Remembering Nichelle Nichols

What can be said about Nichelle Nichols that hasn’t already been said over the last few days? Her loss is felt profoundly by the entire Star Trek fan community – a rare moment of togetherness in what can be a divided fandom at times. But beyond that, news of her passing has resonated across the world of entertainment and beyond. She was a unique person, someone whose influence and hard work may not have been centre-stage for everybody, but whose tireless commitment to the causes she supported – and to fans of Star Trek – will never be forgotten.

At a time when the United States was still in the process of outlawing racial segregation, Nichelle Nichols became an icon for the civil rights movement. The character of Uhura took her place on the bridge of the USS Enterprise not as a servant or a maid, not as a subordinate, but as an equal member of the crew; an officer with the respect of her shipmates. Such roles were incredibly rare on American television at that time, and the statement made by Uhura’s presence on Star Trek was one of racial equality and hope for the future.

Nichelle Nichols, 1932—2022.

There’s a frequently-cited story that it was Martin Luther King who convinced Nichelle Nichols to remain on Star Trek when she considered leaving to return to the stage after the show’s first season. Star Trek, according to King, was one of the few shows he allowed his children to watch – and Uhura’s role was the reason why.

Star Trek told morality tales and gave commentary on contemporary issues of race and civil rights across its three seasons, and Uhura was a powerful presence in many of those stories. Nichelle Nichols brought the character to life with a quiet, understated charm, and quickly became an irreplaceable part of Star Trek.

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in The Undiscovered Country, 1991.

While we as Trekkies might remember Nichelle Nichols from her role as Uhura, her legacy extends far, far beyond the Star Trek franchise – and even beyond the realm of entertainment itself. Beginning in the 1970s, she worked with NASA to help drive the recruitment of new, younger astronauts from diverse backgrounds. The first African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-Americans to travel into space joined the space programme as part of Nichelle Nichols’ initiative. She quite literally changed the face of NASA and diversified space exploration.

The documentary Woman in Motion goes into detail about Nichols’ work with NASA, and if you haven’t seen it it’s well worth a watch. I love a good documentary, and Woman in Motion presents her story in an understandable way. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know much about her involvement with NASA prior to watching Woman in Motion, but it’s a story that absolutely should be told – and I’m glad it was able to be told before Nichelle Nichols passed away.

Nichelle Nichols on the Woman in Motion poster.

Over the past few days we’ve seen an outpouring of grief and remembrance from Nichelle Nichols’ Star Trek co-stars, actors and creatives in the Star Trek franchise, many others from the world of entertainment, and countless people who felt inspired by her. Many people have shared their own stories of what it meant to see Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, how Nichelle Nichols inspired them to get started in their chosen career, or the words of advice she had from those lucky enough to have met her in person.

For one person to have such an impact and leave such a legacy is phenomenal, and the thousands upon thousands of tributes that we’ve seen are just a small fraction of the lives that Nichelle Nichols touched in one way or another. Those lives were changed not because she played a role on Star Trek, but because of what she did with that role, that fame, and the spotlight that was placed upon her. Other actors could’ve happily taken their pay and done nothing more – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all – but Nichelle Nichols went the extra mile. She recognised what her role meant to millions of people across the United States and around the world, and she did everything that she could to make it matter. That’s why it’s been so hard to know what to say, and why her loss hits so profoundly. She wasn’t just another performer – she was so much more than that to so many people.

Nichelle Nichols with Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green.

We’ve been lucky to have Nichelle Nichols with us for as long as she was. It was only in her final couple of years that she began slowing down her activities; she attended her final Star Trek convention less than a year ago. In all of that time she offered to fans and everyone else the kind of boundless, unbridled optimism that defines Star Trek itself: always smiling, always happy to be seen with fans, co-stars, and new actors alike.

I’m going to miss Nichelle Nichols. I’ll miss hearing about her appearances at conventions and the interactions she had with fellow fans and friends of mine within the Star Trek fan community. I’ll miss the stories she could tell about working on the show and its films. And I’ll miss seeing her with the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Zoe Saldaña, and Celia Rose Gooding. The comfort I take is that she lived a full life, one in which she put her talents to good use both on-screen and off. She leaves behind a legacy most people could only imagine, and her impact on the worlds of Star Trek, entertainment, and even space exploration itself will outlive her, continuing long into the future.

Some images used above courtesy of Star Trek/Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five planets that Star Trek probably won’t revisit any time soon!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Animated Series, The Next Generation Season 1, Voyager Season 2, Star Trek 2009, Picard Season 1, Discovery Season 3, and Lower Decks Season 2.

I wouldn’t even like to guess how many different planets (and other planetary bodies) have been visited across all 800+ episodes and films in the Star Trek franchise! It must be a lot… maybe someone has been keeping a tally, but I certainly haven’t! There are some worlds that we’ve visited more than others – Bajor, Qo’noS, and of course Earth all spring to mind. But there are some planets that, for one reason or another, are best left behind in the franchise’s past.

As Star Trek moves on to bigger and better things, some planets – and their inhabitants – seem outdated, or perhaps the concept behind the planet was never a good one to begin with. Today I thought it could be interesting to consider five examples of planets that Star Trek will almost certainly never revisit!

Planet #1:
Ekos

The USS Enterprise in orbit of Ekos (as it originally appeared).

Ekos was created for The Orignal Series Season 2 episode Patterns of Force, but you might know it better as “that Nazi planet.” There’s definitely scope for the Star Trek franchise to tackle authoritarianism, fascism, and even Nazism – and as recently as 2004, Enterprise put its own spin on the “Star Trek-versus-Nazis” concept. But there are a few deeply unsettling things about Ekos, and how its Nazi-inspired government came to power.

First of all we need a brief history lesson! In the 1960s, when Patterns of Force was created, some historians, economists, and other political scientists regarded Nazi Germany as an “efficient” state. Resting all power in a single individual, they argued, made for a powerful government that could be run very efficiently. In Patterns of Force, Federation anthropologist/historian John Gill cites this theory as the reason for introducing Nazism to the Ekosians.

