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Mistakes to Avoid When Writing TOS

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All of the items below are intended to be helpful for those who want to get their TOS trivia correct while they're writing stories; nothing here is meant to rain on anyone's parade. I mean, you can make Kirk purple and Spock red and McCoy green if you want to - it's FAN FICTION, after all. ;-) But people who like Star Trek often also like facts, so here are a few such facts that might make things easier for writers who DO want their stories to be accurate depictions of the TOS world.


Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Stories Set in the Universe of The Original Series (at the time of the TV show)

1. TOS has LANDING PARTIES, not away teams.

"Away team" and "away mission" are terms that came into use only AFTER the original series went off the air in 1969; what we had at the time of the original series was landing parties.

You can choose a landing party, equip a landing party, beam down a landing party, strand a landing party, lose contact with your landing party, have them stuck in one of the ubiquitous caves or troubled by the even-more-ubiquitous ion storms — or get them into terrible trouble in some new way (for which, yay!). But don't do any of this to an "away team" on an "away mission," because TOS didn't call them that.

2. There are no replicators in TOS.

At the time of the original series, the Enterprise had food synthesizers, also sometimes called "food slots" or "food processors."  (The latter term obviously predates the Cuisinart by many years. :-D)  Usually they use the food synthesizers without calling them anything, but they're explicitly called "food synthesizers" in the second-season episode "By Any Other Name" and in the third-season episode "Day of the Dove," so that's how we know what their in-world name is.

Replicators are a later technology, so they were not yet available. You can have the food synthesizers produce any FOOD you like, but they can't make uniforms, equipment, or other items.  Also, the food synthesizers aren't operated verbally, as replicators are; they're operated by sticking a card into a slot.  These cards are a lot thicker than anything *I* would call a card, but Nurse Chapel referred to them as "cards" in "And The Children Shall Lead," so card is what they are.

For example, towards the beginning of "A Private Little War," Kirk says, "Inform ship's stores that we'll need native costumes." At the end of that same episode, he says, "Spock, ask Scotty how long it would take him to reproduce a hundred flintlocks." In both cases, it's clear that the items are either being carried already made-up (the costumes) or are being made by an actual person (the guns).

In "Patterns of Force," Kirk asks for McCoy to be beamed down in a Nazi uniform by saying, "Patch the historical computer into the uniform section."  Later, McCoy complains that "the computer" gave him the wrong size boot.  It's clear that the Enterprise's crew is able to use the computer to assist in the fabrication of some items, but it is never called a "replicator," and the technology used appears to be different.

You can have the Enterprise make or carry whatever you wish; it's clear they have the ability to make a variety of items for a variety of purposes. Just don't say that whatever-it-is came out of a replicator.

3. In addition to being the first officer, Spock is also the SCIENCE Officer.

I've seen stories where the authors make Spock ignorant of basic human anatomy, ignorant of the facts of reproduction in humans, ignorant of how two men have sex, ignorant of all sorts of things that Spock would definitely know.

In TOS, Spock shows himself to be an expert in all of the natural sciences, including Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, as well as an expert in Computer Science. He also appears to be familiar with the social sciences, such as Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology. And even though they're not sciences, Spock has shown himself conversant with History, Music, Literature — even Folklore — and the list of his knowledge and expertise goes on ... and on.

This is a man who knows all about quadrotriticale, who can recognize Brahms' handwriting when he sees it, who can lecture on the role of familiars in magical practice (!), who can recognize Nazi uniforms at a glance, who can recommend a particular type of heart operation when his father needs one. Having him be surprised — for example — that human testicles are external is simply not believable. Spock almost certainly knows more about human anatomy and physiology than Kirk does.

You can make Spock surprised that he is putting his knowledge to personal use, because he never expected to be doing whatever you're having him do. You can make him have trouble with the emotional implications of the course of action you're having him embark on. But making him ignorant of facts is not believable; Spock knows more or less everything.

