The Nature of the Enterprise-D

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The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby ArcticFox » Sun Nov 05, 2017 11:45 pm

The Enterprise-D is sort of unique among not just Star Trek ships but science fantasy in general. It's a weird ship with weird contradictions. It's a ship with families and civilians aboard and yet it's the flagship of the Federation and the command ship for more than one military task force. It's got a relaxed, comfortable feel and yet is seen in battle on many occasions. It's hard to really understand what this ship is supposed to be, even after 7 full seasons and a movie. It doesn't help that it's wrapped in yet another, larger debate over the nature of Starfleet and whether or not it's a military organization.

I've been thinking a lot about the Galaxy class starship and really trying to understand what the showrunners were trying to do with it as I prepare for my next scale model project of the Enterprise-D and I've come up with an answers that, I think, accounts for this.

Just what is the Enterprise-D?

Well, looking just at the design of the ship itself, we find a ship that has a standard Starfleet crew, but has hundreds of civilians, including children. The ship is plush, soft, comfortable. It has potted plants,

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artwork, a theater, concert hall, comfortable places to sit in the corridors,

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at least one lounge (Ten Forward),

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an arboretum, multiple holodecks, lavish crew quarters,

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and a bridge that seems to look more at home on a cruise ship than a military vessel.

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If you had never seen a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and knew NOTHING about this ship other than it's NOT a cruise ship, what would you think of it? What would you think the purpose of this ship was?

If your answer is deep range exploration, where the crew would expect to be underway for years and years at a time without shore leave, spacedock or the chance to go home, then you're right. All the comforts and amenities suddenly make perfect sense, as you'd want a ship where people could live for years at a time without ever setting foot on a planet surface and still feel at home and comfortable. You'd have bright lights, large rooms, comfort and lots of amenities.

That being the case, it's easy to see where the Enterprise-D's mission really is more analogous to this ship's:

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than that of any military vessel. If you're not a Babylon 5 fan, this ship is the Cortez, a deep range exploration vessel whose job it is to explore beyond known space, chart stars, make first contact and return home with knowledge and new data.

Sound familiar at all?

And yet we Trekkies often make the argument that the Enterprise-D is more an example of a military vessel, perhaps a battleship or at least a heavy cruiser. Why is that? There's nothing about the appearance of this ship:

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that says "military."

Come on, guys, let's be honest. It doesn't and you know it.

So why do we think of it as military?

Because the show writers wrote so many militaristic episodes and roles for this ship. That's why.

Let's be honest. Having a Federation starship in a pitched battle with a Romulan Warbird is a way more exciting prospect than that same ship plotting *gasp* yet another gaseous anomaly. Exploration stories can be interesting but they can also easily become old, boring and tired. So every once in a while the Enterprise had to charge phasers and go guns blazing... well okay that's fine... but the writers took this too far.

More than once the Enterprise is described as the command ship for the sector. This is why Captain Picard was captured by the Cardassians and interrogated. This is why Picard commanded the task force that blockaded Romulan space. The Enterprise was conceived as an exploration ship, designed as an exploration ship, described as an exploration ship, and then was constantly put in military roles to keep the show exciting.

And it is definitely a contradiction. Why would a deep range exploration ship be in federation space so much that it could serve in the role of sector command ship? Why would it be staying in a local sector? Enterprise was constantly ferrying diplomats, medical supplies, responding to distress signals... It almost never seemed to be out doing the thing it was designed for.

It didn't help that the Enterprise seemed to return to Earth more often then every other featured Federation ship combined.

This hurt our ability to latch on to what this ship was supposed to be. We were constantly told it was a ship of exploration and yet it was a diplomatic transport. We were told it was a ship of peace and yet it was constantly firing weapons. In Deep Space Nine we often saw massive space battles with several Galaxy class starships involved. Why weren't these exploration ships out exploring the edges of Federation space? (Well, the answer is because it was cheaper to re-use the Enterprise-D models. That's why we also saw plenty of Miranda and Excelsior class ships.)

