From the beginning, “Star Trek” was about humans and their travels through deep space. These were the tales of the people who would live after us, in the far future, where the limitations of space travel are no longer dangerous and troublesome. In contrast to the recent past, where NASA Astronaut John Glenn could have died when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere due to a faulty heat shield, the ‘astronauts’ of “Star Trek” can overcome nearly any challenge, thanks to their advanced technology.
In these various missions, the humans aboard these incredible ships are joined by an “other.” On “The Original Series,” the other was Mr. Spock; on “the Next Generation,” fans met Data and Worf. In the third Trek series, several characters fit the ‘other’ category. Still, the one who got the best storylines and the most screentime was Mr. Odo (René Auberjonois).
Odo was a “Changeling,” which was a race of beings that possessed the unique ability to alter their appearance to suit the need of the moment. This was not the first time which humans serving in Starfleet had encountered aliens with these powers. Everyone remembers the scene in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” when Kirk (William Shatner) faced a Chameloid named Martia (Iman).
On “The Original Series,” Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) faced the shapeshifter Garth (Steve Ihnat) during “Whom Gods Destroy.” Some may not consider “The Animated Series” to be canon. Still, the Enterprise crew was challenged by a Vendorian. This octopus-like creature could also shapeshift in “The Survivor.” Notably, the Vendorians would appear over 40 years later on “Star Trek: Lower Decks.”
None of those races impacted the “Star Trek Universe” like Odo, and his changelings, which fans would later learn are called The Founders. On “Deep Space Nine,” these creatures were the ultimate bad guy, as the “solids” never knew where they would pop up next and which Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, or other humanoid characters they could be impersonating.
Throughout the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons of “Deep Space Nine,” the Founders played an essential role in driving the Alpha Quadrant’s inhabitants toward war. First, they essentially forced the Klingons into conflict with the Cardassians. The Klingons turned against their allies in the Federation. Eventually, the Cardassians joined forces with the Founders, who absorbed Gul Dukat’s people into the Dominion — in “By Inferno’s Light.”
In that episode, a changeling took the form of Dr. Julian Bashir to cause chaos aboard the space station. The real Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) was actually on an asteroid — a prisoner of the Dominion and the Jem’Hadar.
When Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) realized that his station must have a saboteur on board DS9, he ordered phaser sweeps and blood tests, which are time-consuming and sometimes inaccurate. These were the same countermeasures that Starfleet took on Earth when the military temporarily seized control in the episode “Paradise Lost.”
The Founders proved to be capable of defeating any advanced technology the Federation tried. But had our future ancestors tried some technology from John Glenns’ era, they might have been able to catch some changelings.
Using Dogs Sense of Smell
Today, trained dogs are used to sniff out bombs at airports and can even smell certain diseases. Some studies suggest that dogs can even sense their owner’s mood by their scent. According to wildlife writer Jaymi Heimbuch, dogs are equipped “with over 220 million scent receptors — compared to five to 10 million in humans.” That is far more powerful than comparing a Ferengi ear to a human ear.
Perhaps Starfleet could have assigned K-9 crews to guard sensitive areas, and accompany captains and admirals, to ensure that there would be no changeling interference. Since the Founders had no sense of smell, this would be one weakness that man’s best friend could have exploited. And since Captain Archer always had a friend aboard the Enterprise, fans know that dogs are allowed on space missions.
One must pass through both a metal detector and an X-ray machine to board a flight in the modern era. This is standard procedure for the friendly skies. In the episode “Broken Link,” Dr. Bashir tells Odo that he can detect a heart, lungs, and digestive system inside Odo’s body. This was after Odo was stripped of his shapeshifting abilities by the Founders.
This would then mean that lungs and a heart are not present in a changeling when it has taken the shape of a humanoid. Thus, using a simple X-ray system could have determined who had a heart and who did not. Since Geordi LaForge could use VISOR to see things that normal humans could not (including X-Rays), Starfleet could have issued VISORS to their guards. This way, they could use X-Rays to see which humanoid did not have a heart and lungs.
Why These Ideas Were Not Used
These simple ways to catch a Changeling were probably not thought of, as the creature was a creation of many episodes. Unlike some characters, which had entire bibles written for them in advance of filming, Odo and the Founders evolved over time. The use of dogs and X-Rays would also have destroyed an excellent bad guy for Sisko to face. In a way, dogs and X-Rays would have been Kryptonite for the Founders, which would have neutralized a worthy opponent.