One of the greatest recurring characters in Star Trek history is Q, played with malevolent glee by John de Lancie. Appearing in the very first Next Generation episode, this cosmic trickster has appeared thirteen times in four live-action Trek series, and as a cameo in the animated series Lower Decks. Part of a race of omnipotent beings called the Q Continuum, they meant him to be a one-off character.
But in the 35 years since that first appearance, he’s become one of the most popular characters in the entire Trek canon. Now, some 20 years after his last visit to Starfleet, he’s back in Star Trek: Picard. And creating mischief on a grand scale again. But which is the best Q appearance in all of Star Trek? We’re counting down every live-action Q episode in Star Trek, from worst to best.
13. “Q-Less” (Deep Space Nine, Season One, 1993)
We’ve argued before that Deep Space Nine was perhaps the best modern Star Trek series after the original. But Q’s single appearance in this series, which takes place very early on, felt entirely tacked on. The last time we saw Q in the Trek chronology on TNG, he had taken human archaeologist Vash on a trip through the cosmos. This episode of DS9 gave resolution to that storyline, but it all happens on a show which had no connection to that plot. The only good thing that happens in Commander Sisko and Q’s interactions is that Sisko clocks Q in the face in the boxing ring. He’d had it coming for centuries. No wonder Q never came back to DS9.
12. “The Q and the Grey” (Voyager, Season Three, 1996)
It’s safe to say that Q’s appearances on Voyager were not as memorable as those on TNG. While Q and Captain Janeway had decent sparring chemistry, nothing could match Q and Picard’s love/hate relationship. But we will say, Voyager explored the larger Q Continuum better than TNG did overall. They even tackled a civil war between the Q. But this episode, which featured Q trying to woo Janeway into having his child, felt way icky. First off, it’s creatively bankrupt to suggest that the Q, which can exist at all times and as anything they wish, had a gender binary. Or reproduced in such basic ways. This episode ends with Q and his female counterpart having a Q baby. Which ultimately led to a better episode. But not by much.
11: “Penance” (Picard, Season Two, 2022)
So far, Q has only appeared once on Star Trek: Picard (minus a brief cameo tease at the end of the season premiere). This is a full 20 years from his last appearance on Voyager. We learn in this episode that Q somehow altered the past, changing Picard’s present into a fascist nightmare. He’s only in the episode a few minutes, but this version of Q is way more terrifying than the last version we saw, as a concerned dad. He seems angrier, more petulant. And he slaps Picard so hard across the face he bleeds. Who does that to a 90-year-old man? This is a more vicious Q, played to the hilt by John de Lancie. If the appearance wasn’t so brief, this episode might have ranked higher.
10. “Q2” (Voyager, Season Seven, 2001)
This was the last appearance of Q for over twenty years, and it took place in Voyager’s final season. This episode is a follow-up to “The Q and the Grey,” where Q and a female member of the Continuum conceived a child. Now a teenager, played by John de Lancie’s real-life son Keegan de Lancie, “Q Junior” was just as much a petulant brat as dear old dad. So like any crappy parent, Q dropped off his son at his “godmother’s house,” meaning Captain Janeway and Voyager, so she can teach the boy some manners. There are enough cute father and son moments to make this one worth watching, but Voyager’s insistence that the Q were really just like us but with ultimate powers continues to annoy.
9. “Encounter at Farpoint” (The Next Generation, Season One, 1987)
Q appeared in the pilot episode of TNG, as an omnipotent entity who came to the Enterprise to force Picard to stand trial for centuries of human crimes. All while the Enterprise crew was trying to solve another cosmic mystery. The truth was, the two-part pilot episode ran too short, so Gene Roddenberry added on a whole sequence of this godlike being mocking the human crew. This proto-Q is more sinister and way less quippy and fun, but John de Lancie’s performance was so good, it made total sense they’d bring him back a few episodes later. The potential there was obvious. So, while “Farpoint” gets points for introducing Q, it’s not really a great Q episode.
8. “Death Wish” (Voyager, Season Two, 1996)
Star Trek was often at its best when it used sci-fi metaphors to deal with real-world issues. Such was the case with “Death Wish,” Q’s first appearance on Voyager. In this episode, Janeway meets an immortal member of the Q Continuum, which they called “Q2” or Quinn. After eons of living, Q2 merely wishes to be allowed to die. But this is a no-no to the Q Continuum, who send the mischievous Q we know to convince him not to do it. (No Q had ever ended their own life). Q actually goes through character growth in this episode, and took a moral stand against his people for non-selfish reasons. An interesting way for Star Trek to tackle the issue of assisted suicide. And it’s easily the best of the three Q appearances on Voyager.
