Every fandom has its favorite debates, but none so famous as “Which Captain is the best?”, and woe to those who fall on the wrong side of that argument because it seems the only acceptable answer to that question is Kirk or Picard. Anyone else, and you’re just a hipster who doesn’t know anything about Star Trek.
I’ve never really understood that, but then again, up until recently, I would always answer that question with Captain Sisko on the grounds of “In the Pale Moonlight”, while morally questionable, is the best episode of Star Trek history. Now, when people ask me that question, I think it’s Captain Pike.
I’m so hipster, I’m a hipster hipster….
Honestly, though, I think Captain Pike is unfairly forgotten. Sure, the length of his reign of Captain is confined to the pilot, “The Cage” which was pretty much completely reaired in “The Menagerie” Part 1 and 2 in the first season of the original series, and about ten minutes in the 2009 movie, but that’s enough for me, really.
In the original series, he’s a man haunted by the deaths of his crew members, who continues to be Captain out of sheer stubbornness and willpower and where he was then crippled saving cadets from delta radiation. Let us not forget how loyal Spock was to the man, which, to me, is one of Pike’s most redeeming attributes. Spock was so devoted to his former Captain that he risked court martial getting him back to forbidden Talos IV so Captain Pike could have the illusion of controlling his body. Indisputably, he is a good man and a worthy Captain of the Enterprise.
But all of this, really, pales in comparison to Captain Pike in the 2009 reboot.
In that movie, Captain Pike talks to a young, rebellious Kirk, convincing him to join Star Fleet. There, he says, “Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved eight hundred lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”
Captain Pike’s total screen time in the movie may have been twelve minutes if even that, and in those short moments he made it clear to me that he should be a part of the Captain debate.
After all, he was the only man who was able to reach the prodigal Kirk (and he did in 1 minute 30 seconds of meeting him), and faced certain death when boarding Nero’s ship. There, he was tortured and he still wouldn’t give up the information. And then, when he gets rescued (something which he doesn’t really expect), despite being tortured and drugged, he has the presence of mind to grab Kirk’s phaser and shoot two enemies with deadly accuracy. Here’s the kicker: he only had about half a second to evaluate the situation.
or this picture: choose whichever
Now I understand this is the reboot, and not the original series, so obviously his character may have gone a serious change since it is an alternate timeline. To this, I say, “BS!” The destruction of the U.S.S Kelvin happened late enough in Pike’s life that it didn’t have a significant effect on his life, and he had already developed as the person he was going to be by the time the timeline deviated. The U.S.S Kelvin only gave him further inspiration to become a captain like the previous Captain Kirk, but he was already that kind of person to begin with. After all, he crippled himself saving his cadets in the original series (on the U.S.S Kelvin, ironically).
But really, for me, the strength in Captain Pike as a canonical whole is that he obviously didn’t become Captain out of ambition like Kirk, Archer, or Picard (I’m not so sure about Janeway and Sisko). It was out of desire to protect people, which is obvious from his speech about the James Kirk’s dad in the reboot and his sacrificing himself to save cadets from delta radiation in the original series.
If Pike had been the Captain in the original series, would it be as loved as it is today? I’m not naive, so I know the answer to that is probably not. There is something charming about Kirk’s complete ineptitude, carefree nature, and slight tendency toward misogyny (something which the original series Pike sort of shares, I might add). But how does he compare to the other captains? Well, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. All I’m asking is that we not forget Pike in all these discussions, even if in the end you choose someone else.