I'm not saying these things to be critical per se. The show had to be exciting or nobody would watch it. I think the problem was that the initial idea of the Enterprise-D was just unrealistic for the television environment. There's a reason Babylon 5 didn't feature the Cortez or any ship like it.

What's weird is that, internally, the various showrunners did keep the Enterprise's true nature in mind. For instance, the Voyager, featured in its own show, was much smaller than the Enterprise-D with less than half the crew and yet was faster, and more maneuverable than the Enterprise, and outgunned her with more powerful weapon systems. That's because Voyager is more like a warship. In a stand up one-on-one fight Janeway's Voyager would blast Picard's Enterprise to bits. Still comfortable and lavish on the inside, that doesn't seem to ever go away, but she did not have all of the amenities and interior space Enterprise-D had.

So what's the point?

The point is that this is why the Enterprise-D seems to contradict itself so much. It was intended to be a ship purely for exploration in deep space, but the writers didn't use it in that way very often. So we're left with the history of a military vessel but the design and appearance of a deep range explorer.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby Chozon1 » Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:30 am

You've--perhaps intentionally--wandered into the argument baby Spock had with Sarek. :P "If the Federation ships are about peaceful exploration, why do they carry so many guns?"

Spocks reply? "Spess is dangerous bro." >_>

Point is...I don't think I've ever seen it that way. I've always seen it more in line with Gene Roddenberry's original pitch of 'Wagon Train in space'. Exploring new frontiers is dangerous, so you carry guns. Lot's of them. That doesn't make a wagon a tank, simply the vehicle at hand if you happen to fall into a combat situation.

With the Galaxy class, it was pretty much the same thing, right? It's the backbone of the fleet. Built to survive pretty much anything, spend long times in deep space without needing aid. A flying starbase, essentially. It's not built for war, but in an organization without warships (according to the rhetoric. At least until the Defiant was built) it's pretty much the next best thing.

If you need someone to get someplace safely, you reach for the toughest ship. If you need something to soak up damage in battle, you send in the toughest ship. If you need someone to examine an anomaly in dangerous territory, you send the toughest ship and leave the navel gazing to science vessels. I like how this is actually examined over the course of DS9, and subtly ignored in TNG, because it speaks to the captains viewpoints of each.

What is the Federations role and goal? It wasn't just the Enterprise doing a lot of fighting. The federation only wanted peace on its own terms, and someone like PIcard would blithely ignore that reality and toe the party line for sake of the Federation. Battles happened, but only in the course of peaceful exploration and diplomacy. If a crew member died to some terrible anomaly, it was a tragedy for the sake of science.

Sisko didn't do that. Which is why he had the Defiant commissioned and embroiled the Federation in an open war. Every death on his hands was personal, and he wrought vengeance for it from time to time. He didn't want to pretend his ship was for science; he wanted a warship without the face paint.

So in the end I think it more likely that...the Galaxy class was--in a strangely realistic way I don't imagine the writers intentionally wrote--'created for exploration' in the same sense that early settlers and west-goers 'only wanted to find farm land'. A nice end goal reached by a road paved with blood. It was the party line on the posters and speakers, but not the reality.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby ArcticFox » Mon Nov 06, 2017 4:09 pm

Lots of interesting points there. I don't disagree with any of them, I'll just say I have a different perspective based on expectations born out of a time when the original Star Trek was the only Star Trek, and TNG was new.

You're definitely right about the logic behind a Galaxy class having weapons systems and being a very potent combat vessel, in that it's meant to be able to defend itself without any support from a fleet. I just think it's interesting that for all its size, it's still outgunned by smaller vessels whose purpose is more oriented toward defense, like Intrepid and Defiant class ships.

