I've had a couple of issues crop up lately that really call attention to the problem of consistently dealing with certain sorts of data. My focus at the moment is Star Trek vessel registries, but this actually applies to a lot of other information presented outside of dialog or camera shot.
See, there's typically been a little bit of fudgery among the Trek canon tech aficionados insofar as vessel registries and certain other data obtained from backstage sources, and at some point I slipped into it myself.
I've commented before on the Star Trek canon page in regards to how best to use backstage info. The point I made at the time was that class names, for example, could be used for ease of reference, but not as the basis of arguments.
Even for the Chrono-Volumetrics page and starship registries thereon, I actually did a pretty good job, keeping the First Contact ships in parentheses "until I get around to confirming the visibility of them in the film/episodes where they appear," discounting the never-seen Lantree registry in favor of the Reliant, and so on.
Alas, sometime between then and recently, I forgot about all that. Certainly in the case of TNG-era backstage-supplied registries, I'm pretty sure that I've had some pet theories about TNG class chronologies based on them in recent years. It's probably been ten years or so since the Chrono-Volumetrics page, so I suppose I have a bit of an excuse. As I've started running up against various oddities and issues, having forgotten that I'd previously been a good boy in regards to backstage info, I started this post as part mea culpa and part effort see if I could codify a backstage-inclusive approach a little better.
So, let's have something of a guest blog, where the "guest" is me from before I rediscovered my previous hardline approach. In the interests of clarity, I'll use a different font for the already-written parts.
On with the show:
Technically, there are a ton of registries that I've referenced that I shouldn't know, canonically speaking, simply because they just weren't really visible. I'm not even talking here about data gleaned off a freeze-frame, but instead stuff that literally can't be seen. Oh sure, we'd learn via various sources that such-and-such model was relabeled for such-and-such episode, but, really-really, if it ain't visible on the screen then it ain't canon.
Let's use, just as an example, the USS Venture. You can clearly see her registry here, right?
In fact, the four-foot model had the "All Good Things" future 3-nacelle stuff mostly removed and the model was physically relabeled for this appearance as the Venture, NCC-71854 . . . not that you can tell at all, the way it ended up being shot.At least in the Venture's case we can at least pretend that some imaginary super-high-res version would allow us to read the registry, since they did physically alter it. But, really, a strict-canon fellow like me probably shouldn't 'know' the registry of the Venture at all.
One is naturally reminded at this point of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and all the various 'backstage' retcon fixes -- communicated via the old StarWars.com forums and such -- meant to try to fix internal contradictions or contradictions against the Lucas canon. Like backstage Trek info, it was "knowledge" that really ought not have been considered as such versus the actual mainline canon. The problem with EU-Philes, after all, "is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so." Are Trek tech fans really any different?
Besides models, there are various display screens and the like. See, films and television are audio-visual mediums. We, the audience, are absorbing information not only from the words said but also the things we see or can read on screen. The full experience of sight and sound makes up the universe as we observe it. And, just as a crime drama might show a rap sheet for some hoodlum rather than halt all drama by having an actor read a list of crimes for half an hour, data on padds or tactical readouts have allowed various facts about starship registries to be presented without the need for an actor to read off a number or without engaging in costly model relabeling and special effects work to show it off.
That said, such data can be a little sketchy, as I referenced many years ago insofar as "hard canon" versus "soft canon". The written word on the page and the special effects cleared by producers are the highest canon items . . . some little label or blurb whipped together by some intern in the art department on a tight schedule can't really be expected to outweigh direct statements, but -- in the absence of contradiction or at least strong contrariness -- it seems they're as canon as anything else, operationally.
I say that since we can hardly ignore stuff that the producers haven't quite cleared, after all. There's the story of the DS9 producers breaking the next season after "A Call to Arms"[DSN5] and realizing that the last shot as presented was a tremendous problem. It was supposed to be the Defiant and Rotarran, having just escaped from the freshly lost station, arriving into the welcoming arms of the waiting Federation fleet. Instead, as I've put it before, the shot as aired "caused a panic in the DS9 writing room because it made it look as if the fleet was going to go kick ass right the hell now." This was the origin of the damaged fleet shot that opened the next season.
While that is a case of visual effects details serving as feedback causing adjustment in the writing room, it is also a rather extreme example. Chances are small that some random screen in the background with a throwaway bit of art department flair would, by itself, serve as any sort of 'straitjacket' (to use the hack writer's term for continuity precedents) to the writers and producers. But, as noted, had the registry of the Venture been a topic of discussion in some future episode, it would almost certainly have been given as 71854. It's not even "soft canon" as it was never seen on screen -- just backstage info -- and yet it's universally accepted by Trek fandom.
What to do? Well, that's what brings this to the fore at the moment . . . see, confronted with similar bits of info recently, my temptation was to ignore them, in keeping with what I really should do. But, given the use of the Venture et al., I can't really do that, can I? After all, I've also long used the 2245 date for the Enterprise, as another example of background info.
Fortunately, as I was tidying up the preface, I realized that 2245 date was used with the explicit caveat that it was an exception, and indeed, it appears I had not used the Venture's NCC or other questionably-visible ones at all on the site. Jolly good, then. However, thinking I had, I'd already soldiered on . . . and this ends up as a sort of exploration of what one would potentially accept if one were trying to be consistent about things:
With the Venture in mind, let's consider other info. Lately, I've been seeing what can be gleaned about the late 22nd and early 23rd Century Federation Starfleet. We don't know much of this time, direct from the show . . . we know of the USS Essex, NCC-173, a Daedalus Class Starfleet ship lost in 2167, per "Power Play"[TNG5]. Beyond that, we get the Enterprise, NCC-1701, built in 2245. And that, really, was about it.
