O Captain, My Captain! A Reflection on My Favorite Star Trek Captain
“Who’s your favorite Star Trek captain?”
I’m so glad you asked. My favorite is Robert April. Let me tell you why.
Growing up in a strict Christian sect in the 80s and 90s and not allowed to watch television, I came to Star Trek through the novels and audio cassettes.
In 1991, Simon and Schuster Audioworks issued the heavily advertised CD box set Star Trek 25th Anniversary Audio Collection. It featured new opening narration by William Shatner.
I first heard these recordings in 1992. I’ll never forget sitting on the floor of my family’s living room, raptly listening as Shatner, playing James T. Kirk, introduced the audiobook Final Frontier, which established his father, George Samuel Kirk. Then, Leonard Nimoy’s unforgettable voice filled the room, recalling the aftermath of “The City on the Edge of Forever”, as the story of Final Frontier proceeded. However, neither Shatner nor Nimoy captured my twelve-year-old heart.
That honor went to James “Jimmy” Doohan, and his incomparable voice acting. He voiced the role of Captain Robert April in a way that changed my life forever. There weren’t any males like April in my life, and Doohan’s portrayal of him fulfilled a need I hadn’t even known that I had. Doohan brought his own sweetness of spirit and warmth of personality to the character of April.
Doohan also narrated the audiobook Best Destiny, again voicing Captain April. The male role models in my life were so distant and unapproachable that the story of how April mentored young Jim Kirk ministered to my heart, filling a heretofore empty place there.
I recognized in author Diane Carey’s writing of April what humble, gentle servant leadership looked like, something I hadn’t seen before. Captain April showed me that non-toxic, healthy masculinity looked like being sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs and never losing sight of them. Like showing up, no matter how he was feeling. Like being approachable; his people could come to him with anything. Like selflessly focusing on others, but not as a martyr, as a funny and visionary and self-deprecating eccentric.
Of course, I couldn’t have articulated all this at twelve years old. I only knew that listening to Doohan read Final Frontier filled my heart with a love and warmth I’d never felt before. It opened a whole new, beautiful world for me.
Since April was depicted as an Englishman, I determined to learn more about England. Back in the 90s, we didn’t have the Internet at our fingertips and research necessitated books, so I looked up travel books about England. Carey had imagined that April was from Coventry; researching his home city, I found the story of the charred cross of Coventry, and that story of reconciliation and forgiveness in the aftermath of war and destruction gave me a compass to guide me. Thus, a life-long Anglophile was born.
April is described in both Final Frontier and Best Destiny as a lover of English poetry; I found a small book of English poetry and fell in love with the poetry of Elizabeth Barret Browning, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Keats.
April was presented as a scholarly, well-read man; this encouraged me to dive into some of the literature of England. I fell in love with the books of the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, and Francis Hodgeson Burnett, books that have been true and constant companions to me ever since.
It wasn’t just April as a father figure and a courageous, peace-loving captain that drew my heart; it was April as a lover and a good husband to Sarah April. She loved his courage, sensitivity, and lack of ego, whereas he loved her genuineness, stability, and caring. There were conflicts regarding their career choices; instead of deciding not to be together because of their work, as other Trek couples had, they patiently worked through those conflicts. As I came of age, reading about how the two of them shared their lives together was an excellent model for me of a healthy, long-term, committed relationship.
In November 1992, I read Final Frontier and Best Destiny straight out of their covers. It felt like Christmas to find and read these books after having listened to the highly abridged audio versions. There was so much great stuff that had been left out! Eventually, I grew frustrated by the fact there were only these two novels about my favorite Star Trek characters, so I began writing my own fan fiction, long before I was aware of the fan-fic community. I bought beautiful hardcover Gemstone Collection blank books from Cachet, and filled five of them with lovingly written rubbish.
In 1997, I found the novelization of The Animated Series episode “The Counter-Clock Incident” by Alan Dean Foster (in Log Seven), featuring the married April couple deaging. The novelization’s ending, in which they decide together to relive their lives over again, is completely different from the episode’s conclusion, in which they do, in fact, choose to instantly become old people once again. Imagine my shock when I finally saw the episode, just last year, and learned how different the ending is!
Even though I do love Alan Dean Foster’s ending, I don’t know how well conceived it was. What if, by choosing to become young again, the Aprils had to watch loved acquaintances grow old before they did? So, ultimately, I prefer the canonical version, although the novelization is excellent, adding great warmth and depth to the episode.
Overall, the portrayal of April in “The Counter-Clock Incident” (where he’s also voiced by Doohan) wasn’t as fully fleshed out as he is in the novels, and didn’t include enough character development that I would have counted him as a favorite character based solely on the TAS portrayal. From my perspective, it enhanced and added to what Diane Carey did, even though her novels were written after the TAS episode.
I’m still writing, and it’s been thirty years since I first heard James Doohan narrate Final Frontier. Even though I’ve watched a lot of Star Trek since then, Captain April remains my favorite captain.
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.