4. No one shrieks "Captain on the Bridge" when Kirk walks onto the bridge.  And no one salutes anyone, ever.

Kirk exits the turbolift and takes his chair without fanfare, except in as much as Shatner's every step is a fanfare. :-)

They do say this occasionally in three of the movies that star the TOS cast, but NOT — not even once — in any of the 79 episodes of the TV show.

Gene Roddenberry intentionally made Starfleet only a QUASI-military organization, and he states in the TOS Writer's Guide that certain "annoying medieval leftovers" — such as saluting — are not present in Starfleet. Nicholas Meyer thought of Star Trek as "the navy in space" and added some militaristic touches to the movies he helmed that Roddenberry didn't have in the original Star Trek. Notice that "Captain on the Bridge" is NOT said in TMP (the movie Roddenberry made) or in TSFS or TVH (the movies that Nimoy made). In other words, it's not said in any of the movies made by people who thoroughly understand TOS.

5. There's no "ready room" just off the bridge.

Short consultations between only a few people take place on the bridge itself or in the captain's quarters; longer meetings or consultations that involve more than a few people take place in the briefing room. (The Enterprise was redesigned more than once between the time when Kirk was in charge of her and the time when Picard got a completely different ship with a similar name, so the Enterprise-D has a lot of features that the original Enterprise doesn't have.)

6. Kirk is a bit of a ladies' man, yes, but he uses his sexuality as a tool at least as often as he's involved in real relationships or in recreational sexuality.

We often see Kirk kissing some woman he just met five minutes ago, which proves that he's a total sex maniac, right? Um, no. :-)

Kirk does appreciate women, but most of Kirk's seductions are intended to accomplish a mission-related goal, such as to distract the woman, to secure her help, to gain more information about the situation, to stall for time, and so on. For example, he kisses Andrea in "What Are Little Girls Made Of" to try to confuse her and to gain her loyalty. He flirts with Miri in the episode of the same name in order to soothe her fears and to get her on their side. He kisses Sylvia in "Catspaw" to try to get information out of her. He kisses Marlena in "Mirror, Mirror" partly to maintain his cover and partly to gain her as an ally. Kelinda in "By Any Other Name," Shahana in "Gamesters of Triskelion" ... the list of women Kirk seduces in order to further non-sexual ends goes on and on. It's clear that Kirk's sexuality is a weapon as potent as his phaser. ;-) But using his charisma for instrumental purposes is very different from being totally driven by his sexuality.

And much of the time, Kirk doesn't even have a choice. Sylvia didn't him much choice. Deela in "Wink of an Eye" gave him NO choice, and Helen Noel was forced on him by Dr. Adams in "Dagger of the Mind." Nona used a drug to seduce Kirk against his will in "A Private Little War," and Elaan used her magic tears to seduce him against his will in "Elaan of Troyius."  Sargon and Thalassa use the bodies of Kirk and Ann Mulhall to make out in "Return to Tomorrow," but Kirk isn't kissing anybody.

The number of women Kirk kisses both willingly and for non-mission-related goals is actually very small: 

In Season 1, there's Areel Shaw in "Court Martial," Ruth in "Shore Leave," and Edith Keeler in "The City on the Edge of Forever."  (I'm excluding Janice Rand in "Enemy Within" because that was Evil Kirk, and Kirk makes it clear in "The Naked Time" that the whole Kirk can't or won't get involved with his yeoman.)   Andrea, Helen Noel, Miri, and Lenore Karidian were all mission-related.

In Season 2, there are NO women that Kirk kisses willingly for non-mission-related ends.  Sylvia, Marlena, Shahana, and Kelinda are ALL mission-related, and Nona gave him a date-rape drug to make him kiss her against his will.  (Janet Wallace pursues Kirk in "The Deadly Years," but he fends her off.)

In Season 3, there's Miramanee in "The Paradise Syndrome" (though since Kirk had amnesia then, it's not clear how much this should count), and there's Rayna in "Requiem for Methuselah."  He does try to make time with Miranda Jones in "Is There in Truth No Beauty," but she wasn't having any. :-)  Elaan, Deela, Marta, and Odona were all mission-related, and Vanna and Janice Lester were attackers.

