Favorite Fictional Characters, #39: William Riker
I grew up on the original Star Trek series, with endless reruns on Channel 50 in New Hampshire, and with the uneven movies with the Kirk crew. When the new series came out in 1987, I had mixed feelings about it (to the extent a twelve year old can have mixed feelings). It was a slick production, of course, with special effects twenty years better than what Roddenberry had during his first rodeo, though they're starting to look pretty dated now, some thirty years later. It was awkward at first, as most new shows are, with actors feeling out their characters. It took a while for Data, Worf, and the rest to grow into how we remember them now. I can remember being viscerally irritated by Picard. He was so formal, so cold, so lame. I was a Kirk guy, and Picard was grandfatherly and stolid in comparison. The creators knew their captain was no man of action, so they gave us William T. Riker.
Riker was a man's man, a Kirk for the jumpsuit set. He clearly respected his commanding officer, even as he chafed under the restrictions of a less masculine era. He was the id to Picard's ego, the physical, the sexual, the daring, the vigor. All of which got better with the beard. When Picard was captured by the Borg and Riker ended the season by firing on the cube, we all cheered in the hope that Patrick Stewart was going back to Shakespeare in the Park and Will Riker would take the helm of the Enterprise. Alas, it was not to be.
Picard's grown on me as the years have gone by, and I can appreciate a neutered intellect in command of a starship. But Riker will remain my favorite of the TNG crew, spurning other commands in the hope that the Enterprise would one day be his. After all, a poor man's Kirk is better than no Kirk at all.