship starts its ongoing mission – whether it’s to seek out new life and new civilisations, or to simply complete the long voyage home – there’s always one presence at the heart of the show.


Star Trek is usually more of an ensemble drama than anything else, but often you can’t help but focus on the captains at least a little bit (even in series like Discovery or Lower Decks, where attention is deliberately placed elsewhere).

After nearly 60 years of sequels and spin-offs, comparisons eventually start to spring up – which Star Trek captain is the best one?

Or, if you like, it’s the only question a Star Trek fan ever thought was hard: do they like Kirk, or do they like Picard?

Best Star Trek captains ranked

10. Gabriel Lorca (Discovery)

Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca in Star Trek Discovery sitting in the cockpit in a blue suit
Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca in Star Trek: Discovery.

At face value, Lorca is one of the most interesting captains we’ve seen in Star Trek.

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There’s something a little darker about him, something troubled, and he regularly seems to come into conflict with his more conventional crew, but beneath all that there’s an apparently sincere investment in trying to return to the ideals of science and exploration Starfleet has had to move away from.

It’s eventually revealed, though, that his troubled side wasn’t a piece of clever character writing, but a clue that he was a cackling villain from the Mirror Universe. Oh. (Maybe Jason Isaacs could return as Prime Lorca in a future episode of Strange New Worlds?)

9. Philippa Georgiou (Discovery)

Michelle Yeoh in Star Trek: Discovery in a black outfit holding a gun
Michelle Yeoh in Star Trek: Discovery. CBS

We don’t spend much time with Captain Georgiou of the Prime Universe – over the course of Star Trek: Discovery, it’s her mirror universe counterpart who takes centre stage.

But you get the sense in Discovery’s two-part premiere (and in occasional flashback sequences) that Georgiou was very much the Captain Picard of her era, perhaps a character meriting further exploration – maybe that long-developing Section 31 movie with Michelle Yeoh should be a Star Trek: Shenzhou prequel instead?

8. Jonathan Archer (Enterprise)

Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise. He's wearing a dark blue boiler suit and reaching both arms out to hold a doorway.
Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise. James Sorenson/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Scott Bakula takes to the role well enough – he’s anchored series like this before and since – but the character of Jonathan Archer never quite coheres around him properly.

Is he a pioneering test pilot frustrated by the diplomatic responsibilities suddenly thrust upon him? Is he one of the greatest explorers in Starfleet history? Is he George Washington or Jack Bauer? Is he Future Guy?

He’s all of them and none of them. Maybe the character would’ve become a more complex and well-rounded figure had Enterprise not been cancelled – but it’s never a great sign if you have to say that about a show that did still manage four seasons in the first place.

7. Carol Freeman (Lower Decks)

Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman in Star Trek: Lower Decks standing with the rest of her crew looking scared
Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman in Star Trek: Lower Decks. Paramount Plus

One of the best threads running through Lower Decks is the relationship between Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and her mother Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis).

It elevates what might otherwise have been a much simpler dynamic between an authority figure and a combative ensign into something far more compelling – a neat new spin on the parent/child relationships we’ve already seen in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

Plus – which is as important as anything else for a show like Lower Decks – Dawnn Lewis has great comic timing and delivery.

6. Christopher Pike (Strange New Worlds)

There’s something very assured about Anson Mount’s performance as Christopher Pike – warm and authoritative, every bit the hero of a 1960s sci-fi brought into the modern day.

Sometimes, it feels like Strange New Worlds could push the character a little further – their take that he’s effectively the only character aware he’s starring in a prequel is clever, but surely there’s more you could do with the dramatic potential Star Trek’s first captain – but Mount’s leading man charisma means Pike is always very watchable.

5. Kathryn Janeway (Voyager)

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager. She's dressed in a red and black Starfleet uniform with her brown hair up and is looking to the side.
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Janeway is a captain in a situation unlike any of the others – stranded in the Delta Quadrant, cut off from the rest of the Federation, tens of thousands of lightyears from home – and as a result she faced challenges completely unlike any of the others. How does she lead a divided crew on the most dangerous journey they’d ever face?