Ekos is also known as “Planet of the Nazis.”

That theory was flat-out wrong, and even by the 1970s and 1980s, the flawed thinking that led to the myth of “Nazi efficiency” had been exposed and thoroughly debunked. In short, Nazi Germany was a very poorly-run government, with a handful of cronies of the führer wielding disproportionate levels of power, and micromanagement in certain departments and industries majorly hampering the state’s industrial output. How this myth ever came to be as widely believed as it was is, in some respects, a bit of a mystery. But suffice to say that the central conceit behind Patterns of Force has been exposed as a falsehood.

John Gill, the academic at the heart of the story, also represents a very distinct kind of betrayal of Federation values, taking things to perhaps the most unpleasant extreme possible. Star Trek has never shied away from showing us flawed human beings and Federation officials, but Gill is a step too far, and Patterns of Force can be an uncomfortable watch for many Trekkies.

John Gill, the Federation historian who became the Führer of Ekos.

Though it might be interesting, in some respects, to revisit Ekos in the 24th, 25th, or 32nd Centuries to see how things had progressed, in many ways it’s a planet – and a story concept – that should probably remain on the sidelines. Modern Star Trek can tell far more subtle stories about authoritarianism, racism, and the like without needing to resort to overt depictions of Federation-sponsored Nazism.

Patterns of Force is based on an outdated concept, and while it was brought to screen quite well by the standards of The Original Series, with some clever visual effects for the time and some surprisingly accurate costumes, it feels like an anachronism overall. This is one best left behind in the 1960s!

Planet #2:
Megas-Tu

The USS Enterprise near Megas-Tu.

The Animated Series had some very wacky sci-fi concepts. Taking Star Trek away from live-action meant that the franchise was no longer confined by the limitations of practical special effects, and thus it was possible to depict things like a 40-foot tall clone of Spock, an entirely underwater civilisation, or, in The Magicks of Megas-Tu, an alternate universe where magic is real and science is not.

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Magicks of Megas-Tu, and I think it’s an episode that every Trekkie should watch at least once. It’s an example of mid-century sci-fi at its wackiest, but it manages to retain a Star Trek tone throughout the very unusual adventure that Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise find themselves on.

A group of Megans departing their homeworld.

With the possible exception of Lower Decks, which has been more willing to explore some of the stranger elements of classic Star Trek, I can’t imagine Megas-Tu ever making another Star Trek appearance. How would it fit in Discovery, for example, or Picard? The tone of modern Star Trek is just too different – and even by the time of The Next Generation, Star Trek had moved away from concepts like this. Megas-Tu feels homeless, in a sense, in a franchise that has moved on.

That isn’t to say that it was a bad concept when it was first developed, but like several ideas from The Original Series and The Animated Series, magic and fantasy just seem to be a step too far for a franchise that has retained its esoteric side and sense of fun, but refocused them into more science-based stories rather than stories that use literal magic and fantasy as core elements.

Cheers!

It’s hard to see how a story about Megas-Tu could fit in with modern Star Trek. Audience expectations have shifted when it comes to science-fiction, and with the Star Trek franchise moving away from stories like The Magicks of Megas-Tu, it seems very unlikely that we’ll see anything like it in the franchise anytime soon.

There’s also the in-universe problem of travelling to the Megans’ universe, and while technobabble can always be created to explain away these things, it seems like a bit of a stretch. It’s possible we’ll get more references to The Animated SeriesPicard Season 1 made reference to the Kzinti, for example. But a full revisit to Megas-Tu is probably off the table!

Planet #3:
Ligon II

Ligon II.

The planet that inspired me to put together this list, Ligon II was visited in Code of Honor, the notorious Season 1 episode of The Next Generation that has been widely criticised for its use of racial stereotypes. The Ligonians encapsulated stereotypes of Africans and African-Americans, and Code of Honor has to be one of the worst episodes of The Next Generation as a result.

Some stories from past iterations of the franchise are open to redemption; to being revisited to right the wrongs of the past. We’ve seen this, to an extent, with certain characters in modern Star Trek who saw much-needed development or expansions of incomplete arcs. We’ve also seen Lower Decks revisit planets like Beta III to comment on Starfleet’s somewhat chaotic approach to first contact.

Code of Honor has been widely criticised for stereotyping.

But Code of Honor and the episode’s depiction of the Ligonians feels so utterly wrong that it’s irredeemable. There are some parts of Star Trek’s past that the franchise brushes under the carpet, choosing to ignore and even overwrite things rather than try to fix the unfixable. Captain Pike’s “woman on the bridge” line in The Cage is such an example – overt sexism from a character that we’re now very excited to see return. Ligon II and Code of Honor are definitely in the “let’s all just pretend that never happened” category… for the good of the franchise!

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that Code of Honor was produced as late as 1987. It would still feel outdated had it been part of The Original Series in the 1960s, but to know that it was produced for The Next Generation – within my own lifetime – is one of those things that boggles the mind.

A ritual combat arena on the surface of Ligon II.

Code of Honor is an episode that I think Trekkies need to watch. It’s worth remembering that, despite its lofty ambitions and attempts to depict a better future, the people who create Star Trek can still make mistakes. This was an episode that Gene Roddenberry had some creative input in and signed off on – he was The Next Generation’s executive producer at the time.

The episode is noteworthy for its complete lack of awareness. The people who created this story, cast it, and put it to screen were so blind to the offensive stereotypes that it depicted that they allowed it to progress and even get broadcast. Star Trek may have made strides, even in its early years, in its attempts to confront and tackle things like segregation and race hate – but it was blind, at times, to subtler, more covert forms of racism and racial stereotyping.

Planet #4:
Uninhabited Delta Quadrant world

A hyper-evolved human on the surface of this unnamed planet.

