written by Tim Farley
originally published in Stardate 20, January 1984
After the release of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, some fans took exception to things in the film they saw as 'errors'elements which didn't jibe with their conception of the Star Trek universe. Although I refer to them as 'technical errors,' they are not only technological things, but also other things which are 'nit-picky' and 'technical' in nature. If one is inclined to notice such things, they can detract from ones enjoyment of the film. Thus, it becomes necessary to 'rationalize,' or better yet, explain these apparent errors to remove them.
Many small errors are evident throughout the storyas are evident in any Star Trek story. Anytime one sets out to write a consistent story in a manufactured universe, one has hundreds of tiny details which can prohibit complete success. And, the production of a feature film being such a demanding and complex task, it is easy to see why some of these details might slip by unnoticed. I, for one, am amazed that there aren't far more small errors in the film, considering producer Harve Bennett's inexperience with things relating to Star Trek. Even the original crew of the series let things slip from time to time, contradicting things within the fictional universe that they themselves had created.
Most of these smaller errors are easy to dismiss. The first that comes to mind is the question of how Khan knows Chekov on sight. Obviously, Chekov was not in the episode "Space Seed," since he was not made part of the ship's crew until the first episode of the second season. However, there is nothing in the second season stories indicating how new Chekov is to the crew, or even that he is new at all (although he was reminded of his comparative youth from time to time). With some 430 people on board, it is easy to imagine that Chekov could have served in Engineering or some other area where we would not see him, but Khan would. He was later transferred up to the bridge crew, just as Riley is mentioned as having "worked his way up from Engineering" to the bridge crew in "Conscience of the King."
The presence of Klingons in the Romulan neutral zone (which it must be, since they were near Gamma Hydra, a system on the Romulan border), is also anomalous, until one considers the alliance between the Klingons and the Romulans mentioned in "The Enterprise Incident." Such an alliance might well mean mutual defense treaties, hence the Klingons would be seen patrolling the borders of the (comparatively weak) Romulan empire.
The status of the "trainees" seen in the film is not immediately evident, and might be confusing to those familiar with references to Starfleet Academy in the series. Saavik and some of the other trainees are clearly lieutenants, therefore graduates of the Academy. Thus, this training cruise is their first space mission, a post-Academy requirement of all Starfleet officers. "Starfleet Training Command," seen on wall signs in the film, is thus the division of the fleet responsible for such training missions. Training vessels have been mentioned before, as Christopher Pike was injured on one. Kirks experiences on the U.S.S. Republic seem to have been similarsince he was a lieutenant on during his "first deep space mission" on the U.S.S. Farragut, as an ensign on the Republic he must have been in training. Thus, the type of training cruise we see in the film (post-Academy, yet prior to deep-space experience) is not inconsistent with the events of the series.
One of the major objections to the film's internal logic is that the explanation of Khan's experiences over the past 15 years is inconsistent. They were left on the fifth planet of the Ceti Alpha system, and Khan says that Ceti Alpha VI exploded, allowing Chekov to confuse five and six. However, if the sixth planet exploded, one would expect number seven to become six, number eight to become seven, etc. It would seem that Chekov would land on planet seven (thinking it to be number six, his target), and never run into Khan at all. However, this analysis of the matter presupposes several things. One--that the planets are simply numbered sequentially out from the sun, and there are no double-planet systems or planets sharing orbits to confuse things. Two--that the crew of the Reliant would find Ceti Alpha VI by counting planets sequentially out from the primary. Might they just as easily count planets down from the farthest one out to the one in question? This technique would indeed put them on Ceti Alpha V by accident. Or, perhaps, they have some other (apparently error-prone) method for identifying planets in a system nobody has visited in many years. Who knows? But there is one final objectionit is Khan who informs us of these events, and he is hardly the most reliable of sources. He could be lying to Chekov and Terrell, and they are certainly in no position to debate him. Is it not possible that Khan could have moved his people to another planet in the system, expecting someone to accidentally stumble on them as the Reliant did? And what of the insignia Khan wears around his neckone which he obviously had before the Reliant's arrival, but could not have had when he was stranded there originally? Could someone else have found Khan first? How does Khan know the Klingon saying of "Revenge is a dish best served cold." Is there Klingon involvement in this situation? Any way you look at it, Khan's story is far from being carved in stone in this film, and there is plenty of room for explanation of this apparent inconsistency (should one see it as such).
