Robert Duncan McNeill is best-known to Star Trek fans for the character he played in Star Trek: Voyager, Lieutenant Tom Paris. However, true Trek fans know that Paris wasn’t McNeill’s first role in the Trek universe.
A few years before Voyager started, McNeill appeared in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). Though his character on TNG had a different name and a slightly different backstory from Paris, some believe they’re actually the same character. Here’s why it kind of makes sense.
Nick Locarno’s Story
In the fifth season episode, “The First Duty,” McNeill portrayed Nick Locarno, a classmate of Wesley Crusher’s at Starfleet Academy. During their graduation week, Locarno led Crusher and some other cadets on a practice flight around Saturn, which turned tragic when one of their classmates died.
As the investigation into the incident progressed, it became clear that the cadets weren’t telling the truth about what happened. After a very stern lecture from Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Crusher decided to tell the truth. Their friend had died because they were performing a banned maneuver, not because of his own error as they’d insisted.
As the leader of the squad, Locarno was held responsible for the incident. Before he was expelled, he admitted that he’d forced his squadmates to lie, and begged that they not be expelled. Though his career in Starfleet was over, he wanted to make sure theirs weren’t.
Tom Paris’s Backstory
Paris was the son of Owen Paris, a Starfleet Admiral. His father put a lot of pressure on him, and their relationship was very strained. Though he followed his father into Starfleet, Paris’s career ended early and in disgrace, as revealed in the first episode of Voyager, “Caretaker.”
During one of his early missions, Paris’s error at the helm led to the death of three fellow Starfleet officers. He covered up his responsibility for the incident to avoid the consequences. Eventually, he came clean and was kicked out of Starfleet.
Soon after, Paris joined the Maquis. He was captured during a mission and sent to a penal colony in New Zealand. Captain Kathryn Janeway visited him at the rehabilitation facility and offered him a path back to Starfleet if he was willing to work against the Maquis. He accepted and ended up on Voyager.
How Locarno and Paris Could be the Same Person
Of course, keen Trek fans noticed that Paris’s backstory and Locarno’s were nearly identical. Since they were played by the same actor, many fans wondered why the producers didn’t just bring Locarno back for Voyager.
In Star Trek lore, it’s never made explicitly clear that they’re not the same person. So, one fan came up with a theory that explained how Locarno could be Paris. This fan proposed that Paris was always overwhelmed with living in his father’s shadow and living up to his expectations. So, to avoid all the baggage that came with being a Paris, he enrolled in Starfleet under a pseudonym and begged his father to play along.
When Paris, known to all his friends and classmates as Locarno, was expelled from Starfleet, he disappeared for a bit while the situation settled. Of course, with an admiral for a father, a lot of strings could be pulled. So, Paris eventually re-enrolled in the Academy under his own name. He then graduated and went on to the Starfleet career described in Voyager.
However, in the new book Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration, Voyager’s producers revealed that the decision to make Paris and Locarno separate characters was very deliberate. In the initial character notes for Paris, they referred to the character as Locarno. They thought Locarno had the kind of edgy feel they were looking for in Voyager and they wanted to bring that to the show. However, some of the producers thought that Locarno was too tainted in the minds of Star Trek fans. So, they took elements of Locarno and put them into Paris’ character.
They also built Paris on a slightly different premise. At his core, Locarno wasn’t a good guy. He was charismatic and easily won people over, but he was manipulative and dishonest. Paris was the opposite, a good guy trying to be bad. So, all of his bravado and bad behavior was a front. The showrunners felt that this fundamental difference made Paris redeemable, which made him work as a central character for Voyager. Paris’s story was always a salvation arc, which materialized in a very satisfying way as the character grew over the seven-season run of the show.
When they put out the casting call for Paris, McNeill showed up for the audition because he’d heard they were looking for someone like him for the character. In fact, the audition call had read: “a Robert Duncan McNeill type.” So, he gave it a shot. The producers loved him for Paris as much as they’d loved him as Locarno, so he won the role.
So, though the fan theory that Locarno and Paris are the same person makes sense, it doesn’t track with Trek canon.