Following the death of Michael Ansara last year, I re-watched his episode of Babylon 5, which I assumed was his final screen appearance. It turned out that, no, he did three subsequent Trek appearances, and once again stuff I’ve accepted without looking into it is dead wrong. It quickly turned out that one of these appearances involved other Klingons from TOS, and, intrigued, I decided to check ‘em all out.
Being as I’m not a Trekie, and I abandoned even cursory Trekdom in 1994 or thereabouts, I hadn’t seen any of this crap. I was uncharacteristically intrigued, and decided to check ‘em out. Now, for me, there have only ever been four Klingons worth a crap: Kor, Koloth, Kang, and Worf. Of these, far and away, my favorite is Koloth.
We’ve met zillions of others over the years, some more and less important, but these are the only ones that matter to me. The Klingons were introduced in “Errand of Mercy” in 1965. The first Klingon we ever met was “Kor” played by the mighty, mighty John Colicos, who chews the scenery with a sort of cold-eyed ruthlessness and an open contempt for people who surrender, rather than fight. He likes Kirk, strictly because Kirk is a lion, not a lamb, and he (and I, both) is irritated by the Deus Ex Machina ending that kept Kirk and Kor from going mano-a-mano and finding out who was top dog. “It would have been glorious,” Kor says, and honestly I agree, it would have been.
“Kor” was intended to be a recurring arch-nemesis for Kirk, and I’m told that “The Trouble With Tribbles” was written with him in mind. Alas, Colicos wasn’t available during filming. Rather than re-cast the part (Since they had hopes of using Kor again in the future), they simply changed the character’s name and gave the part to William Campbell. I’m told they didn’t even change the lines, and honestly I believe it. I can totally hear each line coming out of Kor’s mouth, and it’s obvious Kirk and Koloth know each other, which makes no sense here, but does if we assume Kirk was INTENDED to be talking to Kor. I will confess Campells “Koloth” is my favorite Klingon. He takes lines that would have been malevolent and borderline-psychopathic coming from Colicos’ mouth, and makes them so officious and pointed in delivery that everything he says is a rude mockery, even though he’s quite polite most of the time. He’s awesome. No one else ever played a Klingon like this, sadly. Basically where Kor was disgusted the peaceniks around him, Koloth is amused by them.
“Day of the Dove” is an episode that, frankly, doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m told it was written for Kor, and when Colicos wasn’t available, it was intended as a second appearance for Koloth. When Campbell wasn’t available either, the character was given to uber-badass Michael Ansara and renamed “Kang.” Kang is pretty much the perfect Klingon. If you asked anyone prior to the movies what Klingon was like, they’d basically be describing Kang. It’s a spot-on perfect performance, and he gets all the best lines in the episode. “We have no devil, Kirk, but we understand the ways of yours,” and when Chekov claims the Klingons killed his brother, he says “And you volunteer to join him. How noble.” Kirk takes him prisoner, and later explains the bad shape the Enterprise is in, Kang half-laughs and says “Delightful.” That closing scene of 6’3” Ansara slapping 5’8” Kirk on the back – it actually looked like it hurt – was just a great moment. “We need no urging to hate humans!”
Then TMP came along and the Klingons inexplicably became ridgeheads – something I’ll bitch about in a future article – and then TNG came out and the Klingons became all honor-bound and traditional and with a complex martial code of ethics which, frankly, had nothing to do with the Klingons in TOS. (The Romulans were the ones with the honor and ethics and discipline. The Klingons were basically the Mongol Hordes of space. They were essentially a rabble.)
In 1994, they decided to revisit the three archetypical Klingons on Deep Space Nine. This was toward the end of the second season of that show, while TNG was still on, so I saw it when it first aired, but I had absolutely no memory of it until re-watching it this week. My first impression upon re-watching it was, “Gosh, I’d forgotten how pretty Terry Farrell was!” My second impression was, “Gee, she’s kinda’ stiff, isn’t she?” My third impression was remembering how much I hate Nana Visitor, next to whom Farrell is a grand dame of the theater.
The episode was called “Blood Oath.” The plot involved Kor, Koloth, and Kang heading to Deep Space 9 in order to meet up with Terry Farrell, who’s a Tok’ra…excuse me, a “Trill,” because at some point 80-ish years ago, the three of them had sworn revenge upon the albino who killed their children. Terry’s connection was that she was Godfather to Kang’s son, back when she was a dude. She’d since regenerated, but none of them knew that. Kang knows where he is, so after a solid thirty minutes of talking and talking and talking about talking, and then talking some more, they head off for a poorly-directed, indifferently choreographed seven-minute adventure sequence in which vengeance is gained, but Kang and Koloth die.