7. “Hide and Q” (The Next Generation, Season One, 1987)
In TNG’s first season, someone decided that John de Lancie was too good an actor not to bring back, so they did! The plotline of this episode made little sense. It showed the Q Continuum seeking to “test” humanity once more, this time by offering a regular human, Riker, the powers of the Q. Of course, things don’t work out, and there’s a nonsensical scene of the Enterprise crew fighting pig-faced soldiers in 19th-century Napoleonic army uniforms. But we get the first scenes of Q really verbally sparring with Picard, not just judging him from above. And it really sets the tone for all Q interactions going forward.
6. “True Q” (The Next Generation, Season Six, 1992)
John de Lancie appeared in two season six episodes as Q, after sitting out season five. This was the lesser of the two episodes, but it’s still good. When a young intern onboard the Enterprise discovers her parents were part of the Q Continuum, our Q dropped in to mentor her in the use of her god-like powers. Or execute her if she can’t control them. And he makes some valid arguments as to why, as she could destroy galaxies with a thought. We see both sides of Q in this episode; annoying and playful (he turned Dr. Crusher into a barking dog when she’s nagging him) and menacingly cold. “True Q” is also our first real glimpse into other members of the Q Continuum and how they operated.
5. “Q-Pid” (The Next Generation, Season Four, 1991)
This episode is extremely goofy, and it almost felt like it belonged on the original series in 1967. Q returns to the Enterprise as it hosts a conference, and transports Picard and his crew into a fantasy version of the world of Robin Hood. All as a way of repaying a “debt” he feels he owed Picard from his previous episode. By the end, Q takes Picard’s love interest, the visiting archaeologist Vash, on a rip-roaring adventure through space and time. (They followed this plotline up on Deep Space Nine, for some reason). It felt like Q was almost totally defanged by this point, fully transitioned into annoying neighbor over cosmic menace. But he had some terrific salty lines in this one, which is why it ranks so highly.
4. “All Good Things” (The Next Generation, Season Seven, 1994)
The series finale of TNG is one of the finest series finales of all time. But although Q played a big role in it, we wouldn’t say it’s the greatest Q episode. Returning to the Enterprise-D one last time, our favorite cosmic entity helped Captain Picard solve a cosmic riddle that threatened all creation. He does this by moving Jean-Luc back and forth through time. By episode’s end, we realize Q was actually helping Picard, coming this close to admitting that he has a soft spot for the guy. And that all his lessons imparted on the crew over seven seasons were for a purpose. While it’s nice that TNG ended by coming full circle, and Q being in both the pilot and the finale, he’s not in this episode quite enough to make this his best appearance overall.
3. “Deja Q” (The Next Generation, Season Three, 1990)
After eons of bad behavior, even by the standards of the Q Continuum, Q gets booted out in this episode and made mortal. He chooses to live out his human life on board the Enterprise. Of course, after being tricked by him time and again, the Enterprise crew doesn’t really believe he’s just an ordinary mortal man. But he actually is human, and watching a god-like entity struggle with lower back pain, falling asleep, and bad breath proves to be comedy gold. This episode also humanizes Q, as we see that he genuinely cared about the Enterprise crew (in a way). The final moments of this episode are some of the funniest in all Star Trek, as Q celebrates getting his powers back after committing a selfless act.
2. “Tapestry” (The Next Generation, Season Six, 1993)
Not only was this a great Q episode, it’s one of the finest hours of TNG, period. When Picard lies near-death after an accident, Q appears to him, proclaiming himself to be God. Picard laughs in his face of course. The accident causes Picard’s artificial heart to start failing. A heart that is a byproduct of an incident during his wayward youth. So Q takes Picard on a trip into his past. One where he undoes the damage of his wild, younger self. This is a story about Picard’s growth. But as a sort of guide through it all, Q gets a lot of hilarious (and insightful) moments. For all his bluster and cruelty, this is the episode where we realize that Jean-Luc Picard means a lot more to Q than he’d care to admit.
1. “Q Who” (The Next Generation, Season Two, 1989)
In his first two episodes, Q talked a big game, but ultimately caused no real harm to the Enterprise or her crew. But in this episode, Q proved he meant business. After Picard assures Q humanity is ready to face any challenge in space, Q hurtles the Enterprise into the distant Delta Quadrant. There, he introduced humanity to the Borg. A foe that is far more powerful than the Federation. And eighteen crew members die as a result. In the end, this is a lesson in humility for Picard, as he has to beg Q to get them out of the mess they’re in. Not only did this episode introduce the Borg, but it introduced us to the centuries-old rivalry between Guinan and Q. After this episode, Q’s status as a villain was toned down. But here, he showed how truly dangerous a petulant god can be.