So that's ... five women in three years — one of which was an amusement-park android and one of which Kirk got involved with when he'd lost his memory — which I think isn't actually all that much for a thirty-four-year-old man.  But then, starship captains are very busy folks. ;-)

7. Spock doesn't fall apart when it's cold; he handles cold BETTER than a human.

In the episode "All Our Yesterdays," Spock and McCoy are sent to an ice age.  After tromping through the snow for a time, Spock is still functioning well when McCoy is lying in the snow, urging him to go on without him, because McCoy's done for. McCoy has frostbite on both his hands and his face, and he can't feel his feet, so Spock hauls McCoy up out of the snow and drags him to Zarabeth's cave. This is not the portrait of a Vulcan who crumbles when the temperature drops. :-)

Yes, Vulcan is a hot planet, but that doesn't  mean that Vulcans crumble when it's cold.  Spock appears to believe it's beneath his dignity to crumble ever, and Vulcan stamina and fortitude ensure that Spock handles cold BETTER than humans do.

As for Vulcans' normal body temperature, most authors of fan fiction assume that Vulcans are hotter than humans, but there's exactly zero evidence for this in canon.  Vulcan THE PLANET is hotter, but that doesn't mean that Vulcans THE PEOPLE are hotter.  After all, humans who live in the Arctic and humans who live in the tropics all have the same body temperature. :-)

There was a fan-made publication called Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual that posited that Vulcan body temperature was 91F/32.78C. While most fan-made publications are considered non-canon, Paramount used several entries from this particular book in subsequent series, making the book ... still non-canon but closer than most fan works, and many long-time fans have used the book as "proof" that Vulcan body temperature is lower than that of humans.

There are two sources of information in TOS that suggest that Spock's body temperature is, in fact, lower than that of humans.

  a.  One is McCoy's comment in "The Paradise Syndrome," where he says, "Well, your Vulcan metabolism is so low it can hardly be measured, and as for the pressure, that green ice water you call blood..."  Given that McCoy so often speaks emotionally and figuratively, I don't take that as definitive evidence for lower body temperature, since McCoy could well mean "ice water" figuratively. Or he could be speaking the exact literal truth; it's hard to tell with McCoy. :-)

  b.  The other is the biobed readouts in "The Naked Time."  (I chose this episode because this is the only time that Spock is in a biobed when he's completely healthy.  All of the other times that we see him in a biobed, he's been clouted on the head, or he's in pon farr, or the salt vampire has just attacked him, or something else is wrong, things which could affect his normal readings.)  

If you recall that episode, when Joe Tormolen and Spock get back from the planet, McCoy checks them both out. A screenshot of the biobed monitor shows that the temperature reading for Spock is significantly lower than it is for Tormolen.  If TOS were being made today, I'd take this as definitive evidence that Vulcan body temperature is lower than that of humans.  But in 1966, most people didn't have the ability to record television shows and pore over them frame-by-frame, the way fanatics do today.  Whoever made the biobed readings for Spock in "The Naked Time" may not have expected viewers to look at and remember the readings, so I take those readouts as suggestive but not definitive.

I've taken screenshots of the monitor in both cases; here's a picture comparing them:
If you want the Vulcans in your story to have a higher body temperature, you can write them that way, since the data we have is certainly NOT definitive, and even if it were, fan fiction is often for making things the way we want them to be, rather than the way they are. :-)  However, no one should castigate authors who incorporate a lower temperature into their stories — which I have seen many reviewers do — because they're at least as likely to be right.

Regardless of whether Spock's normal body temperature is higher or lower than that of humans, what IS clear is that cold doesn't debilitate Spock unduly; he handles the cold BETTER than humans do.  So there's no need to have Spock shivering pathetically when it's not cold enough to bother Kirk or McCoy, and there's no need to have Kirk or McCoy gravely concerned that it's "too cold for Spock" when it's all of 50F/10C.

