An Unsung Hero: Final Frontier‘s Captain April
Are you familiar with the first captain of the starship USS Enterprise? I don’t mean Captain Kirk, or Captain Pike, or even Captain Archer. I’m talking about Captain Robert April. You may recognize the name from either (or maybe even both?) of two Star Trek: Discovery episodes in which he’s mentioned – “Choose Your Pain” and “Brother” – or even be familiar with April himself from his appearance in the final episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series, “The Counter-Clock Incident”. As you may already know, April has also been represented in a plethora of novels, comics and reference guides, beginning with the first reference guide ever written for Star Trek – Gene Roddenberry’s document “Star Trek is…”; in the development of the show, April was the first starship captain Roddenberry ever conceived of.
Final Frontier, the third “giant novel” published by Pocket Books, was one of the aforementioned novels. Released to celebrate Star Trek‘s twenty-fifth anniversary, it introduced readers to Robert April, depicting him as a captain unlike any captain we had ever seen in Star Trek.
With only his brief guest appearance in “The Counter-Clock Incident” to work from, author Diane Carey decided to write Captain April with “a warm, funny, visionary” personality. (Voyages of Imagination) In the book, April, with his signature Irish cardigan and his soft English trill, is a captain very much ahead of his time. He’s a man of peace at a time when the galaxy is fraught with distrust and danger, a man of idealism who is seen as naive by his more military-minded colleagues, and a man characterized by endearing eccentricity and unmilitary informality.
When considering the classic novel Final Frontier, it’s important to place it in its historical context. Released in January 1988, the book was completed by the time The Next Generation’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, aired in September 1987. All we had of Star Trek at that time were The Original Series, The Animated Series, and the first four movies, so this was before we had all the canonical captains we have today. Apart from Captain Kirk, every other captain we’d seen was either criminally insane, like Garth of Izar, treacherous, like Ron Tracey, or broken, like Commodore Decker. Thus, Captain April stood in stark contrast to the other captains Star Trek had introduced us to.
April makes no secret throughout this book that he doesn’t feel he’s the right captain to command the Enterprise on her first five-year mission. He knows himself to be a man who hates that starships must be armed with weapons. He describes himself to his future wife as “not enough of a lion. As a man who shouldn’t be allowed to be called captain. Who should be a professor or a parson instead.” George Kirk blames his idealism, and the military personnel April is surrounded by point out to him that not everyone in the galaxy is, like him, “Mahatma Ghandi in a sweater.”
Diane Carey has stated that the inspiration for Robert April and George Kirk in this novel came from the TOS episode “The Enemy Within”. April was meant to represent the gentle and cerebral side of Kirk, whilst George Kirk, father of Jim, was meant to represent the fierce and militaristic side of Kirk. The two, serving together, find that combining their strengths and weaknesses and learning from each other’s perspectives make them an excellent, if controversy-troubled, command team, just as Kirk found that combining the two halves of his nature made him a great starship captain.
Yet, I will argue that the greatest strength is to be found, not in the possession of military might and the willingness to use it, but in gentleness, in diplomacy, in kindness and compassion for all living beings. Captain Robert April embodies all of those qualities. He isn’t the buckaroo and the risk taker that Kirk is. In many ways, he is closer to Picard, the great explorer and diplomat and Renaissance man, to Janeway, the great parent of her crew, and to Saru, the gentle and nurturing leader.
But in his own subdued way, April too is a heroic figure. He doesn’t engage in fist fights and battles of wits the way Kirk does. But his unshakable devotion to duty drives him to come to the Bridge after a serious head injury. In defiance of his doctor’s advice and in terrible pain, he takes his place in the command chair and tries to command his crew to safety. Barely able to keep on his feet, he takes it upon himself to take on a dangerous mission from which he is well aware he may not return. He is about to leave on this mission when he succumbs to his injuries and must be taken into surgery.
Acting against every belief he holds dear, he finds it in himself to battle the enemy in order to protect his crew. He manages to wrestle with an impossible moral dilemma and ultimately make the decision that he doesn’t have the right to rush in and play God. Apparently, these events unfold before the Prime Directive has been established, but Captain April (like Captain Archer) acts in accordance with the principle that will eventually become the Prime Directive, thus setting a precedent for future captains of the Enterprise to follow (and, in some cases, break).
Foreshadowing his marriage to Doctor Sarah April in “The Counter-Clock Incident”, Final Frontier depicts Captain April’s courtship of Doctor Sarah Poole. In a refreshing contrast to Kirk’s “a girl in every port,” April does not want a temporary love interest of the week, or a “captain’s woman.” Rather, he is seeking a wife. He longs for Sarah’s companionship and wants to make her happy.
In the end, April chooses his successor to the captaincy of the Enterprise, a man he feels embodies the qualities of the ideal starship captain: Christopher Pike. But without Captain April, there might never have been a starship boldly going on five-year missions at all.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.