In Star Trek (2009), original Spock meets alternate timeline Spock, Kirk, and Scott who look nothing like the Prime characters at that age. Later, in Star Trek Beyond (2016) , Spock views an image of Spock Prime and the Prime universe crew.

The in-real-life cast members in TOS obviously look different from the alternate timeline.

Given that Star Trek has explained away the out of universe difference in appearance of the Klingons from the 1960's vs the 1980s+ (in multiple series I might add) - it isn't unreasonable to ask if there is a similar explaination for the difference in the alternate universe (which already has technological differences that are also explained in-universe)

Has the irl difference ever been addressed, explained away in universe (comic or film) in a technobabble manner? "DNA randomness in the parallel universes, etc..." or are we, as the viewer, intended to suspend belief and assume the characters are actually visually the same (like in the Mirror Universe)?

Original versus Alternate

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    Those characters are decades older. Of course they will look different. No one would ever expect them to look the same. Why do you think they ought to look the same?
    – J Doe
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:01
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    @NKCampbell I've added a new image to show the original versus alternate appearances. Roll it back if you dislike.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 16:24
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    They look so significantly similar that any dissimilarity is way below the threshold for normal casting consequences. That photo was a cinematic homage rather than a statement about some ihnerent rift in the reality of spacetime distorting people's physical appearances.
    – TARS
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 17:09
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    There's nothing to it - it's just like how "the Germans speak English in WW2 movies". For that matter, note that in Star Wars, they did not actually speak English (or whatever Earth language you enjoyed the movie in), in the galaxy far, far away ... For that matter, note that the camera point of view (in any movie at all), is not, uh, "really" where "the camera" was when the stuff "was happening" .. you know?!
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 20:44
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    I would say that those characters look remarkably similar. They did a good job casting them. The characters in the new movies are significantly younger, so it stands to reason that its normal that they look somewhat different, but all of them are easily recognizable (unlike the Klingon in Discovery, which are part of the Prime universe).
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 9:31

5 Answers 5


In Star Trek (2009), when Spock retrieves future Spock's ship from Nero's ship, the computer recognizes young Spock via a facial recognition feature.

The computer can't seem to tell the difference between the two Spock faces, which would suggest that canon-wise, the faces haven't changed.

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    COMPUTER VOICE: Voice print and face recognition analysis enabled. Welcome back, Ambassador Spock.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 17:10
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    Weirdly enough, despite the fact that the recognition software was presumably calibrated to the much older Spock, where it would make perfect sense for the recognition to fail. Either it's a very advanced piece of software, or its security thresholds are set quite low.
    – Luaan
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 13:14
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    @Luaan: LOL, I assumed the ship knew when it was, and having extensive files on Spock, knew what Spock looked like at various ages, and recognised young Spock. The only problem with the scene then is the "Welcome Ambassador" part. Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 13:39
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    @Luaan Star Trek computers must be programmed to recognize that space time anomalies happen regularly and to expect rapid age changes in people. :) Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 13:50
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    @Luaan Real-world facial recognition software keys off of the features that don't change, like eye spacing and cheek bone height. Otherwise you could go on a diet or grow a beard and stop being recognized. The voice print is a head scratcher, but facial recognition working makes sense. Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 20:02

I discuss a similar matter in post # 409 here:


Did you ever hear of a frame story? That is an almost totally obsolete storytelling technique used in old time stories like, for example, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), a short story that explains how the writer learned of the events in the main story.

When we read or watch a work of fiction, we suspend our disbelief and sort of kind of believe that the fiction is, in some sense, sort of real. But we don't forget about the real world. If the fictional setting of the story is too different from what we know of the real world there is a degree of need for an explanation for the differences.

If a story is set in the distant past, the frame story could be that an ancient manuscript telling the story has been discovered, or maybe that the writers read a bunch of history books written in ancient times that told the story. So if a story is set in the past, we can easily imagine a rather simple frame story that explains how the events are known in the present.

But if a science fiction story is set in the future, then the frame story that explains how events in the future became known in the past is itself a science fiction story involving time travel.

Since frame stories are rarely ever used, readers or viewers of science fiction stories set in the future are free to make up their own frame stories about how the future data became known in the present.

And such possible frame stories vary greatly in how much of what we see is "actually" true future data and how much is "actually" contemporary attempts to depict the future based on incomplete data.

