Chrono-Volumetrics Addendum: Epistemological Consistency

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?

Well, yes, at least a bit.  It's highly likely that had producers wanted to know the registry of the USS Venture to have some character state it, they'd have asked Okuda and the gang and gone with 71854 (unless they had a good reason not to).    The same was not true when it comes to EU data getting treated as real data for Lucas or his universe.

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

I've long been aware that Franz Joseph's Star Fleet Technical Manual ships appeared on Star Trek II and especially Star Trek III computer screens. Trekplace long ago had that info, and EAS also reviewed it. However, operationally, I never really included them in my overall thinking . . . much like Okuda, et al.

Recently, however, I decided to at least include them in my collection of digital models and for volumetric analysis, and SketchUp user JAFisher44 had created some perfectly good renditions of the ships in question. But, I found myself confronted with the delightful model of the Ptolemy bearing a registry NCC-3800, which is close to the NCC-3801 that was in the SFTM image that was used on-screen in the films. This, of course, doesn't fit the clear chronology of registries that began appearing in the TMP era and which continued in the TNG era, so for later display purposes I was first going to just remove the leading "3" to make it a more sensible number.

However, realizing I was thereby creating new information, I literally removed the registry from the model entirely, which was unsatisfying (and frankly sort of silly looking with just "NCC -" hanging out) but had the advantage of not creating false information . . . at least in principle.  (For all I know those would best be NAR or something else entirely.)

This wasn't the only issue to deal with in that vein.  The Hermes, for example, bore the registry of NCC-585 in the SFTM, and while that registry wasn't readable in the film it was, along with a lot of other information, on the screen, albeit without clear association with the USS Hermes name.

The visually identical "Destroyer" (the Saladin Class) is even worse, with an NCC of just 500.

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. 

Beyond the registry, of course, there's the readable word "Scout" and all that info blurbed on the lower right of the Hermes screen, with references to vessel mass, dimensions, armament, speed, and more.   Sure, it's unreadable on the films, but we know what it says from the SFTM.  Where do we draw the line?

While the FJ issue could be swept under the rug, things have only gotten worse.  

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

Not yet written was this one more section.   A realization had also struck about the Excelsior study models.   One, the "Alka-Selsior" (an in-joke I was going to either ignore or ascribe to some alien language), bore a registry of NCC-1404.   That put the vessel as having a likely build date in the 2220s.

As can readily be seen, short of arguing for a nacelle-replacing refit (which tended not to happen after the 2270s or 80s), the ship doesn't quite fit the TOS aesthetic.   It does resemble the Oberth Class aesthetic, however, and those ships have registries in the low 600s.   Rather than presume a refit, I've been pondering that they always looked like that, reflecting an alien influence ... say, an 'Andorian strain' ... distinct from the round nacelles of the human-built craft of the era.   This could simply be another example of such a more diverse fleet, and as I pondered the late 22nd and early 23rd Century Starfleet, I was basically going to be heading in that direction.   The art deco nacelles of the Enterprise refit of TMP (and the Miranda before her, in my view) would thus tend to reflect a union of these styles, to some extent, and a more unified fleet.

5.  Quasi-Conclusion

Incidentally, where I was headed would've basically required me to have a history from 2161 to 2271ish that featured the Daedalus Class at the founding of the Federation, with the "warp seven beauties" class mentioned in "These Are The Voyages"[ENT4] appearing somewhat soon after.

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.

I've mentioned previously resisting the idea, but, let's once again note that it's not impossible that the Constitution Class actually was the follow-on to the Daedalus, especially given the possibility of this being the shape of the early Constitution . . . it would only require an example of a far lower NCC:

While some of those semi-canonical possibilities are tantalizing and others are just annoying, there are things that are very much canon . . .

6.  Actual Conclusions

1.  The Antares type dates back to NCC-501 at least, and as of the TOS era features a slightly unique nacelle type.
2.  The Oberth Class dates back to the low NCC-600s, if not 602 itself.  
(Ships of similar vintage were running around in the 2272 timeframe, e.g. the Revere 595.)
3.  A vessel with spherical hull and TOS-style nacelles was active near the Medusan homeworld in the 2260s, and this may have been a ship of older vintage and more numerous construction.
4.  As of the 2280s, the ship classes known as Ptolemy, as well as the Hermes, definitely exist.   I don't see any need to have the Hermes/Saladin split, though the Hermes hull definitely has scout and destroyer variants.    They appear to have TOS-style nacelles and the saucers likely have a TOS or near-TOS aesthetic, though very little is known of the types.

I hope to expand on these and other details over time.

No comments: