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Question is... will you be able to give them their old faces back?
Kira Nerys to Dr. Bashir, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, "Apocalypse Rising"

Our space-faring heroes must pass as alien creatures, if only at a cursory glance. Off we go to Sickbay, to be transformed into Rubber Forehead Aliens via Applied Phlebotinum! This, despite centuries, nay, millennia of cosmetics use by humans, and the very advanced art of stage makeup and personal Special Effects developed in the late twentieth century. In fairness, this could be because DNA testing has become fast, convenient, and widespread, and/or the characters in question must use as foolproof a disguise as possible.

Perhaps because there is not a cosmetics counter or a functioning professional theatre department, doctors on starship, space stations, and other Sci-Fi locales are in charge of cosmetic alterations. Then again, considering the Alien Non-Interference Clause is in effect in many of these series, you'd think they'd have a "First Contact/Infiltration" department who is skilled at this.

One might try to justify this by appealing to the Literary Agent Hypothesis: The "real" aliens actually look more lifelike and alien. They just look rubbery on screen due to technical limitations...

A more plausible justification is that your rubber foreheads and voice modulators might fool us Puny Earthlings, but aliens who identify their friends by scent first and appearance second will see (smell?) through your disguise before you can say, "Live long and prosper." A good analogy would be how convincing rudimentary "blackface" or "yellowface" makeup is (not very), and that's trying to disguise someone of the same species.

Or it could be that modern actors often have to spend hours in makeup, and that's just to fool cameras, using constrained angles and controlled lighting, plus editing in post-production. Given sufficiently advanced technology, surgery or bio-engineering may well be able to produce a more convincing result with less work.

Yet another is simply that makeup wears off, prosthetics fall off, and you won't get a second take or a trip back to the makeup chair when the forces of the Reticulan Secret Police are all around you...

Examples of We Will Not Use Stage Make-Up in the Future include:

Comic Book

  • Possibly used straight in the Sonic the Hedgehog comics, in regards to the Dark Legion member Moritori Rex; for years, he was able to pass as Guardian member Tobor, though to this day no one knows how he did it. This is considering that the Guardians - due to their connection to the Chaos Force - would be able to sense right away that he was an impostor, despite the Dark Legion's own ability to otherwise play this trope straight with surgery, being the poster children for the Hollywood Cyborg that they are. In a bit of Lampshade Hanging, villain Dr. Finitevus once captured and experimented on Moritori just so he could figure out how his disguise was able to fool the Guardians.


  • Face Off plays this straight and goes into detail with the procedure.
  • Averted in Star Trek IV the Voyage Home. The crew asked Spock what he'd do about the ears. He tore a piece of his robe and wrapped it around his head as a headband. It worked.
  • Then there was the solution in Star Trek First Contact. How to make it so they don't expose past-Earth to the sight of aliens? Send the most human-looking ones. Worf stays home.
  • Team America has a terrestrial parody of this, when Gary undergoes Valmorphanization - Transformation Sequence and all - to disguise himself as an Arab, and comes out looking like an awful stage makeup job.