On one extreme Star Trek episodes could be actual record tapes made in the future and edited in the present into episode or movie length. That would make them very accurate. On another extreme, Star Trek episodes might be based on mission reports from the future that were used to write teleplays, and all the visual and sound aspects of the episodes are contemporary attempts to depict the future and not really canon.

If Star Trek episodes and movies are record tapes of future events somehow sent back in time to our era and edited into episode and movie lengths, then the look of everything is 100 percent accurate and the differences between the appearances of the two sets of actors is a real problem to be investigated.

On the other hand, if Star Trek episodes and movies were produced in the ordinary 20th and 21st century way, but were based on future mission reports sent back in time to the present somehow, only the plot elements dictated by those 23rd century mission reports would be accurate and canonical and the looks of everything, including the appearance of the characters, would be due to 20th century TV and movie production and not canonical data.

For example, every stage, movie, or TV production of MacBeth is based on Shakespeare's play, and many of them have the exact same plot and dialog if they are totally faithful to the source play. But the actors, costumes, landscape, sets, and other visual aspects look different from production to production. One might say that the look of a particular stage, movie, or TV production of MacBeth is canonical in the universe of that particular production, but none of the visual looks of any production of MacBeth is canonical in the universe of Shakespeare's MacBeth as a written script for a play.

(And of course Shakespeare's play MacBeth is based on various history books available in his time, which were based on earlier history books, and so on back for five hundred years to the actual historical events which inspired MacBeth, though it would be possible to write a play that was far closer to the real history than MacBeth is.)

And it is perfectly possible to imagine a frame story for Star Trek in which many Starfleet mission reports and logs have been sent from the future into the present and are used as the scripts for filming episodes and movies based on the future history in those reports. So the Star Trek plots might be almost 100 percent accurate, just as the plots of most productions of MacBeth are faithful to Shakespeare's play, but the visual details - including the faces of the characters - would be more or less arbitrarily chosen by the 20th and 21st century movie and TV creators and not really part of the canon, any more than the appearances of the actors in a particular production of MacBeth are canonical to Shakespeare's play MacBeth.

The fact that there doesn't seem to be a discussion of the different faces of the characters in the reboot Trek indicates that the faces are supposed to be same and that visual details like the faces of the characters are not canon, and thus that the frame story of Star Trek is that reports were sent into the past, not actual visual record tapes.

The fact that the computer on Old Spock's ship seems to use facial recognition and voice print to accept new Spock, as pointed out by Kevin Laity, indicates that they have identical genes, including the genes that control voice and appearance, and thus their faces are supposed to be same and that visual details like the faces of the characters are not canon, and thus that the frame story of Star Trek is that reports were sent into the past, not actual visual record tapes.

Until and unless an example is found of a comment about different faces in New Trek and Old Trek the default assumption should be that the faces are the same in the story, and that the frame story of Star Trek is that reports were sent into the past, not actual visual record tapes.

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    This is indeed very interesting and serves well as a rationale for why certain things are different in any story that chooses to provide such a rationale. However, as nothing like this was mentioned on Star Trek (at least not in the sense that it applied to the entirety of shows rather than isolated scenes), it is mere speculation and cannot possibly serve as an answer to a question that explicitly asks for an in-universe citation. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 20:18
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    New productions of MacBeth don't interact with older ones, at least not at all in the way the new Star Trek films interact with TOS. As for the "framing story" that lets us view these far-future events, in my mind it's the same "framing story" that usually lets us witness all kinds of events in all kinds of films: the magic of the movies.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 20:28
  • eh...this doesn't even make sense in-universe where the difference between TOS Klingons and post-TOS show Klingons is explained in two different series
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:41
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    LotR is a somewhat more modern example of a frame story, although it's a very thin one. The whole novel is "translated" into English from the Red Book of Westmarch by (presumably) Tolkien. Vestigial framing, maybe?
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 22:27
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    @NKCampbell The stretching and logical gyrations in that linked article tend to persuade me to the opposite conclusion: that non-historical characters appear in multiple plays without any logical explanation, because no such explanation was required.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 18:29

There are no physical differences.

We do not see that universe as it appears to its inhabitants; we see an interpretation of that universe as translated for the audience by a camera lens and soundtrack.

In-universe, James T Kirk does not resemble either William Shatner or Chris Pine. Or, if he does, it's by extreme co-incidence and only to one of them.

