Who is Star Trek’s Best Vice President: Spock or Riker?

They were both first officers in the USS Enterprise – separated by time but not by duty. But for some reason, there is rarely anyone who thinks of comparing Mr Spock and Commander Riker. Until now.

Ever since Jean-Luc Picard took over the helm of Enterprise-D and headed to Farpoint Station (it was Stardate 41153.7, but the end of September 1987 for us on Earth), people have been tormented by whether he was a “better” captain than James T. Kirk. For those of us who were old enough to remember, it felt like the primary topic of conversation on the early internet, as evidenced by The Simpsons‘first reference ever to The Internet.

Typically, when the talk left the center seat, the next point of comparison was between The original series‘Spock and The next generationLieutenant Commander Data. It makes sense. Historically, they serve a similar function: they are geniuses that are the link to the ship’s survival, but forever on the periphery. Spock is, of course, the half volcano that dampens its emotions in favor of cold logic, and Data is an android of such superiority (though never quite explained) design that even the snooping commander Maddox agrees that he is sentient. Both characters were immediate fan favorites (and remain so), and the formula was repeated again in later series, with Odo on Deep Space Nine and Seven of Nine on Voyager. (Much has been written about Star Trek’s groundbreaking neurodivergent representation, though some of the creators claim to have been unaware that this was what they were doing.)

Although Starfleet is not a military organization, it follows a chain of command. Spock and Riker act as equals, and if they were ever to be on opposite sides, one has to wonder: who would win? Let’s divide the competition by category.


Spock supplies a Vulcan neck stick in

Spock delivers a Vulcan neck stick in “And the Children Shall Lead”
Image: CBS

Gene Roddenberry and his team of writers and producers made a U-turn while dreaming up The next generation. Picard, while certainly a badass when he should be, was deliberately created to be a more cerebral reaction to Kirk. Basically, Riker has many of the qualities of the OG captain. He’s the sequel to the sequel (and that action is not just with his phaser on an away mission.) Spock, though handsome in his own way, is far from a muscular hunk. He is thin and even bent at the shoulders at times. So to look at them you would think that Riker could knock him out cold.

Volcanoes – even half volcanoes – have a different physical composition than humans. There is the green blood, the inner eyelid, the ability to thrive in environments with high heat and low oxygen content, and the key to this discussion, tremendous physical strength. What’s more, there’s the handy little move known as the Vulcan nerve that will take down almost anyone in seconds.

Advantage: Spock


Riker wears a sexy cloak

Riker wears the traditional man suit of Angel I in “Angel One”
Image: CBS

This one is a little harder to determine. Yes, Riker was known to woo women across the galaxy, even as he maintained an emotionally mature post-physical relationship with his imzadi, Advisor Troi. (In what other TV show have you ever seen a man who was really happy when his best friend, an ex-lover, had great sex with another man? Only on TNG!) To this day, Enterprise-D’s first-grader’s warm, bearded smile is a champion of memes and reaction GIFs.

But when Mr. Spock and his Luciferian lewks hit the airwaves in the late 1960s, it was a revolution for people who were attracted to “different”-looking people. In fact, to William Shatner’s annoyance, his supposed sidekick Leonard Nimoy soon received more fanmail than the first guy on the call sheet. Spockophilia was a key, driving force in the early fan culture of Star Trek, and one can say that the common pursuit of “freight” has its roots right there on the tip of his pointed ears.

Advantage: Draw

Musical talent

William Riker is the only interstellar jazz trombonist I can think of. (And Jonathan Frakes really plays the instrument; he’s on a Phish album and has an RIAA-certified gold record in his home to prove it.)

Mr. However, Spock plays something that no human ever plays, at least not as I have seen: the Vulcan lute.

His rare public jamming on the said instrument was a way for the emotionally insecure genius to connect with the rest of his crew and show a more playful side (especially with Lieutenant Commander Uhura’s improvised lyrics). In addition, the damn thing looked cool.

