The Gorn from Star Trek: The Original Series.

I’ve analyzed Star Trek’s worst and best villains before, but now we’re looking at antagonistic species. These are the rude aliens whose primary purpose in life is hassling handsome Starfleet officers who are just trying to boldly go where no one has gone before. Though, I suppose the aliens in question have already gone there. Come to think of it, that tagline never really made sense in a setting where space is full of sapient species. 

Surprising no one, there are a LOT of these enemies scattered across ten-ish shows* and countless episodes. I had to cut the list down to species with a significant presence in the setting, which usually means being the main antagonists for at least three episodes. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of antagonistic species to talk about.

Today, we’re looking at seven of the really bad ones, counting down to the very worst antagonistic species in Star Trek.

7. Suliban 

A Suliban soldier from Enterprise.

The first problem with the Suliban is they’re a species of terrorists obviously named after the Taliban. Supposedly, this decision was made before 9/11, but I have my doubts. We do meet some Suliban who aren’t terrorists, and eventually the Enterprise writers work harder to differentiate the antagonistic Cabal organization from the species as a whole, but the damage is done by then. Thankfully, little about the Suliban besides their name is Muslim-coded, or we’d have an even bigger problem. 

The second problem is that the Suliban are introduced as part of the Temporal Cold War arc, a story which goes precisely nowhere. We never learn what they were trying to achieve or why they were trying to achieve it. The Suliban’s time-traveling boss never even gets a name; he remains “Humanoid Figure” to this day or “Future Guy” to his friends. Even the writers seemed to have little interest in the Suliban, with appearances largely petering out by the middle of season two. 

Beyond being part of an ill-defined time-travel conflict, the Suliban get very little development. We get some dialogue early on about how they want to “evolve,” but it’s little more than a justification for why they have a bunch of special abilities like invisibility and night vision. In fact, Future Guy actually pays the Suliban for their terrorism by giving them additional abilities, which they then use to do more terrorism for him. Hey, Suliban, this is like your boss paying you with training courses on how to do your job better. That’s something he was going to do anyway! Next time, take your wages in latinum. 

In theory, all those special abilities at least make the Suliban decently threatening. In practice, it’s much more mixed. They can squeeze under a door by turning into bad CGI, or they could just phaser the door open like a normal person. Their invisibility is more useful, but it seems to stop working whenever the writers don’t want to deal with it anymore. In practice, fighting the Suliban isn’t any harder than fighting humans. Their ships are nothing to write home about either, just little pods that any serious warship can easily handle. 

With all those problems, what makes the Suliban the best of the worst? It’s who they’re up against: Captain Archer and his crew. Even the most charitable interpretation of Enterprise shows us untested explorers with little to no experience. A less charitable interpretation would say they’re clowns who don’t know a dilithium crystal from a self-sealing stem bolt.*

Either way, it’s useful for Enterprise’s first antagonists to not be especially strong, so it’s believable that our heroes aren’t immediately crushed. This doesn’t make the Suliban good antagonists by any means. They’re still poorly developed, and they especially don’t work as agents of a time-traveling superpower. You’d think Future Guy could afford a better set of minions, is all. 

6. Ferengi

Quark, Rom, and Nog from Deep Space Nine.

Created by Gene Roddenberry and Herbert White for The Next Generation, the Ferengi were originally meant to replace the Klingons as Star Trek’s primary antagonist. In retrospect, that’s hilarious, but you can see what they were going for in early TNG episodes when the characters talk about Ferengi like some kind of bogeyman. It’s similar to the way they talk about the Borg in later seasons, and they did need a new villain since the Klingons were allies by then. 

But when the Ferengi finally show up, their threatening image shatters. They’re cowardly, sniveling, and look like they’d lose a fight against a stiff breeze. They’re also terrible liars despite constantly lying, and they have zero charisma to speak of. That’s especially weird considering they’re supposed to be commentary on greedy corporate types. How did Roddenberry and White think that venture capitalists convinced investors to give them such obscene amounts of money? 

After their first appearance, the Ferengi stick around as big bads for a little while longer, but they never work in the role. Their extreme incompetence usually sees them crash and burn immediately, which isn’t something villains are supposed to do. On the rare occasion when the Ferengi get a win, it always feels contrived. Really, these guys managed to outsmart or outfight the best Starfleet has to offer? 

