I started writing this article last year but it soon spiralled out of control, so I had to take a break from it. Given how long it became, I’m releasing it in several parts. Also, I’m not covering Discovery here.
Star Trek is a massive, sprawling franchise that has been with us for over fifty years. In that time, numerous writers, directors and producers have worked on the show, so it’s no wonder that the franchise has accumulated a fair amount of continuity errors and inconsistencies – some accidental, some deliberate.
However, what’s also true is that science-fiction tends to attract the kind of people who spend a lot of time obsessing over details and wanting everything to fit together into a coherent and logical narrative. In fact, as part of my research for this post, I ended up reading a 68-page forum thread on continuity errors in Star Trek, which went down such rabbit holes as the relative merits of Voyager and Enterprise; whether Chekov was on board the NCC-1701 during the episode Space Seed, and even the definition of canon itself. Having emerged from that thread with some inspiration, and some ideas of my own, I now present to you a range of Star Trek continuity errors that we, as fans, have to come up with some really creative explanations just to rationalise them away.
James R Kirk
Even if you’ve never watched a single minute of Star Trek, it’s likely that you know the name James T Kirk. So why then, in TOS pilot Where No Man Has Gone Before, did his best friend Gary Mitchell put the name James R Kirk on Kirk’s gravestone?
Obviously, the real reason is that, at that early stage, the writers hadn’t even decided on Kirk’s middle name, but we’re here to explain it away anyway. Attempts have already been made in the non-canon novels – the ‘R’ either being an in-joke between Kirk and Mitchell, or representing an alternate timeline version of Kirk.
The simplest explanation is, of course, that Mitchell simply forgot Kirk’s middle name – let’s face it, how many of us remember all the middle names and birthdays of all of our friends? Alternatively, perhaps it was something Gary regularly did to wind Kirk up – since Kirk so often introduces himself as “James T Kirk”, you can bet that having someone deliberately misremember his middle initial would really get on his nerves.
Was Vulcan conquered?
We all know that continuity and backstory wasn’t well established during the time of TOS. Take this exchange from season one’s The Conscience of the King:
SPOCK: My father’s race was spared the dubious benefits of alcohol.
MCCOY: Now I know why they were conquered.
We’ll never know what the intent of this throwaway line was. Was the idea that humanity had conquered Vulcan and forcibly brought it into an alliance with Earth? Or perhaps that humans had rescued Vulcans from some unknown oppressors, perhaps as part of the mysterious Vulcanian Expedition.
Whatever the case, by the time of The Immunity Syndrome, it is stated that Vulcan has never been conquered, so what gives? Was McCoy drunkenly talking out of his arse, trying to get a rise out of Spock? Is he referring to a historical incident, perhaps involving the Andorians or the Romulans? Maybe, in McCoy’s mind, Vulcans were ‘conquered’ by the teachings of Surak, as they metaphorically surrendered themselves to logic in favour of emotion.
Uhura’s mind wipe
In the episode The Changeling, the Nomad probe completely wipes Uhura’s mind, requiring her to be completely re-educated from scratch as we see later in the episode. Given what a cheap thing this is to do to a main character, it’s perhaps for the best that this is never referenced again. Indeed, by the next episode, Uhura is back at the communications station, being as competent as ever. But can we reconcile what happened with in-universe continuity?
One possibility is that Uhura has truly lost all of her knowledge and memories, and spends the rest of her life without them. Her crewmates focus on getting her up to speed with her job, but from that point on, everything she knew previously is gone.
My preferred explanation, however, is that Nomad’s memory wipe was either incomplete or imperfect. Over time, and with the prompts provided by her re-education, Uhura’s knowledge and memories did actually return on their own, so although she struggled in the immediate term, after a few weeks or months she was back to normal.
How many decks?
Any given Star Trek series is pretty good at remembering how its ship is laid out, and not making any ridiculous gaffes. When it comes to the movies, though, it’s another matter.
The most egregious offender in this and many other categories is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Much of the film is set aboard the Enterprise-A, a Constitution-class starship which is unlikely to have had many more than the original Enterprise’s 21 decks. As per usual, deck numbering starts with the bridge on deck 1 at the top, and the numbers increase as you go down the ship. Except in that one scene where Kirk, Spock and McCoy rocket up a turbolift shaft, and the deck numbers not only increase in the wrong direction, but go up to a whopping 78.
How can we possibly explain this away? It seems unlikely that the Enterprise-A could have had either that many decks, or a numbering system contrary to every other ship in the fleet. We can only assume that the labelling itself was incorrect – perhaps one of Scotty’s engineers was on the hook to get it repainted, but just hadn’t quite got around to it yet.
Flash forward to the 24th century, where Star Trek: First Contact introduces us to the sleek new Enterprise-E. According to its captain, one Jean-Luc Picard, the ship has 24 decks – but later on, Lieutenant Daniels reports that the Borg control “Decks 26 through 11”. What’s going on?
We can come up with several possible explanations for this one, some more plausible than others:
- Picard misspoke when told Lily Sloane the ship had 24 decks – he meant to say a higher number, but accidentally said the wrong thing. He instantly realised his mistake, but decided it would look undignified to correct himself. Besides, Lily was unlikely to be on board long enough to pick up on his mistake.
- Picard actually doesn’t know how many decks there are on his ship – given that he’s a generally competent captain and had been in charge of the Enterprise-E for a year at that point, this seems unlikely.
- Some deck numbers are missed out because they are ‘bad luck’ – for example, some Western hotels don’t have a floor 13, and some Eastern hotels don’t have a floor 4, due to the inauspicious nature of those numbers in certain cultures. However, this has never been indicated to be a thing that happens in the pragmatic, multicultural Star Trek universe.
- A Borg invasion is a scary and stressful thing – can we really blame Lieutenant Daniels for saying “Deck 26” when he meant “Deck 24”?
By the time of Star Trek Nemesis, the Enterprise-E has a Deck 29, but since several years have passed and other changes to the ship are apparent, we can easily assume that the ship has undergone a refit at some point.
Join me next time for issues with TNG, from the Federation’s use of money to Spot the Cat’s sex change.