Bad bosses: we’ve all had them. Sometimes they’re good people who panic because they’re in way over their heads. Other times they’re petty tyrants, enjoying whatever power they can lord over their underlings. Some are so obsessed about something they completely miss the bigger picture, and they don’t see the real dangers coming until it’s too late. And some are just jerks who cause trouble simply by being themselves.
The future in Star Trek is mostly shown to us as a utopian paradise (at least the Federation part of it), but the problem with utopias is they can be pretty damn boring places to live. There’s not much drama, after all, if everyone happily agrees about everything.
How lucky for us, then, that there’s no shortage of Starfleet officers willing to step up and provide a bit of power-tripping or incompetence when needed.
1. Captain Matthew Decker (TOS, “The Doomsday Machine”)
Now, let’s be clear: Capt. Decker isn’t on this list because his ship, the USS Constellation, took heavy damage trying to destroy an interstellar doomsday machine. Nor is he here because he evacuated his entire crew to a planet that was subsequently destroyed by the same machine. Shit happens, hindsight is 20/20, et cetera. No, he makes the list because — right after losing his ship and crew — he takes advantage of Kirk’s absence from the Enterprise to pull rank on Spock and try to destroy the machine again, nearly condemning the Enterprise to the same fate. He redeemed himself somewhat by flying a shuttlecraft into the maw of the giant, giving the Enterprise crew the idea of using the derelict Constellation as a bomb to halt its rampage — but on the whole, yeah, it’s a shame his breakdown almost took down everyone else with him.
2. John Gill (TOS, “Patterns of Force”)
Technically, Gill was a Federation cultural observer, not a Starfleet officer, but he makes the list because he had the not-too-bright idea of introducing Nazism (and their TV budget-friendly uniforms) to an alien planet’s population. His reasoning was that the planet was in chaos and he wanted to save it by imposing order in the form of “the most efficient state Earth ever knew,” with himself imposed as Der Führer. No surprise, his plan went horribly awry — try to guess what happened next! — and Kirk and crew have to save the day. And that’s why we have this little thing we call the Prime Directive.
3. Admiral Cartwright (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
How evil is this guy? He’s so evil, he doesn’t even get a first name. For real, if they gave this guy a first name I haven’t found it in any of the usual Trek reference sources; he’s always listed as “Admiral Cartwright, AKA the admiral who betrayed the Federation by conspiring to sabotage a peace treaty with the Klingons.” The sixth Star Trek movie finds Kirk and crew ferrying Klingon delegates to a Federation conference to sign a peace treaty, but the Klingon chancellor’s murder en route puts a damper on the planned festivities. Not only did Cartwright conspire with other hawks who refused to accept peace with their longtime adversaries, he also framed Kirk and McCoy for the chancellor’s murder, sending them into the tender mercies of the Klingon penal system. Hey, Cartwright, if you’re still looking for a first name I’ve got a few suggestions to throw at you.
4. Fleet Admiral Alexander Marcus (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Speaking of warmongering admirals. As the biggest of the big cheeses in Starfleet, Fleet Admiral Marcus saw war with the Klingons as inevitable and he was prepared to do whatever he thought necessary to safeguard Earth. So of course his first move was to revive Khan Noonien Singh and hold Khan’s frozen colleagues hostage to force the genetically enhanced conqueror to design weapons and ships, including a giant warship that Marcus keeps off the books. Wait… what? In fairness, Marcus acted with the best of intentions, as it was probably reasonable to assume the Klingons represented a clear danger to the Federation at that time. But building secret warships? Thawing out mass murderers to do your grunt work? Firing on the Enterprise and trying to kill your own people to cover your tracks? Not cool, Admiral Robocop. Not cool.
5. Rear Admiral Norah Satie (TNG, “The Drumhead”)
Some military types see nothing but external threats on all sides; others grow paranoid about dangers from within. It’s a toss-up which is more destructive in the long run. In “The Drumhead,” an act of suspected sabotage aboard the Enterprise leads to an all-out witch hunt when lead investigator Norah Satie is convinced a conspiracy is afoot. Even when new evidence suggests the explosion was an accident, she refuses to relent and ends up calling Picard to the stand to denounce him as a traitor. You better believe that little stunt shut down her inquiry pretty damn quick — but not before Picard got to make a nifty speech about the price of freedom.
6. Vice-Admiral Layton (DS9, “Homefront”/”Paradise Lost”)
“Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep…” When dozens die at a peace conference on Earth and a Changeling is considered the prime suspect, Sisko and Odo investigate what could be a chilling new front in the Federation’s war with the Dominion. The Changelings can turn into anyone (and anything) they choose, and the fear of them infiltrating Earth’s defences causes a state of emergency that nearly devolves into a Starfleet dictatorship. At first supportive of the move, Sisko realizes things have gone too far when a Changeling tells him there are only four of his kind on Earth; the paranoid humans are doing their job for them by over-reacting and turning against each other. Oblivious to the fact he’s being played by the Changelings, Layton stages “attacks” to justify his consolidation of power and even orders a starship captain to fire on Sisko and the Defiant, claiming they’re disguised Changelings attacking Earth. Quoth the Memory Alpha: “When it became clear that his plot had failed, Leyton offered his resignation.” Oh, I think he’s giving up a lot more than his job after that lapse in judgment.