How does she decide when to keep to Federation ideals, and when to abandon them? And what does she do if there’s coffee in a nearby nebula?

It's always a fun thought experiment to ask what one captain would’ve done in another’s shoes – how would Picard handle a Tuvix situation? – and the thing about Janeway is that you can almost always guarantee she was the one facing the strangest of these scenarios.

4. Michael Burnham (Discovery)

Sonequa Martin-Green stars in Star Trek: Discovery season 3 as Michael Burnham standing in a grassy environment looking concerned
Sonequa Martin-Green stars in Star Trek: Discovery season 3 as Michael Burnham. Netflix

Before he left the series, one of Bryan Fuller’s big ideas for Star Trek: Discovery was that its ensemble wouldn’t be built around a captain the way The Next Generation or Voyager was – or, at least, not at first.

Instead, the show would follow a more junior officer across her complicated journey towards command – a great central conceit for a more character-focused iteration of Star Trek, and one that Sonequa Martin-Green has brilliantly brought to life across Discovery’s four seasons and counting.

(Even if, admittedly, you do sometimes wonder if the show’s eventual final scene could ever be as impactful as if it had ended with Burnham’s promotion to the captain’s chair.)

3. James T Kirk (The Original Series)

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series crouching by a tree and some shrubs
Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock and William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Kirk is a relatively simple character – a big, broad archetype, albeit one every subsequent captain exists in the shadow of – but he’s brought to life with a deceptively complex performance from William Shatner.

Decades of parodies and homages and recreations – we’re onto our third actor to play Kirk now, after Chris Pine took the role in JJ Abrams’s film series and Paul Wesley joined Strange New Worlds as a younger version of the character – have obscured exactly how good Shatner was in The Original Series.

In a world of wobbly sets and recycled costumes, it’s Shatner as Kirk that brings it to life, treating it with the seriousness – and the scale – that it demands. As Walter Koenig once put it, William Shatner’s work is undeniable.

2. Jean-Luc Picard (The Next Generation)

Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next. Generation wearing his captain's outfit looking concerned
Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. CBS

On paper, Picard is the perfect Star Trek captain - an assured commander, a skilled diplomat and a resourceful tactician. More importantly, though, Picard is played by Sir Patrick Stewart, bringing every ounce of his not inconsiderable acting talent to the role - elevating what Stewart famously thought would be a hastily cancelled sci-fi reboot into one of the defining roles of his career, and one of television’s most iconic characters, too.

(Although, the less said about Star Trek: Picard the better; nice as it is to know that Patrick Stewart enjoyed returning to the captain’s chair again, the sequel show adds little to our understanding of Picard, mostly serving to demonstrate the difficulties in trying to fit a 1980s syndicated television character into the mould demanded by 2010s era streaming television.)

1. Benjamin Sisko (Deep Space Nine)

Armin Shimerman as Quark and Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine standing next to each other looking concerned
Armin Shimerman as Quark and Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. CBS via Getty Images

Sisko is the best captain because Deep Space Nine is the best show. It’s the most compelling long-term character arc - taking Sisko from grieving widower and reluctant messiah to wartime leader, exploring his increasingly complex relationship to Starfleet and the Federation, not to mention his son and his crew, in more depth than any of other series - brought to life brilliantly by an absolutely magnetic Avery Brooks.

With episodes like In the Pale Moonlight, Far Beyond the Stars and The Visitor all focused on Sisko, he’s one of the most well-realised characters in Star Trek history - and in turn the best captain, too.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine are available to stream on Netflix.

Star Trek: Picard is exclusive to Prime Video. Sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime Video and pay £8.99 a month after that.


Star Trek: Discovery and Strange New Worlds can be found on Paramount Plus. Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on tonight.