Sunday, 2 June 2013

Retconning the Enterprises

It's been a stressful week in a stressful month in a stressful year. For a bit of relief, a quick, easy post to vent about something completely unimportant that bugs me regardless of its triviality: The registry numbers and classes of the various Starships Enterprise.

The original USS Enterprise NCC-1701 was reasonable enough, though it would have been nice if they'd clearly defined a decent meaning for NCC, or better still, made up a meaning first  and chosen some other letters to fit it. Maybe Star Fleet Registry (SFR), if you don't mind splitting up the word Starfleet, or Star Ship Number (SSN), or Starfleet Commissioning Number (SCN) or some such. Trying to work out NCC in reverse has not worked well at all; the best anyone's managed is the odd-seeming Naval Commissioning Contract. And while we're at it, the USS abbreviation is dodgy too. It's obviously there as a hangover from an early assumption that this would be a show about Americans in space, but now we're stuck with the awkward prefix of United (Federation of Planets, please just infer this bit on your own) Star Ship. It's hard to say today if USS rolls off the tongue easily because it's a good combination of sounds, or if we're just so used to it now. UFS (for United Federation Starship) seems close enough to me.

But USS Enterprise NCC-1701, Constitution class, worked well enough. Then they sank it.
Voom... Boom! Zoom! Doom.
The replacement should have been something shiny and new, but some production and marketing people were too fucking worried about brand recognition. So instead we got the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A, also Constitution class. Virtually identical to its predecessor, it was the starship equivalent of conveniently bringing back a dead-but-popular character through improbable circumstances. The -A suffix just messes up the registry numbers, and I struggle to believe that people were especially devoted to the number 1701 until the late '80s, when Star Trek IV and The Next Generation both insisted on re-using it with letter suffixes at the end. In other words, we were taught to love the number, it probably wouldn't have emerged naturally. It's just a fucking number! Being attached to names I can understand, but not arbitrary numbers. It's also left quite a bit of uncertainty about what other ships should or shouldn't get letter suffixes. There have been dozens of re-used names (often creating additional clashes, but that's a different complaint), but hardly any other examples of re-used registry numbers with letter prefixes. What exactly does Starfleet require for a number to get recycled?

Re-using the Constitution class was even more dodgy, as this was a 40 year old design at the time, and the Enterprise-A was retired (quite reasonably, considering its competition) after only 8 years of service. This means that it was either newly built in spite of the fact that this was obviously a terrible waste of resources, or (and this is the official story) they took another Constitution class vessel (the USS Yorktown) and told it, "Sorry, other vessel, but screw your own slightly less illustrious name and legacy. You're the spare Enterprise now."

I don't like it.

If I were in charge, back in 1980-something, I would have replaced the first Enterprise with the USS Enterprise NCC-2001, positioning it as the second Excelsior class starship to be commissioned, after the USS Excelsior NCC-2000. The Excelsior was clearly superior, it was shiny and modern, and making the new Enterprise of that same class would have suggested progress and reason, rather than pointless and unhelpful sentiment. Making it second of its class (probably; Starfleet registry numbers have always been unpredictable) would repeat things nicely, as the previous one was second of the Constitution class, and the 01 at the end offers a little visual similarity too. It even fits retroactively with Enterprise NX-01, the ship much further back in history, from Star Trek: Enterprise. But I have issues with the name and number of that ship too, including its potential clash with the conjectural USS Dauntless NCC-01.

Next in real-world order was Next Gen's NCC-1701-D, but it's also obviously established that there were a -B and a -C in between too. The -B really was an Excelsior class, 9 years later than it should have been. Then -C was an Ambassador class, -D a Galaxy class and eventually -E a Sovereign class.

If it had been up to me, though, I'd have blended what we know as the -A and -B into one ship, an Excelsior that replaces the first Constitution. This would have zero effect on the plots of existing series and movies. Sulu could still take command of Excelsior, Kirk could still retire in 2293, and Harriman could take command in the same year, after the -2001 gets a bit of a refit. Easy.

Then the -C would need a registry number somewhere in the Ambassador class range, perhaps NCC-10701, keeping the 01 at the end, and even looking more similar to -1701, while sitting only just beyond the USS Ambassador's registry of NCC-10561 (which isn't strictly canon and could be adjusted to -10700 or something very easily). The Enterprise-D could instead be numbered NCC-70701, just beyond USS Galaxy NCC-70637 (which was only numbered in canon years after the series ended). And the -E could follow the USS Sovereign's NCC-73811 with NCC-73901 or something, since the Sovereign's number also wasn't fixed in canon. But these could all have been sorted out from the start, if only someone had thought of them.

So that's my ranty vent for the weekend out the way. If I got to retcon the Star Trek franchise, I'd apparently make Star Trek: Nemesis a pretty shitty movie about the adventures of the crew of the UFS Enterprise SCN-73901. Because a rose by any other prefix and registry number would smell about the same.
Crunch: More or less smart than the self-destruct switcheroo?