This planet doesn’t have a name… but I vote we call it “Tom Paris and Captain Janeway’s sex planet.” That’s right, it’s the planet from Threshold! After crossing the Warp 10 barrier and experiencing hyper-evolution, Tom Paris kidnapped Captain Janeway and took her to this remote, uninhabited world somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. By the time Chakotay and the crew of the USS Voyager tracked them down, both Paris and Janeway had mutated into amphibious salamander-like creatures… and mated.

Although the crew of Voyager successfully recovered Paris and Janeway and the Doctor was able to revert them back to their human forms, for some reason they left their offspring behind. That means somewhere in the Delta Quadrant, little human-salamander offspring are polluting a perfectly innocent planet that was just minding its own business. I’m pretty sure that violates the Prime Directive… in the most disgusting way possible.

This planet now belongs to the human-salamander babies.

As much as some fans (myself included) like to joke about Threshold – which is absolutely one of Voyager’s worst stories – I can’t see Star Trek ever doing anything more with this episode, this concept, or the planet visited in the final few minutes. For completely different reasons to those laid out above, this is another part of Star Trek’s past to simply ignore!

Again, the one exception could be Lower Decks, which has an irreverent take on these things. We saw mating mugatoes in the Season 2 episode Mugato, Gumato, so I wouldn’t put it past the Lower Decks team to dream up a reason to bring back the human-salamanders one day! After all, Tom Paris made an appearance in the show!

Tom Paris in Threshold.

To Threshold’s credit, it won an award for its prosthetic makeup, and while the story was undeniably ridiculous to the point of abject failure, it was at least an attempt to go into a little more detail about Warp Drive and the limits to warp speed. It never sat right with me that Warp 9.9999 was as fast as anyone could ever go… but Warp 10 was supposedly fast enough to travel anywhere in an instant.

However, as with many technobabble things in Star Trek, maybe the complexities of Warp Drive work better when they’re left ambiguous! Ambiguity and vaguery allow for the creative teams to take stories in wildly different directions, allowing for maximum storytelling potential without different writers and different shows being constrained or tripping over one another.

Planet #5:
Romulus

Romulus as it appeared in Nemesis.

What? Too soon?

Romulus was destroyed during the events of 2009’s Star Trek, and we got to learn a little more about this event and its aftermath in Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Though the Romulans survived – well, some of them did, anyway – their homeworld, as well as its sister planet of Remus, is gone. The surviving Romulans are living on a number of other worlds in and around the territory of their former Empire.

The destruction of Romulus was shown in 2009’s Star Trek.

Both Star Trek and Picard Season 1 were somewhat ambiguous on this latter point, though. We don’t know how many Romulans survived, where they went next, or even what became of their Empire. We do know that a faction called the Romulan Free State existed as of 2399, but that the Tal Shiar and Zhat Vash still existed in some form too, and were able to launch military operations on Earth, at the heart of the Federation.

Presumably Romulus’ destruction didn’t kill off either organisation, and the fact that they retained the capability to launch such powerful operations suggests that the Romulan government and its espionage operation still exist in some capacity, presumably having relocated to a different world. To what extent the Romulan Empire remains united is unclear, as is the fate of races like the Remans, who had second-class citizen status.

The Romulan capital city as it appeared in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.

With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 going in a different direction, I presume we won’t be in a position to learn much more about the Romulans for a while. But if there are future 24th and 25th Century stories in the years ahead, it would be nice to get some kind of closure; to fully learn what happened to the Romulans in the years and decades after the loss of their homeworld.

By the time of Discovery’s 32nd Century, at least some Romulans had relocated to Vulcan as part of a reunification project. The planet was renamed Ni’Var, and while tensions still existed between the Romulans, Vulcans, and Romulo-Vulcans, it seems that the Romulans got a happy ending of sorts – even if it took centuries to get there!

So that’s it.

The USS Enterprise in orbit of Earth.

There have been plenty of fun and interesting worlds that the Star Trek franchise has visited, with many making just one single appearance. Modern Star Trek has contained a number of references in dialogue or on-screen displays to some of these worlds, giving us tantalising teases about what became of them after we last saw them. Those references are always appreciated!

With over fifty-five years of history and more than 800 episodes at time of writing, it’s inevitable that not all of these planets (and the peoples who populated them) worked well or would be worth going back to. Fortunately it’s relatively uncommon for Star Trek to have made truly egregious missteps, but there are certainly some episodes – and the planets and factions they included – that are best left behind. I hope it was a bit of fun (or at least mildly interesting) to consider a few examples today!

The Star Trek franchise – including all films, series, episodes, and other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: The Original Series + Star Trek: Lower Decks crossover theory: Lost human colonies

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.

Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one that connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!

Has the existence of the Hysperians in Lower Decks solved a fifty-five-year-old mystery?

Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.

Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.

Did ancient humanoids “seed” the galaxy with their genetic data? And if so, does that account for the abundance of humanoid races?

But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.

Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

A Roman centurion from the planet 892-IV.

Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.

So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.

The Hysperians have their own system of government, led by a monarch.

Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.

So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.

Bringloidi leader Danilo Odell with Captain Picard.

Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.

Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.

Burnham, Owosekun, and Captain Pike on the planet Terralysium. The inhabitants were descended from humans saved by the Red Angel.

Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.

I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.

Personally speaking, I never felt that the galaxy being full of humanoid races (like the Klingons) needed a complex in-universe explanation.

But when it comes to aliens that are identical to humans, the explanation from The Chase only goes so far. If we try to argue that the abundance of human-looking aliens is caused by the meddling of ancient humanoids who also caused the evolution of the Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians, etc. then the obvious question is why are there not dozens of Cardassian-looking aliens, or Klingon-oids?

