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written by Tim Farley
originally published in Stardate 17, December 1982


All who are aware of the technological society around us know quite well that one of the basic characteristics of technology is that it is constantly changing and growing. We must adapt to new and unique ideas and devices which confront us in a never-ending pattern. In Star Trek’s time, man will be even more dependent on technology than now. Almost everything our heroes do in Star Trek depends on their proper use of technology. Few fans recognize the fact that Star Trek’s technology, like ours, must also be in a continual state of innovation.

Of course, we all know that drastic changes occurred between the stories of the TV series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The ship has been totally rebuilt, incorporating entirely new engines, defensive force fields, weapons systems, personnel movement procedures, room design and layout, etc. The communicators have evolved from "walkie talkie"-like boxes to wrist devices, and the tricorders have been totally redesigned. The hand phasers have taken on a whole new look. These changes literally jump out at the average fan as he or she watches the film.

However, very similar but much more subtle changes went on in the technology of the starship Enterprise during the course of the five-year mission. Let’s explore some of these changes.

The Enterprise

Just by comparing the "look" of the Enterprise sets in the episodes "The Menagerie," "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and the regular series episodes, one can detect that alterations had been made on the ship. Of course, the events of "The Menagerie" involving Captain Pike occurred some 13 years prior to Star Trek’s time, so any differences between Pike’s Enterprise and Kirk’s would be analogous to those evident in the motion picture: changes which were brought about over a long period of time. But significant differences can be seen in the sets of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and the sets of the regular series. This was caused, obviously, by the passage of time between the production of the pilot and that of the regular episodes. But in the context of a "real" Star Trek universe, it indicates the ship underwent an "overhaul" between the events of’ "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and those of "The Corbomite Maneuver" (the first regular episode).

The Warp Engines

Anyone who has carefully watched episodes of all three seasons of Star Trek has noticed that the Engine Room was rebuilt between the first and second seasons of Star Trek. As the Enterprise undoubtedly has several engine rooms devoted to different aspects of power production, the two sets probably indicate different rooms in the Enterprise. Indeed, while the engine room in the second and third seasons seems to be manned constantly by a crew of three or four, the one Kevin Riley is assigned to in "Conscience of the King" is lonely and deserted (and that almost gets him killed). And, in "The Omega Glory," when Kirk is searching the ship for survivors, he speaks from an engine room, and we see an empty engine room under his voice-over.

The two sets differed in several ways. Viewed from the door, both rooms had long control panels along the left wall and the "engines" in the back, but the first season room had a single yellow door with the "main engine control panel" to the right, while the later room had double red doors with the same control panel on the left. The later room also incorporated a stair or ladder in the middle of the long control panels, and the dilithium crystal assembly in the center of the room.

So why were both rooms used to control the warp engines in different instances? The first season room was clearly shown (in "The Naked Time") to be at the end of a long, curving hallway—just what one would expect in the saucer-shaped hull. Although the later room was also located on a curved hall, the two parts of that set were never shown in a single shot. Whenever a hall was shown in the same shot as the later engine room, it was always the straight hall that leads directly away from it (perpendicular to the curved hall). A straight hall would be expected in the cigar-shaped Engineering Hull. And, indeed, in "Day of the Dove," when the energy creature leaves the Engine Room, it is seen exiting the ship from the Engineering Hull.

So what is the relationship between these two rooms; why was one seen exclusively in the first season, and the other one later? I propose that the first season room (in the primary hull) is primarily the impulse engine deck. However, Scotty and his crew took to controlling the warp engines from here, using remote servomechanisms, such that they could control all the engines from one place and still be close to the bridge, science labs and other essential elements of the ship in the primary hull. Following the events of "The Naked Time" and "Space Seed," which demonstrated the vulnerability of the warp engines when controlled from this place, primary control of the warp engines was transferred to the room nearest them, in the secondary hull (hence the presence of dilithium crystals in this room only—they are located where they can be easily interfaced with the engines). The impulse engines were slaved to the controls of this room, though the old room is undoubtedly still in use for backup, maintenance on the engines, control of the engines after hull separation, etc.

Changes also occurred in the use of the warp engines. In the first and second seasons, it was clearly pointed out that the maximum safe cruising speed of the Enterprise was Warp 6, and its emergency warp speed was Warp 8, which was attainable for a few moments at a time at best.

