Star Trek: The Next Generation — 10 Great Guest Performances
We salute some of the finest guest stars of Star Trek: The Next Generation...
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Some episodes of television are elevated by the performance of the regular actors, and with a star of the caliber of Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation is not short of such episodes. Equally important, however, are the performances of guest actors brought in for a one-off appearance who elevate any scenes in which they take part and work with the regular actors to create something really memorable. This list celebrates some of those performances.
This list is celebrating guest performers who came in for one, or at most two, guest performances as a specific character (though their character may have made more appearances in other branches of the franchise, and the actor may have appeared as other characters). This is why you shouldn’t expect to see characters like John de Lancie’s Q, Michelle Forbes’ Ensign Ro or Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan on the list — although all were guest stars, they recurred on a fairly regular basis.
10. Suzie Plakson as K’Ehleyr in “The Emissary” and “Reunion”
Many guest actors put in great guest performances as Klingons over the years. Suzie Plakson’s K’Ehleyr, however, stands out, partly as a particularly early example of a Next Generation Klingon, but primarily because she was Worf’s first serious love interest and the mother of his son, Alexander. As a half-Klingon, half-human, K’Ehleyr possesses much of the confidence, swagger and aggression of a Klingon, but with the diplomacy of a human. Most importantly (like Terry Farrell’s later Jadzia Dax) she can hold her own against Micheal Dorn’s Worf and offer him an equal partner.
9. James Doohan as Montgomery Scott in “Relics”
All of The Original Series cast who made guest appearances in The Next Generation were as watchable as ever, from Deforest Kelley’s cameo in the pilot episode to Leonard Nimoy’s troubled Spock in “Unification” (Parts 1 & 2). For today, however, we want to highlight James Doohan’s poignant turn as Scotty in season six’s “Relics.” Confronted with a world he doesn’t recognise and desperate to find a place for himself, all the audience can share in Scotty’s pain at his loss and nostalgia for a time that has passed. And we’d all kind of guessed about his methods for gaining a reputation as a “miracle worker.”
8. Bebe Neuwirth as Lanel in “First Contact”
This entry is a little different from the rest on the list — Bebe Neuwirth (better known as Lilith on Cheers and Frasier) plays a small and relatively insignificant role in this episode, in which Riker finds himself trapped in a pre-warp civilization. However, it is not just the big, emotional, showy guest roles that lift an episode. Comic relief is just as important, and while the demands that Neuwirth’s nerdy, excitable alien doctor makes of Riker are pretty horrifying if you stop to think about it, you won’t, because her deliciously hammy and over-the-top performance is too funny. Hilarious.
7. Saul Rubinek as Kivas Fajo in “The Most Toys”
Another (later) Frasier alumnus (Kelsey Grammar himself also appeared in a small but memorable role in “Cause And Effect,” though without enough screentime for his performance to be more than a cameo), Saul Rubinek, coming in partway through shooting to replace another actor, puts his nervous comic energy to sinister use in this episode. Data contemplates committing murder when captured by Rubinek’s trader and kept among his collection of rare and curious “things,” and Rubinek himself makes Fajo just despicable enough that you’re almost willing our upstanding Starfleet hero to give in and do it. Without a strong guest performance, the tense climax of the episode could never have worked.
6. Jean Simmons as Admiral Norah Satie in “The Drumhead”
“The Drumhead” isn’t a particularly good episode — it’s a fairly straightforward courtroom drama and McCarthy-inspired parable, the chief lesson from which is not to lie on application forms for the military. However, it is reasonably memorable for classic Hollywood actress Jean Simmons’ performance as Admiral Norah Satie. Satie starts out as a fairly standard hard-as-nails Starfleet admiral but, as with so many Starfleet admirals, it quickly turns out that she is batpoo crazy and must be stopped. It is Simmons’ poise and confidence that allows us to believe that Satie might ever have been a respected admiral in the first place, and her slow reveal of Satie’s issues is what allows the story to unfold in the way that it does.
5. Elizabeth Dennehy as Lt Cmdr Shelby in The Best Of Both Worlds” (Parts 1 & 2)
It takes a lot to hold your own against both Patrick Stewart and the Borg, but Dennehy pulls it off with aplomb. Her Shelby strikes just the right balance between being incredibly annoying, as she pushes at Riker and make no secret of her desire for his job, but someone who is also a capable officer and suitable second for Riker when the Enterprise is suddenly and dramatically deprived of Captain Picard. It is a great shame that it was never possible for the character to return – we can only hope that Shelby got her promotion in the wake of Wolf 359.
4. David Ogden Stiers as Timicin in “
Episodes focusing on Majel Barrett’s Lwaxana Troi veered wildly between broad and dubiously successful comic farce and a couple of truly poignant episodes about a middle-aged widow with a grown daughter looking for companionship. Stiers gives a quiet and quietly moving performance as Timicin in one of the latter type, a man clearly torn in several different directions, with both his love for Lwaxana and his desire to help his people warring with his sense of duty towards his people’s customs. His final fate is truly affecting and it is impossible not to feel for both him and Lwaxana as he makes a heart-breaking decision.
3. Jonathan Del Arco as Third of Five/Hugh in “I, Borg” and “Descent” (Part 2)
Jonathan Del Arco’s highly popular Hugh was the inspiration behind Star Trek Voyager‘s Seven of Nine, but there is an essential difference between his and Jeri Ryan’s (equally good) performance. The trick to Del Arco’s performance is the wide-eyed, childlike innocence with which he plays Hugh. At this point in the series, we’ve seen Captain Picard liberated from the Collective, but he was Borg for only a short period of time; this was the first exploration of a drone liberated from the Collective after years of identifying as Borg.
It’s Del Arco’s sweet, open innocence that makes Hugh such a likeable character and that truly sells the concept of a man who has been with the Borg so long, he has forgotten what individuality is like, but who can be convinced through kindness and openness. While it would be easy for such a performance choice to become very similar to Geordi’s other great mechanical friend, Data, Del Arco gives Hugh just enough individuality to avoid that, while still striking the required Pinocchio-esque tone.
2. David Warner as Gul Madred in “Chain Of Command” (Parts 1 & 2)
Patrick Stewart puts in many great performances across the course of The Next Generation (another is listed below) but “Chain Of Command” is one of his finest hours, as Picard is tortured for days by a Cardassian expert in the field. Such a performance requires an equally great actor to play opposite him, and David Warner is the perfect choice for Gul Madred, the torturer who brings his small daughter into the torture chamber and who is incapable of letting go even after Picard’s return to Starfleet has been agreed. His chilling, calm, measured performance perfectly matches Stewart’s slowly crumbling Picard to create one of Star Trek’s most memorable confrontations.
1. Mark Lenard as Sarek in “Sarek” and “Unification” (Part 1)
After Deforest Kelley’s cameo in the pilot, Mark Lenard was the first actor from the original series to return for a more substantial guest appearance in season three’s “Sarek.” With Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s health declining, the Vulcan’s breakdown allows the series to tell a story about ageing and dementia through the heightened fiction in which the display of any emotion is a sign of a seriously troubled mind.
Such a story could never work without a great performance from the actor playing Sarek, and Mark Lenard absolutely delivers, the appearance of tears during a concert telling us so much about Sarek and what’s happening to him. A perfect first substantial callback to the original series.