Instead, what we could say is that these peoples are more likely to be lost Earth colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and the Mariposans, knowledge of their existence was lost in between their departures from Earth and their encounters with Captain Kirk. If we take The Original Series episode Space Seed at face value, humans had been able to launch large spacecraft since at least the late 20th Century, and with World War III taking place in the mid-21st Century, it’s possible that the records of thousands of space launches were lost. Just like Khan and his followers set out from Earth, perhaps the ancestors of some of these peoples did as well. Some may also be the descendants of humans abducted by aliens in the distant past, and this could explain how some humans have existed independently of Earth for centuries or millennia.

Natria, leader of the Fabrini.

So that’s the extent of this theory, really! I think it provides an interesting alternative explanation as to why Captain Kirk encountered so many human-looking “aliens” during The Original Series. We could even potentially extend this theory to include races like the Betazoids.

Obviously the reason why so many aliens in Star Trek, particularly in the franchise’s early days, were identical to humans was because of limitations in budget and special effects. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it! We can craft intricate theories, partly based on things we’ve learned in other iterations of the franchise, to go back and explain these things. To me at least, the idea that races like the Iotians, Fabrini, and Betans are in fact lost offshoots of humanity makes more sense than the idea that they naturally evolved to be indistinguishable from humans.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five main characters from Star Trek’s past that I’d bring back

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, and for other iterations of the franchise.

This is going to be the first part of a short two-part series in which I look at a few significant characters from past iterations of Star Trek that I would love to see return. Rather than tying these characters to a specific series, film, or ongoing project, this list is more general. I’m not advocating, for example, for any of these characters to necessarily appear in Picard or Strange New Worlds, but rather to return to the franchise at some point, when a suitable story could be written.

The Original Series Season 2 cast (without George Takei).

It goes without saying that practically every major character (at least those who weren’t killed off) could be brought back in some capacity, and with the franchise continuing to expand I think it’s increasingly likely that we’ll get some significant moments where characters reappear. For the sake of this list I’m not counting characters who are starring in shows that are currently in production, so I’ll be limited to characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the films.

The Next Generation cast in Season 4 – plus Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan.

By my count there are 42 characters across those five series that we could call “major” – i.e. they regularly had their names listed in the main credits, and weren’t considered guest stars or just recurring secondary characters. This time I’m picking on just five, and my usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information!” This is just a short list of characters that I think could be fun to bring back in some capacity, nothing more.

The Deep Space Nine cast in Season 4.

Of the 42 characters that occupied major starring roles in at least one season of the five aforementioned shows, I’m excluding five: James T Kirk from The Original Series, Data and Tasha Yar from The Next Generation, Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine, and Trip Tucker from Enterprise. All the exclusions are for the same reason: those characters have died in-universe. While there could be convoluted ways to bring back alternate versions (such as we saw with Sela, for instance) the original character can’t return after death.

The Season 2 cast of Voyager.

Though it may be controversial, I don’t believe that the death of an actor necessarily excludes a character from returning. The Kelvin films recast the entire main cast of The Original Series, and Star Trek: Picard recently recast a couple of legacy characters as well. So characters whose primary actors have passed away are still in contention.

Now that we’ve laid down the ground rules, let’s take a look at my choices.

Number 1: Chakotay

This one is inspired by the return of Seven of Nine in Season 1 of Picard. I’ve written about this before, but Seven’s return to Star Trek was cathartic for me, because the passage of time allowed her to be a very different, more emotional, and much more human character than she ever was in Voyager. Seven was sometimes annoying and difficult to root for, especially toward the end of Voyager’s run, and basically the reason was that she’d always seem to “reset” after learning what should have been a big and important lesson in how to be human. It made her character bland and repetitive. But we’re not here to talk about Seven of Nine!

Chakotay didn’t have a lot to do in Voyager, despite being the first officer. There were a handful of episodes in which he was given a storyline, but a lot of the time he was just a presence, someone there for other characters to bounce ideas off or to tell Captain Janeway he didn’t recommend she do something we all knew she’d end up doing anyway. In short, bringing back Chakotay is something I would see as a chance for his character to get a Seven of Nine-like “redemption,” with some genuine development and a significant storyline.

One thing Voyager touched on briefly but never really explored was the way Chakotay felt about the deaths of the Maquis. The episode Extreme Risk focused on B’Elanna as she struggled to come to terms with what happened to their former colleagues, but Chakotay never really got a similar moment. As part of a larger story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, learning what happened to the Maquis’ colonies in the aftermath of that conflict could include Chakotay, as one of those worlds was his home.

We could also learn that Chakotay was allowed to remain in Starfleet following Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, and may even have been given his own command. Given that Voyager quite quickly dropped the Maquis angle, I’m not sure this is the route I’d go down because it doesn’t seem like it offers a lot of development or growth potential for his character, but it’s a possibility.

The final few episodes of Voyager’s seventh season saw a burgeoning relationship building between Chakotay and Seven of Nine. With Seven now a recurring character in Picard, and with the possibility of her entering into a relationship with main character Raffi, we could potentially explore what happened between Seven and Chakotay. Voyager’s finale certainly suggested that he had strong feelings for her, even after her death in that timeline.

Unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t especially clear, the producers of Voyager lost interest in – or didn’t know what to do with – the “one ship, two crews” concept that had been part of the show’s inception. Chakotay and the rest of the Maquis were absorbed into the crew by midway through Season 1, and while lip service was paid to Chakotay’s Maquis past at numerous points, I think that’s one aspect of his background that would be ripe for exploration. In any 24th or early 25th Century story that looked at Bajor, Cardassia, and the aftermath of the Dominion War, I’d spend at least an episode or two considering the legacy of the Maquis, and Chakotay could play a major role in such a story.

Number 2: T’Pol

I’ve mentioned T’Pol before in relation to Strange New Worlds, and that series is certainly one where we could see her crop up. Because of Enterprise’s place in the timeline, unless Star Trek plans on returning to the 22nd Century for some other story, there aren’t many characters who could realistically still be active and able to play a major role. The 23rd and 24th Centuries (as well as Discovery’s 32nd Century) are where current Star Trek projects are focused – and I have to say I think that’s the right call. Enterprise was an interesting experiment, but I see no pressing need to return to the 22nd Century at this stage.

