One of the delights of having 50-plus years of ongoing Star Trek history is getting to see beloved characters turn up again in the various iterations of Trek mythology. Since the universe has never stopped telling new stories in a myriad of mediums (original fiction, series, films, video games …), the chance of reconnecting with Trek characters who have made an indelible impact on the narrative is practically assured.
Case in point, as part of the celebration of today’s Star Trek Day comes a brand-new chapter of Star Trek Online entitled: House Divided. If you love Klingons, then it’s the right time to scream “Po’tajg!” and grab your bat’leth, because this installment is mixing up old school and new school, including a return appearance of the legendary Klingon General Martok.
Set in the modern Klingon Empire, the narrative follows J’Ula, sister of T’Kuvma from Star Trek: Discovery, as she travels back through time to this pivotal moment in the Klingon and Federation relationship. With both former enemies just forging a new alliance, J’Ula wants to end it, so players will work alongside Martok to sustain the recent peace.
Having played Martok for 25 years (debuting the character in the 1995 Deep Space Nine episode “The Way of Warrior”), actor J.G. Hertzler is back to rattle the cosmos with his incediary character for his third chapter of Star Trek Online.
To celebrate the new chapter, SYFY WIRE got on a very Trek-like Zoom with Hertzler, whose Trek career includes playing Martok for multiple seasons on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and voicing him for two official Star Trek video games, and inhabiting different characters for Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise.
Originally hired as to play Martok as a “one and done” role in “The Way of Warrior,” the writers paid Hertzler the ultimate compliment by resurrecting the character for the two-parter “In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “By Inferno’s Light.” In reminiscing about his return, Hertzler remembers that he noticed in the script it mentioned that Martok came back without an eye. And in a fateful conversation with writer Ira Behr, that defining physical characteristic of Martok’s was unexpectedly set in stone.
Hertzler remembers that Behr said: “Don’t worry about it, we’ll be able to get you an artificial eye.” And I said, ‘No, no, no, Ira! No Klingon would get an artificial eye.’ It was a fortunate thought on my part because [the character] wasn’t that thought out. And what it did was give me automatic pirate cred mixed with an aging rocker,” he jokes.
The actor also credits the DS9 era of storytelling with really cementing the lore and mythology of the Klingon race, which has informed his continued performances of Martok ever since. “Thanks to Ron Moore, he basically created almost 90 percent of the Klingon culture with his scripts,” the actor says. “He’s a brilliant writer, so there is so much in that world that I have already studied.”
And after pitching his own stories back in the day to Paramount for episode ideas, they instead offered him the opportunity to write an official Star Trek novel, which then turned into two Martok-related books (co-written with Jeffrey Lang): Left Hand of Destiny, Book 1 and Left Hand of Destiny, Book 2.
“My books were about a civil war on Qo’noS in the Klingon Empire,” Hertzler explains. “They weren’t backstory, they were forward stories. The books took place immediately following the end of the DS9 finale episode on the way back to Qo’noS. So I was already bathed in the idea of usurpers and revolution.”
As it turns out, Star Trek Online: House Divided unfolds almost as a continuation of what Hertzler explored in his books, and adds to more Klingon lore as presented in previous missions “Brushfire” and the Hur’q-centric “Scylla and Charybdis.”
“You know, the “Hur’q” was the most magnificent alien brought into the Star Trek universe,” the actor opines about the notorious Klingon invaders. “They were absolutely frightening as described and as visualized. They are the best in terms of fearsomeness. And to come out alive against them is something.”
A tease for the new chapter? That remains to be seen, per usual with the super-secretive storylines for Star Trek Online. And Hertzler admits that he never gets much context for Martok’s continuing adventures even when he does get called back in to record.
“I only get my lines and maybe some intro to my lines,” he says of the process. “I’ve never seen a complete script for any of the episodes. Film is a director’s medium. It’s not about the actors, as the performance is controlled by the director. In gaming, even more so. I give three or four line readings for each line that I am given so they can choose what fits best in the way they are perceiving the scene. And it’s small differences in each line reading will make all the difference.”
Yet Hertzler says that returning to voice Martok is always a treat. “The thing about him is that, as a stage actor you usually get some weeks to rehearse, if you get lucky, and then you go on. And with Martok, I was able to work on him for four years. Now I am still doing it 25 years later! And it’s all still there, because I’ve been doing him for so long. As long as I don’t look at myself and see I don’t have ridges on my forehead and masses of black hair and funny teeth, I believe I am the General!”
And in the end, he cites SYFY WIRE as being the final arbiter of his place as a Klingon anyway. “You know, SYFY voted Martok as the Best Klingon,” he says with a smile about our definitive ranking. “I point that out to all of my Klingon friends and they don’t appreciate it!”
And to that we say, “K’plah!”
Star Trek Online: House Divided is available to play now on PCs, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.