Star Trek: The Next Generation wasn’t always about the main cast, and the guest star stole the show in these 10 classic episodes.
With the recent announcement that season 3 of Picard will be the show’s last, it seems as if the adventures of the famed captain are finally coming to an end. Die-hard fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation are more than familiar with the exploits of the Enterprise crew, but many of the show’s best episodes featured excellent guest stars that stole the show. From Original Seriesthrowbacks like “Relics” to one-off alien showstoppers like “Darmok,” TNG’s main cast weren’t the only ones who turned in excellent performances over the show’s run. Though plenty of episodes had stellar guest performances, only the very best are still fondly remembered by Trekkies to this day.
The Outrageous Okona” (S2.E4)
Though it is hardly remembered as one of the show’s best episodes, “The Outrageous Okona” nevertheless was a clinic in guest acting from Billy Campbell. The episode sees the Enterprise caught in a dispute between worlds when they rescue the roguish captain of a freighter ship who is a wanted criminal on both planets. Captain Okona’s heelish behavior is counterbalanced by his good looks, and he seduces his way across the ship to get what he wants. Campbell’s performance is appropriately verbose while also imbuing the character with a subtle charm that even has the audience fooled. Unlike other scene-stealing parts which come out of left field, “The Outrageous Okana” was designed to usurp the main cast.
“The First Duty” (S5.E19)
Giving a guest performance that would later land the Star Trek actor a full-time role on the spinoff Voyager, Robert Duncan McNeil was the backbone of “The First Duty.” Catching up with Wesley Crusher at Starfleet Academy, the young cadet is put on trial when his squadron of pilots is responsible for the comrade’s accidental death. The ease with which McNeil played Cadet Locarno was in direct contrast to the stiff formality of most characters in Star Trek, and he was villainous without being over-the-top. The episode takes on the aspect of a court procedural, and it allows the characters to be the focus as opposed to the plot.
“Unification” (S5.E7 & S5.E8)
Nowadays, the Star Trek franchise is dominated by a sense of nostalgia, but during the TNG era, the show seemed determined to blaze its own trail. Nevertheless, the episode “Unification” saw the return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock and detailed the famous Vulcan’s attempt to reunite his race with their cousins, the Romulans. Often remembered as one of the best Romulan episodes, Nimoy didn’t miss a beat when stepping back into his most famous part. Aside from the easy nostalgia of seeing him back in the pointy ears, Nimoy did an excellent job of presenting the character as more mature and gave the character additional weight involving the 80 years between TOS and TNG.
“Time’s Arrow” (S5.E26 & S6.E1)
Despite being set in the future, Star Trek has never been afraid to call on historical figures to add weight to the stories. “Time’s Arrow” finds Data accidentally sent back to the turn of the 20th century, where he must dodge the curious advances of Mark Twain while attempting to stop a pair of vampire-like aliens. Veteran TV actor Jerry Hardin had the difficult task of breathing life into the famous American wordsmith, and he was totally undaunted. Clemens is a popular figure to be portrayed in other media, but Hardin brought his own spin to the part that helped him stand out. The complicated plot of the two-part “Time’s Arrow” could have easily been a stinker, but the appearance of Hardin’s Mark Twain helped to make it a classic.
Spock wasn’t the only TOS character to make his appearance in another generation, and “Relics” revived the lovable Scottish engineer for one last adventure. While investigating a Dyson-Sphere, the Enterprise discovers that Montgomery Scott was trapped in stasis for over 75 years. Brought onboard the newer ship, the aging veteran struggles to stay useful. Making heartrending commentary about the role of older people in society, the episode gave James Doohan a chance to shine like never before. Longtime fans of Trek were already attached to Scotty, but Doohan’s understated and dramatic performance added another layer to the usually goofy character.
“Ship In A Bottle” (S6.E12)
Ranking among some of the best Holodeck episodes in the Star Trek franchise, “Ship in a Bottle” brought back a one-off character and allowed him to work his magic. After discovering that the Moriarty program on the Holodeck has become sentient, the crew must decide what to do with the dastardly villain. Character actor Daniel Davis had previously played the part in the episode “Elementary My Dear Data,” but he became a full-fledged character in the later episode. Considering that Moriarty is one of literature’s most famous heels, Davis perfectly balanced his sinister nature with humanity which keeps the viewer conflicted.
“The Pegasus” (S7.E12)
Before he became a household name for his turn in Lost, Terry O’Quinn made a career in brilliant one-off roles on TV shows. “The Pegasus” sees O’Quinn play Admiral Pressman, Riker’s former captain who enlists him in a conspiracy to recover a secret Starfleet technology before it falls into Romulan hands.
Standing in stark contrast to the thoughtful and reserved Picard, Pressman is a callous and aggressive leader which suited O’Quinn’s acting style perfectly. Proving that not every Starfleet officer upholds the ideals of the Federation, Pressman was a small but important character that needed an actor like O’Quinn to fully bring him to life.
“Chain Of Command” (S6.E10 & S6.E11)
In wake of his recent passing, David Warner has finally assumed his spot among some of the best character actors of all time, and his turn in “Chain of Command” is an excellent example of his prowess. Picard is captured by the Cardassians while undercover and is mercilessly tortured by his sadistic captors. Meanwhile, an interim captain takes over on the Enterprise and butts heads with the crew. Warner had a tall task in front of him to steal the show, and Ronny Cox as Jellico nearly gave him a run for his money. In the end though, Warner left a bigger impression through his subtle villainy and truly despicable characterization as Gul Madred. Despite copious amounts of makeup, Warner had audiences snarling with rage through the most subtle use of his voice and facial expressions.
“Lower Decks” (S7.E15)
“Lower Decks” was a unique installment of the series in that it was specifically designed to put the main cast on the back burner. As promotion evaluations come around, a trio of anxious ensigns go about their daily tasks while speculating about the machinations of the ship’s officers. First introduced in the episode “The First Duty,” Ensign Sito Jaxa takes center stage as the story’s protagonist. Shannon Fill reprised her role and took the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions that culminated in one of the saddest moments in the show’s history. Struggling against her negative reputation, Fill makes sure that the audience is solely rooting for her character to succeed in the end.
Veteran actor Paul Winfield had a lengthy career in the Trek franchise, but his turn in the episode “Darmok” is what cemented his legacy. Picard finds himself trapped on a planet alongside a mysterious alien whose language consists of metaphors and similes. Essentially speaking gibberish, Winfield’s Dathon relied exclusively on his physical mannerisms. Acting through heavy makeup, Winfield made sure that the audience was let in on every facial cue, and he used his sonorous voice to inflect each line of dialogue as if he was actually fluent in Dathon’s mysterious language. “Darmok” was a perfectly crafted script, and it took an actor like Paul Winfield to carry such a thoughtful episode home.