The story I’d include T’Pol in would go something like this: she’s a senior Federation ambassador by the mid-23rd Century, and accompanies Captain Pike on a diplomatic mission. The mission would make first contact with a race we met in The Next Generation era, such as the Cardassians. We’d thus tie together all three of Star Trek’s eras in one story! I think an episode like that would be incredibly rewarding for longstanding fans of the franchise; a “love letter” to the fans.

But there are many other roles T’Pol could occupy. Having spent so long with humans during those early days of humanity striking out into space, she could prove an invaluable guide or advisor to a young Spock. Whether Spock is “the first Vulcan in Starfleet” is a point of contention without an obvious answer, but even if he wasn’t it’s clear that the Vulcans continued to operate an independent fleet into the 23rd Century, and thus Vulcans serving in Starfleet seem to have been rare. T’Pol is well-placed to be a kind of mentor to Spock for this reason.

However, both of those story concepts take T’Pol out of her usual scientific role, and perhaps a story could be devised which would be better-suited to her career as a scientist. I’m still thinking of a 23rd Century story, but one which perhaps requires high-ranking Federation scientists to work on a mystery or puzzle.

Number 3: Dr Pulaski

I’ve never met a fan of The Next Generation who likes Dr Pulaski as much as I do. I understand why she wasn’t popular with fans, replacing Dr Crusher after one season and especially because of her early run-ins with Data that amounted to anti-android bigotry. But where Dr Crusher could be fairly bland, Dr Pulaski had a really strong personality that shone through.

On another occasion we’ll talk about Dr Pulaski and how her introduction in Season 2 of The Next Generation was an attempt to shake up the new series and bring in a Dr McCoy-type character. But for now I want to consider how she could return, and what sort of role she could have.

Picard Season 1 missed an opportunity to bring back Dr Pulaski – or another medical officer from The Next Generation like Alyssa Ogawa – in the second episode. Picard receives bad news from a doctor he knew while serving aboard the USS Stargazer, Dr Benayoun. This was a new character created for Picard, and if I’d been writing it I might have chosen to bring back Dr Pulaski at this moment instead. I don’t know if that was ever suggested, because it’s well-known that actress Diana Muldaur didn’t have a great time working on The Next Generation. But it would have been neat to see!

One series that has been doing great with references to less well-known parts of canon is Lower Decks, and perhaps that means Dr Pulaski would be a good fit to return there. I don’t know if Diana Muldaur is still working, nor whether she’d be well enough or willing to reprise the role. But it was at least a little sad that Dr Pulaski was dropped in The Next Generation Season 3 with no explanation. There’s scope, I feel, to learn what came next for her – even if the character has to be recast.

Almost any medical story or story involving characters from The Next Generation Season 2 could see Dr Pulaski return, and of course Star Trek: Picard has to be the prime candidate of the shows currently in production. She could, for example, be one of the chief medical officers assigned to help the surviving ex-Borg now that they’re (presumably) under Federation protection. Or how about this: in a storyline that clearly shows how much she’s changed her attitude to synthetic life, she could be the head of a Federation medical team sent to Coppelius to help the synths. This would cement her “redemption” from her earlier interactions with Data, and would perhaps provide a suitable epilogue to her role in The Next Generation Season 2.

Number 4: Benjamin Sisko

Captain Sisko is probably the character whose return I’ve touted the most! Because of the unique nature of his disappearance in the Deep Space Nine finale – vanishing into the realm of the Bajoran Prophets – he could return literally anywhere, in any time period. The Prophets don’t experience time in the same linear manner as humans, so they could send him to a point in his future, his past, or anywhere along the Star Trek timeline.

This is why I’ve proposed Sisko as a character who could appear in Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery – because he could be sent back by the Prophets at any moment in time. I would argue he would have more to do in a story set in the late 24th or early 25th Centuries than he might in the 23rd or 32nd, but in any story that brought back Bajor, Sisko could play a major role.

He could also be part of a story looking at the aftermath of the Dominion War, at Cardassian relations with the Federation, and of course at Deep Space Nine itself. I think Sisko has the potential to be a useful character too. If he joined the story right at the moment of his return to normal spacetime, he could potentially be a point-of-view character, and an excuse for a film or episode to dump a lot of exposition that could otherwise feel clunky and out-of-place. This would be done under the guise of other characters bringing Sisko up to speed on what he’s missed – and we could catch up on galactic affairs right along with him!

Of all the characters on this list, Sisko is the one whose story feels the most unfinished. There was almost a cliffhanger ending to his role in Deep Space Nine, with a tease that one day he’ll be coming back. Whether we’ll ever see that on screen is another matter, of course, and Avery Brooks has seemed less willing to reprise the role than some other Star Trek actors. But you never know!

Number 5: Montgomery Scott

It would be relatively easy for Scotty to crop up in Strange New Worlds as a junior engineer – or in any other 23rd Century series, for that matter. But that’s not really what I’m proposing this time. That idea has merit, and I think I included Scotty in one of my character ideas lists for Strange New Worlds. However, this time what I’m suggesting is Scotty in the 24th Century.

Relics, the Season 6 episode of The Next Generation, established that Scotty had been kept alive in a form of transporter stasis of his own devising for over eighty years, finally rematerializing when the crew of the Enterprise-D encountered his crashed ship. After working briefly with Geordi La Forge, Captain Picard, and others, Scotty was given a shuttle and set out to explore the new century on his own. We would later learn in 2009’s Star Trek that Scotty had gone back to work, developing a method of “transwarp beaming” that became important to the plot of that film.

After that, however, what became of Scotty is a mystery. He had initially intended to retire, so did his stint with Starfleet continue? Or did he resume his planned retirement in the 24th Century, catching up on the eight decades of galactic history that he’d missed? He reunited with Spock, apparently, and it’s at least possible he would have been able to visit the elderly Dr McCoy as well.