7. Admiral Erik Pressman (TNG, “The Pegasus”)
“Ooh, a new toy? Yeah, that’s definitely worth starting a war with the Romulans.” As captain of the USS Pegasus, Pressman was charged with testing an experimental phasing cloaking device. Pretty sweet, right? Except for the tiny fact the device was developed in secret by Starfleet security in direct violation of a peace treaty with the Romulans that explicitly banned the use of cloaking technology aboard Federation starships. Things don’t go as planned, and Pressman escapes just before his mutinous crew meets a grisly fate. Fast forward a few years, and Pressman is putting the pressure on his former crewman, the Enterprise’s William T. Riker, to join him in salvaging the recently found Pegasus and resuming their illegal experiments. This time, though, Riker has enough backbone to tell his former captain to take a space hike, and Pressman is arrested for his actions. His final words to Picard are “I have a lot of friends at Starfleet Command” — which I totally believe, since he walked away from losing an entire ship full of Starfleet officers and a highly classified piece of tech and somehow got a promotion out of it.
8. Vice-Admiral Matthew Dougherty (Star Trek: Insurrection)
One thing a lot of rogue Starfleet officers have in common is they firmly believe they’re acting for the greater good, and if a few rules have to be broken or a few lives sacrificed, well, “the needs of the many” and all that. Dougherty worked secretly with the Son’a to covertly relocate the Ba’ku from their home planet, leaving Dougherty and the Son’a free to harvest unique life-extending particles from the planet’s rings. The Federation Council okayed the mission, but Dougherty purposely kept them in the dark about the whole forced relocation thing, since he knew they would never sanction that. Complicating matters was the Enterprise catching wind of what he was trying to do, forcing Dougherty to allow two Son’a battle cruisers to attack the Enterprise. He later died like a punk in a face-stretching machine, which is probably not how he thought he would check out.
9. Captain Rudolph Ransom (VOY, “Equinox”)
Voyager was light on menacing Starfleet officers for the simple reason their lost-in-space status made it hard for them to mingle with other Starfleet personnel. One notable exception was Captain Ransom and the crew of the USS Equinox, a science vessel that had been marooned in the far-off Delta Quadrant under circumstances similar to Janeway’s ship. Once there, Ransom lost half his crew to various attacks and dangers, and those who survived were so desperate to get home they resorted to killing “nucleogenic life forms” to convert their corpses into the anti-matter fuel needed to power the ship’s warp drive. Ransom defended his actions to Janeway by quoting Starfleet rules that said captains were authorized to save their crew by any justifiable means, but Janeway countered those rules were never meant to condone mass murder. Figuring he was in for a penny, Ransom and his people steal Voyager’s field generator and leave the Voyager crew behind to deal with the race of aliens he ticked off. To his credit, Ransom eventually realized he had gone too far and was prepared to surrender to Janeway, but his first officer mutinied before he could follow through.
10. Captain Benjamin Maxwell (TNG, “The Wounded”)
Whether you want to believe Starfleet is a military, diplomatic or scientific organization, one thing is clear: there is a chain of command, and officers are expected to follow it. For instance, that means you don’t engage in combat without orders, and you certainly don’t fire on non-Federation vessels when it could lead to all-out war. After the Enterprise is attacked by a Cardassian vessel, they learn it’s in retaliation for an unprovoked attack on a Cardassian science station by a Federation ship. Turns out Capt. Maxwell of the USS Phoenix is responsible, and it’s up to Picard to locate Maxwell and find out what is going on. Maxwell claims the Cardassians are re-arming themselves and preparing for another war, but his lack of evidence and reasons for holding a grudge against them (his family died in an earlier Cardassian attack) make it difficult for Picard to take his word for it. In the end, it turns out he may have been right, but it doesn’t change the fact he went renegade and risked an all-out war based on nothing more than a hunch. And that’s definitely not a captain’s job, unless your name is…
11. Admiral James T. Kirk (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, etc.)
Come on, there’s no way this guy is not appearing on this list. To be fair, even Kirk himself admitted he wasn’t meant for a desk job and clearly regretted taking the promotion as soon as he got it. But did he have to take out his issues with growing older on everyone else? Let’s look at the record. He takes command of the retrofitted Enterprise from the captain overseeing its updates and nearly kills the entire crew because of his unfamiliarity with the ship’s updated systems. He takes command of the Enterprise — again — when the opportunity presents itself, this time pulling the rug out from under his best friend and extremely competent captain in his own right. He later steals a Federation ship to retrieve Spock’s body, committing assault and sabotage along the way. He murders an entire crew of Klingons (admittedly in self-defence) and steals their ship, acts that bring the Federation and Klingon Empire close to war. He ignores orders to stay away from a quarantined planet — twice — and violates the laws of time and physics to bring two whales (and a marine biologist) from the past into the 24th century, causing God knows how many butterfly-effect changes on the timeline. And that’s not counting his 16 other temporal violations — “the biggest file on record” — recorded by the Department of Temporal Investigations or his brutal massacre of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Man’s a menace, is what I’m saying.