However, with a little bit of backstage stuff included, we get more info. But, frankly, I don't know where to draw the line.
It started with:
1. The Starships of Franz Joseph
Is there really any difference between the Hermes registry and that of some other ship registries we got from backstage during the TNG era? No, not really. What about the Ptolemy registry? No, not really . . . though in the case of the Ptolemy we can at least argue that the information is contradictory, but the Hermes doesn't allow such an argument. After all, what's it contradictory to, really? Sure, it's low as hell, but that's about all that can be said.
Visually, the ships bearing the TOS style may seem odd, but, frankly, we have little evidence to the contrary. At best, we can just presume that the saucers and nacelles we see only approximate the TOS style, allowing some alternative detailing to occur. This would allow for something about as far from the TOS style as the Pacific 201 fan production's ship, for example, but that's about it.
However, there's only so far we can go with that before we've strayed from the images on the screen.
(Note: On the good side, though, with apologies to JAFisher, I think I can take the Hermes out of my main collection. The 1-to-1 TOS look is, effectively, supposition.)
Of course, referring back to our point about the Venture's NCC getting used by producers, there was never any likelihood of Okuda breaking out the Franz Joseph ships intentionally. Indeed, one could argue that they could technically be ignored simply because there was, for whatever reason, no likelihood of them ever appearing on-screen -- except for the time they did -- or having more information desired by producers.
2. The Cargo Ships of TOR
In the remaster of TOS there was an NCC registry that I found troublesome. In this case, it's for the drone freighter Woden that drone Enterprise computer controller M-5 found so offensive in "The Ultimate Computer". Previously this was just a reuse of the Botany Bay model, but for TOR they swapped it out for a model based on the grain ships from TAS, a style they'd also used for the Antares from "Charlie X". The Woden's registry cannot be seen but we're told the ship is marked NCC-325.
Besides the fact that's low as all hell -- that's less than double the registry of the Essex, NCC-173, a Daedalus Class ship lost (not built) in 2167 -- it also seems an undesirable precedent to have Starfleet-operated naval ore freighters left with NCC registries after being "converted to automation". NCC'ed drones just seem icky somehow. But if I accept the Venture's registry, how can I not accept the remastered Woden's? In general, I really can't.
Even if I tried to avoid NCC-325, the Antares herself is almost as bad.
|(The nacelle reads NCC-501)|
(Now, there is one unique "out" in this case. If I were really set on ignoring it or other TOR details, I actually can do so. The last known good canon policy statement regarding the remaster of the Original Series, from Okuda himself, is that evidence from either version can be used, case by case. In other words, we have free reign to pick and choose. That would, however, make me feel kinda dirty, and dealing with that is a whole 'nother post. For the time being, then, I'd prefer to either (a) take TOR in its entirety or (b) not just discard TOR data without a very good reason involving words like "breaks continuity" or "clear error" or "obvious in-joke".)
Potentially, this type of ship, with its somewhat unique "fat-capped" nacelles (referring to the larger circumference of the aft and forwardmost bits) represent an older type of nacelle that should be considered.
3. Ship Lists
Beyond the Franz Joseph ships, a great deal of vessel name and registry data has come from various lists shown on various displays in the franchise. From the first such chart at Starbase 11 to the embarrassingly named but nevertheless informative Starfleet Battle Group Omega chart from Star Trek: Nemesis, and with many examples in-between, such charts probably provide the largest percentage of vessel registries known, far exceeding model labeling events. And, outside of obvious in-jokes like NCC-42 or NCC-221B, folks tend to accept those registries (or, if you're a Memory Alpha editor, you accept those, too, because you don't even get the jokes).
However, there are occasions where the charts are not exactly as readable as we'd like to pretend, though we tend to try to use the information anyway, especially if there's a backstage-info "alley-oop" of the screens getting provided. Of course, the remastering of TNG to HD has been a great help in this regard. Compare the torment of this Flare thread about trying to read a "Starship Deploy Status" chart in standard definition versus the current version of the Memory Alpha article in the link (where the chart's almost perfectly readable. Still, though, there are charts or screens or dedication plaques that, even in high definition, just can't be read, but if we get information about them we tend to still use it.
An example is the Starship Mission Assignments screen from Star Trek VI. While some of the info is the same as the more legible Operation Retrieve briefing chart info, some is just not legible on screen at all, yet those of us hungry for details tend to use them . . . though using the unseen fourth page seems especially naughty.
But what to do in the case of clearly contrary data?
4. The Excelsior Study Models
The Antares type would pop up early on, as well, perhaps in the 2170s, with the Oberth Class being an early joint Andorian-human contribution in the 2180s. In-between, by necessity, would have to be the Saladin and Hermes types, despite their TOS appearance. Somewhere in all this I'd have included the Medusan type, as well. Circa 2210 the Constitution or an early version would've entered stage left, with that NCC-1404 circa 2230. Finally the TOS Constitutions were built in 2245, with the Mirandas appearing around a decade later. Somewhere in the mix that funky sliver of a McQuarrie ship seen in the ST3 starbase would've appeared, probably fifty years old at the time.