Scotty offers a “coming out of retirement” story, perhaps prompted by some horrible event or disaster that requires an engineering solution. We could learn, for example, that he’d worked alongside Geordi La Forge in preparing the Romulan rescue fleet, or even that he was helping to rebuild the Mars shipyards after the attack by the Zhat Vash. Those are two ideas based on events from Picard Season 1, but of course there are many, many other ways Scotty could have contributed to Starfleet and the Federation in the late 24th Century.

So that’s it… at least for now. The second part of this short series will look at five secondary or recurring characters who I also think could be fun to bring back!

With so many ongoing and upcoming Star Trek projects occupying different places in the timeline, there really is scope to bring back almost any major character, and I hope the creative team don’t feel constrained! As a Trekkie I think I’d be happy with literally any of them making an appearance, though of course it would have to make sense in-universe as well as not be offputting for casual viewers.

The cast of Enterprise during Season 1.

We mentioned the episode Relics, and I think that story manages to walk that line exceptionally well. For fans of The Original Series, Scotty’s return was an amazing treat. But for folks who weren’t familiar with the older series, his inclusion in the episode still managed to make sense. The story was well-written, and while knowing more about who Scotty was and where he’d come from certainly added to it for Trekkies, it didn’t put off casual viewers by demanding a lot of knowledge of Star Trek canon. That’s the kind of model any future episode, film, or story that brings back a character should try to emulate.

We can also point to If Memory Serves, from the second season of Discovery. That episode began with a short recap of the events of The Cage, establishing what happened to Captain Pike on Talos IV, who the Talosians were, who Vina was, and so on. By beginning an episode which features a returning character with a clip or compilation of their past Star Trek exploits, almost any character could be integrated into an ongoing production.

The Discovery Season 1 cast (without Wilson Cruz).

The Star Trek franchise has been running for over five decades, and has a huge roster of wonderful characters. The fact that there are too many to put on the list – or the fact that the list could literally include every single one – is testament to the quality of the franchise and the creative teams who’ve contributed to it over the years.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where I’ll look at five secondary or recurring characters who I’d also love to see come back!

The Star Trek franchise – including all series mentioned above – is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service exists, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five Star Trek episodes for Valentine’s Day!

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the episodes on this list.

Love is in the air! Happy Valentine’s Day – even though 2021 promises to be the strangest in a long time. If you have a special someone to spend today with, I bet you’re wondering what to watch to put you both in the mood. And if you don’t… perhaps you’re just wondering what to watch. So without further ado, here are a few Star Trek episodes worth watching on the most lovey-dovey day of the year – or at least tangentially related to it! As always, the list is in no particular order.

Number 1:
The Dauphin (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Wesley’s first love is the story of The Dauphin.

It’s been a while since we talked about The Next Generation’s most controversial major character: Wesley Crusher! He’s the main focus of this episode, falling in love with the ruler of a war-torn planet. In a classic case of “bad timing,” Salia and Wesley’s relationship wasn’t to be. He learned a valuable lesson about love along the way, though, and while the episode has some cute moments and some awkward ones, it manages to be distinctly “Star Trek” all the while.

Number 2:
Choose Your Pain (Star Trek: Discovery)

Dr Culber and Stamets in Choose Your Pain.

I often call the relationship between Stamets and Dr Culber the “emotional core” of Discovery, yet looking back on the show’s 42 episodes, there are relatively few in which they are the main focus. Choose Your Pain has a lot going on, but one of the most significant points is how Hugh and Paul clash over the tardigrade – the space-dwelling lifeform that appears to be the key to making the Spore Drive work as intended. They’re able to resolve things, of course, but only when Stamets does something life-changing to himself in order to save the tardigrade’s life.

Number 3:
Threshold (Star Trek: Voyager)

Ah, Threshold.

When we think about Tom Paris, who’s his romantic partner? B’Elanna Torres, of course. But in Threshold – widely regarded as one of Voyager’s worst episodes – Paris and Janeway get together and even have kids! Had you forgotten about that? After passing the Warp 10 barrier and experiencing “hyper-evolution,” Paris kidnaps Janeway and flees to an uninhabited planet. The two hyper-evolve into lizards and apparently “do the nasty,” resulting in at least three offspring. The crew of Voyager opted to leave the hyper-evolved children behind when they rescued Paris and Janeway, though, and for some reason the events of Threshold were never mentioned again. I wonder why?

Number 4:
Amok Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)

One of the most memorable fights in all of Star Trek.

Amok Time is certainly one of the most iconic Star Trek episodes, having been imitated and parodied many times. It focuses on Spock and introduces us to the concept of pon farr – the Vulcan biological mating need. The Vulcans evidently practice arranged marriage, and when Spock’s betrothed chooses another man, Kirk and Spock must engage in a ritual fight to the “death.” As one of the first episodes to explore the Vulcans in depth, as well as our first visit to the planet Vulcan, Amok Time is incredibly important within the history of Star Trek. And as a love story, well there’s something kind of romantic about T’Pring choosing to escape her arranged marriage to be with someone she cares about… right?

Number 5:
Change of Heart (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

Jadzia and Worf in Change of Heart.

Workplace romances are bound to cause problems! After Worf arrived on the station at the beginning of Deep Space Nine’s fourth season, he and Jadzia Dax struck up a relationship. They eventually got married in the episode You Are Cordially Invited, and continued to work closely together. In Change of Heart they’re assigned a dangerous mission to evacuate a Federation spy at the height of the Dominion War. But when Jadzia is injured, Worf is forced to choose whether to save her life or complete the mission.

So that’s it. Five somewhat Valentine’s Day-related Star Trek episodes! Try not to take it too seriously; this was just a bit of fun to mark the occasion!

