It's clear from a number of episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine etc. that Starfleet surgeons have the ability to alter a person's appearance to imitate that of someone from another species, for the purposes of espionage, first contact with pre-warp civilisations and so on. The Doctor on Voyager also performed such an operation, for example in VOY: "Workforce" where he altered Chakotay's appearance.

B'Elanna Torres always hated appearing "different" and still had such feelings on Voyager where the majority of the crew were human. So why didn't she ask the Doctor to make her look human?

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    Your question doesn't make a lot of sense for two reasons. First, everybody knew who she was already, altering her face wouldn't accomplish what you intent. Second, even if it did, there is a price. A plastic surgery is a major step. People usually do it because they think it looks good, there is no indication that she finds her skull hideous. Especially since bold Picard, it has been pretty established that in Star Trek, it matters a lot more what's on the inside on Star Trek, and she can't surgically remove her inner Klingon (well, it happens in one episode, whatever)
    – Raditz_35
    Aug 6, 2018 at 11:13
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    This question isn't opinion-based - the answer lies within the remit of discussing medical ethics in Star Trek. There might even be something within the Voyager scripts/companion works that deals with this question.
    – user71418
    Aug 6, 2018 at 13:18
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    @Snow - There is. I'll answer this when it gets re-opened.
    – Valorum
    Aug 6, 2018 at 13:58
  • Her Klingon mother raised her after her human father left them, so it's a mixed bag of feelings.
    – Gaultheria
    Aug 6, 2018 at 15:01
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    Related meta discussion.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Aug 6, 2018 at 15:41

2 Answers 2


Torres' attitude to her Klingon physical (and cultural) heritage is best described as conflicted. At times she seems to positively revel in her difference and at others she's happy to consider mutilating herself. As a child she was far more disturbed by her appearance.

TORRES: When I was a child, I did everything I could to hide my forehead. Hats, scarves, you name it.

PARIS: When I was a kid, I wore a cap to cover the haircuts my father used to make me get first day of every summer.

TORRES: I grew up on a colony on Kessik Four. My mother and I were the only Klingons there, and that was a time when relations between the Homeworld and the Federation weren't too cordial. Nobody ever said anything, but we were different and I didn't like that feeling. Then my father left when I was five years old. One day he was there and the next he wasn't. I cried myself to sleep every night for months. Of course I never told anybody. And then I finally decided that he'd left because I look like a Klingon. And so I tried to look human.

VOY: Faces - Season 1

Her mother, sensing her lack of interest in her Klingon side, sent her away to receive an education in Klingonese rituals.

TORRES: I've been thinking a lot about the rituals that my mother taught me, and they don't seem quite so hateful as they did when I was a child. Maybe being so far away from anything Klingon has changed me.

VOY: Day of Honor - Season 4

As to why she doesn't have her forehead shaved, the answer is that it's probably because she sees it as a reminder of her mother and because (despite her very best efforts to distance herself from the Klingon cultural lessons that she was taught) her education and her own physiology are both reinforcing the idea that it would be dishonourable to hide her true nature.

TORRES: Well then, they don't know me very well, and if you even think of joining in on this embrace your heritage nonsense, I swear, I'll rip out your tongue and wear it as a belt.

PARIS: Oh no, there's not a lot of Klingon in you.

TORRES: I inherited the forehead and the bad attitude. That's it. She would have loved all this.

VOY: Barge of the Dead - Season 6

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    I think it's completely in character for her, once an adult able to decide on her own whether to get cosmetic surgery, for her to stubbornly refuse. Having grown up with it and all the negative reactions and/or bullying, her appearance would be pretty ingrained on her identity, and changing it would also be admitting they had gotten to her. I don't think the Klingon teachings necessarily have anything to do with it.
    – Kai
    Aug 6, 2018 at 18:06
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    @Kai - We learn in Day of Honor and Barge of the Dead that despite all of her best efforts, honour is actually a pretty big deal to her.
    – Valorum
    Aug 6, 2018 at 18:11
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    We also see in VOY: Faces when the Vidiians split her into a fully human and fully Klingon version of herself that she is more accepting of her mixed heritage after she is recombined. She is conflicted. One part of her hates being (part-)Klingon, another part likes it.
    – CJ Dennis
    Aug 7, 2018 at 1:12
  • .. and, to the point, by the end of the episode she's come to terms with it being simply part of who she is .. having her ridges removed would not only accomplish nothing but also be an affront to that half of her which she'd grown (perhaps grudgingly) to respect. Aug 7, 2018 at 15:23
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    @Valorum She's come to terms with that part of herself; "Lineage" was about her trying to prevent her daughter from having to go through that process at all. Ultimately, using what she'd learnt along the way (and having been given a little push out of her reverie by Tom Paris) she concluded again that, indeed, everything was just fine the way it was. Given all of these events, I find it hard to imagine a scenario in which she got through the entire process of arranging to have her forehead ridges surgically removed without ultimately deciding not to go through with it. Aug 9, 2018 at 11:50

Because grinding away her cranial ridges wouldn't remove the fact that she's half Klingon.

From the start, the writers of Star Trek have reinforced the ethical use of medicine and healthcare (mental and physical), and it's clear and the writers have thought long and hard about the ethical issues that arise and deal with them in a sensitive manner.

A quick internet search resulted in a very interesting document produced by the John Hopkins University Press back in 2001. Although the paper is fairly old, there's no reason to believe that the approach the script makers made to ethical questions is any different since then.

Medical Ethics through the Star Trek Lens

Over the past thirty years, the Star Trek series of movies and television shows have brought the ethical dilemmas of modern science and technology, and the ethical conflicts that arise in a vast, pluralistic universe, to a huge popular audience in a sensitive and accessible way. The “texts” of Star Trek often take the form of philosophic dialogues, in which the freedom offered by the science-fiction genre allows the authors to pose pointed moral questions in succinctly dramatic ways.

Although Torres isn't included in the many examples quoted and cited in this remarkably interesting paper, the attention to medical ethics is clear.

I'd imagine that any Federation surgeon would simply refuse to conduct this procedure and guide B'Elanna toward confronting and dealing with her parentage in a holistic rather than bone-choppering manner.

Out of universe, I feel it would be extremely damaging to the Star Trek universe to address the multi-racial aspect of this character in such a crude manner, since this is an integral part of this character's background.

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    Yes, I like your last paragraph. If anything, from story-telling and morality-driven perspective, this could only be addressed as the Ethical Issue of the Week. And this is in fact exactly what happened in the Voyager episode "Lineage", where B'elanna wrestled with modifying the genetics of her unborn child, primarily to lessen her Klingon-ness. Aug 6, 2018 at 16:46
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    "Although the paper is fairly old [...] since then" - you do recall that Voyager's run ended in 2001, right? So the bulk of the show would pre-date a paper published in 2001.
    – Soron
    Aug 7, 2018 at 3:37
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    @EthanKaminski : I thought that too. But, then, I read the actual quote, which says, "Over the past thirty years". More significant, Snow (the question poster) ended the sentence with "is any different since then" (not "was any different"), which is present tense, so Snow's sentence really references modern script making (rather than just discussing Voyager).
    – TOOGAM
    Aug 7, 2018 at 6:59
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    There would be no grinding of ridges or bone-choppering happening with Federation tech. They just push a button and she looks human. They push another button and she's back to Klingon. Aug 7, 2018 at 13:22
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    @Two-BitAlchemist Yes, those were the wrong words as typed by my fingers. A different word has been substituted now.
    – user71418
    Aug 7, 2018 at 14:37

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