Defending Discovery‘s Design Differences: Klingons
“People can be very frightened of change.” – Captain Kirk, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
When an on-set photograph of Star Trek extras purportedly clad as Klingons was leaked online on 11 February 2017, it caused a furore in the fan community. Viewers were used to seeing different designs for the Klingons, but the Star Trek: Discovery revamp of the species caused more anger and upset than ever before. Let’s examine why, and how such criticisms can be answered.
A History of Change
“They are Klingons, and it is a long story.” – Worf, DS9: “Trials and Tribble-ations”
The Klingons have always been subject to redesign. Even their mostly human-like look in Star Trek: The Original Series underwent minor changes as they periodically appeared on the show. To my mind, the biggest aesthetic successive changes to the Klingons that the fans have had to adjust to were from The Original Series to The Animated Series (complete with their pink warrior uniforms; yes, you read that right – pink!) and then the addition of their head bumps in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (inspired by the look of the Kreegs in the unsold Gene Roddenberry pilot Planet Earth).
Although Alex Kurtzman often gets blamed for changing the look of the Klingons for their depiction in Discovery, it was actually Bryan Fuller who called for them to look significantly different to how they’d appeared before. He mandated that all the Klingons in the then-forthcoming show should be bald. The newly redesigned makeup scheme made the Klingons more believable as a specifically extraterrestrial species and fits incredibly well into Star Trek continuity.
Chronologically, the most recent appearance of the Klingons before Discovery was in the Enterprise two-parter “Affliction” and “Divergence”. At the end of “Divergence”, Phlox speculates about cranial reconstruction, “I have a feeling that’s about to become very popular.” During the two-parter, Klingon society had been exposed to the Augment virus, and an antivirus developed by Phlox had the side effect of removing Klingon cranial ridges. It therefore makes perfect sense that the Klingons would start looking significantly different, and I think the change to the makeup is so radical that it provides credence to the fact the Klingons are embarrassed by how they look in TOS. This also connects nicely with Worf’s reasoning from the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” that they don’t talk to outsiders about their altered appearance.
In Discovery, the House of Mo’Kai mentally and physically grafted a completely different identity – that of Starfleet Lieutenant Ash Tyler – onto the Klingon Voq. This chronologically foreshadows Arne Darvin being exposed as a Klingon spy in TOS: “The Trouble with Tribbles”.
“The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no-one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts.” – Sirella, DS9: “You Are Cordially Invited”
Another link can be made between Discovery and Enterprise regarding part of the Klingon head. Kol remarking in “Into the Forest I Go” that a Starfleet combadge “makes for a useful object to pick my teeth” harkens back to Malcolm Reed remarking about the Klingons, in the Enterprise pilot “Broken Bow”, that “apparently, they sharpen their teeth before they go into battle.”
Discovery‘s writers decided to take the concept of the Klingons having redundant organs, previously established in The Next Generation episode “Ethics”, and run with it by implying that Klingon males have two penises (a double urine stream appearing in “Will You Take My Hand?”). This has led to fan speculation about how Worf had sexual intercourse with the likes of Deanna Troi and Jadzia Dax.
In Star Trek: Discovery, it’s only in and after their initial appearance in the second season, in the episode “Point of Light”, that the Klingons start to be portrayed with hair, having both head and (occasionally) facial hair. The Klingons who have hair but didn’t beforehand include L’Rell and Ujilli. When Burnham speaks with a bearded Ash Tyler, she mentions, “I heard, postwar, the Klingons are growing their hair again.” Of course, this isn’t necessarily an indication that the war had anything to do with why Klingons lost and regrew their hair; the timing could merely be coincidental.
“Those ships are Klingon.” – Burnham, “The Vulcan Hello”
Other Klingon advancements in Discovery include the dissemination of cloaking technology from T’Kuvma’s Sarcophagus ship, and identifying the designation “D7” (a difference between “Choose Your Pain” on the one hand, where the term applies to a much different-looking ship, and “Point of Light”, “Through the Valley of Shadows” and “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II” on the other).
I don’t have an issue with the distribution of Klingon cloaking tech, even given that Klingon ships in Star Trek: Enterprise were shown to have cloaking capability. It’s never established in Discovery whether this distribution is supposed to be the advent of Klingon cloaking technology in general or merely a type of cloaking device. The decloaking visual effect in Discovery certainly looks different than at any other point in the timeline.
As for the D7, a hologram of the ship appears in “Point of Light” before the class of ship appears “in the flesh” (as it were) in “Through the Valley of Shadows” and “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II”. In these episodes, it looks mostly like its TOS counterpart, but with subtle differences. This makes sense, because it’s intended to be a new type of ship.
Pre-established Klingon weapons and props are also depicted differently in Star Trek: Discovery. When I asked Dan Curry – the designer of the Klingon bat’leth – what he thought about the look of the bat’leth in Discovery, he criticised it as “change for change’s sake,” rather than based on the ergonomics of the weapon. (The interview with Dan Curry can be found here.)
Final (Frontier) Thoughts
“Sooner or later, they’ll start resenting how the Klingons run things.” – Captain Kirk, TOS: “Errand of Mercy”
Of course, Klingons are not the only species to be physically redesigned for Star Trek: Discovery. Andorians, Tellarites, Talosians, Ferengi – they’ve all had their makeup designs altered, too. Yet, the Klingon redesign is the most commonly criticized. I feel this is unfair; it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Next time, I’ll conclude this series of articles by getting personal. It will be an up-close examination of Starfleet uniforms and the emotions portrayed by the cast of Star Trek: Discovery.
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.