Klingon head-to-head
(25/09/01, updated 06/02/07)

Johnny Fanboy writes:

One of the first nit-picks I ever answered (way back in September 2001) concerned the changing shape of the Klingons' heads. Since my original answer was posted, this issue has of course been resolved on television, in the Star Trek: Enterprise storyline Affliction/Divergence - or has it? What about Kor, Koloth and Kang, who were smooth-headed in the original Star Trek series but lumpy-headed in Deep Space Nine?

Below are the original nit-pick question and my initial answer to it. Beneath that is my analysis of how well my theories have held up in light of the revelations in Affliction and Divergence...


Dear Johnny Fanboy,

Why, oh, why is it that all the Klingons we see in the original Star Trek series have smooth heads, while those featured in the movies and subsequent television series have all had lumpy heads? This includes characters that have appeared in both eras (Kahless, Kor, Koloth and Kang), who have had both smooth and "pasty" heads in their time.

The only time the subject has ever been addressed (to my knowledge) was in the DS9 episode Trials and Tribble-ations, and even then Worf merely said that Klingons don't discuss it with outsiders. Thanks, Paramount, for clearing that up for us!

Can you do any better?

Scott Hadingham

Johnny Fanboy replies:

Ooh, don't get me started on Klingon lumps! Oops - too late...

Fans and authors of licensed fiction have, over the decades, come up with a number of possible explanations for the Klingons' change of appearance (aside from the real-life increase in the budget for make-up). Some have suggested that the "smooth-heads" belong to a distinct clan or sub-species that was briefly in power during the time of the classic series. Others have theorised that the Klingons' lumps were mutations caused by radioactivity from their unsafe mining operations on the moon Praxis (which ultimately exploded in Star Trek VI). The Praxis theory won't do, however, because it's inconceivable that all Klingons throughout the known galaxy could have been affected by this very local phenomenon (for local people). Others have proposed that the "lumpy-heads" are the product of genetic enhancement - however, Klingons from time periods prior to the original series have been shown with lumpy heads, most recently in the new show, Enterprise.

My favourite theory is the one put forward by Trek novelist John M. Ford, who claimed in several of his books that the smooth-headed Klingons were specially bred "Klingon-human fusions". These specialised soldiers incorporated human genetic traits, so as to enable them to deal more effectively with human enemies, and they were assigned to areas of space where the Empire was likely to cross paths with Starfleet. Similarly, Klingon-Romulan fusions were developed to better cope with Romulans. These "impure" Klingons presumably fell out of favour around the time of the first six movies, perhaps because Kirk defeated them so frequently, and the majority of the Klingon-human fusions were thereafter dishonoured, banished and/or executed.

As for Kor, Koloth and Kang, perhaps certain high-ranking officers who had won sufficient favour or wielded a degree of political clout within the Empire escaped disgrace, exile and/or genocide. In order for them to remain active members of Klingon society, they could have been cosmetically altered to resemble "pure", lumpy-headed Klingons.

In the case of the semi-legendary Kahless, when we first "see" him in the classic Trek episode The Savage Curtain, he is an illusion created by the Excalbians. As with the simulations of Abraham Lincoln and Surak, the image of Kahless was presumably plucked from the minds of Kirk and Spock, who evidently imagined him as a smooth-headed Klingon, the type with which they were most familiar. The real Kahless would have had a lumpy head, as did his clone in the Next Gen episode Rightful Heir.

Hope that's smoothed your furrowed brow, Scott - I'm gonna head off now (boom, boom)...!


Johnny Fanboy adds:

To an extent, John M. Ford's references to Klingon-human fusions have not been invalidated. Affliction and Divergence reveal that smooth-headed Klingons are indeed the result of an attempt at genetic manipulation using human DNA. However, this is not for the purpose of dealing specifically with human enemies, but rather an attempt to incorporate human-Augment strengths. The experiments fail, though the side effects - smooth foreheads and generally more human features - remain. It is perfectly reasonable for these mutants to be referred to as Klingon-human fusions, because that's what they are.

Klingon-Romulan fusions could also exist, having arisen from similar experiments using Romulan tissue, or from Klingon-Romulan interbreeding during periods of alliance between the two species. Indeed, this might explain why some Romulans have slight ridges on their foreheads.

As to why the smooth-headed Klingons seem to disappear after the time of the original Star Trek series, perhaps a simple way to reverse the mutation is achieved at this point. All the smooth-headed Klingons and their progeny, including Kor, Koloth and Kang, could therefore have their natural appearance restored.

Alternatively, maybe the Augment-fusions do indeed fall out of favour. The Star Trek: Vanguard novel Summon the Thunder, by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, states that these mutants, known in the Klingon language as QuchHa', are regarded by many "pure" Klingons as being comparatively weak and lacking in honour. It is said that many of them have already been banished from certain sects of Klingon society. As I have already theorised, Kor, Koloth, Kang and other high-ranking Augment-fusions who have won sufficient favour or wield sufficient political power could escape such disgrace and banishment, and remain active members of society, by being cosmetically altered to resemble "true" Klingons.

Alternatively, it is possible that Kor, Koloth, Kang and other high-ranking Klingons were "pure" specimens all along, surgically altered to resemble the Augment-fusions for the purpose of keeping the troops in line. At a later date, these officers have their true Klingon features restored.

My explanation regarding Kahless still stands.

I'll head off again now!

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