That said, we do still have a contradiction in that a Galaxy class ship that's clearly more powerful in battle when unencumbered by the saucer section often goes into a battle without separating first, as we frequently see in Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War. Lots of Galaxy class ships there, all of which should have been going in without their saucers. I think that points to an oversight by the FX team who either didn't bother concerning themselves with it or who forgot that a Galaxy class ship fights better without it.

The design of a ship like Enterprise-D was obviously intended to include the families of the crew not only as passengers, but as residents of the ship. Naturally that would mean the ship isn't maximized for combat effectiveness. That makes sense. From a military standpoint, that does still mean the ship isn't likely to be your go-to vessel for fleet combat operations.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby Chozon1 » Tue Nov 07, 2017 10:33 am

You're definitely right about the logic behind a Galaxy class having weapons systems and being a very potent combat vessel, in that it's meant to be able to defend itself without any support from a fleet. I just think it's interesting that for all its size, it's still outgunned by smaller vessels whose purpose is more oriented toward defense, like Intrepid and Defiant class ships.
The Defiant was built for war. I'm fairly sure (been awhile since I've watched DS9) its guns were originally so powerful they would break the ship, and so it was dry docked until Sisko requested it to visit the Gamma quadrant. The Intrepid class was just way more advanced. If I remember correctly, wasn't it actually the class that was intended to retire the Galaxy? Or am I thinking of something else? I think in one of the TNG era movies/early Voyager episodes the Enterprise was under threat of being decommissioned/constantly disparaged because it was simply getting old and could not compare to the newer Intrepid line. But I might be getting that mixed up with the original Enterprise.
That said, we do still have a contradiction in that a Galaxy class ship that's clearly more powerful in battle when unencumbered by the saucer section often goes into a battle without separating first, as we frequently see in Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War. Lots of Galaxy class ships there, all of which should have been going in without their saucers. I think that points to an oversight by the FX team who either didn't bother concerning themselves with it or who forgot that a Galaxy class ship fights better without it.
Maybe Picard just thought it looked cooler, but it didn't actually work better? :P

I'm pretty sure you nailed it though. That or doing the graphical effects/fight scenes would have been a lot more expensive.

Either way; I still think that it's not a matter of the Galaxy class being the best warships; simply the best they had available. There weren't any Defiant's or Intrepid's in the TNG era, and even going into DS9 and Voyager. Voyager was really the first completely functional Intrepid class (I know there was the actual Intrepid, but something happened to it. I can't remember), I believe. And the Defiant series was only manufactured en masse after O'Brien and crew fixed its many issues.

From my lack of knowledge regarding Star Trek ships, it seems like it was science vessels, transports, or Galaxy's. And of those, the Galaxy is the best choice for combat (as we infrequently see over the course of the series, as numerous smaller Starfleet vessels are one-shotted by the enemy of the day), even though it's basically a luxury liner.

But wait! If we follow that theory into the dark realm of the Star Trek-apologist, it could be argued that the reason so many Galaxy-class vessels did not separate in combat was because of the ships captains unfamiliarity with combat. :O Because it wasn't meant to be a warship. And it was only Picards various battles on the edge of civilized space that taught him that his ship fought better in multiple parts.

...but that road I will not continue down. Because it's a TV show, and I learned early you should never defend TV show writers. XD
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby ArcticFox » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:43 pm

The Defiant was built for war. I'm fairly sure (been awhile since I've watched DS9)
It had been specifically designed to battle the Borg, which is also why it had a cloaking device permitted by a special agreement between Starfleet and the Romulans.
The Intrepid class was just way more advanced. If I remember correctly, wasn't it actually the class that was intended to retire the Galaxy? Or am I thinking of something else? I think in one of the TNG era movies/early Voyager episodes the Enterprise was under threat of being decommissioned/constantly disparaged because it was simply getting old and could not compare to the newer Intrepid line. But I might be getting that mixed up with the original Enterprise.
I believe you're thinking of Star Trek III, when Kirk wanted to take Enterprise to recover Spock's body from the Genesis planet but Starfleet command had decided that the Enterprise was to be decommissioned.

