Rodney Brooks

Robots, AI, and other stuff

Humanoids of Star Trek

I am a big Star Trek fan.  But there is one little problem…

How come all the races they meet are essentially humanoid, apart from the occasional pool of tar which both speaks and absorbs well loved security officers? Why is the whole Universe, well at least the whole of Alpha Quadrant of our Galaxy, full of aliens who are remarkably human like in size and form, even though the may have extra organs, always unseen except by the various “Doctors” in weird places in their torsos? Oh, and despite that, they all happen to be wonderfully sexually compatible with each other….

It all goes back to the sixties when The Original Series (TOS) was made. That was before computer graphics were anywhere good enough to be used on film, and so all the aliens had to be played by human actors.  If it could be arranged that only the voice of the human had to be “seen” by everyone then the form of the body could be as weird as a pool of tar. But if there needed to be visible interaction then the aliens had to have human form, because that is what the available actors had.

And we won’t go into how the universal translators (nice dodge!) know how to communicate in English with any alien race before anyone has heard them first speak a word, or a paragraph, in order to learn their language…

4 comments on “Humanoids of Star Trek”

  1. Have you seen The Next Generation episode titled “The Chase” (Season 6 Ep 20)? They give an explanation as to why a lot of the races are humanoid –

    Episode spoilers ahead: in the episode, the crew (along with Romulans, Cardassians, and Klingons) ends up using clues from an ancient artifact that dates back to pre-human times. They eventually find a planet where a hologram message from a long dead civilization is played. In the message, the alien (who is humanoid) tells everyone that they were the first humanoids to explore this quadrant of the galaxy long ago, and that no other humanoid alien spieces existed at that point. They seeded different planets with their DNA so that a legacy of their existance would exist after they were gone. This means all of the humanoid spieces actually have a common ancestor, and the hologram ends the message stating that the knowledge of having a common origin will help the different species come together in peace.

    I’m definitely not arguing with you though – you are totally right, the reason they are all humanoid in the 60s is almost definitely because of the small budget and because it was, well, the sixities, and how convincing could you really make alien species look? Who can forget this completely unrecognizable, alien creature:

    But TNG at least came up with an explination to the humanoid thing that both made sense and I think is actually a pretty good one!

    Okay yeah like all things Star Trek the universal translator can be a bit ridiculous. You might be intersted in another TNG episode called “Darmok” – the entire plot is that they have encountered a species who’s language isn’t understood by anyone, and they have to figure it out. Good stuff!

  2. Ha! I always wondered about the humanoid connection in StarTrek!

    Some of the “newer” spinoff series just recently appeared on Netflix (TNG, Voyager, DS9). I replaced my normal pre-bedtime SciFi reading rituals with watching these series on TV (start-to-finish), starting with DS9. I’d love to see a new StarTrek series (even if low-budget) that didn’t confine itself to humanoid aliens that are all ~2m tall.

  3. Can someone explain how Klingons (or other aliens) will universally be translated until they want to say something in their language? How does the computer know? If I’m speaking French and it is making it English, how would it know the next word should be French? This happened a lot on TNG and DS9.

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