On a more serious note, Valentine’s Day can be difficult. It can be a day that brings home feelings of loneliness, that we aren’t loved or even that we’re unworthy or undeserving of finding someone special. If you feel that way, listen to me: it’s bullshit. You’re a King, a Queen, or non-binary Royalty and you are amazing. If you haven’t found somebody yet, that’s okay. There’s no pressure or time limit. I know people who found love well into their seventies and eighties, and a few years ago attended the wedding of a neighbour of mine who finally was able to marry his boyfriend – at the age of 85! Just because some people manage to find their special somebody early in life doesn’t mean you have to conform to that too. One thing I wish I’d learned a lot sooner is that it’s better to be single than to be in a bad relationship! So please try not to worry or let Valentine’s Day become an excuse to feel rotten. Your time will come. Until then, I wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day – platonically, of course!

The Star Trek franchise is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek and all episodes and series listed above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Great Star Trek villains: General Chang

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The Star Trek franchise sometimes lucks out on getting a wonderful guest star to jump aboard. Some of these guest stars are relative unknowns; actors and actresses who aren’t household names, but nevertheless gave wonderful, memorable performances. On the other hand, there are a handful of actors and actresses who join Star Trek when they’re already very well-known, either because they’re longstanding fans or because they were offered a once-in-a-lifetime role.

Christopher Plummer, who played General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was firmly in the second category; an established, renowned star. Plummer sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 91, and I thought it would be nice to take a look at his single Star Trek role, as well as pay tribute to this legend of stage and screen.

Christopher Plummer (1929-2021)
Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Plummer had a long career, first appearing on television in his native Canada in 1953. He continued to act well into his 80s, and among his final roles were the 2019 film Knives Out and a Canadian television show called Departure which was broadcast that same year. To Star Trek fans, Plummer is iconic for his role as the eyepatch-wearing Klingon General Chang in 1991’s The Undiscovered Country, where he faced off against fellow Canadian William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.

Plummer’s love of Shakespeare was incorporated into the story of The Undiscovered Country – the title of which is itself a quotation from the Great Bard. Chang would go on to quote Shakespeare numerous times throughout the film, appearing all the more villainous for it! There’s something about Shakespearean language that makes for a menacing antagonist.

General Chang and Captain Kirk share a glass of Romulan Ale aboard the Enterprise-A.

General Chang was one part of a broader conspiracy to prevent the Klingons and Federation achieving peace – a metaphor, in 1991, for the end of the Cold War. The Klingons had been conceived during The Original Series as the “Russians” to the Federation’s “Americans,” so it was certainly fitting to bring them into a storyline like this.

To continue the analogy, Chang represents the hard-liners – Soviet military leaders who could not conceive of the end of their dominance and place in the world. A few months before The Undiscovered Country would hit cinemas, a number of such men attempted a coup in the Soviet Union. This was the final roll of the dice from the old guard to preserve Soviet communism and wrench control away from the reformer Gorbachev; the Soviet Union would be formally dissolved in December of that year.

Chang appears on the Enterprise-A’s main viewscreen shortly after the assassination.

Perhaps it’s because of how timely the story was that General Chang made such an impact on Star Trek. The franchise has often looked at the real world through its sci-fi lens, but few stories managed to be as relevant or as timely as The Undiscovered Country was in 1991. The end of the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation represented the end of the Cold War, the explosion of Praxis and its fallout can be seen as an analogy for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and General Chang and Captain Kirk are the respective “old soldiers” from either side who must overcome the way they feel.

Kirk succeeded where Chang could not in that regard, and The Undiscovered Country gave him a meaningful character arc in a way few prior stories had. But Chang’s role is just as interesting, as he represents the many people on both sides of the conflict who were unable to find a way to live in peace. He was a foil for Kirk; a dark reflection of where Kirk’s own biases and mistrust could have led. Chang’s philosophy was that it was better to die in battle than live peacefully with one’s enemies – and he got his comeuppance for it.

Chang during Kirk’s trial on Qo’noS.

But having an interesting real-world message isn’t the only thing that makes Chang’s story so much fun. As I’ve said before, pushing too hard on that front can sometimes lead to a story or character being less entertaining! Instead, Chang was a truly interesting villain for the Star Trek franchise; a Klingon whose motivations were steeped in the concept of honour that his warrior people hold so dear.

Chang’s Klingon Bird-of-Prey could fire its weapons while cloaked, making it a uniquely challenging vessel for Kirk’s Enterprise-A and Sulu’s Excelsior during the climactic final confrontation. This battle, along with the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan, draws on inspiration from war films set aboard submarines, with Kirk and Sulu trying to outmanoeuvre and outthink their unseen opponent.

General Chang’s Bird-of-Prey could fire while cloaked.

During Kirk and McCoy’s trial on Qo’noS, Chang was a powerful advocate for the prosecution, insisting they be convicted for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon – an act for which he and his co-conspirators were, in fact, responsible. Star Trek has shown numerous times that it’s a franchise capable of some great moments of courtroom drama, and this was absolutely one of them! Chang shouting at Kirk that he shouldn’t wait for the universal translator was pitch-perfect acting.

A complex villain, whose motives were to continue a conflict that he could simply see no way of bringing to a peaceful end, General Chang is absolutely one of the most interesting and entertaining antagonists in all of Star Trek, and is up there with Khan as one of the best ever faced by Kirk and The Original Series’ crew.

Christopher Plummer had a long and varied career, one which touched many different genres and styles of acting, and endeared him to generations of audiences. His one moment in Star Trek was not his defining role – and is not the headline in most of his obituaries in mainstream news outlets today – but I firmly believe it showed what he was capable of at his best: a classic Shakespearean actor capable of transitioning to a wholly new genre. He will be missed.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Aliens of Star Trek: The M-113 Creature

Happy Star Trek Day! Today marks fifty-four years since the first episode of The Original Series aired on American television, kicking off a franchise which is still going strong today. The Man Trap featured an alien called the M-113 Creature, but you may know it by its unofficial name: the Salt Vampire!