The Intrepid class represented a new era in starship design but wasn't designed to replace the Galaxy class. They were entirely different ships with entirely different missions. The Intrepid class was physically only about the same size as the TOS Enterprise, which means it would almost have fit in the saucer of a Galaxy.
Maybe Picard just thought it looked cooler, but it didn't actually work better? :P
I'm pretty sure you nailed it though. That or doing the graphical effects/fight scenes would have been a lot more expensive.
I think you hit pretty close to it. A Galaxy class ship with the saucer in place is way better looking than one with the saucer missing. Rule of cool dominates visuals.

But that's part of what I'm pointing out here. The way a Galaxy class ship like Enterprise is described and designed is in conflict with how they used it on the show, because they would otherwise have painted themselves into a corner by having to always detach the saucer for every combat engagement or never having stories about pushing Romulans back form the Neutral Zone or running diplomats around.
Either way; I still think that it's not a matter of the Galaxy class being the best warships; simply the best they had available. There weren't any Defiant's or Intrepid's in the TNG era, and even going into DS9 and Voyager. Voyager was really the first completely functional Intrepid class (I know there was the actual Intrepid, but something happened to it. I can't remember), I believe. And the Defiant series was only manufactured en masse after O'Brien and crew fixed its many issues.
Right, and both of those ship classes were probably implemented when Starfleet had to rebuild the fleet after the battle with the Borg at Wolf 359.
From my lack of knowledge regarding Star Trek ships, it seems like it was science vessels, transports, or Galaxy's. And of those, the Galaxy is the best choice for combat (as we infrequently see over the course of the series, as numerous smaller Starfleet vessels are one-shotted by the enemy of the day), even though it's basically a luxury liner.

But wait! If we follow that theory into the dark realm of the Star Trek-apologist, it could be argued that the reason so many Galaxy-class vessels did not separate in combat was because of the ships captains unfamiliarity with combat. :O Because it wasn't meant to be a warship. And it was only Picards various battles on the edge of civilized space that taught him that his ship fought better in multiple parts.

...but that road I will not continue down. Because it's a TV show, and I learned early you should never defend TV show writers. XD
Well that, and it wouldn't really hold water again because of well... writers. The assertion that Enterprise fought better without the saucer was made in the season 1 episode Heart of Glory. (An excellent episode) So that was a time when Picard hadn't fought the ship much. I don't think you're wrong about the idea that Starfleet captains wouldn't have had a ton of combat training... since even in Season 2 when the Enterprise conducted wargames using the old USS Hathaway as an adversary, both Riker and Picard initially seemed offended at the notion of having to practice for battle, yet they seemed to enjoy the fun enough once the game was underway. Star Trek writers have been fairly inconsistent about just how much combat tactics is a part of the Academy curriculum. I dunno maybe it's an elective...
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby Chozon1 » Wed Nov 08, 2017 11:16 am

If it weren't the late 80's/early 90's where everything had to have combat and explosions, I would think it was just more Starfleet politics and deception, honestly. Even the Ferangi lamented them. :P Starfleet would never officially train their captains in combat because it was not a military institution. Just like Starfleet would never have warships, because it was a peaceful entity. See? Their biggest ships have lounges and children!

Still, I have to wonder how the ship being in two parts is better. I know it was used a couple of times, but it seems like one section wouldn't have a warp core (how did it generate power?) and the saucer section lacked nacelles (no chance of escaping into warp).

Hang on, without the engines, how did the saucer even maneuver? Surely maneuvering thruster's wouldn't be good enough for combat.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby ArcticFox » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:13 pm

If it weren't the late 80's/early 90's where everything had to have combat and explosions, I would think it was just more Starfleet politics and deception, honestly. Even the Ferangi lamented them. :P Starfleet would never officially train their captains in combat because it was not a military institution. Just like Starfleet would never have warships, because it was a peaceful entity. See? Their biggest ships have lounges and children!
The '80s being all combat? Pffft have you seen the pilot of Discovery? Yikes...

