2009-12-01

Phaser Swinging

Having recently refreshed myself on Enterprise's third season, I've noticed something that seems a bit odd.

It was apparently decided to make use of squibs and other practical effects for most phase pistol misses.  This is exemplified quite well in "North Star"[ENT3], for instance, where missed phase pistol shots kept hitting water troughs, producing an upward bursting splash as if from some sort of compressed air cannon.   Other incidents in the same episode or in episodes like "Damage"[ENT3] saw the use of squibs against various surfaces, including wood and (presumably) metal.

In all such cases, though, the missed shots seemingly hit just one spot.  Yet this is the very thing a beam weapon should excel at not requiring.   A beam weapon affords a remarkable capacity to adjust one's fire in the midst of firing, turning a missing shot into a hitting one.   Anyone with a laser pointer can attest to this.  But for some reason, Enterprise personnel seemed to waste such opportunities.

We can assume a variety of possible causes.  For instance, in all such cases I've noticed, the weapon was set for stun.  This may imply that the stun setting on phase pistols imposed a short beam duration.   (Certainly later phasers were seen to have automatic fire control capability, seen of a 23rd Century phaser in "Final Mission"[TNG4] and a 24th Century Type I in "The Game"[TNG5].)    Compare the short stun shots with Archer's running cut of 2x4 crossbeams and floor timbers in "North Star"[ENT3], accomplished via a setting change.   This presumed imposed short beam duration may have meant that shot aim adjustment was thought to be an abnormal situation.  

Both in concert with the above and as a separate point, considering that the EM-33 bolt-firing plasma pistol was just a handful of years in the past, the inability to adjust one's fire might not've seemed of great concern at the time, or else might've been viewed as a quick way to supporting sloppy shooting habits.

In any case, however, it still seems a peculiar concept.  Certainly, a longer duration stun beam might've been thought to cause harm, and thus a short duration hit was all that was viewed as acceptable.  However, in a situation like "North Star" when you're trying to stun people who are trying to kill you, I for one would happily accept the risk of heavily stunning someone if I could just tweak my aim a little if I was missing.   Let Phlox sort it out.

This isn't the only time we see short-duration shots being detrimental.  For instance, "Gambit, Pt. I"[TNG7], a backyard-range phaser fight with the Enterprise away team phasers seemingly on stun does feature phaser aim adjustment, but the shot durations in that fight are too short and thus no hits occur.   AR-558 doesn't seem to involve any phaser swinging, either, and indeed the aim-and-fire approach seems to suggest that's the nature of phaser rifle training, though that battle might've benefitted from someone spraying and praying by swinging the phaser to and fro.  Presumably the short duration shots we saw were considered superior for ammunition management, though again having at least a couple of guys authorized to go nuts would've given them a virtual artillery position.    Even in "Civil Defense"[DSN3], the automated replicator-phaser doodad fires short controlled bursts instead of wildly swinging, though it did feature numerous shots that adjusted the aim by a few degrees during the shot.

Could it be that the short duration is required?  That is, does it require a full (albeit short) duration shot to do the deed, and a swinging phaser whose beam only touches a guy for a moment in passing won't have terribly much effect?   In the case of normal stun beams I could perhaps think so, especially in the Enterprise era, but on a kill setting at AR-558 I would think that a swinging beam that touched a Jem'Hadar badguy would've at least stunned or injured him, if not killing him outright, so I don't see it making sense there.

Given how few examples of swinging phasers I can think of off the top of my head, I can't think of any particular example that might show a different idea.   As a rule, a swinging phaser implies a stunned shooter (e.g. "In the Hands of the Prophets"[DSN1] or "Legacy"[TNG4]) or just a missed shot, and I don't recall any missed shots turning to hits in the canon.   Then again, we have the phaser fire against the floating Echo Papas from "The Arsenal of Freedom"[TNG1], where phaser fire was intentionally off then adjusted to hit.   And, of course, Captain Tracey's defeat of thousands and thousands of Yangs in "The
Omega Glory"[TOS3] would seem profoundly less likely if we imagine he was carefully aiming and shooting each time like Sisko at AR-558.  Maybe it's just mostly a stun thing?

Not sure what to make of it all, really.   There seems a frequent use of short duration fire as a rule (much as the modern militaries teach the "short, controlled burst"), though we've clearly seen long-duration fire in various situations (especially for cutting applications).  The short-duration fire seems especially common during stun shots.  And while I've imagined assorted rationales for the matter, none of them strike me as convincing reasons for the frequent avoidance of using the phaser in what would be its most powerful application . . . as a constant source for long-duration aim-adjusting fire, stun or no.

UPDATE 12-23-09:

"Conspiracy"[TNG1] shows Dr. Crusher's phaser shots all moving about some, the last swinging downward several degrees to continue pummelling a man falling on the floor with her phasery goodness.   That shot might've been a kill shot, however, given her later advice to Picard to set for kill because stun was ineffective.   It was also the longest shot.

1 comment:

  1. Trelane of Gothos also said that a phaser II could "kill thousands," and he was an advanced alien who was familar with such complex devices. Likewise, Kirk said that 100 men with phasers could defeat the combined forces of a 20th century planet-- and the Roman prefect agreed with him.
    This indicates that phasers have a mass-kill setting, as well as the ability to destroy military targets at long-range (including ships, fighter-aircraft etc).
    Given that the phaser's "kill" setting doesn't do any actual physical damages ("The Conscience of the King," TOS:2) then it obviously uses far less power than the other destructive settings (other than "stun"). For example, Kodos is killed by a short phaser-shot to the body, and he drops dead immediately-- not from organ-failure, since Dr. McCoy should have been able to save him within a few minutes. Thus, the beam seems to do the same as a "stun" setting, but on a much higher level-- i.e. no physical damage, but more of a neural-disruption effect.
    Likewise, in ST6:TUC, we see people killed by prolonged phaser-stun at close range.
    This indicates that phaser-stun varies in effect with the intensity of the shot, and so a grazing shot will have less effect than a prolonged one.
    We also see that phaser-stun beams are visibly SLOWER than high-intensity beams, and so can be dodged at long range; for example in several DS9 episodes, Sisko is about to shoot one of the Bajoran soldiers with his phaser-rifle, but won't use the stun-setting; this seems to be because the beam is too slow at this range.

    Likewise, in another incident when Sisko wishes to capture the Jem H'dar rather than kill them-- but the Jem H'dar insist on following orders even on a suicide-mission, Sisko doesn't simply order stun-settings; obviously this would endanger his crew at this range, by subjecting them to return-fire from the Jem H'dar.

    However, from what I've seen of the "Killer B's," I don't know how much thought actually goes into "Enterprise" canonicity.

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