Discovery Klingons and Star Trek's Continuity

 

Introduction

Star Trek Discovery reimagines or redefines many staples of Star Trek. The total redesign of the Klingons is the arguably most dramatic among the many deliberate visual changes in the series. The species doesn't only lose the hair, but essential features of the Klingon body look totally different than the established appearances of TOS Klingons or TMP Klingons. In addition, their whole styling and technology, including starships, architecture, equipment and clothing, was altered beyond recognition.

Considering that its creators tell us that Discovery takes place in the Prime Universe, it is not possible to simply overlook the radical visual alterations made for the series. Without an official blessing, it is not possible for fans to dismiss Discovery and slap a "total reboot" or even a "non-canon" label on it, even if it is effectively a reboot and disregards essential parts of the canon. So even though much about Discovery feels wrong (not to say *is* wrong), EAS has to take care of issues like the Klingon redesign in some fashion. However, that still doesn't mean that EAS will cobble together speculative theories to make Discovery fit with canon.

The producers as well as some fans argue that the Klingons were changed before, when the so far human-looking make-up of TOS made way for the TMP appearance with the forehead ridges. And even the TMP Klingons were not totally visually consistent, so some don't think it is a big issue if everything is changed yet again. Many pretend that the new DIS look is close enough to the old (TMP) look, the only real difference being the lack of hair. Another rationale brought forward is that the DIS Klingons, and particularly the House of T'Kuvma on their sarcophagus ship, could be a so far isolated sub-species of the Empire that for some reason becomes powerful in just one decade, only to vanish again or to undergo a mutation, all of which may be part of the story of Discovery. It is often cited as an explanation for the new look that there are 24 Klingon houses with different looks, although so far all Klingons of the series are "new" ones. Finally, a drawing of a hairless Klingon with an exoskeleton by Robert Fletcher for TMP was unearthed as a rationale for the redesign, as if a pre-production sketch discarded 40 years ago suddenly overruled the canon Klingon appearance in more than 400 episodes.

Speculation and wishful thinking doesn't help to make sense of the DIS Klingons, so let us stick with the facts. The following analysis shows how much the Discovery Klingons were changed and whether or not it could be possible to make them fit with canon.

 

Comparison of "Classic" and Discovery Klingons

TOS

TMP

STID

DIS

 




Era(s)

Between 2154 and approx. 2271, because of genetic treatment against augment virus, as shown in ENT: "Divergence"

From ancient times to the 24th century, with a possible interruption between 2154 and approx. 2271

2259

Around 2255

Timeline

Original timeline

Kelvin Timeline

Original timeline (officially)

Series

TOS, DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations", ENT: "Affliction", ENT: "Divergence"

TOS movies, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT

"Star Trek Into Darkness"

Star Trek Discovery

Appearance statistics

All Klingons until 2154 have ridged foreheads.

"Divergence" insinuates that Klingons would pass on the human traits including flat foreheads after the genetic treatment. For obvious reasons, all Klingons in TOS were affected by this genetic mutation still 110 years later. So the mere statistics tell us the flat forehead was the regular Klingon look at the time, although retroactive exceptions may be allowed.

All Klingons since 2271 have ridged foreheads.

Only a single Klingon in one movie (the only one who removes the rather un-Klingon-like helmet)

Only in DIS, and prospectively all Klingons in DIS

Anachronistic exceptions

Depiction of Kahless as a "flathead" in a fake scenario in TOS: "The Savage Curtain"

None in pre-reboot Star Trek

Given the statistics of TOS and TMP Klingons, the appearance of the STID Klingons itself is an anachronistic exception (but one that is easy to accept).

Given the statistics of TOS and TMP Klingons, the appearance of the DIS Klingons itself is an anachronistic exception, and a huge one.

Head shape

Human

Elongated

Ears

Human

Pointed and almost flush with skull

Pointed and almost flush with skull, leaning backward

Nose

Two nostrils

Four nostrils

Teeth

Human

Pointed

Forehead ridges

None

Central ridge and lateral ridges, many variations regarding the width and height and the patterns of the ridges. Related Klingons have similar ridge patterns. The Klingons in TMP may have just the central ridge.

Central ridge and lateral ridges, same basic pattern but more "elaborate" than most TMP variations.

More like an unevenness of the skull, plus the familiar three pronounced ridges. Overall similar as on some of the TMP variations.

Ridges on the back of the head

None

Only slightly pronounced, if any. Almost all TMP Klingons have hair, so the question was rather irrelevant so far.

Yes

Yes, running down the nape. According to background information, the ridges hold sensory organs and have to be exposed.

Hair

Yes

Yes, except for some few Klingons such as Chang who either suffer from hair loss or simply shaved it off.

Yes, at least a few of them have hair or beards protruding from the helmets.

No. According to background information, the ridges hold sensory organs. Hence, DIS Klingons are all hairless, almost definitely by nature.

Cheeks

Human

Pronounced. The DIS make-up includes cheek prosthetics.

Chin

Human

Pronounced. The DIS make-up includes chin prosthetics.

Hands

Human

Claw-like fingers

Skin color variaties

Human, varieties from Caucasian "white" to dark brown. Some TOS Klingons were played by "blackfaced" Caucasian actors.

Brown

Pitch black, brownish, pale white, pale beige, gray. Overall many non-human-like varieties.

Comments on continuity

TOS and TMP Klingons share many traits, but not more than most other humanoid races. The visual discrepancy exists since TMP. It was commonly ignored until it was explicitly hinted at in DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations", and explained in ENT: "Divergence". The statistics do not support it, but the retconned history would allow TOS and TMP Klingons to appear side by side at any time between 2154 and 2271 and possibly later.

The STID Klingon could pass as a TMP Klingon and perhaps as a DIS Klingon as well, if we decided to combine Abramsverse and the Discovery universe to one (unofficial) reboot universe.

The Discovery Klingons look much more alien than any previous variation. If any "classic" Klingons should ever appear in Discovery, the explanation would be a lot harder than the one from ENT: "Divergence". If the DIS Klingons remain the only Klingons of the series, it is factually a total (visual) reboot with no continuity ties to the existing Star Trek.

 

Options to Explain Discovery Klingons

(Many) Klingons mutated in this order: TMP appearance to TOS to DIS to TOS to TMP

DIS Klingons were an isolated sub-species that vanished after DIS

(All) Klingons always looked like in DIS

DIS is a total reboot with no ties to the old Star Trek

 

Conclusion

Summarizing, we will have to wait for Discovery to do two substantial things: give us a sufficient number of "classic" Klingons, and serve us some explanation why key figures of the Empire of the 23rd century (and their ships and styling) don't look familiar at all. Alternatively, the series may choose to show only Klingons that look like T'Kuvma, in which case Discovery would implicitly declare itself a total reboot, irrespective of all affirmations to the contrary.

 

See Also

The Klingon Forehead Problem - the history of the legendary continuity problem until Enterprise

The Evolution of Klingon Foreheads - fairly complete gallery and commentary

 

Credits

Thanks to Chris for the hint about the STID Klingons with hair.

 


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