The early production history of Star Trek is complicated! After The Cage – the show’s original pilot – wasn’t picked up by network NBC, a second pilot was commissioned. This was very unusual, and rumours abound as to what happened. Gene Roddenberry and co. went away to work on a new pilot, and what resulted was Where No Man Has Gone Before. The new pilot dropped most of The Cage’s characters – only Spock would be retained – and reworked the series. It ultimately led to Star Trek being greenlit, and the show was picked up for a full season. Several episodes were filmed, including The Man Trap, and when NBC came to deciding the order in which the stories would air, it was selected as the premiere as its story was considered easier to follow by the executives at the network.

Happy 54th anniversary to The Man Trap… and to Star Trek!

So that’s a potted history of how The Man Trap came to be Star Trek’s first episode, despite the fact it wasn’t filmed first! The episode would see the crew take on a nefarious alien which was the last of its kind: the M-113 Creature.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I really like the design of the creature and the special effects used to pull it off. The heavy rubber suits used for some of The Original Series’ aliens and creatures have a distinct aesthetic, but it’s one I think really works. The suits were very cleverly and lovingly designed, and compared to a lot of contemporary special effects have held up remarkably well over the decades. I’d even compare these kind of practical effects very favourably to lots of digital effects and CGI; no one will ever convince me that Enterprise’s CGI Gorn looks better than The Original Series’ rubber suit!

I think this Gorn still looks pretty good in 2020!

Though the M-113 creature was only seen in its true form very briefly, the same kind of special effects brought it to life in a horrifying way, yet with a unique look that is now emblematic of the Star Trek franchise. Many people who are only dimly aware of Star Trek would recognise the M-113 Creature and be able to identify it as a Star Trek alien; in that sense the creature is up there with races like the Borg and Klingons as being iconic.

It’s been great to see a couple of recent references within Star Trek to the M-113 creature. It appeared in Ephraim and Dot – an animated episode of Short Treks that aired back in December. And just last week we caught a glimpse of the M-113 Creature in Cupid’s Errant Arrow, the fifth episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. These fun little “Easter eggs” to Trekkies were greatly appreciated, and serve as a reminder of Star Trek’s origins all these years later.

The M-113 Creature seen in Ephraim and Dot…
…and again in Cupid’s Errant Arrow.

Though the creature the crew of the Enterprise encountered in The Man Trap was said to be the last of its kind, it’s arguable that may no longer be the case. Being mentioned in Lower Decks could be seen to imply that further M-113 Creatures have been discovered later in the 23rd and 24th Centuries, so we may not have seen the last of this iconic villain.

Nicknamed the “Salt Vampire” because of its ability to extract all of the salt from its victims, the M-113 Creature was a shapeshifter, able to take the form of other species, including humans. It also seems to have been sentient – able to mimic human behaviour and even hold in-depth conversations and form relationships.

The M-113 Creature was able to assume many forms.

Though distinct from later shapeshifting races – most notably the Founders of the Dominion – the M-113 Creature was the first such alien encountered in Star Trek. We’ve since seen a number of others, all of which owe at least a little something to their predecessor from The Man Trap. The concept of a shapeshifter is frightening, and that aspect has been used to great effect in several Star Trek stories.

The M-113 Creature also possessed several other abilities that made it a formidable adversary: it could telepathically sense the minds of sentient life forms – including humans – and use what it found to choose its appearance. This kind of tactic allowed it to get close to its prey and get them to let their guard down. It was also capable of paralysing people in order to get close to them when in its true form, and was incredibly physically strong – far more so than humans and Vulcans.

The M-113 Creature in its true form.

In The Man Trap, the sole surviving M-113 Creature (that we know of) took the form of Nancy Crater, a woman Dr McCoy had known; “that one woman”, as Captain Kirk put it. It lived with Crater’s husband, Robert, on the planet M-113 for a number of years. It was speculated that there had once been a civilisation of M-113 Creatures, but that the majority had gone extinct when the planet’s supply of salt was used up. Robert and Nancy Crater led an archaeological expedition to the world, encountering what could be the last survivor of the race.

Despite possessing some degree of sentience, it wasn’t possible for the crew of the Enterprise to reason with the M-113 Creature that they encountered, and it was killed by Dr McCoy while attempting to feed on Captain Kirk. If it were possible to negotiate with it – or others of its race – Starfleet could have provided the aliens with a supply of salt in exchange for peace. Perhaps such a story could be included in a future episode of Star Trek!

The M-113 Creature after being killed by Dr McCoy.

Despite its monstrous appearance and villainous role in the story, the death of the M-113 Creature in The Man Trap is a sad occasion. Potentially the last of its kind, the entire race and everything they had created now seems lost to history. Starfleet aims not only to seek out new life, but also to find ways – where possible – to peacefully coexist. It’s ironic, considering subsequent Star Trek stories, that the first encounter with an alien ended with its death!

But in a way, the aftermath of the M-113 Creature’s death is what established Star Trek as being more than just typical mid-century B-movie sci-fi fare. It took an emotional toll on Dr McCoy to kill what he thought was his long-lost love, and it took a toll on Kirk and the crew to have killed off the last member of a species. But as the Enterprise prepares to leave orbit, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy gather on the bridge and remember the creature in what was a very poignant moment.

The crew of the Enterprise at the end of The Man Trap.

It’s moments like this, across The Original Series’ early episodes, that set up Star Trek as being something special. There was more to the story of the M-113 Creature than just a horrible monster for our heroes to outsmart. That story was emotional and complex, bringing up issues of morality that other television series and films struggle to get across even today.

Star Trek offered – and continues to offer, fifty-four years later – much more to its audience than just exciting space adventures. This is why the franchise has endured so long, and it all began on the 8th of September 1966 with The Man Trap and the M-113 Creature.

Star Trek: The Original Series is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Original Series and all other properties listed above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.