In "Arena" and "Obsession," it was specifically demonstrated that Warp 8 is a most dangerous speed and can destroy the ship if used for more than a few moments at a time. But in "That Which Survives," Scotty tells Spock that he can give him Warp 8 "and maybe a wee bit more" for the 11.337 hours required to travel back to where they had been. Obviously, the engines had been vastly improved between the events of "Obsession" and those of "That Which Survives." In the earlier episode, Warp 8 could be held for five minutes at most, but in the latter it was held for almost half a day.

In addition to the obvious idea that Scotty had been working to improve the engines, one can point out several instances in which the crew of the Enterprise encountered superior warp engine technology. In "The Changeling," Nomad improves the engines in such a way that the ship reaches unheard of speeds temporarily. In "By Any Other Name," the Kelvans improve the ship so that it is able to reach and maintain Warp 11 for 300 years at a time. It is extremely possible that Starfleet incorporated some of these changes into the engines of the ship, improving their capabilities.

Weapons Systems

Changes were also evident in the weapons systems of the ship over the course of the series. In Pike’s time, the crew carried laser pistols, and the ship carried a land-based laser cannon. By the time of "Where No Man Has Gone Before," a phaser rifle had been developed, but the hand weapons were of the same type or at least very similar to those carried by Pike’s crew. In the regular first season, the Phaser Ones and Twos were introduced and used.

The shipboard phaser banks also changed over time. In early episodes they were fired in pulses (perhaps because of power restrictions) while they appeared as beams in later episodes.

In "Balance of Terror," Sulu complains that without visual sighting of the Romulan ship, accurate phaser firing would be impossible. He said sensor control of phasers would not be accurate enough to guarantee a hit. However, in "Arena," Kirk orders the sensors tied into the computer for computer-controlled attack. And in later episodes, a fold-out sensor display was incorporated into Sulu’s console. Obviously the aiming of phasers with sensor data had vastly improved in accuracy between the time of "Balance of Terror," and that of "Arena," as well as later on in the series.

The five-year mission also saw the first regular implementation of photon torpedoes on Federation ships. In "Balance of Terror," Stiles remarks that one shot at the Romulan plasma torpedo would "detonate" it, saving the ship. When the phasers are found to be useless, they give up on this idea. Why didn’t they use the photon torpedoes, or at least mention them? Because they hadn’t been invented or installed yet! The first use of photon torpedoes occurs in "Arena," which was filmed after "Balance of Terror." Thus the Enterprise was originally equipped only with phasers, but photon torpedoes were installed about halfway through the first season, perhaps having been invented from knowledge gained from the Romulan plasma weapon.

Miscellaneous Systems

Many other systems and machines on board the ship changed during the course of the series. The shuttlecraft, a very common element in later episodes, was completely ignored as a way to save the landing party in "The Enemy Within." It is possible that either (1) all of the shuttles had been removed from the ship for overhaul or replacement or (2) the hangar bay had either not yet been built (unlikely) or was undergoing an overhaul. Thus they were not being stupid in not mentioning the shuttlecraft—they were avoiding the subject, since everyone recognized the terrible timing of their overhaul operation.

Control of the ship from the bridge also changed. In "The Naked Time," Kirk asks that the helm be tied directly into the engines for maximum speed in responding to changes in the planet’s gravity. Yet, in later episodes, automatic control of the engines from the helm seems to be a matter of course. Similarly, in "Balance of Terror," the phasers are fired by a crew in a special control room. But in later episodes, the phasers (and photon torpedoes) seem to be fired directly from the helm console. Obviously, the procedures of control were changed during the course of the series, probably as a result of the events of these episodes.

The use of a self-destruct system also changed during the series. In "Where No Man Has Gone Before," Kirk and Spock react with incredulity to the report that the captain of the U.S.S. Valiant destroyed his own ship. Yet, by the episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," the self-destruction procedure has become an established feature of starship regulations. It is entirely possible that Kirk’s report of the fate of the Valiant prompted Starfleet to install self-destruct mechanisms on all starships.

Many other technological changes occurred in the control panels of the bridge, the use of the transporter, the discovery of a reverse time warp, the use of space suits, etc. I will not explore them here. Suffice it to say that the same technological advance which applied to the systems reviewed above affects these systems and devices as well.

Thus one can see that the continuing advance of technology is an integral part of the Star Trek universe, and cannot be ignored when one studies the use of various systems and devices on board the Enterprise. This concept can also be used to explain several nagging "errors" in certain episodes with much success.

It is a useful and logical idea, and should not be ignored in the future.

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