It Took Months Of Research For Star Trek: Discovery To Get The 10-C Right

In the fourth season of "Star Trek: Discovery," random planets and moons are being rent asunder by a free-floating Dark Matter Anomaly that has recently appeared in the galaxy. The U.S.S. Discovery investigates the Anomaly and finds that it is not a natural phenomenon. The Dark Matter Anomaly is, in fact, an energy field created by a mysterious, undiscovered species that is eventually designated Species 10-C. 

In the final episodes of season four, audiences learn an awful lot about Species 10-C. They are non-humanoid, and communicate through nonverbal means. Their language is a combination of vague, emotional psychic waves, and a series of blinking lights on their own bodies. The final few episodes of season 4 are devoted to learning 10-C's language. Additionally, we learn that the 10-C once lived on elaborately constructed rings that surrounded their home sun, but the species suffered a planetwide, meteor-related cataclysm, and constructed a high-tech "hyperfield" that protects them from further harm. In order to power the hyperfield, however, 10-C also constructed the Dark Matter Anomaly. Like at the end of the third season of "Discovery," a galaxy-wide natural disaster reveals itself to be accidentally instigated by an innocent soul who doesn't realize the damage it was doing. 

Creating the 10-C was a challenge for the "Discovery" writers, as they wanted to introduce something truly alien onto the show; no mere "humans with forehead ridges" here. The 10-C needed to look and feel strange and ineffable. In a 2022 interview with the website TrekMovie, "Discovery" writer and producer Michelle Paradise talked about how much research went into making the species come together.

The 10-C

Paradise revealed a few fundamental ideas about 10-C that she felt were required from a dramatic perspective. For one, Paradise felt that 10-C should be physically larger than most humanoids, ensuring that they were imposing and perhaps even a little bit scary. Paradise was also keen on dispensing with the all-too-handy Trek widget, the universal translator. Communication, Paradise felt, needed to be a key obstacle in the story. The linguistic elements of the 10-C story bear a more-than-passing resemblance to Denis Villeneuve's film "Arrival," a film that she and the "Discovery" writers were likely influenced by. Paradise was clearly concerned with 10-C's dramatic potential prior to sussing out their physical makeup. In her words: "We wanted the 10-C to be as alien to our heroes as they could possibly be."

Once the story was in place, Paradise revealed the nitty-gritty of designing a dramatically alien alien. The interviewer asked Paradise if the "Discovery" writers drew from sci-fi authors like Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. She revealed that her inspirations were even wider than that: 

"We worked with biologists and chemists and linguists and with the organization METI. It actually took a few months for us to be able to figure out how to break just the communication piece of those last few episodes ... As for those specific science fiction authors, we're all familiar with their work. Those sorts of things are just kind of baked into the world in which we live anyway, and the influences for us and who we are and what's on our bookshelves."

METI (Messaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is and adjunct of SETI devoted to alien liguistics. 

The distant future, the year 3000

"Star Trek" has long had a lingering problem that has been difficult to solve. Thanks to the budgets of "Trek" shows and movies throughout its first 50 years, alien species could usually only be envisioned as something that a human actor could play. As such, most aliens had the same basic physical construction as humans: one head atop two shoulders, two arms, two legs, etc. Very occasionally, "Trek" would stray into more interesting, truly weird alien design — it was more easily achieved on "Star Trek: The Animated Series" — but it was rare. The "everyone looks alike" problem became so pervasive that an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" — "The Chase" (April 26, 1993) — finally explained that an impossibly ancient "parent" species seeded the galaxy with remnants of their own DNA billions upon billions of years ago, causing most intelligent species to evolve in a similar fashion. It's not much, but it was something. 

Thanks to modern special effects tech, "Star Trek" has essentially solved this problem. With the ability to create alien species out of thin air using CGI, any alien species can now be realized, including something as visually elaborate as Species 10-C. Long gone are the days of painting Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio half-black and half-white. Heck, even the clunky CGI of Species 8472 from "Voyager" is behind us. With a big budget and modern tech, "Trek" has finally entered a place where all aliens are possible.