  • Justified in the Star Trek novel The Romulan Way by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, in which the protagonist stayed deep undercover for years in the fairly paranoid Romulan Empire. You really wouldn't want to nick yourself shaving and be caught bleeding red instead of green around these guys. Her controller lampshaded it a bit when reading through her file: "We're making you a disguise, not overhauling a starship!"
    • Dwellers in the Crucible, another Star Trek novel featuring Romulan infiltration, mentioned they couldn't give Sulu the green blood or the heartbeat, but they could give him sensory enhancers to mimic alien hearing and hypnotically condition him to dream in Rihan just in case he talked in his sleep.
  • Used a lot in Perry Rhodan, in fact every infiltrating operation use this 90% of the time.
    • This becomes especially ridiculous in the TERRANOVA/Negasphere cycles, when Roi Danton (Michael Reginal Rhodan) becomes captured by the Terminal Column TRAITOR, the main force of the Chaotarchs. He is then cloned with all his memories, his clone is mutilated and bio-engineered into the Chaos-serving Dual-Captain Dantyren (while consciou), while everyone believes this happened personally to Roi. When he finally escapes and manages to prove he wasn't turned, he uses an enemy ship he stole to kill Dantyren, and then for the rest of the cycle(s) deeply infiltrates the enemy all the while wearing a complex (and painful) bio-prosthetic, pretending to be Dantyren.
    • The tactic is also used in the new Stardust cycle to capture one of the enemies gigantic trade stars, although the trope is somewhat subverted, as this instance of it being used is actually a plan used by the enemy that had Gone Horribly Right.
  • Subverted in Specter of the Past, a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel by Timothy Zahn. Luke, inspired to cut back on his Force use by feelings of unease he gets every time he goes to do some "pretty flashy stuff", eschews a Force illusion in favor of simple skin coloring and fake facial hair. Earlier in the same book, the con artist Flim is established as being able to pull off an astonishing impersonation of Grand Admiral Thrawn, right on down to the powerful, almost regal air. It's mentioned a little later on that it wouldn't be too hard to make someone look like Thrawn, but facial surgeries leave certain marks, and his sheer presence is something a droid wouldn't be able to fake.

 Tierce: "How do you do the eyes?"

Disra: "Surface inserts. Self-powered to provide the red glow. The rest is just skin and hair coloring, plus a remarkable voice control and natural acting ability."

    • Another Star Wars novel, Tatooine Ghost, has Leia and Han disguise themselves as nonhumans, via skin colouring and prosthetics; since they picked Twi'lek and Devaronian disguises, they even got to hide some handy tools inside the lekku (head-tentacles) and horns of their respective guises. Other such novels also include some pretty interesting and comprehensive disguises, while requiring no actual cosmetic surgery or any such thing.
    • In the New Jedi Order novel series, Mara tries to pass herself off as a Kuati noble, and gets away with it, mainly by doing things with hair, makeup, and clothes. She has an advantage in that she was trained in such methods when she still the Emperor's Hand. And the Kuati are Human.
    • There's an odd variation in Legacy of the Force: Betrayal where Mara and Luke disguise themselves as impersonators of themselves. They get away with this because they had arranged for other celebrity impersonators to arrive on the same ship so they were not the only "Luke" and "Mara" and there were also some "Han"s and "Chewbacca"s and "Leia"s for them to be lost amongst.
    • Star Wars in general seems to avert this at every occasion, maybe because of a lack of easily-used transformation technology. The Medstar Duology and the Coruscant Nights trilogy have a character who, as a member of a rarely-seen birdlike species, would be noticed everywhere he went. As he fills roles from spy to assassin to thief to gangster, that would be a problem, so he became a Master of Disguise, with a huge number of elaborate prosthetics and full-body suits disguising him as anything from a human to a Hutt. The prosthetics can move as extra limbs and non-beaked faces, and he even has the right scent and accent. The disguises failed him only once, and that was when his assassination target dodged and shot back, destroying the costume.
    • Michael A. Stackpole has a bit of a field day with this. In the X-Wing novel Wedge's Gamble, the entire squadron infiltrates Coruscant in various disguises, ranging from fully robed body-slave to cyborg to alien disguises. His novel I, Jedi has the protagonist actually dyeing his hair and growing a goatee in order to change his appearance for a bit of undercover work. Star Wars dye is somewhat higher tech than ours, but it's still a cosmetics thing.
      • Future X-Wing books by Aaron Allston continue the practice; Garik "Face" Loran, as a former actor, is very familiar with makeup. Between the Of Corpse He's Alive routine for holographic communication and visiting people in person as Lieutenant Narol, both makeup and odd tech are used in Wraith Squadron. This escalates when the Wraiths begin The Infiltration, and Lara Nostil is also very familiar with makeup procedures permanent and non.
    • Jarael in the Knights of the Old Republic comic disguises herself as a standard Arkanian (herself being a mining off-shot) with four-fingered gloves, contacts, and beige facepaint to get medical assistance for Camper due to prejudice against offshoots on Arkania.
    • Corran Horn at one point goes undercover and takes hair-recolouring medication. (it wears off)
  • One time when Kimball Kinnison needs to go undercover, he not only grows a real beard but uses a laser to tan his wrist (where he normally would wear his Lens bracelet) to match the rest of his arm.
  • The Myth Adventures series normally has magicians characters use disguise spells to blend in when in other dimensions, but in Myth-ing Persons it's subverted: while in a dimension with limited magical power, the characters are forced to use more mundane disguises, which are actually more effective because the natives aren't expecting them.
  • There have been times when Star Trek novels have averted it. In Star Trek: The Genesis Wave, Romulan agent Regimol applies rubber prosthetics and simple dyes to disguise himself. It helps that the race he’s impersonating is genetically related, to the point where medical scanners are usually fooled anyway. Also, in Star Trek: Stargazer, Guinan disguises herself and Picard as another race using skin dye.

