If you can imagine it, there was a time before Patrick Stewart was known around the world for his role in Star Trek. Prior to securing the now-iconic role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the British actor was best recognized as a stage performer, cutting his teeth with the Royal Shakespeare Company: something that still shines through in his roles today.
During this time, the Star Trek legend grew to admire a fellow British stage actor: David Warner, who died in 2022. Like Stewart, Warner devoted his early career to the stage (and to Shakespeare) earning the Star Trek captain‘s appreciation and respect. In 1992 that all changed, when Warner joined the Star Trek The Next Generation cast as the infamous villain Gul Madred, pitted directly against Stewart’s Picard.
“It all felt a bit wrong,” Stewart recalls, in his new memoir Making It So, explaining “I was beside myself” when he was told of Warner’s involvement in the classic two-parter, Chain of Command (one of the best two-parters in the whole Star Trek series). “All but one of my scenes in the episode were to be with him, and he was going to torture me! I didn’t feel worthy.”
Reflecting on the situation, Stewart concluded, “When he arrived on the set, David was an absolute sweetheart, clearly delighted to be in Star Trek: The Next Generation… I had become, in my forties and fifties, the leading actor in a major TV series. Now, here was the greatest star of the British stage when I was starting out, thrilled to be a guest actor on my show. Life is indeed strange.”
From Stewart’s hero to Picard’s infamous nemesis: that’s quite the character arc. And, of course, Warner’s Cardassian Gul Madred still stands as one of the greatest villains in the Star Trek timeline, in large part because Warner was able to stand toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart in their now-famous shared scenes.
The entirety of their interaction takes place in a single, dark room, consisting solely of back-and-forth dialogue. Here, their combined decades of experience on the stage paid dividends, culminating in the celebrated ‘There are four lights!’ moment from Picard as he finally gains the upper hand against his cold and brutal torturer.
Even without Warner and Stewart though, Chain of Command is an astonishingly good two-parter. Captain Jellico assuming command over the USS Enterprise, and the subsequent friction between him and Riker, is equally captivating, with Jonathan Frakes and Ronny Cox delivering excellent performances too. Across the board, it’s one of TNG’s very best, (almost as perfect as The Best of Both Worlds) and it helped to cement the Cardassians as an antagonist alien race to be taken seriously.
Of course, before Warner and Stewart ever crossed paths on TNG, one of the best TV series of all time, Warner had already cemented himself as an important actor within the Star Trek canon. He played a supporting role as St. John Talbot in William Shatner’s Star Trek V, and then returned for next Star Trek movie too as the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon.
Clearly, he loved being in Star Trek, and we can’t help but be disappointed that we didn’t get even more of Warner in the franchise. Though, perhaps we should simply be content with the fact that he brought TNG’s greatest individual villain to life. Sorry, Q, Lore, and Tomalak: you just can’t measure up to the tangible cruelty of Gul Madred.
For more on Star Trek, check out why we think Warner’s Gorkon is Star Trek’s greatest hero, or why we would have loved Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek film. Or, learn about upcoming projects like Strange New Worlds season 3 and see what’s going on with the Star Trek 4 release date. Alternatively, you can explore other alien races, with all we know about Avatar 3.