Over seven seasons and four movies, the crew of the Enterprise-D on Star Trek: The Next Generation faced many interesting cultures and civilizations as well as technological anomalies. While most of their stories were episodic and not serialized, some enemies came back multiple times and that was where we most often got to see any real changes. Let’s examine the top 10 best recurring enemies on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The Ferengi were initially intended to be the major antagonists for the Federation when Star Trek: The Next Generation began. But the aliens’ comical appearance (short, bald, huge ears) and one-note characterizations (they were uber-capitalists) quickly made it apparent that they only worked as minor antagonists. They were featured enemies eleven times but none of them were especially notable. I guess Bloodlines where a Ferengi with a personal vendetta against Picard was okay. At worst, they can be seen as borderline racist caricatures of Jewish people. It’s only thanks to Deep Space 9 that the culture was eventually given some depth and nuance and became a source of comedy beyond just a bunch of aliens that want money.
9. Crystalline Entity
Appearing twice, the seemingly unknowable alien structure was capable of destroying entire worlds. Its second appearance, in Silicon Avatar, explores grief and loss through guest character Kila Marr, Data’s humanity and Picard’s capacity to give anyone or anything a second chance. It also has a really sad ending.
8. The Holodeck
The Holodeck was a new concept for Next Generation where you can basically enter stories and thanks to holograms and robotics, it looks like you’re in any setting you want. That said, there were eleven episodes featuring problems with the Holodeck. One of its most interesting was Ship in a Bottle where Professor Moriarty, from a previous episode set in the world of Sherlock Holmes, gained sentience and sought to escape his confines.
7. The Maquis
Arguably, this is a small cheat as the Maquis appear by name in only one Next Generation episode, Preemptive Strike. However, their origins are pretty explicitly set up in the episode Journey’s End. Both are strong episodes. The Maquis were Federation citizens unhappy with the Federation brokering a peace treaty with the Cardassians. And they were shown to have legit grievances. The idea of Starfleet officers betraying the Federation to join the rebel organization was a pretty cool, new idea that was explored a lot more in Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Next Generation’s episode, Journey’s End, was emotionally charged thanks to popular recurring character Ro Laren joining the group.
The Romulans were used in fifteen different Next Generation stories, often to great effect. While they were originally antagonists on the original Star Trek show, they were further developed throughout Next Generation, examining their society based on military might but a constantly overthrown senate. Their ships had cloaking abilities which always made them a powerful threat in space battles. And they played dirty, using Tasha Yar’s daughter and Picard’s clone as ploys to destroy the Federation. One of their best episodes was Unification, where we learn Spock is secretly meeting with progressive Romulans in an attempt to broker a peace with their sister race, the Vulcans.
Lore is a bit of a cheesy idea, the evil twin. Lore is Data’s precursor, an android that had an emotions chip but that same ability caused him to have megalomaniacal tendencies. Still, there’s plenty of room for pulpy fun like that in Star Trek. The episode Brothers uses Lore best, showing us a lot of Data’s origins and letting him meet his “father” Dr. Noonian Soong.
The Cardassians were one of Next Generations best new enemies. They were used in seven stories. Unlike many alien enemies who tended to have one overwhelming characteristic that defined them, the Cardassians were a bit deeper. They were devious and wanted to expand but they could still negotiate with the Federation. They were later fleshed out far more in Deep Space Nine but Next Generation had some great episodes where they were the adversary, like the Riker-centric episode The Pegasus. They were probably at their best in Chain of Command, when they capture Picard and torture him in an attempt to break him. It’s a two-parter with a grueling second hour that shows Picard has incredible inner resolve.
The Klingons are a classic Star Trek race who were the big enemies of the original series. But by the time of Next Generation, they were our allies. Sort of. It was always a tremendously uneasy truce, closer to a Cold War. The fact that one of the main cast members was a Klingon led to several stories where rogue elements within the Klingon society were antagonists. But it also began to show us how a war-like race also took pride in areas like science. It helped make them make more sense. A key episode was Reunion where Picard had to arbitrate to decide who would become the new Klingon leader, and one of the two candidates is suspected to be a traitor.
Q appeared in eight Next Generation stories. He was essentially omnipotent and it was hard to comprehend his ultimate desire – to destroy humanity or to raise them up. A lot of the episodes played up the comedy aspects of him being able to needle Picard, a control freak. But sometimes he helped showcase humanity a bit more objectively. One of his best stories was the final two-parter episode of Next Generation, All Good Things…, where we learn he is testing Picard to think in multiple timelines simultaneously, showing that humanity still has great potential to evolve.
1. The Borg
There’s no question that the most iconic enemy for Next Generation is the Borg. A hivelike race of cyborgs that assimilate any and all sentient races into their collective, they represented a nearly-unstoppable, far more advanced race that had no emotions to appeal to. They only want to assimilate you, never to negotiate. They were legit scary. Perhaps they made the Borg too weak too soon, with the still-engaging episode I, Borg which was only their third appearance and gave them humanity. But they were too good an idea to let go, and the show used them once more in The Descent and then as their antagonists in the second movie, First Contact. They were just too compelling to let go and Voyager and Enterprise used them after Next Generation ended. While they were never enemies of the Deep Space Nine cast, the fact that Captain Sisko lost his wife to a Borg attack cast a pall over everything there. The Borg brought the crew the closest they’ve ever appeared to be to losing completely in the 2-parter The Best of Both Worlds. As a third season finale, it really seemed like we’d lose a main cast member or two. The resolution in season four’s premier still gave us a Picard that had been utterly defeated and broken, harboring some serious PTSD from his time being assimilated.