Why did this happen? The Ferengi are capitalists, and early TNG was trying its best to be anti-capitalist. In most stories, a good villain is cool and badass, but Roddenberry, White, and the other writers didn’t want to glorify the thing they hated. Instead, they made their villains into total clowns. Pro tip: if you model your villain on someone you aren’t willing to make cool and badass, you should probably find another parallel for your villain. 

The Ferengi’s saving grace is that we eventually get some great characters out of them, mostly in Deep Space Nine. I’m talking about fan favorites like Nog, Rom, Ishka, and the legendary Quark. By then, the Ferengi cease to be Starfleet’s antagonist and are more of an occasional nuisance, if that.  

This isn’t to say the Ferengi ever entirely escape the trap of their creation. Even in DS9, Ferengi antics are tiresome more often than amusing, and their extreme sexism often leads to sequences where Quark sexually harasses his employees. We’re supposed to like Quark, so that’s not great. Plus, the Ferengi are uncomfortably close to a number of Jewish stereotypes. They certainly aren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but let’s just say that if you want to make a group of people who really love money, don’t also make them short with big noses. 

5. Gorn

A Gorn captain standing over Kirk.

Back in ye olde Original Series, the Gorn were a one-off enemy who facilitated a clumsy message about solving problems with diplomacy rather than violence. I say “clumsy” because, in that episode, the Gorn wipe out a largely civilian Federation outpost because it was on a planet the Gorn claimed in their minds but never told anyone about. Letting that kind of crime go without consequences is at best a supreme injustice and at worst like hanging a sign out for other species to do the same thing. 

Still, the writers were trying, and that one appearance wouldn’t have been enough to get the Gorn on my list. But then, Strange New Worlds made the Gorn their new big bad, and everything got so much worse.  

While SNW is a great show for the most part, its portrayal of the Gorn is abysmal. It’s so bad I wrote an entire article about it, but the short version is that someone saw the problems with how the Gorn were handled in TOS and decided to lean into it. 

Now the Gorn are a cross between Reavers and xenomorphs. They fly around the galaxy looking for sapient beings to hunt for sport and torture to death, because it’s apparently a law that every new Star Trek show has to have at least one over-the-top moment of grimdark. And in an especially un-Trek twist, Gorn are murderous from the moment they hatch. All of this so the SNW writers could do a bad riff on Alien. 

There is a place in Star Trek for enemies who simply cannot be reasoned with, but the Gorn don’t fit that model. They’re supposed to be roughly on the same level as Romulans and Klingons. Sure, we might have conflict with them, but they’re not inherently evil. Except now they are, apparently. 

Yet the Gorn still score higher than some Trek villains, just on the strength of their TOS appearance. Whatever the issues with that episode’s message, Kirk’s one-on-one battle with the Gorn captain is iconic for a reason. 

In that episode, the Gorn are clever tacticians rather than just bloodthirsty killers. This is more threatening than SNW’s Xenomorph-like Gorn, and it doesn’t even depend on making them inherently evil. Amazing! Fighting the Gorn captain also gives Kirk the chance to build his DIY cannon, something he has to do because the Gorn is too strong to defeat in hand-to-hand combat. Said cannon may or may not be scientifically accurate, but it is dramatically accurate, and that’s something. 

4. Parasitic Beings

A parasite leaving its host's body.

Despite never getting an official name, these bug-like aliens represent a historic first for Star Trek: they were actually foreshadowed before they showed up. Only four episodes in advance, but it still counts! The foreshadowing was also extremely vague, just some hints about an unknown conspiracy in Star Trek. However, it was still exciting at the time because Star Trek had literally never done that before. You couldn’t just go around setting up multi-episode arcs like that in 1988 – what if someone forgot to program their VCR? 

Apparently the foreshadowing was intentionally vague because the original plan was for a conspiracy of Starfleet officers to launch a coup, something that was shot down for being too dark. I’m glad they made that choice. A similar coup plot works in Deep Space Nine because it has the Dominion War as a backdrop. Without that context, a coup in the Federation would feel super random, but I guess it was an early indicator of how eager writers were to make Star Trek dark and grim. 