Some fans have pointed out that often during the series the shields would activate themselves automatically upon the approach of any object. Such action seems logical, since an automatic circuit can react to approaching danger far faster than humans can. Why, then, didn't the shields raise themselves when the Reliant approached the first time? In "Where No Man Has Gone Before," while analyzing the energy barrier, Spock exclaims "deflectors say there's something there, sensors say there isn't." Obviously, the deflectors incorporate some sort of sensing device of their own, distinct from the 'sensors' and operating by different principles. With the extreme prevalence of computer control in Starfleet's technology, it is not hard to imagine the deflectors being controlled by some sort of computer. Considering the variety of things the deflectors must be called upon to respond to, from stars to radio waves, such control might be imperative, the massive power requirements of such a large force field alone require a little caution in its activation. This provides an answer to the problemthe computer that controls the shields obviously identified the Reliant as "one of our own," (quite definitively so), and saw no need for action, especially since the Reliant was running with shields down, on contact.
Another major point brought up against the film is that the Mutara Nebula, in which the final battle takes place, seems far too dense to be any ordinary nebula. While it is true that the average interstellar nebula is far closer to being a vacuum than being like a cloud in Earth's atmosphere, it is not impossible for such a dense cloud to exist. Nebulae in the process of collapsing to form a star would pass through just such a state. Of course, one must consider that, in science fiction films especially, that which we see on the screen rarely corresponds exactly to reality. Thus, the ships might be great distances, even parsecs, apart (owing to the great accelerations possible through their massive engines) when they seem to be hidden from each other by "clouds." At other times, they are much closer, and in visual contact. The nebula could be quite sparse, but still seem opaque over large distances. As for the glowing gases seen in the cloud, and the "space thunderstorms" seen and heard also, this is attributable to the excitation of the gases in the cloud by the radiation of nearby stars. (Regula obviously orbits a star, and is quite nearby). In addition, it is possible that a neutron star exists within or near the cloud, providing the irregular flashing and excitation of the cloud.
Another objection to the film stems from the attractive but seemingly impractical "Plexiglas" door to the chamber in which Spock dies. If, indeed, occupants of that chamber run the risk of being exposed to lethal radiation, why is there not several feet of lead separating the chamber from the rest of the room, for everyone's protection? Radiation powerful enough to kill humanoids quickly, no matter what type, simply will not be absorbed by any ordinary material that thin. But that is the problemthis is the twenty-third century, and no one said the door was made of an ordinary material. Indeed, there is nothing solid at all protecting Scotty and his crew from the radiations from the massive engines seen in the center of that same set. Also, between the massive engines and the engine room in the series we see nothing more substantial than a chain-link fence, which is just as bad as a piece of Plexiglas (or as later explained "transparent aluminum"), as far as shielding is concerned. Obviously, there must be other elements at work. Force fields come to mind, since they seem to be used throughout starshipsthe magnetic bottles which contain the antimatter fuel, the doors to the brig, the intermix chamber itself, and even the deflectors and defense fields which protect the ship are examples of this technology. A force field could be incorporated into the door (perhaps even embedded within its structure) to absorb the harmful radiation while allowing visible light to pass through. Likewise, force fields surround the engines to absorb radiation which might injure the crew, in both the old and new Enterprises. It makes sense to make such practical use of this technology, and Starfleet seems to have done so.
One of the last remaining objections to the film is the seeming implausibility of the Genesis effect as depicted in the film. This device is said to be capable of reorganizing matter at the molecular level to create life forms out of raw matter in mere hours. Although the complexity of such creation seems immense, it does seem achievable in Star Treks time. After all, the starship has the "sum total of all Earth's knowledge" stored in its onboard computer. A more substantial argument against Genesis' operation is the tremendous speed of the effect. The billions upon billions of chemical reactions which must occur for life forms to result will only proceed at a given ratethey cannot be accelerated beyond certain limits. Paraphrasing Scotty, "you can't change the laws of physics." However, when the Genesis device is detonated by Khan, the Enterprise is forced to use its warp drive to avoid destruction. Thus, the explosion must expand at a velocity far greater than the speed of light. To do this, the Genesis wave must itself be a variation on warp/impulse/subspace technology used by Starfleet. As I have shown in earlier articles, the warp drive warps time as well as space. Time inside a vehicle moving at warp speeds passes at a rate far greater than it does in normal space. This is what allows Genesis to workbecause of the time warp, millions or billions of years actually pass by inside of the effect, though only a few minutes pass by in normal space.
Certainly Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan has its flaws, as does any other Star Trek story. Some fans do not let this bother them in their enjoyment of the film, and to them I say, "more power to you." For the rest who, like me, are chronic nitpickers, I have offered these alternatives. After a little analysis, and an admission of the fact that we do not know all there is to know about Star Trek's far future universe, it becomes clear that most such errors can be eliminated. In fact, sometimes this process increases our enjoyment of the story. Let it always be so.
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