I have some objections to the plot. I have no objection to getting these three together again, and I’m only mildly annoyed at their ridgeheadedness. I don’t mind Kang and Farrell having a history. What I don’t like, however, is the notion that these three have been best buddies, three-amigo-ing their way ‘round the galaxy for like a hundred years. It’s just forced, it doesn’t ring true. There’s no reason to assume these guys had any particular connection, and imposing one just to get the ball rolling is awkward.
Look at it this way: The US Navy is huge, right? About 350 ships, lots of captains. What are the odds that any two captains in the US Navy will know each other? About 175:1. What are the odds that three captains will be best buddies going on adventures together and whatnot? About 116:1. Neither is impossible, but it’s relatively unlikely. Now: What are the odds that a random Russian captain is going to meet these three best friends each a year apart, in the course of combat duty, bing, bing, bing? I’m bad with math, but I’m going to assume that’s something like 1050:1 against, at best.
So if you’re going to have something these guys have in common: we’ve already seen it. It’s Kirk. Do you need more? Just have a plot that arises from that. But rather than do this, they concoct an unseen traumatic backstory. Even this might be ok, but that’s not enough. Despite there presumably being hundreds, perhaps thousands of Klingon ships, most of which would not generally be assigned to the same patrol groups, they force the idea that these guys are eternally joined at the hip. It don’t wash.
Why you gotta' do that, Trek? Why you gotta' ruin everything about yourself?
Beyond that, I’m not really sure the writers or the actors recaptured their characters. This is hard: It was a long time ago, most of them had lots of guest starring parts on lots of shows at the same time, it was just one week’s work half a lifetime ago. They might not even remember doing it. Easy to lose that spark, made worse when the Klingons are, essentially, a different species now than they were back in the day.
Case in point: Kor is now a fat drunken braggart, a comedy-relief character. Koloth is no longer the master of underhanded sarcasm, he’s just a generic badass, though he does get the best line in the episode:
Odo: “How did you get in here without anyone seeing you?”
Koloth: “I am Koloth.”
Odo: “That doesn’t answer the question.”
Koloth: “Yes it does.”
There’s not the slightest shard of the Tribbles Koloth in evidence here. As Kang, Ansara probably comes closest to what he once was, as he was essentially the perfect TOS Klingon, and because Ansara had an undeniable presence and voice, and some not-insignificant acting chops as well.
We get a bit of “Lion in Winter” from him. He’s old, he’s tired of the chase, he has nothing left, his line ends with him, he’s lived too long, he chafes at living in a de-fanged empire beholden to the Federation, and honestly he’s just hoping to die with glory. This whole thing is an elaborate suicide for him. He tries repeatedly to keep Farrell from going, but she convinces him they can actually do it and live, and he gets excited.
Iactually believe this Kang is the same one from TOS. The others are new characters with old names and old actors, and nothing much else in common. When he says “Perhaps today is a good day to live” the ten year old boy that lives in my heart did a happy dance. They go, they fight, they win, but Koloth and Kang die. In the end, Koloth made no real impression, and was surprisingly absent for much of the story. And while I could tolerate their ridge-head-ification, I found it distractingly ludicrous.
There’s one scene where the three of them are strutting along in their ridiculous 1970s heavy metal boots and their dopey space-man armor, and their long, ratty, mostly-grey wigs where I just busted out laughing. It’s supposed to be imposing and cool, but mostly they just looked like a geriatric Kiss Tribute Band.
It was nice seeing Terry Farrell running around in her skin-tight black-and-grey combat longjohns, though. She’s quite pretty. Dunno if I related that. Ok, I’m tired of typing. I’ll wrap this up next week.
Kevin Long is a well-reviewed Science Fiction author, who has written three full-length anthologies, and is at work on several other projects. He used to blog under the name “Republibot 3.0,” but now that his stalker is dead, and he can afford to be less paranoid, he uses his real name. His personal website is here and his Smashwords page here. Or, if you prefer Amazon, his books are here, here, and here. Check out his site, and buy one of his books. He’s got a wife and kids to support! ANd, hey, if anyone knows how to embed these links so they don't take up twenty miles of space, that'd be keen, too!