Live Action TV

  • A staple trope of the Star Trek franchise, in every incarnation, sometimes plot-driven by necessity, sometimes fairly gratuitous.
    • Conspicuously and literally averted in one episode, though--I forget the context, but Kirk is in need of foundation to disguise himself as...himself without a burn on his face, I think, and a big jar that had been a recurring prop in his quarters turned out to be...a jar of Kirk-colored foundation. Possibly because that was an easy prop to grab when setting the scene originally, but it did render kind of canon the idea that Kirk walks around wearing makeup all the time. What episode was that?
      • The episode was actually fairly good about how it was done. The episode was The Enemy Within, and Kirk had been split into two halves: his evil half and his good half. His evil half attempted to rape Yeoman Rand, who scratched his face and fled her quarters. Evil!Kirk then checked to see how bad the scratch was, frowned when he saw it was noticeable, and used some of make-up to make it less obvious. He then went around pretending to be Good!Kirk, saying that Evil!Kirk had scratched his face to make them look the same.
    • In the Star Trek Voyager episode "The 37s", Captain Janeway attempts to prove that they're from the future by showing off Kes's strange ears. This is slightly subverted when one of the "37s" says "I've seen people do all kinds of things to their bodies", but that doesn't alter the fact that Janeway somehow expected it to work.
    • Averted in an episode of Enterprise where some members of the crew are shown peeling off the rubber prosthetics they used to disguise themselves as aliens. This was probably done to be in keeping with the theme of having less advanced technology than the other Star Treks (which waned and waxed unpredictably as the series went on).
    • Subverted in Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribble-ations", when the characters go back in time to the TOS era and assume a Klingon spy must have had massive surgery to pass as a human. This is because they don't know Klingons weren't always Rubber Forehead Aliens. To pose as a human, a 23rd century Klingon would only need to get a haircut. Though Fridge Logic would compel one to question the quality of history education in the Federation, if nobody knows one of the most prominent neighboring species used to look totally different.
    • Perhaps the earliest example is "The Enterprise Incident", wherein Kirk has his ears and eyebrows altered to pass for a Romulan.
    • This trope is extrapolated and used in a Disguised in Drag situation in Deep Space Nine where Quark is surgically altered to become a woman. It fits this trope because they don't just make him look like a female, but he actually becomes one, with hormones and all. This is used to deliver An Aesop about equality. Yes, that's right - an episode in which transsexuality is treated as a joke is supposed to have a moral.
      • To be fair, most of the humor about that comes from the fact that Quark doesn't actually want to do it and is a horrible actor and can't get the motions down, while his brother is perfect at it, but can't fake his business instincts.
      • In this case, surgery was the only option. You cannot fake female ears on a male Ferengi. There's too much of a size discrepancy (an aversion takes place in another episode, where a female Ferengi wears prosthetic ears to pose as a male). Additionally, there was a scene where the other guy wants to make sure he's talking to a woman, so he has Quark/Lumba open his/her robes. Fake that!
    • Brilliantly Lampshaded in "First Contact" (the episode, not the movie). In that one, Riker has to pass for a near-human alien, and although he has surgically implanted prosthetics on his face, he is only wearing mittens to conceal his "alien" hands. His cover is blown when he is injured and the doctors are baffled trying to figure out the layout of his internal organs.
    • In the original series episode "City on the Edge of Forever", where Kirk explains Spock's appearance by saying he's Chinese, and had been disfigured by a mechanical rice picker. Way to go twenty-third century racial sensitivity.
    • On Deep Space Nine, a combination of prosthetics and surgery are used by Doctor Bashir to turn Odo, O'Brien, and Sisko into Klingons (and Worf into a different Klingon). Presumably makeup alone might have worked, except the mission took place over several days, and they got into costume early in order to get used to it.
    • In another Deep Space Nine episode avoided when a temporally displaced Jadzia Dax just explains away her Trill skin markings as a tattoo.
    • Another TNG example: Picard and Data are in sickbay being prepped for Romulan disguises. Dr. Crusher even asks Data if his ears are removable, and then tells them to head to the barber for their wig fitting. On the flip side, it's not surgical, because they spend the trip to Romulus (in a klingon cloaked ship) as normal, only putting on their disguise when they get there. And then it ends up being averted anyways when they're spotted plain as day.
    • On the other hand, averted when Evil Kirk needs to conceal a cut on his face so he can't be told apart from Wimpy Kirk, and the big canister he's had on his dressing-table-thing since forever turns out to be full of stage makeup in his skin tone. Can't help suspecting they dressed the set with stage makeup to begin with because they had it around, then worked it into a scene...
      • That's not trying to be an alien, but it is stage makeup in the future.
    • The Voyager episode has Tuvok going down to 20th-century Los Angeles. How does he hide his ears? With a do-rag.