That being said, the premise of the new "alternate universe" is that the introduction of Ambassador Spock and Nero altered the timeline enough to cause a ripple effect forwards (and, according to the producers to explain the apparent change in technology, Enterprise construction history etc, this effect also rippled back in time somehow); there is sufficient scope in this explanation to claim that the DNA of our main characters isn't exactly what it was in the prime universe. However, if you're looking for this to be stated explicitly, you're going to be disappointed.


Let's see.

  • The ships looks different, inside and out.
  • The uniforms look different.
  • The scenery looks different.
  • The special effects look different.
  • The voices sound different.
  • Character behaviors are different.
  • There are even extra characters that never appeared before.

... and so on.

What impact would there be on suspension of disbelief if the movie spent it's time explaining every difference between the movie, any previous movie and any previous TV series associated with Star Trek where there could be a potential conflict ?

I for one wouldn't have bought a ticket because I for one would have found that an extremely boring two hours.

As a fan of most of the Star Trek series and movies, I was not particularly enchanted by the many changes. But they were done to entertain a different and younger audience, and I accept that because that's all it is : entertainment. It requires suspension of disbelief to work and there would be none if it spent it's time mired in explanations to fans of previous series.

This would be rather like having e.g. the script writers for Elementary constantly explain why their Sherlock and Watson and everything else is not the same as Basil Rathbone et al (and a hundred other interpretations of the stories, not to say the stories themselves).

You are the audience. You can accept or reject differences, but expecting them to be "justified" would break suspension of disbelief.

The only show I ever saw try this was a comedy crime show called "Due South" where the main character pointedly kept saying that his partner was not his partner because he was different (when they replaced the actor). But that was a comedy - it was done in an offbeat way and worked OK. Doing it in something that was supposed to be serious would be a disaster.

So TV and Movie Production 101 - Thou Shalt Not Break The Suspension Of Disbelief By Pointing At It.

Ever. On Fear of Cancellation.

  • how does this answer explain the episodes that discuss why Klingons in TOS look different from those in the movie / Next Gen era? I don't mean to be pedantic, but everyone that provides a type of 'what a stupid question' response keeps glossing over the fact that Trek has already pointed out an in-universe answer to something that for many years, people, and even Roddenbery himself had decided was simply a suspension of belief (Klingons)
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 16:18
  • The fact that this was done by the Star Trek writers does not mean it was a good idea. It seems to have a response to (you should pardon the expression :-) ) pedantic ( well, obsessed) ST fans who can't seem to cope with real life and raise a stink if their "real" universe is changed at all. As a long time ST fan (40 years now) it has soured me on what are sometimes called "real" ST fans. On the plus side at lease they're not "real" Star Wars fans - now that's an obsessive group. :-) Waiting for down-vote flood. :-) Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 16:34

Clearly you're expected to suspend disbelief.

There are many examples of this in cinema and TV. James Bond is probably the most famous example - not only are we expected to believe this is the same person, but we are expected to do this in spite of the recasting being a significant news event. It's easy to find more examples, but that would just be a long, pointless list.

More than that, it is so standard as to be a dramatic convention which audiences are expected to accept. The very fact of remarking on it could only be done by someone who does not understand the basic dramatic conventions of film and TV.

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    1) be nice, 2) you're missing the point of the site 3) given that we already have an example of out of universe physical depictions being explained in-universe (1960's Klingons vs 1980s+ Klingons), it is entirely reasonable to ask
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 14:13
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    OK, not so nice - fair criticism of me there. But the change in appearance of 1980s Klingons was a conscious decision to change the appearance of an entire species (albeit for out-of-universe reasons). The JJ Abrams reboot is clearly casting younger actors in the same roles though, and you would no more expect an in-universe explanation of why they look different than expect Ophelia to comment on Hamlet looking different when the understudy steps in. You may think it's reasonable to ask; but the conventions of theatre, film and TV would generally say otherwise.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 16:41
  • To be fair, any invocation of Bond continuity is... less than ideal. Casino Royale (2006) seemed to be a franchise reboot with an entirely modern, new Bond -- except that Judi Dench's M was carried over from the Pierce Brosnan era. We're supposed to believe that Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is the same person throughout the franchise, but are we really expected to think Daniel Craig's Bond is the same person as Sean Connery's Bond? Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 17:13
  • @jeffronicus Daniel Craig was explicitly a reboot - remember that he was not agent 007 at the start. However Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan are playing the same person.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 10:41

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