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The 10 Most Obnoxious, Overrated Alien Cultures in Star Trek

Let's hope we see a lot less of these fantasy species in future shows and movies.

Dave Swindle


July 11, 2014 - 4:00 pm
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10. The Romulans

What exactly do the Romulans have that justifies their defining quality, their arrogance? They’re among the most boring species in all of Trek, the kind of evil twin to the Vulcans, known for their deceitful and warlike nature.

Their only redeeming feature seems to be how cool and genuinely intimidating their warbird ships are:

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Top Rated Comments   
I used to be able to Name That Episode after seeing only five seconds. I could tell you the A plot and the B plot and often the scene that was cut for syndication.

Then during the Iraq war I read an article about how much commanders care about their men — even big brass — and that tore it. I had always known that M*A*S*H was an anti-war show, with Korea representing Viet Nam, and it was one thing to complain about violence and blood, but to keep presenting Big Brass as evil, detached, spoiled hypocrites and the men as victims?


Then in Hawkeye's adolescent tantrums I heard echoes of the Left's Bush Derangement Syndrome and other immature ravings.

Can't watch a minute anymore. Not one more minute.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't say as how I agree with many of these culture being "overrated" as such; obnoxious, yes, but with a lot of these cultures, being obnoxious was the whole point of their being on the show. Peaceful and prosperous well-governed people who get along well with practically everybody tend to make for boring television. (Ever hear of the Halkans? They were just such a culture; they appeared in exactly one episode of the original series, and then never again. Kudos to any Trekkie who can remember exactly which episode that was, and why they were in it.)

On the whole, I don't think I'd eliminate any of these cultures from any rebooted series, except maybe the Betazoids and the Q Continuum. I think, moreover, that you're missing how so many of these "cultures" (do Soong's androids really qualify to be a culture?) are meant to be allegories and metaphors for other cultures, real and fanciful:

10. Romulans: as Vulcans are basically idealized high-functioning autistics, Romulans are the clever and evil siblings of those autistic kids who like to bully their siblings and other people. Gee, what do you suppose could be appealing to nerdy Trekkies about making them the occasional villains on the show? (They weren't actually in all that many episodes as compared to most of these other species, you know.)

9. Data: basically a deconstruction of Gene Roddenberry's idealized high-functioning autistics. If a culture really ran on pure logic and scientific reasoning as Spock claims the Vulcans do? You'd have Data, who always has a logical answer for practically any question you may have, but rarely a helpful one. He's also terrible company at any kind of social gathering because he doesn't get your jokes, isn't capable of sarcasm, and can't appreciate the aesthetics of much of anything, really.

8. The Borg: galactic Skynet. Diplomacy is futile. You can't reason with them, you can't bargain with them, they don't feel pity, or fear, or remorse, and they absolutely will not stop attacking you ever until you and every last member of your culture and species are assimilated. Sound familiar?

7. The Q: Gene Roddenberry and some of the show's crankier writers personified, come to torment their creations for their own amusement; not necessarily for yours, however.

6 & 5: Actually, they're all part of one culture, which is the Dominion: basically the Gamma Quadrant's version of a victorious Nazi Germany. (Instead of baby factories and concentration camps, they've got cloning vats and genetically engineered genocidal plagues. Otherwise, they're the same.)

4. The Cardassians: the Alpha Quadrant's version of defeated Nazi Germany. There's no paradox here, though: of course its individuals are some of the most intriguing characters on the show! The biographies of some individuals from Nazi Germany make for interesting reading too; from anti-heroic types like Oskar Schindler to the evil scum like Joe Goebbels and Adolf Hitler who orchestrated their culture's atrocities and ultimately brought about its downfall. Individuals from cruel and repressive cultures are just naturally interesting people.

3. Betazoids: basically humans with "psychic" powers, if such powers actually existed and there were a scientific explanation for them. (They might, but there isn't: the supernatural, by definition, is not scientific.)

2. Klingons: J.R.R. Tolkien's orcs adapted into a Star Trek species, and then later given some explanation for why they are what they are and do what they do by people who'd studied more cultures in far greater depth than Gene Roddenberry ever had. That this often plays into promoting multicultural twaddle is not exactly the writers' fault. Besides, it's not as if the Klingons all suddenly got a lot more cuddly just because we're given a better understanding of their culture.

1. Hey, it's Gene Roddenberry's rather silly and idealistic vision of the future, originally written for a mostly adolescent audience and most likely intended to make a quick buck. Try as they will to deny it, the show's writers probably based the character of Zephram Cochrane more than a little on Gene Roddenberry, portraying him as a chronically lecherous drunkard whose real reason for building a warp drive was that he wanted to make a lot of money so he could retire to an island full of naked girls somewhere. One of the very reasons for Deep Space Nine's existence was deconstructing Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision and suggesting that even in a civilization where you can get all the basic necessities of life (food, water, air, clothing, and shelter) and many material luxuries besides for free, people would still have reasons to pick fights with each other.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Babylon 5 is very impressive.