8.There are 430 people on the Enterprise.

At the time of the original five-year mission under James T. Kirk, the Enterprise had a complement of 430 crew. Not 200, not 1100. 430.

9. Spock knows when to call Kirk "Captain" and when to call him "Jim."

A very large percentage of fan stories have Kirk telling Spock to call him "Jim" instead of "Captain," but Spock's a smart guy, and he calls Kirk "Jim" when it's appropriate.

In general, Spock calls Kirk "Captain" in public during routine situations.  He calls Kirk "Jim" in private, during tense moments, or when he wants Kirk to pay extra-close attention to what he's saying.

In the very first TOS episode ever made that features Kirk — "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot — Spock calls Kirk "Captain" when they're in public, both when they're playing chess in the rec room and on the Bridge.  But when they're alone together in the briefing room, after the meeting, when Spock is trying to convince Kirk that Mitchell must be marooned or killed, then he calls Kirk "Jim."  He says, "We'll never reach an Earth base with him aboard, Jim. You heard the mathematics of it. In a month he'll have as much in common with us as we'd have with a ship full of white mice."

In other words, Spock begins as he means to go on, calling Kirk "Captain" in public and calling him "Jim" in private, during tense moments, or when he wants Kirk to pay extra-close attention to what he's saying.

My favorite example of a time when Spock calls Kirk "Jim" is probably during the end of Part 1 of "The Menagerie."  They've paused the court martial for a moment, and everyone but Kirk and Spock leave the room.  The instant they're alone, Kirk says, "Do you know what you're doing?  Have you lost your mind?"  And Spock replies, "Captain, Jim, please, don't stop me.  Don't let him stop me.  It's your career and Captain Pike's life."  They're in a very formal situation — they've just recessed from a court martial — so Spock starts out calling Kirk "Captain."  But "Captain" isn't right for what he needs to say.  They are alone, and it is a tense moment, and Spock does want Kirk to really pay attention – plus he wants to call on their friendship for a favor – so he switches to "Jim" before he's even started the rest of the sentence.  It's an exquisite example of just how well Spock navigates the use of Kirk's title and first name, switching easily depending on the circumstances.

One exception to the rule I've given here is during the confrontation between Kirk and Spock in Spock's quarters during "Amok Time" — the one where they have that talk about Vulcan biology.  Spock is highly uncomfortable during this conversation, very much on his dignity, and he needs the psychological distance that formality provides; hence, he calls Kirk "Captain" all during this conversation.  Again, whoever* wrote this conversation shows excellent understanding of the nuances of Spock's calling Kirk "Captain" vs. "Jim" and uses the formal title as a way of giving poor, uncomfortable Spock some distance.  Of course Spock calls him "Jim" during the emotional reunion at the end of the episode, and his having called Kirk "Captain" for the rest of the episode makes that heartfelt "Jim" all the sweeter. ;-)

Spock calls Kirk "Jim" once during "The Corbomite Maneuver," several times in "The Naked Time," once in "Charlie X," several times in "The Devil in the Dark" ...  Well.  I won't bore you with a listing of every single instance of when Spock calls Kirk "Jim." :-)  But in general, he calls Kirk "Captain" in public during routine situations.  He calls Kirk "Jim" in private, during tense moments, or when he wants Kirk to pay extra-close attention to what he's saying. 

* (Yes, Theodore Sturgeon wrote the script for "Amok Time," but the script was rewritten by Dorothy Fontana AND Gene Roddenberry AND Gene Coon, so we don't know who exactly was responsible for Spock's calling Kirk "Captain" during this conversation.)

10. Spock uses his hands all day, every day, at his console. He also plays the lute.

This suggests that the merest touch on his hands will NOT send him into transports of ecstasy. The whole Vulcan-hands-are-sensitive thing IS fun — I get that — but let's inject a bit of believability, okay?