Anyway, the parasites’ first problem is believability. They infest a host and control the host’s body, but they don’t have any of the host’s memories. That would make it extremely difficult for them to blend in, especially in a technologically advanced setting like Star Trek. Presumably the parasites understand spaceships, but do they understand Starfleet spaceships specifically? How do they explain not knowing how to fire a photon torpedo or forgetting all their access codes? 

The second major issue with them is that the parasite queen is apparently load bearing. When Riker and Picard phaser it to death, all the other parasites immediately die. Huh? Why? Did they die instantly or was there a light-speed delay? Maybe we can use dying parasite aliens as a form of faster-than-light communication!*

Of course, the reason for this sudden death is that the parasites conspiracy was far too big for one episode to properly deal with, which leads us into the most significant issue: even with the foreshadowing, this plot feels super rushed. We don’t even meet the parasites properly until they’ve already taken over nearly all of Starfleet, and our heroes only win because the alien queen is polite enough to hang around within phaser range. Such a monumental conflict should at least have been a two-parter! 

Despite those problems, the parasites actually do what the show says they’re going to do instead of spending an entire season building up to nothing. That’s enough to earn them a slightly higher place than our other entries. There’s also an unresolved plot thread where the parasite queen was sending a signal for reinforcements. Supposedly, this was planned to be a lead-in for the Borg. That’s not really a strength, but it’s an interesting bit of alternate history to contemplate.

3. The Alliance of Synthetic Life

Robot tentacles emerging from a wormhole.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Reapers featured in Star Trek? Thanks to Picard’s first season, you don’t have to wonder anymore! Though in retrospect, I wish they’d left this particular thought exercise as a mystery. 

Despite being the bogeyman of season one, we know little about the Alliance of Synthetic Life. Heck, I’m still not sure if that name is actually used in the show or if Memory Alpha made it up. While mysterious villains are more threatening, you should usually reveal something about them or their inclusion feels pointless. In the Alliance’s case, it feels less like the writers were trying to maintain mystique and more like they just ran out of time since the season is super crowded with Romulans and Borg and gay-burying, oh my. 

Naturally, what we do learn about the Alliance is extremely silly. Their shtick is hanging around outside the galaxy, waiting to wipe out all organic life if they hear about synthetics getting mistreated. That’s a pretty disproportionate response, but maybe they just like being thorough. 

The weird part is that to call the Alliance for help, you have to find an ancient beacon that only exists on a single planet. At least, only a single planet that we know of in the show. If there are more, they’re rare enough that no one else has found one. And if you find out where the beacon is and get there, the beacon tells you how to make a transmitter to contact the Alliance. Said transmitter is huge and takes a lot of time to build, assuming one has the resources. 

So… any oppressed synthetics can call for help if they know about the secret beacon, and whoever’s oppressing them is kind enough to let them go to the planet and then take however long to build an exo-galactic radio. I’m starting to see why the Alliance wasn’t very useful to Data when Starfleet was one court case away from selling him for parts or to the holograms that Janeway wanted to let the Hirogen hunt for sport. 

To cap this all off, some evil synthetics finally manage to build and activate the transmitter, but their call is cut off before the Alliance’s wormhole gate can fully open. At which point, the Alliance apparently just leaves. 

Question: If you left a system specifically for synthetics to summon you when they’re in trouble, would you assume everything’s fine because they got cut off mid-call? I can only imagine how things must work at the Alliance’s 911 call center. 

The Alliance’s only saving grace is that they’re still mysterious enough for us to fill in explanations if we really try. That’s not a good sign, but it’s technically better than our next two contestants, who plainly spell out how uninteresting they are. It’s too bad, as I’m not actually opposed to Reapers in Star Trek; I just wish they didn’t end on such a whimper.  

2. The Malon

A Malon in Voyager's transporter room.

The Next Generation episode Final Mission has an usual conflict in its B plot: a centuries-old radioactive garbage scow has drifted into the orbit of an inhabited planet, putting off so much radiation that it’s a health hazard. While Picard is away, Riker and company have to divert this trash ship into the nearest sun before anyone dies of being irradiated. B plot over, time to carry on with exploring the galaxy! 

