In the final frontier, no one can hear you scream. In the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 — “All Those Who Wander” — the crew of the Enterprise are dropped into a nail-biting starship horror story, with heavy influences from the 1979 classic Alien. Along the way, we learn a lot more about a certain alien species. Episode writer Davy Perez gave us the scoop on why these aliens are different, and what it all means for the canon of The Original Series and the future of Strange New Worlds. Spoilers ahead.
In Episode 4, “Memento Mori,” the Enterprise crew had a close encounter with the nefarious Gorn, a lizard species. No one actually saw the Gorn, but this week, while looking for survivors on the crashed USS Peregrine, our Starfleet heroes encounter horrifying Gorn babies. The big news is that these Gorn reproduce by popping out of the bodies of other lifeforms, just like the gory xenomorph chestbursters from Alien.
It’s a big change for Trek. Other than one glimpse in the Mirror Universe back in 2005 on the prequel show Enterprise, the only “adult” Gorn we’ve seen is still the classic lizard person from The Original Series episode “Arena.” So, how do these baby Gorn fit in? As with “Memento Mori,” writer Davy Perez felt that “Arena” offered a good amount of “wiggle room” in terms of what Kirk and Starfleet actually know about the Gorn.
“Kirk’s idea of the Gorn is different from what he is being told by the Metrons,” Perez tells Inverse, referring to the powerful aliens who force the two to fight. “The Gorn he’s meeting in ‘Arena,’ doesn’t sync with his expectations of them. It was a personal choice I made in my own headcanon that allowed me to have fun with the writing. Viewing it that way creates more possibilities for Gorn stories to continue.”
While the classic rubber monster suit Gorn, designed by Wah Chang in 1967, is iconic, Perez points out that it’s clear in TOS that the Gorn was a “one-off,” meaning some canon trickiness was bound to emerge. The loophole Perez points out in “Arena” is the fact that Kirk’s phrasing in the original episode is specifically vague: “Weaponless, I face the creature the Metrons called a Gorn.”
The classic episode takes place in 2267, while Strange New Worlds happens in 2259. So, if Kirk knows what Pike and the crew know, then the lizard-man Gorn doesn’t really check out with the Velociraptor meets chestburster critters in Strange New Worlds.
“Maybe Kirk has never seen them, he could even be one of those people who still doubts the stories, or maybe even he has seen them and they don’t look the same,” Perez says. “I think the safest thing to say is we have no idea what the Gorn are really like.”
Over the years, various fan theories — and material from Star Trek roleplaying games — have suggested the existence of a variety of Gorn subspecies. In “All Those Who Wander,” Dr. M’Benga discovers the Gorn are “genetic chameleons,” which is why they don’t show up on sensors. Perez points out that, even after this episode and La’an’s childhood experience with these aliens, “we quite literally don’t know very much about the Gorn at all… and that’s what makes them so hard to fight.”
Outside of all the TOS canon-weeds, the obvious thrill of “All Those Who Wander” is the way in which the episode brings the flavor of Alien, and other sci-fi horror classics, to Star Trek. There’s never quite been a Trek episode like this.
“Yes, Alien was something I’ve been inspired by many times in the past, and here especially,” Perez says. “It’s hard not to draw the comparison when writing a ‘horror story in space.’ Even back when discussing Episode 4 we started talking about Alien, and not just in what we liked about it, but more how to avoid retreading it wholesale. Our story is unique and specific to Trek, similar inspirations but different in execution.”
But it’s not just Alien that Perez and the SNW team drew upon for inspiration. When Nurse Chapel is chased by the tiny Gorn we get to see the latter’s point of view, which is evocative of Predator. And Perez notes the influences run from the obvious, like John Carpenter's The Thing, to the less obvious.
“You might laugh, but Gremlins!” Perez says. “Think about it, tiny monsters that roam around wreaking havoc with these ‘rules’ that mean the difference between life and death. Baby Gorn are just more deadly Gremlins. Or more aptly put, Tribbles with teeth.”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is streaming now on Paramount+.