Skip to main content

Origins of: Star Trek - the Tholians

Member of SFI, 'bridge-crew of U.S.S. Reginald Mitchell, Star trek Region 20. Published author/ regular contributor /column in The Conduit

The Tholian Web

Tholia is a Y-Class planet, also known as ‘Demon’ class, revolving around a B-class star, within the Alpha Quadrant. This world with its hot methane environment serves as the capital planet of the Tholian Assembly.

The Tholians are the dominant species upon this world; a world that the Ferengi know as Tholi. They are non-humanoid. They were a crystalline species, their molecular
make-up being silicon, rather than carbon, with a hard carapace. The upper torso, with head and two 'arms' was supported by six thin legs. These were articulated enabling rapid movement when required.

Tholians require high temperatures, some 200 degrees Centigrade, in order to go about their day-to-day tasks and duties. They can tolerate lower temperatures for a short time, but if they are exposed to temperatures of about 150 degrees Centigrade their carapace begins to fracture, with even lower temperatures causing the Tholian to freeze and its outer shell to shelter.

The Tholians have a hive culture possessing a hive mind, and have a caste society, controlled by the Tholian Assembly. The warrior caste being those that were most likely to encounter the United Federation of Planets. They prize honesty, accuracy and punctuality in their relationships. They are also fiercely territorial.

In the original Star Trek television series, we first encounter these entities in 'The Tholian Web'; the ninth episode in the third series. Although the back story mentions that first contact was made by U.S.S. Intrepid under the command of Captain Spiak.
In this episode we see the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise encounter her sister ship the U.S.S. Defiant.
During an 'away team' expedition to investigate the ship, Captain Kirk gets drawn into a dimensional fracture in space and is trapped in this alternative realm, unable to return, with his oxygen supply depleting all the while. So would go a run of the mill story as the crew battled to return their Captain to his rightful place aboard the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

In Essence Nothing

This episode was written by Judy Burns and Chet Richards, with the former fearing that this storyline, originally entitled 'In Essence Nothing', was merely an average and somewhat unworkable offering.
She decided to introduce the Tholians into the mix in order to create a greater sense of jeopardy. The name of the aliens came from a real location. Tholos is an Aegean Island.
With the 'The Tholian Web' now re-written, and the entities briefly established in the plot, little thought was actually given as to their appearance or politics at that time. The visual effects shots and the creature were designed by Mike Minor. He created a Plexiglas puppet mounted upon a camera stand; as the production only required a shot of the upper half of the body. The material used to construct the Tholian was chosen because it would best demonstrate the crystalline structure of the alien. It was voiced by Barbara Babbcock.
When the episode aired on November 16th 1968, viewers were treated to only one shot of this creature. The figure was known as Commander Loskene. The remaining effects shots involved the Tholian's dartshaped craft constructing the 'web'. The footage showed Loskene's faceted head, in front of a shiny background, with distorted sheens of colour, rather like a heat haze.

In A Mirror Darkly

It was this very 'haze' that fans took to heart. Was the haze genuine, and the creatures existed in an extreme heat environment? Was the faceted head really the entities natural form, or merely a helmet? What did the lower half of the Tholian look like? Was this image really that of a Tholian, or was it an artificial projection deliberately produced and distorted to fool potential foes?

In the original storyline 'In Essence Nothing', the Federation craft involved was called the 'U.S.S. Scimitar', and both that ship and the 'U.S.S. Enterprise' passed through the fractured space, along with the Tholians. In this dimension the 'U.S.S. Enterprise' was more than a match for the alien craft and Captain Kirk brokered a peace treaty. This story arc never made it to screen.

The broadcast episode is among the fans’ favourites, and won an Emmy Award for its production and special effects. However, it would be a very long time before these entities made another appearance within the Star Trek universe.

Scroll to Continue

The Tholians were occasionally referred to in passing in a number of episodes across a range of off-shoots from the original series, most notably in 'Deep Space Nine' and 'The Next Generation', although these aliens were mentioned in the feature film 'Nemesis'.

Ronald Moore, when writing the scripts for 'Deep Space Nine' would occasionally write a line or two of dialogue that mentioned the Tholians, but he realised that the financial expenditure of creating a CGI Tholian was somewhat prohibitive. As a consequence, these entities never put in an actual appearance despite there being great support for the project among the writing staff of 'DS9'.

However, it was Mike Sussman who strived to reintroduce the Tholians into the 'Enterprise' saga when he became writer and producer of the series. In the Season Two episode 'Future Tense', Suss-man suggested a storyline involving the Tholians. These entities would deliberately weaken the fabric of space, creating a fracture, through which they hoped to trap a ship from the future. This craft would then be cannibalised for advanced technology to use in their own 'time'. This episode aired and proved to be popular with fans, but Brannon Braga, the show's Executive Producer, refrained from revealing too much of the Tholians. Was he just testing the water? Was he teasing the fans? Or was he just being prudent with the show's budget? We'll probably never know.

In fact it was not until the Fourth season of 'Enterprise', when the Executive Producer was Manny Coto, that Mike Sussman once again considered the Tholians in a storyline. This time it would be for an episode in the 'Mirror Universe' story arc; entitled 'In A Mirror, Darkly'.

Physiology and Political Developments.

In this episode the Tholians physiology was further developed. It was determined that they communicated primarily in a series of clicks and chirps, whilst also having the ability to emit radiation that they could moderate. The Tholians were also defined as having a ‘pair of jewel-like eyes’. They also possessed both male and female sex organs in one body.

As the Tholians physiology was further developed, so was their politics. Their society was governed by the Tholian Assembly. This body was involved in sporadic conflicts as they aggressively expanded their sphere of influence. Surprisingly they entered into a non-aggression pact with the Do-minion during the Dominion War.

By 2370, a hundred Earth years after their first encounter ‘ The Tholian Web’, with the United Federation of Planets, diplomacy seems to have prevailed. A Tholian ambassador is referred to quite regularly by various inhabitants of the space station ‘Deep Space Nine’. Presumably this diplomat is engaged in connection with the Bajoran Republican government. The ambassador resides upon the space station in quarters specially adapted for the extreme environment conditions that this Tholian would need.

A number of writers have developed the Tholian culture a little more across the associated media in the Star Trek universe. But there is still plenty of scope for further enrichment of this intriguing species.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 David Reynolds

Related Articles