I would also single out "Starfleet". As Babylon 5 might say, "Starfleet is Mother, Starfleet is Father". Is seems that the only path to anywhere is courtesy of that damn Starfleet. They could really use some human competition. They almost had that with the Maquis, then they decided to make them stupid (in order to eliminate genuine competition, my guess).
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (151)
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The problem with the Star Trek franchise has always been the same problem that plagues all of TV. It's not that these alien cultures AREN'T interesting. It's that a 45 minute TV show doesn't have the capacity to develop all these cultures sufficiently to make them interesting.

Think about it. Star Trek VI was good because they developed the Klingons more. Nemesis was good because it developed the Romulans a lot. Much of what made DS9 great was that they developed the Bajorans, the Cardassians, and the Dominion much deeper than when the other series were stuck in "alien of the week" mode.

14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Halfway through I thought you were just going to list all the aliens because you don't like ST anymore. The two you didn't list are Vulcans and Ferengi. The Intelligent Alien has always been a Sci Fi staple, something scientists can hope evolve to.

Klingons are too important. They were the typical bad-guy nationality in TOS. Got more interesting in TNG except for Worf, the token liberal Klingon.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Younger people should probably know that the destinies of Star Trek TNG and its spinoffs were inextricably linked to the end of the Cold War.

None of these series were created in a vacuum.

The writers originally imagined an "introspective" series with episodic "lesson learning" (America-bashing), using alien races as props. Herb Wright, for example, was a socialist, college Vietnam protestor, and apologist for the Soviet Union, who created the Ferengi to represent an evil capitalistic race to be Star Trek's new primary villain.

Needless to say, Wright frequently had confrontations with the lead writer who created the Borg, Maurice Hurley, proving the adage that "A man is defined by the character and nature of his enemies".

This was why so many of the early alien races in TNG were written, as many have complained, like "cartoon caricatures"; transparently insulting to the intelligence of its American audience. The fatal flaw of TNG's early writing (and therefore writers) is why the show was in real trouble in its first two seasons.

Basically, TNG was swimming against the tide back in the late 1980s, although it should be noted that many socialists in the United States and Hollywood still regarded World Socialism as the "winning side" even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

America's "cultural zeitgeist" wasn't buying TNG's villains, in the same vein that many anti-war movies in the 2001-2008 era were losers, more badly-written propaganda than profit-driven endeavors to sell to an American audience.

Things came to a head, however, with a slate of anti-Left events in 1988-1989: The election of Bush, the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan, and uprisings against Communist Parties all over the from Asia to Europe. By the time the Berlin Wall was breached in late 1989, TNG's executives realized they didn't just risk being criticized for being naive or incompetent or even apologists;

They were at risk of being branded evil.

While that might seem strange to some Millennials today, for the sake of illustration: imagine branding Christians and Jews as religious terrorist bombers right after 9/11.

In hindsight, things like that are cheesy and laughable.

In the moment of the times and for the people living though them, it's outrageous.

The result was a major shakeup that led to the release/re-assignment/firing of TNG's writers and the hiring of writers who were less susceptible to showing contempt to their audience (especially in their major market, the United States).

One of those writers was the creator of the Borg's understudy and friend, Michael Piller, who became the narrative driving force of the TNG series as well as its spinoffs like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Piller used open hiring to circumvent Hollywood's closed-socialist hiring circles, discovering some of TNG's best writers including Ron D. Moore and Rene Echeverria.

The Borg were not originally meant to be the primary villains of Star Trek TNG, but with Piller, they became the most recognizable and menacing villains of the 90s. The Ferengi, by contrast, were fleshed out in Deep Space Nine and received something of a more balanced narrative.

Stories inevitably tell you more about the authors than about the subjects. This was true for the producers and writing staff of TNG just before the Cold War ended, and the new staff inducted into TNG right after the people in Hollywood realized the jig was up.

Star Trek is not to be hailed as some sort of important creation on par with the combustion engine, the transistor, or even the Hoola Hoop.

But TNG does represent a case study, like a capsule in time, reflecting Hollywood's response to prevailing attitudes in America during some interesting times.
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14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not going to tell you who the Ferengi were supposed to be, but it is an arab word for foreigner. That would make the caricature of the short, stooped, ugly, greedy, cold-pressed latinum-loving... who??
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Are there any alien races you didn't diss in this article?
It sounds to me like you don't really like Star Trek that much. You practically admit as much, so why did you spend countless hours binge watching it on Netflix?

I agree that DS9 was the best Trek show, and I agree the Borg were overused. Other than that...not so much.

The Klingons are a Trek staple and perhaps THE most popular alien race in all of Trek. Hence my suggestion you don't like Trek that much. TNG and DS9 fleshed them out a lot, and a new show might need to find new ways to make them fresh...but abandon them totally? Never!

The Cardassians, the Vorta, and the Jem'Hadar will never reappear in the same context (due to the events of the Dominion War), but I enjoyed them while they lasted. Especially the Cardassians, a race as cleve, scheming, and strategically grasping as the Romulans only purported to be. And the Obsidian Order was great.