But seriously though... I chalk that up to the conflict between what makes exciting TV and the utopian vision Roddenberry espoused. They talk like Roddenberry but act like what a TV audience wants.
Still, I have to wonder how the ship being in two parts is better. I know it was used a couple of times, but it seems like one section wouldn't have a warp core (how did it generate power?) and the saucer section lacked nacelles (no chance of escaping into warp).
It's not that having the ship in 2 parts was better. The idea was always that the saucer would hang back and not fight at all, and the star drive section would be the one to do the fighting, unencumbered by the saucer. The exception was in Best of Both Worlds Part II where Riker split the ship in two and had both sections involved in order to use an unorthodox tactic that Locutus (Picard) would not anticipate.
Hang on, without the engines, how did the saucer even maneuver? Surely maneuvering thruster's wouldn't be good enough for combat.
If you look at the Enterprise from the back, you'll see 3 impulse engines. One is at the center of the dorsal spine which would push the ship at sublight when the sections are separate, and two on wither side of the saucer where it attaches, which are part of the saucer itself and go with it when there's a separation. As for warp.... The tech manual says the saucer can do warp 2 on its own, but without warp nacelles or a warp core I don't see how that's supposed to happen.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby Chozon1 » Thu Nov 09, 2017 1:18 pm

The '80s being all combat? Pffft have you seen the pilot of Discovery? Yikes...
I'm refusing to watch it on the grounds that I won't be smackledorfed into paying for another streaming service. Also, I kinda figure it's going to be chock full of social commentary that I just don't care about. 90's era Trek was bad enough.
If you look at the Enterprise from the back, you'll see 3 impulse engines. One is at the center of the dorsal spine which would push the ship at sublight when the sections are separate, and two on wither side of the saucer where it attaches, which are part of the saucer itself and go with it when there's a separation. As for warp.... The tech manual says the saucer can do warp 2 on its own, but without warp nacelles or a warp core I don't see how that's supposed to happen.
I still don't get where it get's the power from. I was under the belief that a ships power came from it's warp core? Dilithium crystals and all that? If that's the case--barring plot batteries--then one section of the ship should be powerless. Is everything I know about Trek wrong? :O
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby ArcticFox » Thu Nov 09, 2017 3:18 pm

I'm refusing to watch it on the grounds that I won't be smackledorfed into paying for another streaming service. Also, I kinda figure it's going to be chock full of social commentary that I just don't care about. 90's era Trek was bad enough.
There are ways... 8)
I still don't get where it get's the power from. I was under the belief that a ships power came from it's warp core? Dilithium crystals and all that? If that's the case--barring plot batteries--then one section of the ship should be powerless. Is everything I know about Trek wrong? :O
They never really talked about it on TNG but it was mentioned often in TOS... that a starship has (at least) 3 separate sources of power.

1) The warp engine(s)... The primary source of energy for the starship and FTL
2) Impulse power... Fusion reactor(s) that powered the impulse engines for sublight travel and powered the ship's systems whenever the warp core was offline
3) Batteries for emergency backup.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby Chozon1 » Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:17 am

Cool. ^_^ I did not know that. I need to watch more TOS I 'spose. Used to watch it every Saturday, but our schedule changed to the point we are gone most Saturdays.
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Re: The Nature of the Enterprise-D

Postby ArcticFox » Sat Nov 11, 2017 3:45 pm

Cool. ^_^ I did not know that. I need to watch more TOS I 'spose. Used to watch it every Saturday, but our schedule changed to the point we are gone most Saturdays.
It's always been kinda weird to me that for all the technobabble TNG is notorious for, it doesn't often discuss the tech that had already been established. They did occasionally, but not nearly as often as Geordi reconfiguring some component to emit some sort of resonance frequency and the you'd never heard about it again.
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