Gene Roddenberry made the case for more aliens in lead roles
Gene Roddenberry wanted to expand lead roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
When Star Trek first began in 1966, the only alien in a leading role was Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced an android and a Klingon, but at the beginning of the third season, Gene Roddenberry was concerned that the series was favoring humans, especially when it came to problem-solving, and thereby showing that “most good and clever things come from humans.”
In a memo to Michael Pillar in 1989, Roddenberry wrote that, in the episode of “Evolution,” the part of astrophysicist Paul Stubbs (played by Ken Jenkins) would have been better played by an alien. There was an argument about having a human in that role because of the baseball sequence, but Roddenberry thought argument alone should have given them some concern.
How proud would Gene Roddenberry be of Star Trek and its aliens now?
Star Trek has expanded its vision, so to speak with the introduction of more alien characters in major roles. Star Trek: Discovery had a Kelpian (Saru) as a captain of the Discovery before he left Starfleet to return to his home planet. (He’s returned now as Captain Burnham’s first officer.) And then there’s Star Trek: Prodigy which has only aliens aboard the Protostar. It’s the first Star Trek series with no human aboard…unless you count hologram Captain Janeway.
Prior to these, though, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took the bold move to put aliens in leading roles at the station. With Odo, Major Kira, Jadzia Dax, Quark, Worf, Rom, and Garak, the series had a solid line-up of aliens who played major characters throughout the course of the series. While some series have sprinkled aliens throughout, Deep Space Nine kept them front and center.
It’s clear that Roddenberry wanted more aliens, not just to bring different costumes and make-up to the sets, but to insure that, whatever the future looked like, everyone would be treated equally. He ends the memo by saying they should all give thought to “whether we unconsciously, tend to favor humans in the 24th century as we once favored the white race years before.” Even though we don’t have any aliens to interact with, Roddenberry’s words are an important reminder to us that everyone deserves equality.