In Star Trek TNG: Second Chances, we discover that a duplicate Commander Riker was created by the transporter beam. As a result of Riker's actions immediately prior to him being transported off the planet (or not) he receives a promotion to Commander.

Why did the version of Riker that remained on the planet not receive the promotion? He had, after all, also been the person that took the actions leading to promotion?

4 Answers 4


There is no reason given why he was not promoted to Lt Cmdr. Memory Alpha even mentions this issue on Tom Riker's page. One may assume that he was not promoted due to the length of time he had spent out of the service (8 years) when he assumed a position aboard the USS Ghandi, but this is just conjecture.

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    I'd have thought the length of time wouldn't be an issue. Currently in the US military at least, if a soldier is MIA or a POW they continue to be entitled to pay. I'd have thought Tom Riker would be treated as MIA, so would stil be a member of Starfleet. I guess this is one of those plot oddities I shouldn't think about to much.
    – Jaydee
    Feb 24, 2014 at 13:45
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    @Jaydee he would still be a member of Starfleet, but being isolated for so long would mean there'd be a long period of readjustment and re-training.
    – HorusKol
    Feb 25, 2014 at 3:12

While it occasionally makes for good storytelling to say "X was promoted because of Y", that's not actually how it works.

In the United States armed forces, an officer is chosen for promotion to a higher rank based on the expectation that they will satisfactory fulfill the duties of that new rank, not as a way of reward for exemplary behavior. The latter is what medals are for.

The specific process for promoting an officer is something like:

  1. A commanding officer selects a candidate in keeping with their service's regulations and their own personal experience. An exceptional candidate may be selected despite not meeting all of a service's regular requirements.
  2. The candidate's selection is referred to the service command (Starfleet HQ), where a flag officer reviews the commanding officer's suggestion with the aid of their own staff and the flag officer's own judgement.
  3. The service command adds the promotion to a list of similar promotions, which is then given to whatever final authority actually grants the commissions. In the United States, this is Congress; in a monarchy, it would be the king; in the Federation, it's likely either the Federation Council or a governing body within Starfleet.
  4. If all of the above pass without incident, the promotion is complete and the selected candidate has obtained their new rank. There will likely be a formal ceremony, although such is not always required.

While the ranks and organization are not an exact match, it's probably that Starfleet operations on a similar principle. Lieutenant Riker wasn't promoted to Lt. Commander based on his heroism; he was promoted because Starfleet needed another Lt Commander, and given his service record he seemed up for the challenge.

Note that, if Riker was given a medal or honorarium for what he did, it's likely that he should have expected to receive the same upon his return to the Federation.

And, of course, it's possible for a commanding or flag officer to grant a temporary, or "field" promotion. Or to demote rank as way of punishment. Or assign an officer to a task despite not having the usual rank required. But usually the rules are followed.

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    Interesting points. I suspect that such a system doesn't allow for the duplication of the candidate during the process.
    – Jaydee
    Feb 24, 2014 at 16:15
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    Given that Will Riker was an extremely successful promotion (i.e. Starfleet Commands had no regrets about promoting him), you'd think that an exact duplicate of a walking success story would jump to the top of the "promotions" pile. My guess is that they saw that they observed the differences between William and Thomas Riker and found that he was lacking in the qualities that made Will effective.
    – Paul
    Feb 24, 2014 at 18:04
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    Not an exact duplicate, though - very different experiences after the split. Feb 24, 2014 at 20:35
  • As modeled similar to US military, promotions for officers are based on merit and time in service and grade, not vacancies.
    – user16696
    Feb 5, 2015 at 16:34
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    You are assuming that Starfleet uses the same promotion requirements as are currently in effect in the US Military. There is such a thing as a battlefield commission which has been used off and on through US history as well as in other countries.
    – Kevin
    Feb 5, 2015 at 18:07

Since we're dealing with two of the same person here, who, at the time of the accident, were the same being and same rank, I will refer to the Riker that has served as first officer of the Enterprise as Commander Riker and the duplicate introduced in Second Chances as Lieutenant Riker for the sake of simplicity regardless of what his actual rank was at any given time.

Doug gives a very good answer when you consider that Starfleet is a military organization.

To expand on that answer:

  • Saying Commander William Riker was promoted because of his actions on Nervala IV implies that he was being considered for promotion prior to that mission and what happened on that mission "put him over the top."
  • We can, obviously assume that Commander Riker and Lieutenant Riker had identical service records prior to arriving on Nervala IV. Which means that Lieutenant Riker would also have been under consideration for promotion in 2361-not after being found in 2369.
  • What happened at the end of the mission matters. Commander Riker returned triumphantly to the Potemkin as a model officer on a fast career track. Lieutenant Riker remained on the planet in isolation for the next eight years.
  • Upon being found, Lieutenant Riker was far from an exemplary officer. That was probably a result of having been alone for eight years. Either he learned to be "too" self reliant or he was suffering some sort of PTSD and had trouble reintegrating into society. To compound this, Troi rejected him and he literally saw what he could have been had he not been stranded for eight years on the planet. His mood in Second Chances ranged from on edge to insubordinate which no doubt made it into the mission report.

So, if we can assume (longshot) that Lieutenant Riker was still under consideration for promotion and a promotion was still available in 2369, we have to look at the differences between his return and that of Commander Riker. Lieutenant Riker didn't return triumphant and on the fast track. He had clearly been affected by his time in isolation. He wasn't the exemplary officer he was eight years prior. All of that would have warranted reassignment and longer term evaluation.

Unfortunately, according to Memory Alpha, it was within a year (sometime in 2370) that Lieutenant Riker began expressing "dismay at the Federation's policies towards the Cardassians and the Federation colonies in the Demilitarized Zone" which ultimately led him to joining the Maquis (and ended his potential for promotion altogether).

  • Or just use their chosen names, will and Thomas
    – user16696
    Feb 5, 2015 at 14:43
  • They were both William Thomas Riker and Tom Riker didn't choose to be Tom until meeting Will.
    – geewhiz
    Feb 5, 2015 at 14:45
  • Denying promotion due to ptsd from trauma experienced during the line of duty through no fault of his own, when his actions resulted in the successful saving of other lives, is called rubbing salt in the wound. It's cruel and Unlike Star Fleet to do to a person (Data aside).
    – user16696
    Feb 5, 2015 at 14:52
  • Just because he didn't choose until after, doesn't mean you can't use his chosen name to refer to him in past events.
    – user16696
    Feb 5, 2015 at 14:55
  • As long as I refer to them as something accurate (Name or Rank) as opposed to calling one Jeff and the other Tim for example, it shouldn't matter what I call them.
    – geewhiz
    Feb 5, 2015 at 15:19

I am pretty sure he became a traitor and joined the Maquis in DS9 therefore not eligible for promotion.

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    That doesn't explain actions prior to that episode. Feb 24, 2014 at 12:58
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    Thomas Riker's theft of the Defiant occurred almost two years after his rescue.
    – Plutor
    Feb 24, 2014 at 13:19

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