Advantage: Spock

Strange siblings

Thomas and Will Riker in Star Trek The Next Generation's

Thomas and Will Riker in “Second Chances”
Image: CBS

Mr. Spock is a child of two worlds. His mother, Amanda, is human. His father, Sarek, is a Vulcan ambassador. (That he also bears a striking resemblance to a Romulan commander who died in battle against Captain Kirk is irrelevant.)

For years, it seemed as if the loneliness he radiated meant he had no siblings either, but that was actually not the case. IN Star Trek V: The Final Frontier we learned about an older half-brother, Sybok, who would later become a charismatic, quasi-religious leader, and eventually bad news. Fans do not like to talk so much about Sybok, but there are always one or two guys who dress like him for congresses, for a round of mockery.

Later we heard about an adopted older sister, Michael Burnham, the central character in Star Trek: Discovery. This relationship, quite frankly, could have been born out of ill-conceived creative choices by the side-fired Discovery showrunner Bryan Fuller (the story of Disco‘s curious first season has never been completely told), but when Ethan Peck put his teeth into the role of Spock, they managed to make it work. We look into more Star Trek: Strange New Worlds later that year.

But none of Spock’s family history could ever match Will Riker’s “brother,” Thomas Riker. The noble adventurer (still out there?) Is accepted as Will’s sibling, but he’s actually a clone created by a transport accident. Several disturbing years, to put it bluntly, put him on a different path – he joined the maquis and caught Major Kira’s eye. So he’s not really one duplicate. He is, thanks to a serious sci-fi, his own man, with similarities and differences to Enterprise’s first officer: truly a brother.

Advantage: Riker


Spock talks about his case in

Spock talks about his case in “The Menagerie, part 2”
Image: CBS

Both Spock and Riker (and Kira and Chakotay and T’Pol and Trip Tucker and Saru) are fiercely loyal to their captains. And they both hesitated when opportunities came to steer their own ship (for Spock in.) Khan’s peacefor Riker in the section The best of both worlds), realize that they best suited the needs of the League (and perhaps their own) by standing by their husband. These guys would never ever be anything but straightforward and honest.

Most of the time.

That is the case The original series‘The Menagerie’ in two parts and Next generation section “The Pegasus”. In both examples, our deputy commander withheld so much information that they basically lied to their captains. But they had a good excuse. They served the wishes (and a previously made promise) to former captains. I suppose both Kirk and Picard were happy to know that for years they could encourage these guys to take their backs.

Advantage: Draw

Post-first officer career

Will Riker back in his executive chair at Picard

Kingdom of the Star Trek: Picard Season 1; Spock in Star Trek (2009)

Spock in Star Trek (2009)

Photos: CBS / Paramount Pictures

After serving aboard the Enterprise, Will Riker eventually took command of a spaceship: the USS Titan. He also married counselor Deanna Troi.

The end of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1 stressed that he is still out there and saved the day at the last minute. Same with the end of season 1 of Star Trek: Picard.

Spock, on the other hand, took the more cerebral path one might expect. After a stop back at Vulcan and an interrupted attempt to complete his Kolinahr training, Starfleet (and the friendships he forged) called him back to the Federation. After working as a professor at Starfleet Academy, he followed his father’s path as an ambassador. He even became rogue, went underground to try to make peace between Vulcan and Romulus (and eventually chatted with Data, a scene that still sends nerds out into paroxysms of joy to this day).

He was also the channel, at least from a historical perspective, between Prime Universe and the Kelvin trilogy, which brought us an amazing film (Star Trek Beyond), a very good film (Star Trek), and a disaster so bad that it makes the adventure with Sybok seem less awful (Star Trek Into the Dark). In that regard, Spock proves, once again, to be a family man.

Advantage: Spock

So math has it. You do not need to have Vulcan logic to see: Spock beats Riker.

But hopefully he’s learned enough from Captain Kirk to pull a Kobayashi Maru and change the rules so they do not have to fight in the first place.

Leave a Comment