11. The Enterprise is extremely well equipped and has FOURTEEN scientific laboratories.

I saw one author send Spock to "the Science Room." The Enterprise is not your local high school! It doesn't have a Science Room; in the TOS episode "Operation - Annihilate," we learned that it has FOURTEEN fully equipped and very busy LABORATORIES.

If you don't know enough about science to send your Spock to the lab, you might want to keep your Spock on the bridge. ;-)

12.  Spock is NOT the only Vulcan in Starfleet.

In "The Immunity Syndrome," Spock is momentarily overcome when he feels four hundred Vulcans die on the USS Intrepid, so we know that there were at least four hundred other Vulcans in Starfleet, and given that Vulcan is a prominent member of the Federation, there were probably more than that. 

One wonders how those starships without Vulcan science officers managed when they ran into races like the Melkotians and had no mind melders available or ran into giant space amoebas and had no one with Vulcan stamina to send out in a shuttlecraft.  Perhaps there's a reason why the Enterprise so frequently ran into derelict or dying starships. :-)

The official Star Trek database maintained by Paramount does say that Spock was the FIRST Vulcan in Starfleet, and although there are a lot of reasons why I think this is misguided of them, Paramount owns Spock and I don't. :-) 


13.  Gary Mitchell was never first officer of the Enterprise.

This is a mistake commonly made in fan fiction, and I think a lot of fanfic authors get it from each other. :-)  Mitchell was the helmsman — the same job Sulu would have later — not the first officer.

If you really want to have Mitchell be the Exec in your story, you can write it that way, because part of what fan fiction is FOR is for making things the way we want them to be, rather than the way they actually are.  But in what passes for reality when we're talking about Star Trek :-D, Mitchell was never the first officer.

Both Leonard Nimoy's autobiography I Am Spock, AND The Making of Star Trek — which was co-written by Gene Roddenberry — make it clear that Spock was first officer during the events of "Where No Man Has Gone Before," not Gary Mitchell. And I'd think Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Roddenberry would know. ;-)


14.  "Spock" is Spock's personal name; his family name is unpronounceable by humans and is never given in canon, though the novels make some suggestions.

In "This Side of Paradise," Leila Kalomi asks Spock if he has another name, and he replies, "You couldn't pronounce it."  In "Journey to Babel," Amanda makes it clear that it's their family name that's unpronounceable, when she tells Kirk to call her Amanda because he couldn't pronounce their Vulcan family name.  So yeah, all during the series, when they call Spock "Mr. Spock," they've been calling Spock the equivalent of calling Kirk "Mr. Jim."  One more thing our poor half-Vulcan has to adapt to while serving on a mostly human ship. :-)

D.C. Fontana — who was considered the "Vulcan expert" of the behind-the-scenes staff and who made up such Spockian details as the fact that his father was an ambassador and his mother a school teacher — revealed in an issue of the fanzine Spockanalia that she had intended his family name to be "Xtmprsqzntwlfd," but since this is unpronounceable, there wasn't really any way to get this said in dialogue during an episode. Most fanfic authors use one of the names given in the novels, and those are certainly a lot easier to type than "Xtmprsqzntwlfd;" it's quite reasonable to use them. Although Spock's last name is never given in canon, Dorothy Fontana was the one who was responsible for making up a lot of Spock's canon, so "Xtmprsqzntwlfd" is probably as close to canon as we get. But I won't complain if people want to use something easier to spell. :-)


15.  There are no comm badges in TOS.

The insignia on their shirts is just decoration; it doesn't DO anything.  When away from the ship on landing parties, crew members communicate — among themselves or with the ship — using communicators (sort of like your smart phone, only not as powerful :-D).  When on the ship, they communicate using intercoms; there are intercoms in every room and also spaced periodically along the corridors.

The inventor of the cell phone was partly inspired to invent it because of the communicators he'd seen on TOS.  So please don't take our communicators away! ;-) 

Other common mistakes you'd like me to add to this? I'm tempted to add that the names of ships are properly italicized, but that's grammar, not TOS facts, so I'll desist. ;-)