By Christopher Jones
William T. Riker always wanted his own command. It was his “Number One” priority—in terms of his career anyway. It’s hard to imagine the allure of the captain’s chair winning out over Minuet, Etana Jol, or certainly Deanna Troi. Yes, Riker’s love of women has been well documented over the years, but there is one other thread that ran through all of TNG: Riker’s desire to one day command his own ship. Fortunately, in the end, he didn’t have to choose. He got his ship and his Imzadi, too. But the road to that final destination was a long and winding one. Let’s take a look at just how that fourth pip landed on Riker’s collar to stay.
Young Billy Riker, which we’ll call him here because, well, there’s a good chance he went by that name back in Valdez, Alaska, had a less than ideal upbringing. His mother died when he was only two years old and his father, Kyle (also known as Pulaski’s anbo-jyutsu-practicing lover boy), didn’t quite have the knack for parenting. He abandoned the junior Riker when Billy was just 15.
This could be enough to throw many teenage boys into despair and set them on course for an uninspiring life. But in the midst of this, Billy showed his first signs of greatness as a leader. He pulled himself up and set his eyes on Starfleet. At the age of 22 he graduated from the Academy ranked eighth in his class and was given his first assignment as helmsman of the U.S.S. Pegasus. His feet had landed on the first rung of the ladder that would eventually lead to the captain’s chair.
Things didn’t really work out so well on the Pegasus though. Riker found himself in the middle of an illegal Starfleet attempt to develop a cloaking device, a technology that was banned by the Treaty of Algeron. The young ensign sided with his captain, and was one of only eight crew members to escape from the ship when the experiment went awry.
Riker avoided any serious consequences resulting from the Pegasus incident and went on to be stationed on Betazed, where he met a smashing young psychology student named Deanna Troi. File that little bit away for now. We hear it’s important, and we’ll come back around to it later… if time allows.
Or Battleship Potemkin as it is known in Federation Standard ::cough:: English. After leaving Betazed, William—he shed that boyish Billy monicker after his tryst with Troi—served aboard the U.S.S. Potemkin. Now a lieutenant, Riker had a distinguished tour of duty highlighted by a rescue mission on Nervala IV. As a result of his actions he was decorated by Starfleet for valor.
The time aboard the Potemkin propelled Riker one rung higher up the ladder, and he was assigned to the U.S.S. Hood. Eventually he was promoted to first officer and continued to draw the attention of The Order of the Ever-changing Uniform Design, also known as the admirals back at Starfleet Command. It became clear that the Hood would not be Riker’s final stop.
Love the Drake…
…but love the Enterprise more. After Riker’s impressive service as first officer of the Hood, he was offered command of the U.S.S. Drake. Wow, that was fast! It’s as if Captain Pike challenged him to make captain in five years and he said he’d do it in three! If you’re keeping count, that’s: 1) Ensign—Pegasus; 2) Lover—Troi; 3) Lieutenant—Hood; 4) Captain—Drake. Billy done good.
There was just one problem. Although everyone loves The Drake, there’s something about the name Enterprise that trumps everything else. Or maybe Riker had a thing for French men with English accents and no hair. We’re not sure. But whatever the reason, Riker eschewed promotion and instead signed on as Jean-Luc’s first officer aboard the 1701-D.
Thus began the long and whining road of Riker’s career indecision. No one summed this up better than Q in “All Good Things…” when he said that Picard had wasted the last seven years “worrying about Commander Riker’s career.”
Command Offered: U.S.S. Drake
Riker’s Decision: Decline
Ram It! I Will Not Go!
After turning down command of the Drake, Riker next fretted over his career path in “The Icarus Factor,” an episode in which he also yelled “yorushi gasig bashiru mashimash!!!” in an apparent attempt to speak Japanese during an anbo-jyutsu match with his father.
In this episode, Riker has been offered command of the U.S.S. Aries, a Renaissance Class ship that was named after the moon shuttle from 2001: A Space Odyssey and, of course, the constellation of the ram. The real reason for his decision to remain aboard the Enterprise may have been that he really liked working on the flagship, or that he would miss Troi too much if he left, or that his Minuet program was incompatible with the holodeck aboard the Aries, or that he really disliked Stanley Kubrick films and didn’t want to be associated with references to them. Once again, we’re not sure. But whatever the reason, Riker told Starfleet to take their promotion and shove it.
Command Offered: U.S.S. Aries
Riker’s Decision: Decline
The Melbourne Identity
At this point, the admirals at Starfleet Command created a game in which they try to guess what it will take to entice Riker to sit down. A rumor passed along from Mot, the Enterprise’s Bolian barber, was that Riker had an Olivia Newton-John holodeck program that was one of his favorites. Thus was born the idea of offering him the U.S.S. Melbourne just before “The Best of Both Worlds.”
