Sylvia Tilly from Star Trek: Discovery arguably owes her origins to Reginald Barclay from Star Trek: The Next Generation, another fan favorite character.
Sylvia Tilly from Star Trek: Discovery possibly owes its origins to Reginald Barclay of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek: Discovery featured Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman, as Michael Burnham’s shy and talkative roommate in season 1. Since her introduction, Tilly has carved her own unique places in the hearts of Discovery fans. Throughout the show’s three seasons, Tilly has shown her bright mind and bubbly personality, became one of Michael’s closest friends, and even rose to the rank of acting first officer for Discovery in season 3.
Unlike Tilly, Reginald Barclay’s character was not a main character in Star Trek: The Next Generation but he is remembered as one of the quintessential guest characters on the show. Portrayed by Dwight Schultz, Barclay was featured in the season 3 episode “Hollow Pursuits” and went on to have a role in four subsequent ones. Next Generation episodes, as well as six episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and a brief cameo in Star Trek: first contact. His introverted personality and nervous demeanor belied a competent officer, and under the guidance of both Captain Picard and Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, the audience saw Barclay begin to come out of his shell and demonstrate his ability.
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Barclay and Tilly share many similar personality traits, but the comparison between the two runs deeper. Barclay was developed because Star trek creator Gene Roddenberry felt that Star Trek: The Next Generation I needed a “identifiable“character, someone who was”like the rest of the human raceIn the words of Dwight Schultz. Roddenberry felt that the niche for such a character had not yet been filled in TNG. Characters like Captain Jean-Luc Picard or Councilor Deanna Troi were people the audience could aspire to be, but they were not “identifiable” in the sense that any viewer could see a good part of themselves in them. Barclay, on the other hand, was written to have a series of human flaws. He had hypochondriacal tendencies, lacked self-confidence, and had difficulty relating to his co-workers. All of these traits are things anyone can wrestle with, which is why Barclay provided fans with someone they could relate to and admire.
As Gene Roddenberry predicted, people responded well to Barclay. However, since the end of The next generation, no other character in the franchise has been imbued with the same level of relatability until Tilly. There were some minor characters in the following Star trek shows that he exhibited some similar traits, but they tended to be contained in an episode here and there. Tilly, however, is a fascinating evolution of Barclay’s legacy. The two aren’t exactly the same, but Tilly displays many of the same attributes that drew fans to Barclay. She is highly intelligent, but also insecure of herself, eager to please, and a bit lacking in social grace. All of these features combine to make her not only relatable, but charming and enjoyable to look at. Fortunately, because Tilly is one of the main characters in DiscoveryThe show has allowed her personality to shine through and prioritized her stories, something Barclay never got to the same extent.
Star Trek: Discovery’s The decision to have an “identifiable” character be part of the main cast rather than a recurring guest shows that the show is aware of how well the idea of a more realistic character plays with fans. Before Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Barclay, Star trek most of the characters were portrayed as aspirational, unidentifiable. Now, the way is paved for characters like Tilly to remind audiences that her seemingly more common traits could end up being the source of her strength.
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