The Romulans are one of Star Trek’s most enduring adversaries. We first met them in TOS as a society based on Ancient Rome, with a name to match. From TNG onwards, they changed somewhat, becoming a militaristic society with a penchant for syping and sneaky tactics. They even eventually got to be the primary antagonists in a film, showing up in Star Trek Nemesis.
Throughout Star Trek’s run, many Romulan characters have been quite dull and workmanlike, but from time to time, a really fascinating Romulan has come along. In this article, we examine ten of the best of the Federation’s pointy-eared adversaries.
Romulan Commander (Balance of Terror)
The Romulans made their debut in this TOS episode, in which Mark Lenard plays the commander of an experimental Romulan ship equipped with a cloaking device. A thoughtful man, the Romulan commander demonstrates that he is no idiot, both through his conversations with his loyal centurion, but also in matching wits with Kirk in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. His performance alone was enough to convince us that the Romulans could be far more than a generic villain of the week.
Romulan Commander (The Enterprise Incident)
Another nameless Romulan commander showed up in TOS season three. Whilst Starfleet had just one woman above the rank of Lieutenant (as far as we saw on screen), this Romulan woman had made it all the way to command of her own ship. Of course, given that this was the sixties and she was an enemy, she couldn’t outwit Kirk and Spock, but nonetheless she was clearly an overall competent leader.
Following the death of Tasha Yar in TNG, the writers kept finding ways to bring Denise Crosby back to the show. First we had Yesterday’s Enterprise, which took place in an alternate timeline where Yar was still alive. This alternate Tasha ultimately went back in time with the Enterprise-C, fixing the timeline overall, but causing some changes. In particular, Tasha ended up getting captured by Romulans and having a daughter with one of them – Sela.
Sela may be blonde and only half-Romulan, but her loyalties are firmly seated with the Empire. From betraying her escaping mother at the age of four, Sela has been a loyal citizen, and at the age of just 22, she has already reached the rank of Commander. She certainly proves herself well able to be a thorn in the Enterprise-D’s side on more than one occasion.
Even though I think she gets a bit of a bum deal from the writers, I can’t help but like Senator Cretak. She’s pragmatic and straightforward, and her cordial relationship with Kira at the start of season seven is actually quite refreshing. Look – two competent women building a professional work-based relationship that has nothing to do with the men in their lives!
Unfortunately, because she is a Romulan, she is course ultimately involved in a deception; however it is in fact the machinations of Section 31 that cause her downfall. And to think humans condemn the Romulans for being sneaky and underhanded.
I really enjoy The Enemy. It’s a classic Enemy Mine story, in which Geordi and Romulan Centurion Bochra must work together to survive the electromagnetic storms of Galorndon Core. Bochra initially takes Geordi prisoner, but ultimately he is smart enough to realise that he needs to work with the engineer if either of them are to survive. It’s an excellent tale of adversaries being forced to work together and overcome their prejudices.
Poor Jarok. A high ranking Romulan, he eventually came to believe that the Empire’s inclination towards waging war was self-destructive and futile. Jarok sacrifices his position and life on Romulus to defect to the Federation, only to discover that the valuable intelligence he brought with him was merely bait to trap the Enterprise. Jarok was clearly a thoughtful, honourable and principled man who only wanted the best for his family and his people, but this isn’t enough to save him – having risked everything and gained nothing, he ultimately takes his own life.
Portrayed by Andreas Katsulas of Babylon 5 fame, Tomalak has the distinction of being a recurring adversary for the Enterprise-D – and of holding his own against Jean-Luc Picard. Whilst he only actually appeared in four episodes, it’s a credit to the character that it feels as if he’s present far more than that, orchestrating the Romulan Empire’s many efforts to outwit the Federation. It’s also great to have a recurring character in a episodic series, reminding us that it isn’t all just throwaway enemies of the week.
Whilst impersonating a member of the Tal’Shiar, Troi ends up on the IRW Khazara, commanded by Commander Toreth. Toreth is a wry and capable commander who is nobody’s fool, and who isn’t about to make Troi’s mission any easier. Even though the Tal’Shiar are an elite and powerful force, Toreth isn’t afraid to voice her dislike of them and their methods. No matter what the Klingons may think of her species, Toreth is living proof that there are honourable Romulans out there.
It would have been very easy for Dr Telek R’Mor to have ignored Voyager’s hail from the Delta Quadrant and left it at that. But as a scientist, his natural curiosity overcame his people’s antipathy towards Starfleet, and he actually got very involved in helping them figure out a way to return to the Alpha Quadrant. Unfortunately, the twenty year time difference between R’Mor and Voyager meant that things didn’t work out, but even so, he still proved himself helpful and sympathetic. A family man himself, R’Mor was able to understand how the Voyager crew felt about being so far from their nearest and dearest, and even promised to hold onto personal letters for transmission to Starfleet in 2371. Sadly, he didn’t live that long, but we can remain certain that he lived his life as an all-round good person right up until the end.
Like Sela, Ba’el is only half-Romulan, but her heritage is even more unusual – her mother is Klingon. In fact, like Worf, you wouldn’t even know she had Romulan blood until you spotted the pointed ears hidden beneath her luxurious Klingon locks.
Ba’el’s sheltered upbringing on Carraya IV may make her naive of wider galactic events, but she is still a strong and spirited young woman. Unfortunately, Worf’s reaction to her Romulan blood is not only difficult to deal with on a personal level, but is a sad reminder that the galaxy is not ready to accept her. Sometimes even the 24th century is not enlightened enough.