The operation, code-named “Let’s Get Physical” (and not by accident), was headed up by Commander Shelby and generated enough angst to send Riker soul-searching for two whole episodes.
“What am I still doing here, Deanna?” asks Riker after Picard gives him a less than subtle hint that it’s time to move on. “Because you can’t stand to be apart from me,” replies Troi in a version of the script that we wrote ourselves. Riker considers the possibility that he is “afraid of the big chair.” Troi then flexes her counseling muscles with the very helpful response “It really comes down to a simple question—what do you want, Will Riker?” To this Riker replies “Thanks. So helpful. I should’ve gone to talk to Mot instead.”
Again, from a script we wrote.
Thanks to pressure from Commander Shelby, Operation Let’s Get Physical was the admiralty’s biggest success yet in pushing Riker farther toward sitting down. We typically think of “The Best of Both Worlds” as being a Borg episode, all about the assimilation of Picard and a grave threat to Earth. But “The Best of Both Worlds” is actually one of the great Riker stories of the entire series. There’s a lot of character development going on aboard the Enterprise while Picard is off wearing black leather and shining lights in people’s faces.
The operation was also successful in getting a fourth pip onto Riker’s collar for a short while. And though Admiral Nechayev has repeatedly taken credit for this on the Federation talk show circuit, Starfleet really has the Borg to thank for forcing Riker to sit down in the big chair, if only temporarily.
Ultimately Starfleet once again failed as Captain Picard was rescued and returned to his duties as the Enterprise’s commanding officer. “The Best of Both Worlds” ends with Riker telling Picard and Shelby, “Everyone’s so concerned about my next job. With all due respect, Commander… sir… my career plans are my own business, no one else’s. But it’s nice to know I’ll have a few options.”
A few options?! Hell, Riker, Starfleet has given you more than a few options. It’s like the Baskin-Robbins of command chairs around here.
Nevertheless, life went on and the Enterprise set course for Station McKinley for repairs, a grinning Riker returning to his rank of commander and role of first officer.
Command Offered: U.S.S. Melbourne
Riker’s Decision: Decline
But that’s not where the story ends. We can only speculate on what offers Starfleet made and Riker declined between “The Best of Both Worlds” and Nemesis. The U.S.S. Metro was a no-go due to the lack of an emergency flight-control joystick on the bridge. We don’t know what Starfleet was thinking with the offer of the U.S.S. Hermes and its all-male crew. And Vice Admiral Nakamura’s insistence that Riker serve as Co-Captain of the U.S.S. Zygosity with his transporter-created twin Thomas—who would have always commanded the battle bridge—was both unorthodox and a deal-breaker.
The destruction of the Enterprise-D in Generations would have been the perfect excuse for Starfleet to re-assign Riker to a new ship and promote him to captain, kicking and screaming if necessary. But this did not happen.
It took a few more years and a few more missions, but eventually Starfleet won their long battle and Riker finally sat down. He accepted promotion just prior to the film Nemesis, agreeing to take command of the U.S.S. Titan.
Somehow Starfleet sweetened the offer. It may have been allowing him to name all of his shuttlecraft after jazz greats, but we think it was the book deal that did it. Your own ship and your own series of books? Who could turn that down?
Most of the tie-ins to the Titan transition were cut from Nemesis (thanks Stuart Baird), but a number of technical details and the fact that Wesley Crusher would be serving as Assistant Chief Engineer under Riker’s command were meant to be revealed. At the end of the film, another deleted scene showed Riker’s successor taking his position as Picard’s first officer.
As it played out, fans must turn to the Pocket Books novel series to learn the details of Riker’s first true command, his life aboard the Luna Class U.S.S. Titan, and the dynamics of running a ship alongside his wife, Deanna Troi, who serves as the ship’s counselor and diplomatic officer.
Riker’s first mission in the big chair was a trip to Romulus to follow up on the events of Nemesis and pursue peaceful relations with the Empire. His crew includes a number of familiar faces, including Alyssa Ogawa as head nurse and Tuvok as tactical and second officer.
With TNG retired from screen and film, the Star Trek: Titan novels now chronicle the missions of Captain William T. Riker, and books from other series like The Captain’s Table and Typhon Pact have also tied in.
It’s been a long road, but there are many adventures to come. After all, as Riker said as he looked up at the sky of Veridian III from the destroyed 1701-D bridge, “I plan to live forever. And love. Love forever.” Uhm, maybe that last part wasn’t in there.