Star Trek’s Scariest Monster Was Almost A Hero

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

Though he doesn’t stick around all that long, the most important alien in Star Trek: Discovery is arguably the tardigrade. Early on, the crew discovers a tardigrade, and using its DNA helps Stamets finally get the Discovery’s spore drive working. The crew eventually lets the creature go, but he was originally going to be around much longer…in fact, in an insane twist, he was originally going to be a bridge officer on the show.

Tardigrades Are Very Real

If you didn’t already know, Star Trek didn’t invent tardigrades. They are real microscopic creatures capable of surviving both extreme heat and extreme cold. A zoologist named Johann August Ephraim Goeze originally observed and described these creatures, giving them the cutesy nickname “water bear.”

On Discovery, we see a giant version of the tardigrade who helps Stamets figure out the spore drive after killing the ship’s security officer, but there were early plans to originally make this deadly creature Stamets’ boss.

The Strangest Star Trek Crew Member

Different Star Trek creators have provided some fascinating details about how they wanted to make the tardigrade a part of Discovery’s crew. Series co-creator Alex Kurtzman claimed that the writers wanted the creature to be a full-fledged member of Starfleet, one that was able to communicate clearly and intelligently with the crew. The alien was even going to be named “Ephraim” in honor of the zoologist who first observed these creatures here on Earth.

A Scientific Officer

According to Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Aaron Harberts, the tardigrade was going to be a bridge officer who served as Paul Stamets’ direct boss. It sounds like the creature would have been given some of the stranger dialogue that eventually went to Stamets himself. Harberts said that the alien was originally going to talk to the young human scientist “about spores and the beauty of mushrooms,” dialogue which the producer called “pretty trippy.”

When Star Trek’s producers got serious about making the tardigrade into a bridge officer, they had to deal with logistical problems, including what the alien would wear. A standard Starfleet uniform wouldn’t do, so they designed the tardigrade a special uniform. That uniform was even going to have a special sash that could allow him to wear the traditional Discovery badge.

A More Complicated Alien Design Than Saru

star trek aliens

While Star Trek: Discovery had great luck in casting Doug Jones as the wonderfully alien Saru, the producers seemingly made no effort to find the perfect actor for the tardigrade. Instead, they created a puppet that was meant to represent this wise alien. The production team went so far as to create a special section of the bridge where the puppet could lean over and take part in the action of each episode.

Unable To Make The Puppet Work

The fact that all of this planning went into making this character happen and that a puppet and special setpiece was designed for him brings us to the obvious question: why did Star Trek: Discovery not end up with a tardigrade bridge officer onscreen? According to Kurtzman, the answer was simply that the show “just couldn’t pull it off” to their satisfaction. Reading between the lines, it sounds like somebody high up in the show’s pecking order decided the puppet looked bad onscreen and ditched the idea altogether.

Lower Decks Still Wins For Strangest Officers

Star Trek: Discovery is now over, meaning that our chances of seeing this tardigrade bridge officer are lost to the cosmos. However, the spirit of this crazy idea lives on in Lower Decks, where Cetacean Ops is home to two beluga whales who are Starfleet officers and have their own custom uniforms. It turns out that the Cerritos is one ship whose officers can quote James Doohan’s Scotty every single day: “There be whales here!”