Star Trek Guide

Star Trek TNG Wanted To Replace Will Riker With His Doppelganger

Will Riker's (Jonathan Frakes) exact double was introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generationseason 3, and there was an aborted plan to kill off Will and replace him with Thomas Riker. After a creatively shaky first two seasons, TNG began hitting its creative stride in season 3. The series started taking risks, and this includes revealing a transporter accident created Will Riker's doppelganger in the episode titled "Second Chances". In fact, the original idea for "Second Chances" was to kill Will in that episode so that Thomas could take his place aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-D.

"Second Chances" dropped the bombshell that 8 years prior to TNG, Lieutenant Riker, who was serving aboard the U.S.S. Potemkin, led an Away Team to rescue scientists on Nervala IV. A transporter malfunction duplicated Riker; as one Will beamed back aboard the Potemkin, the other rematerialized on Nervala IV, where he was left stranded. The crew of the Enterprise-D finally discovered the second Riker on Nervala IV and brought him aboard, where he met his double, who was now a Commander and the Enterprise's First Officer. Taking their middle name as his first name, Thomas Riker immediately tried to rekindle his romance with Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and he found her confused but receptive, especially since Will had changed since they were lovers on Betazed and their relationship was now platonic. Obviously, Thomas couldn't remain aboard the Enterprise and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) secured Lt. Riker a posting on the U.S.S. Gandhi.

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But if the TNG producers had followed through on their original idea, Will would have died in "Second Chances" and Thomas would have joined the crew in Operations, which meant Data (Brent Spiner) would have become the new First Officer. "We wanted to kill Riker... We thought it was a great idea and no one could tell us different," executive producer Rene Echevarria said in the TNG oral history, The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross. But TNG's showrunner Michael Pillar "knew it was wrong", according to Echevarria, and he gave the final "no" on the Riker switcheroo. However, the idea of replacing Will with Thomas persisted and was revisited for TNG's 7th and final season.

According to TNG season 7's showrunner, Jeri Taylor, she wanted to kill Will and bring Thomas to "energize the seventh season... and let Lieutenant Riker come onto the ship as a rejuvenated, energetic, driven, ambitious character... He wouldn't be Number One, he would have been at Ops and have to prove himself... and I was very, very taken with that." But this time, it would be Star Trek's head honcho, Rick Berman, who stopped the Riker replacement plan from moving forward. Berman did consider the idea but he realized "the other problems it created... How would it affect the movie and other variables?" Understandably, Berman was thinking ahead to TNG's leap to the big screen with Star Trek Generations and the complications of having to explain why there's a different Riker to Paramount was another reason the original Will Riker remained the Enterprise's Number One.

Thomas Riker did reappear in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 3 episode "Defiant". Posing as Will, Thomas kidnapped Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) and stole the U.S.S. Defiant. It was revealed that Thomas had joined the terrorist group called the Maquis, but Riker's larceny of DS9's starship brought the wrath of the Cardassians upon him. Thomas finally surrendered and he was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Cardassian labor camp.

Star Trek never revealed Thomas Riker's fate and whether or not he survived DS9's Dominion War. According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Thomas Riker's return was on a list of ideas DS9's writers were not interested in hearing pitches about. Jonathan Frakes himself said in a DS9 season 6 DVD commentary that his idea for Thomas to join Damar's (Casey Biggs) Cardassian resistance during the Dominion War went nowhere.

Although Trekkers will likely never see Thomas Riker in Star Trek again, Frakes had lots of compliments for Will Riker's doppelganger: "[Thomas is] much less confident than Will. But he's also tender and sweeter. I think I like Tom better." Riker's Imzadi, Marina Sirtis, concurred, "I preferred Tom Riker. I thought he was cuter than Will."