  Tuvok: We could have worn our Star Fleet uniforms. I doubt anyone would have noticed.

    • In a Voyager episode, "False Profits," in order to fool two Ferengi who were exploiting a planet, Neelix (a Talaxian) was disguised as a Ferengi. Upon threat of death, Neelix ultimately confesses he's not a Ferengi. This prompts the two Ferengi to come up to him and tug on his (fake) ears. This might be somewhere between stage makeup and surgery, because, while the ears don't come off, Neelix says "I don't feel a thing."
      • The tug wasn't so much to pull off fake ears as to test if he feels pain in them. Ferengi ears are very sensitive.
  • Babylon 5 averts the HELL out of this trope, to the point of subversion, in one episode. It does fulfill it in two instances though. The aversion/subversion is when it shows a DRAZI wearing a rubber mask to look like a HUMAN. And vice versa. Ivanova gets a little shocked. As for when it takes genetic change, well, then they use...I'll let you see it.
  • Played ludicrously straight in Kamen Rider Den-O: When the Imagin have to interact with Muggles, they dress up in ridiculous hats, veils, scarves, masks and even full-body-covering animal suits. So they pose as dudes in suits, despite the fact that an Imagin in his natural form looks unmistakably like a... dude in a suit.
  • Stargate Atlantis succumbed to this when Dr Kaylee Keller made Teyla look like a Wraith queen.
    • Then avoids the trope when a Wraith passes as a (bizarre) means of makeup and facial appliances.
      • This is in Vegas, though. How many people would notice, especially since aliens aren't exactly public knowledge, even after a massive Hive-ship is destroyed in orbit.
    • Teal'c averts this by taking the solution used by Spock, covering the single odd feature (a gold-filled tattoo of Apophis' symbol) with a hat or bandanna whenever he leaves Stargate Command on Earth.
      • There are several episodes where he forgets or loses his hat; his backup plan in such cases appears to be Brutal Honesty. Most people tend to drop the subject on being told how the tatoo is made, or that it symbolises "Slavery. To false gods."
      • There is an episode where Teal'c is allowed to get an apartment in the city. He explains away his weirdness (including the tattoo) as being African. Since most Americans know very little about African tribes, this tends to work.
  • Averted in Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, when the Cylon D'Anna is made up to look sick as part of a trick being played on Bulldog.
  • Mission Impossible uses this in the revival. Instead of the painstaking mask application used in the original series, we get one-piece masks that can be applied in seconds.

Western Animation