Alien: Having the android idea

Leading from 
Ash the Robot

a) Giler and Hill conceive the idea
Hill and Giler introduced into the story of alien a character who was an android named Ash. 
They don't actually remember which of them had come up with the idea but it came as a joint decision and a cheap idea 
However as Giler remembered it, Walter Hill said, "I have what I think is a dreadful idea or a really good one. What do you think of this? Suppose, in this part, whack! His head comes off and he's a robot."

Giler replied "Well terrific, let's do that, and we'll put it on a table and we'll have the head talk."

Perhaps there was something in the description of the character Melkonis' death in Dan O'Bannon's early Alien script that they were so eager to rewrite, after his head has been pulled off like a chicken's his headless body is still kicking and struggling.

So they went back and made the subplot work for that. 
David Giler actually wanted the first words from the robot on the table to the the Kipling poem "If you could keep your head about you."

b) Ron Shusett's approval
Ron Shusett loved the idea and would be eternally thankful to David Giler and Walter Hill for adding that idea. 
He felt it was the next thing that one needed after the shock and horror of the chestburster scene he thought it was close to being as amazing, and it kept the third act from being a let down.

c) Dan O'Bannons's disapproval 
The general idea of what constitutes a suspense story was an issue of some contention amongst the producers and Dan lost a couple of those battles. 
There was no Ash in his original script and Giler and Hill added it in his opinion just for the sake of a sub plot because having a single plot was by itself for them inadequate. 
However Dan thought that Ian Holm gave a brilliant performance and it was brilliantly directed by Ridley but Dan saw nothing so interesting about the revelation that someone was a robot.

 source quotes
  1. Fantastic Films: He's not an ordinary robot is he?

    David Giler: Walter Hill and I were writing the script - we were working the script and we had invented the subplot of this dodging character. And Hill said,  I have what I think is a dreadful idea or a really good one. What do you think of this? Suppose , in this part, whack!, his head comes off and he's a robot. " Well terrific ," I say, "let's do that. And we'll put it on a table and then we'll have the head talk." So we went back and made the subplot work for that. Actually at one time I wanted the first words from the robot on the table to be the Kipling poem, "If you could keep your head all about you..." (Fantastic Films #13, p60)
  2. Ron Shusett: They contributed one thing that was one of the best things in the movie and I will eternally be thankful to them, not only for starting the ball for financing but to contributing this to the movie, what they invented was the robot, that was not in the movie,  but the robot, Ash is a robot and his head comes off, that whole idea and scenario was theirs  (Developing The Story, Alien Quadrilogy DVD) 
  3. Ron Shusett: This is Giler and Hill's concept , it's the only thing that wasn't in the orginal script of Dan's and mine and the reason I knew it'd work because you needed something after the chestburster that was at least close to it as amazing and that is this, when the head is knocked off and you don't realise he's a robot and that kept the sec... the third act from being a let down. Oh god, shit, Jesus christ   ( Bluray version of the Alien Quadrilogy commentary at 1:21:10,)
  4. Dan O'Bannon: "The general idea of what constitutes a suspense story was an issue of some contention amongst the producers and I lost a couple of those battles. There was no Ash in my original script, they added that, the idea being here that all...all scripts must have a sub plot, simply to have a single plot by itself is inadequate, all stories must have subplots. So they created a subplot. Ian Holm gives a brilliant performance, it's brilliantly directed by Ridley, but if you stop and think about it, if it wasn't in there what difference would it make one way or the other, who gives a rat's ass, so somebody is a robot. (Alien commentary, Quadrilogy, 01:17: 29 - 01:18:29.)
  5. Dan O'Bannon's early Alien script:
    "Melkonis lets out a horrible shriek, and the thing grabs his head in


  1. Dan's negative comments about the Ash subplot surprises me to be honest. It added further suspense and worked beautifully.

  2. Well, I suppose bless Dan for continuing to argue about the whole thing in the interviews, I loved the robot subplot myself but Dan indeed was living in the ideas of his own version of the script before it was altered by Giler and Hill. Ridley Scott and Ron Shusett however loved the robot subplot. And maybe if one had seen Six Million Dollar Man at the time one might be yawning about the robot subplot a bit

  3. Reading your other article about the Six million dollar man episode I find myself liking the Ash sub-plot even more. The original idea of having MU/TH/UR a talking computer gave it a 2001: A Space Odyssey feel, AKA HAL 9000, changing it to Ash, a robot, was the right decision and move to make. Why Dan couldn't see that I'll never know.

  4. The original "Mother"/HAL thing was nice, but it had been done. What Ash as a robot does is bring the whole Company thing into the arena. Instead of just rerouting the ship (by sending the computer instructions, I suppose), and when they find out they all go "That company, they suck!" this gives them an actual company 'man' right there. Otherwise, Ash comes off like the scientist in The Thing (the original) who feeds the thing blood to grow its young. So either steal from 2001 or steal from The Thing? And the head coming off is a different kind of shock, it MEANS something more than the other shocks in the movie, and the audience is primed for trouble from the alien, NOT from someone's head popping off and revealing he's a DIFFERENT kind of non-human element to fear.