By Rick Lundeen
Why, exactly, has the Klingons’ appearance changed so much over the years?
Back in Star Trek: The Original Series, creator Gene Roddenberry and his staff needed a race of bad guys to oppose the virtue of the Federation of Planets, and Starfleet – its military and scientific exploration branch. They also wanted a stand-in for our real life Cold War adversary, Russia.
Although TOS did a decent job with its special effects, the budget only went so far. So, the Klingons were created looking basically like humans with some face paint to darken them a tad, with menacing moustaches and armoured tunics. Needless to say, the approach wouldn’t go down well today. No, it wasn’t “blackface” by any stretch, but the look was a iffy at best.
And so it remained for the duration of TOS.
It wasn’t until 1978’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture that the Klingons finally got a new look. But it was a brief appearance – with just a trio of characters making a cameo at the beginning – and many fans had no idea who they were at first. Their foreheads suddenly looked like something from H.R. Giger – i.e. ridged and boney! I think it was only when something Klingon was mentioned, that it was finally confirmed who they were.
But this was Paramount, and they were utilising a much bigger movie budget. This new look would remain through the subsequent movies, as well as all the other Star Trek series set both before and after TOS.
By and large, everybody realised the situation and accepted the limits of The Original Series‘ make-up budget, and the subject was left alone. Done and done!
Then Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had to go and cause trouble…
Trials and Tribble-ations
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Sisko and the crew of the Defiant go back in time to the era of TOS, and through some truly fantastic CGI work, they blend in seamlessly with Kirk, Spock and the crew in scenes from The Original Series episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles.’ It was fantastic.
There is a pivotal bar scene where Odo, O’Brien, Worf and Bashir try to blend in undercover, when the waitress mentions the Klingons in the corner. Odo and company can’t believe their eyes, and they turn to Worf for an explanation. How could it be? Why did they look so different? He simply answers, “We don’t speak of it with outsiders.”
Clear as mud. And so the mystery continued…
Setting the Klingon Wayback Machine
After the events of ‘Trials and Tribble-ations,’ we could return to business as usual. We knew the score. Done and done.
Not so fast! The producers of Star Trek: Enterprise then took it upon themselves to explain the different look. In the fourth season episodes ‘Affliction’ and ‘Divergence,’ the Klingons were made aware of augmented, physically superior humans. Eugenics experiments were being conducted, and the Klingons hatched a scheme.
Obtaining some of the human augment DNA, they injected several Klingon test subjects. The goal was to make the Klingon race stronger and smarter. But it turned to disaster when one Klingon test subject – already afflicted by another random Klingon disease – mutated the DNA serum into an airborne disease that spread like wildfire. The true horror for Klingons was that the new disease affected their physical forms, making them appear more human.
A cure was found, but the latent DNA effect could reappear in certain generations, many years down the line. Thus, 100 years later during The Original Series, there were some very angry, human-looking Klingons.
But we do learn that the condition is not permanent. Three of the primary Klingons we meet in TOS – Kor, Koloth and Kang – all get their ridges and peace of mind back by the time of the events that take place on DS9.
Do you have any favourite stories from these eras? And do you have a favourite Klingon? Let us know in the comments below!
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