The first in a series of essays about Star Trek in honor of Discovery’s return this month.
An open letter to Trek fans about STAR TREK DISCOVERY and its alleged violation of continuity.
Dear Star Trek enthusiasts,
To canon or not to canon? That is the question plaguing the fandom of Star Trek, specifically about Discovery.
On one hand, continuity is what binds a fictional universe together. We are more invested in a show whose legacy we already understand. Violating the rules of that universe is like violating the laws of physics—something Scotty specifically said couldn’t be done, right before a commercial break. Then he went and did it.
On the other, should good story stand still for canon? Should a show that is created now but takes place before a show that was crafted in the 60s have outdated special effects, or look as cutting edge for today’s audiences as that original show did back then for theirs?
Is Star Trek about reminiscing over TV shows past, or showing us our own future?
Excellent fiction can be crafted out of existing canon. It’s what people like Greg Cox, David Mack and myself do all the time. I personally have been hired by movie studios to keep track of a franchise’s canon—and have made a career of fixing canonical faux pas in my published fiction.
And change for change sake is just as bad as dead storytelling. But change is also necessary for growth to take place.
The thing is, Trek is a strange animal. It has actually contradicted itself in-universe a billion times already. When discussing things that happened in the past, TOS went and violated itself over and over. It took three seasons to decide what to call things.
What planet is Spock from, Vulcan or Vulcanis?
The Vulcan Mind Meld or the Vulcan Mind Fusion?
Did one of Spock’s ancestors marry a human female, or was that his father who did so? Human great great great grandmother or human mother?
Does the Enterprise have warp drive or hyperdrive?
Is it impulse or ‘space normal speed?’ Or would that be thrusters only?
Can we go to warp inside a solar system, or is that some kind of risk? (None of the Treks’ could keep that one straight, even within their own series).
Is the government the UFP or the UESPA? United Federation of Planets or United Earth Space Probe Agency?
Is the Enterprise Starship Class or Constitution class? Is her refit also Consitution or is she Enterprise Class?
If the Enterprise is 20 years old as Morrow said in Star Trek III specifically stated as 15 years after the Enterprise came home from Kirk’s historic 5-year mission (15+5=20… seems legit), how was she captained by Pike 12 years before that? And Robert April before him? Those are things that were established before Star Trek III, during The Original Series and the Animated Series. Wouldn’t all that make her 40?
What’s up with the Klingons’ lobster heads? How about their blood?
Aside from the look of the Klingons changing from TOS To TMP, they have no honor in the films—just look at Kruge and Klaa. Their honor wasn’t developed until TNG. Then their blood was suddenly Pepto Bismol for Star Trek VI while being red for everything before and most after (except for the blood dripping off of Worf’s broken spine, which was dark purple. When Worf and other 24th Century Klingons get cut, it’s always red).
If the Klingon’s don’t take prisoners as per Kirk in Star Trek II, why does Kruge take prisoners in Star Trek III? Or Chang in Star Trek VI? Or Lursa and B’etor in The Next Generation and Generations?
T’Pol says Klingon ships don’t have escape pods, but then there they are in Enterprise and Deep Space Nine.
Just how big is that Bird of Prey? It changes constantly for dramatic effect in Star Trek III, then starts Star Trek IV at 50m, only to balloon up to 200m when hovering over the whaling boat at the end (again for dramatic effect).
Why is the Bird of Prey’s bridge so different in Star Trek IV than in Star Trek III? It is the same ship, originally under the command of Kruge and commandeered by Admiral Kirk. It wasn’t refitted for Federation use because all the control panels were still in Klingon—and the old bridge looked more Starfleet anyway.
“The center of the galaxy can’t be reached,” says Kirk during Star Trek V. “No ship has ever gone into the Great Barrier. No probe has ever returned.” Then they proceed to go there. But didn’t the Enterprise go there already during The Animated Series?
Vulcan has no moon? What’s that in the sky during Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Animated Series, buddy? And what the hell is Tuvok talking about in VOY when he says he was born on “the Vulcanis lunar colony?”
Wait— Spock has a brother? You made that up.
Some people think Spock was the first Vulcan in Starfleet, something never actually stated on screen but was part of the background material for the original series—but the USS Intrepid—a Star Fleet vessel during TOS—has a crew of 400 of them. 400 Vulcans joined up and graduated after Spock during the dozen or so years before that TOS episode, and they crammed all the Vulcans in Star Fleet into one ship? And obviously at least one of them made Captain before Spock? For that matter, what’s T’Pol’s deal, then?
There are dozens more TOS VIOLATING TOS, as well as the other series violating TOS, examples.
Yes, TNG and DS9 seem to have a different timeline than TOS, and VOY and ENT also seem to have their own shared timeline. And all these violate themselves as well.
