The list appeared during the episode “Chose Your Pain.” First Officer Saru is made the acting captain of the USS Discovery after Captain Gabriel Lorca is captured by the Klingons. Feeling doubtful and stressing over his relationship with Michael Burnham, Saru calls up on his computer a list of the most highly decorated captains in Starfleet history.
There are some things to consider when looking at this list. Star Trek: Discovery is a prequel series set ten years before the events Star Trek: The Original Series. That means that Captain Kirk, the character any Star Trek fan would most expect to see on a list of the franchise’s top captains, does not appear, though two other Enterprise captains do. By the same token, Captains Picard, Janeway, and Sisko are also not present on this list, since they would not even have been born yet.
Instead, the list includes Philippa Georgiou, the captain of the USS Shenzhou who mentored both Saru and Burnham and who died during the Battle at the Binary Stars in the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery seven months prior to Saru calling up the list.
To see Georgiou’s name next to the other recognizable names on this list emphasizes just how highly respected the character was in the Star Trek universe, despite only appearing in the flesh in two episodes of the franchise. Star Trek seems to be intent on revealing more of Georgiou’s career through the Star Trek: Discovery novels series. The first of these novels, Desperate Hours, chronicled a joint mission between the Shenzhou and the Enterprise while the second novel, Drastic Measures, will reveal how Georgiou was involved in one of the darkest moments in James Kirk’s life and Federation history.
Here are the other captains that made this elite list.
Captain Jonathan Archer of the Enterprise NX-01 is arguably the most important captain in Starfleet history.
Archer's adventures were chronicled in the series Star Trek: Enterprise. Archer and his team were responsible for making first contact between humans of Earth and many other civilizations in the Star Trek universe.
Archer was also vital in the formation of the Coalition of Planets, the alliance between humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites against the machinations of the Romulan Star Empire during the Babel Crisis.
Archer was also instrumental in pushing the members of the Coalition of Planets to form the Federation of Planets following the Earth-Romulan war.
Robert April was the very first captain of the USS Enterprise and oversaw the construction of the Constitution-class vessel.
April commanded the Enterprise for a five-year mission. Upon his return, he was promoted Commodore and was a respected ambassador-at-large for the Federation for two decades before he was forced to retire.
Interestingly, April only appears in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Counter-Clock Incident." This is the second time that Star Trek: Discovery has reference The Animated Series, which continues to support the idea that the show, once deemed non-canonical, is once again part of the Star Trek canon.
Christopher Pike was the captain of the USS Enterprise at the time that "Choose Your Pain" takes place, suggesting that he had already had a distinguished career by that point. His name along with April's also suggests that only the best and brightest in Starfleet were allowed to captain the Enterprise.
Pike's time as captain of the Enterprise lasted more than a decade, as Mr. Spock was his first officer for at least 11 years. He made first contact between Starfleet and the Talosians who inhabit Talos IV - an adventure chronicled in the original Star Trek: The Original Series pilot episode "The Cage" - who trapped Pike in a zoo-like prison and tried to force him to live a life of illusions built by the Talosian's mental abilities.
Pike escaped and continued to captain the Enterprise until he was promoted to Fleet Captain and turned command over to James Kirk.
Pike was aboard a training vessel when a malfunction caused the ship to flood with radiation. He valiantly rescued as many cadets as he could, but his body was crippled by the radiation. Pike's ravaged body was useless, but he was kept alive with advanced life support technology. In the two-part episode "The Menagerie," Pike returned to Talos and was able to live the rest of his life in the Talosian's illusion free from his damaged body.
Starfleet named the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor after Captain Pike.
Matthew Decker appears in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Doomsday Machine." At that point, Decker was a Commodore in command of the USS Constellation.
While Decker was known and respected in Starfleet, by the time the Enterprise crew encountered him in Star Trek: The Original Series he had become mentally damaged by a harrowing encounter with an alien planet killer.
Decker became obsessed with the destroying the alien machine and stole command of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk. Kirk eventually took command back from Decker, but this incident became a legal precedent still referenced in the time of Star Trek: Voyager.
Decker ended his own life with a suicide attack on the planet killer, but Kirk noted that the Commodore died in the line of duty.