The Malon are what happens when you take that episode and make a species out of it: an entire species of garbage disposal workers. Okay, that’s not quite fair: we’re told that the Malon’s offscreen homeworld is a more conventional and balanced place, but every Malon we meet works in waste disposal. 

The justification is that Malon technology produces some kind of super radioactive waste, and their only option is to send countless ships out into space looking for a place to dump the stuff. This is what causes all of the Malon-related conflicts, and it’s also the main reason they’re so low on the list: it doesn’t make any gosh-darned sense!

The parallel to real-life nuclear waste is obvious, but it falls apart because the Malon don’t live on a single planet; they live in space. Space is, as the name implies, full of space. Even in a setting like Star Trek’s, where habitable planets are a dime a dozen, there’s so much empty space that garbage dumping is a trivial problem.* If all else fails, the Malon could shoot their garbage out of the galactic plane, since the Milky Way is largely flat. If that’s too slow, just dump their garbage into a handy sun or black hole like the original TNG episode! 

Once you get past the garbage-disposal premise, there isn’t much substance to the Malon. They’re perpetually angry whenever we meet them. They’re also highly concerned with financial profit, which is weird because their technology supposedly creates near-limitless abundance as long as the super-waste is cleared away. Their mannerisms were obviously inspired by the Ferengi, which isn’t a good sign, but at least the Ferengi have some cultural context to explain their behavior. 

The only reason the Malon avoided last place is that Malon ships are at least intimidating. They’re big, heavily armored, and bristling with weapons. That might seem odd for space-going garbage trucks, but since the Malon’s weird premise requires that they dump radioactive garbage in other people’s backyards, it makes sense that they’d be prepared for a fight. Enjoy the consolation prize, literal trash people!

1. Kazon

Several Kazon sitting in a room.

I doubt this entry will raise many eyebrows, as even the most devoted Voyager fans will acknowledge that the Kazon were never up to par. Their entire concept seems flawed from the start. Their defining traits are being quick to anger and not very smart, plus having significantly less advanced technology than our heroes. 

We have so many examples of Kazon incompetence that it’s hard to know where to start. One of my favorites is that they haven’t figured out how to put doors on their jails yet; they just have open rooms that they tell prisoners not to leave. Usually, they’ll put one easily distractible guard on duty, with predictable results. It’s also weird that the Kazon are a warp-capable species, but they’re initially portrayed as being desperate for water. It’s fine if they don’t have replicators yet, but have they never heard of a dehumidifier? 

Kazon ships are complete pushovers in combat. That’s a problem because they’re constantly attacking Voyager to steal its more advanced technology. In theory, the Kazon can threaten Voyager through superior numbers, but even that usually fails because the good guys can always use their superior technology to materialize a solution from the ether. 

It’s also difficult to see how the Kazon stick around as a threat for so long. Voyager is Starfleet’s fastest ship, and it’s on a course away from Kazon territory. How are any Kazon still nearby after a couple episodes? Are they all following Voyager? How do they keep up? Maybe it’s all the times Janeway stops the ship to scan for coffee. 

Culturally, the Kazon are extremely boring. They’re yet another generic “warrior race,” a shaky concept at the best of times, and the Kazon don’t do anything to improve it. They’re one-dimensional caricatures who exist only to hassle any passing Federation ships.

And yet, they could have been so much worse. 

Originally, the Kazon were conceived as a parallel for gang violence in US cities. This association was so strong that, supposedly, Kazon were referred to as “Bloods” and “Crips” in development documents. Given how poorly the Voyager writers handled Chakotay’s Native American heritage, I shudder to think how they’d have portrayed the complex factors of racism and poverty that give rise to US gang violence.* Fortunately, almost nothing of this concept made it onscreen, but the Kazon are still easily at the bottom of our ranking.  

The hardest part of writing this article was pruning down the list of Star Trek enemies to a manageable number. Now I won’t get the chance to rant about the Hierarchy and their awful costumes, or the Space Dinosaurs who hate evolution! But despite my ruthlessness, I still couldn’t get the list small enough for a worst/best division like I did for the movie villains. So tune back in next time when we discuss the mediocre antagonistic species of Star Trek! 

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