So Data was Soong’s only android. Wait—there was a prototype, Lore. Got it! Wait… there was a prototype of the prototype named B4? Ok, but their skin couldn’t be made to look or feel alive enough, that’s why they look the way they do. Remember they are machines who will never age—always set apart from living beings. Wait—Data can adjust the pigmentation of his skin and eyes to look Romulan? Data is getting fat and wrinkly… didn’t we know? Soong put in a program to mimic the effects of age. But what about when Data is 3000 years old? What will he look like then? Why burden the bot with thousands of years of decrepitude? Soong made an android of his girlfriend that had proper skin and eyes and ages as well and could pass for human? I thought he only made Data? I mean, Data and Lore and B-4? Well, Data has a sort of milky white blood circulating through his system. Prick him and he will leak. Troi shot him with an arrow and he didn’t leak? And he was shot with bullets in First Contact and didn’t leak? Does he leak?
Why does Data’s coveted and one-of-a-kind emotion chip look different in different episodes/movies? Why is he so special, anyhow? There were plenty of human-like androids in TOS, and they weren’t pasty white with yellow eyes.
For that matter, what the hell kind of cat is Spot, anyhow? What sex? Spot seems to be a nexus of realities, forever shifting.
If during Generations, Kirk was presumed dead when he was lost in the Nexus in front of Scotty before the engineer went into suspended animation in the transporter buffer, why does Scott think Kirk came to his rescue when the engineer is revived during TNG?
How did Seven’s family go hunting for the Borg with Federation funding if the Federation didn’t know who the Borg were until Picard and crew met them? Or was it when Archer and crew met them during ENT, 200 years prior? Wait, why didn’t Picard know about the Borg?
How did the Borg go from Daft Punk to the Walking Dead? ) What’s wrong with his face?
What’s up with the Romulans’ foreheads?
Why do the Trill in TNG have knobby heads and no spots when Dax has spots and a normal head? Dax violates canon!
Why do the Tellarites no longer look like Porky Pig—oh my god the TOS one has no eyes.
What of the Andorians ever-shifting shade of blue or grey or green, and changing foreheads, hairline, antenna—both their location and appearance? Since when do the antenna move?
Again, there are at least dozens more. Is all this the result of the Temporal Cold War in Star Trek: Enterprise? Was said timeline-altering conflict created to cover these faux pas in the first place?
How do you resolve it?
Well, you have some fine authors craft tie-in materials that make it all make sense for those who care. A lot of this stuff has been covered over the years just like that. And that just what is being done in the Discovery novels right now.
Why are they using 3D hologram communications on Discovery instead of just using the view screen? Turns out the messages contained so much data they were using too much bandwidth, clogging subspace channels and tying up communications. They went back to viewscreens until DS9 times when it was finally perfected, and even then only used sparingly.
How is it they have holographic simulations you can walk around in (and play anti-Klingon laser tag with) in if the Holodeck isn’t created until TNG? Well, there was a precursor to the holodeck as early as the animated series—a holographic rec room. In Discovery the holographic training simulator’s projections weren’t solid and weren’t perfect. By TNG the holodeck makes these things indistinguishable from reality—another perfection of technology over a century.
Ship-to-ship, site-to-site, and intra-ship beaming? Didn’t they say it was risky in TOS? Well, obviously they learned that during Discovery season 1. They mention in the premiere of season two that pad-to-pad or pad-to-site transport is much safer.
Why are Discovery’s uniforms different than those worn by the crew of the Enterprise during the episode “The Cage,” which takes place in the same relative time period? Star Fleet was trying out new uniforms on the flagship fleet of Constitution class cruisers during this time (I assume it’s because they were leaning towards a time of peaceful exploration and the Klingon War caught them off guard. This delayed full implementation of the classic uniforms until years later).
If you care, buy Star Trek novels and comics. Buy them for all your favorite franchises. You keep reading them, we will keep writing them, and if we are doing our job right, you will get your answers.
If you don’t care, just sit back and enjoy Star Trek on TV and film. Our fandom is lucky enough to have both options.
Other things, such as the spore drive, will straighten themselves out before the series is over. And the Klingons… well, we went 25 years without an official explanation of their change in appearance—don’t expect an explanation for this one for another 25.
Star Trek looks forward to our future, even when telling stories in its fictional past. It gives us just a dash of what we know from before to provide us with a comfort zone. It doesn’t stagnate in nostalgia—that is the purview of the pretenders to the throne (the Orville, anyone? But that’s an open letter for another time).
Just remember that in Trek, continuity is fluid. It’s like that in any franchise that develops over decades. Has to be.
Star Trek: Discovery is in fact no more or less guilty than the Treks that precede it. The minor stuff is always shifting. The story is the key, and the legacy is enduring. Star Trek can survive a little change.
It’s called evolution.
Andrew E.C. Gaska
Revised and updated Stardate 0120.19
Evolution: Something this TOS Tellarite is having a lot of trouble with. Oh, dear…