And just as Garak made the Cardassians more interesting, Quark did the same for the Ferengi, a hitherto cookie-cutter two dimensional race in TNG.

If there is a new Trek show, there will be new race to go along with it, but most of the aliens on your list are sure to be there, as well. However - if a new show takes its cues from the reboot movies, it's sure to be awful, anyway.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...will never reappear in the same context (due to the events of the Dominion War)"

You're forgetting that once you introduce time travel every story can be undone. And every ending is only a potential. And every cult encyclopedia can be undone next season. Remember, the new X-men undoes the whole "last stand" thing by using ... time travel!!

What an awful literary device. James Bond killed by Kreb? Now we just send him back to the year before. The Dominion extinguished? We send Voyager back to right a wrong and voila! Kirk was never born and William Shatner has to go back and find himself.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let me just repost my comment from your Depressed column after first adding that make-up and digiffects do not take the place of story, character, or heart; and that's all every other Star Trek series was. (Vertebrae crawling down the forehead. Sheesh. Like that's poignant.)

Dear Dave,

I do know Star Trek a bit. And I've got to say it's obvious that you never saw Star Trek in context. In the context of the times, it was an amazing and inspiring show. Each episode was a crafted like a play, with surrealism, rather than a flat realistic TV show, and more like a story than a dry demonstration of digital technology. (Why was the surface of every alien ship exactly as rough and bumpy as every other ship in the galaxy -- and grey? Not one alien race ever thought of making a smooth yellow ship?)

With that preface, no -- NO -- Star Trek has ever some CLOSE to the original. Even the only decent Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, was only good out of nostalgia, imagination and forgiveness. (I honestly think I have never heard a line as pukingly dumb as "the animal enters through the ear and Wraps Around the Cerebral Cortex..."

And every other show seems to have been along the nerdy, techy, psuedo-cerebral, philosophically-infantile, scientifically-puerile, falsely-dramatic -- wait for the pause -- initializing-computers-sir! techno-conflict. Will the computers initialize?! Or will they jam?!!

I mean, come on. The Next Generation, a show philosphically based on a super-evolved, omniscient, hyper-powerful being that can reset the center of mass of the universe but can't out-think Picard? Give me a break. The Meaning of Life? (with pedantic anger) "To improve ourselves!" Into what? For what purpose?

Deep Space Nine was perhaps the most wild-west of the group, which did resemble the original Wagon Train to the Stars Star Trek concept. But even then it was a weak rehash, and insulted the intelligence of the audience. Maquis? Really? They thought no one would think this was derivative?

Voyager was kind of half-nice, until they started rewriting history with each new episode travelling back in time.

Enterprise could have been great but turned quickly into: Don't bother to watch this episode because -- it really doesn't matter at all, we're going to go back in time (!!) next week and redo it anyway.

The only Star Trek show, series or movie, other than the original that was worth anything was Galaxy Quest. Now that was Star Trek! But then again, you had to be there.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Cardassians"? I thought they were semi-celebrities.

Seeing the whole list makes me less sad about not seeing the entire opus.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recall an exchange between Patrick Stewart and Ricky Gervais in the HBO series "Extras."
Gervais suggested something to Stewart, to which Stewart responded, "Make it so."
Gervais stood there, confused. The following, while not the exact dialogue, captures the essence of the exchange.

STEWART: That's from Star Trek: The Next Generation
GERVAIS: I've never seen it.
STEWART: Your wife won't let you watch it?
GERVAIS: I don't have a wife.
STEWART: Then your girlfriend won't let you watch it?
GERVAIS: I don't have a girlfriend.
STEWART: Let me get this straight. You don't have a wife or girlfriend, and yet you've NEVER seen Star Trek: The Next Generation?
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Final Score;
Babylon 5
Deep Space 9
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Was Wil Wheaton this universally hated before he started appearing on Big Bang Theory?
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the reason why a lot of hardcore trekkies despise Wil Wheaton and his character so much is because he reminds them of themselves... But yeah, I recall the anti-Wesley animus being around for awhile...
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I disagree. I didn't like him because of I found the idea of a twelve year-old saving the ship every other week implausible. And while most teenagers are arrogant and think they know better than everyone else, it was particularly unappealing in the Wesley context because the writers "made it so" (pardon the pun).
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I kind of like Wheaton after appearing on TBBT. No, nobody hates Wesley because he got the spot at the Academy and the viewer didn't. And no, nobody who watches Star Trek hates himself (If so, they'd be watching Buffy, and Angel and that other show with three witches starring the girl from 90210). No, the character was so boring. Actaully the show itself was terribly boring, unless you didn't have a girlfriend, or a hobby, of a life, and had too many allergies to play outside, and lacked an imagination of your own. (Just kidding. I'm sure you're right.)
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Although..... my respect for Wil Wheaton skyrocketed after he allowed himself to be at the barb end of one of the greatest rips in all human history --

Sheldon Cooper: "Oh look, it's Wil Wheaton, the Jar-Jar Binks of the Star Trek universe."

14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
What about Chicagans! They have infected the known universe with lies and evils.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
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