Now that the dust has settled from Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3, it might be a good time to look at one of the most controversial scenes to ever air. No, not when Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy dropped a devastating F-bomb on Jean-Luc Picard, or even when Uhura distracted the bad guys on Nimbus III with her feather dance. We’re talking about the incredible and unbelievable Discovery turbolift scene that left so many scratching their heads.
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A quick recap: Toward the end of the season finale, Michael and Book are trying to get to the Discovery’s computer core. Zarah and a bunch of regulators were chasing them, and this led to an incredible scene where our heroes fight their way to victory. As they do, we see the simply gigantic space which the turbolifts operate in.
It looked like the tubolift cars were flying through hundreds of square feet of space, certainly more than what is inside the Discovery. How can this be? It just didn’t make sense. It seemed that writer and showrunner, Michelle Paradise wanted to give the season ending episode an adventure that we’d all remember. In a way, she certainly delivered.
But as our friends at Trekyards proved in their incredible video, the way we saw the turbolifts zooming about was just not possible — at least for a ship of Discovery’s size. Trekyards even doubled the size of the ship, and it still didn’t make sense.
Someone on YouTube cleverly pointed out that there was an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise which featured a ship from the 31st Century, which had Tardis-like features. It’s an interesting episode (Season 2, Episode 16 — “Future Tense”), but like some others, it might be best forgotten.
There have been a few times when there were some stories that pushed the limits of what should or ought to have happened — Voyager’s famous “Threshold” story and Star Trek V immediately come to mind. Breaking Warp 10, transforming into lizards, and meeting God in the center of the galaxy have not appeared in other Trek episodes since, and likely will not.
So, while that could be used as an explanation for some, we also have earlier evidence that the folks creating the special effects for the CBS All Access (now Paramount+) streaming series are getting bad instructions from the writers, or are hellbent on making something which will upset Trek fans.
If you look back at the Short Treks episode “Q&A,” which was the one where Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck) sing show tunes while stuck in a turbolift carriage. Toward the end of the story, Number One is rescued, and as she’s hauled out to safety, we see a gigantic, sprawling space where the turbolift operates. It seems like the current writers and producers of Trek don’t have a good handle on some size and space limitations.
Gene wouldn’t be happy
It seems that most Trek fans don’t care about these minor discrepancies, but there was one person who would have not been happy at all. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, laid out general rules for storytelling in his universe when The Next Generation was in production for the first season.
In Roddenberry’s writers and directors handbook (which he started on March 23, 1987), he made a few commandments which should not be broken in order to create a Star Trek story. Among them was believability. He dedicated an entire page to the thought that Trek stories must be above all else — believable. He wrote:
“If you’re in doubt about a scene, you can apply this simple test: ‘Would I believe this if it was occurring on the Battleship Missouri?’ If you wouldn’t believe it in the twentieth century, then our audience probably won’t believe it in the 24th.”
He also wrote:
“A science fiction story is based on an extrapolation of generally accepted scientific fact or theory.”
That sums it up nicely. Currently, there are theories of extra-dimensional realities, but most of them are subatomic or may exist in conjunction with dark matter. That means, not in the hull of the Battleship Missouri or the U.S.S. Discovery (NCC-1031).
It must be said that Gene was booted from any meaningful control of the Trek films (after The Motion Picture) and TNG after trying to get his Enterprise-D crew to not have any conflicts. But his handbook laid out a good way to write and create Trek stories, which should not be ignored.
Very similar to Star Trek Into Darkness
All of that aside, didn’t the scene with Michael and Book fighting it out through the turbolift “shafts” seem familiar? Yes, it did to me as well. It reminded me of that action-filled part of Into Darkness with Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) fought Spock (Zachary Quntino) on top of some flying vehicles in San Francisco. A cool scene — especially when Spock tried to neck pinch Khan — but it worked because it was outdoors.
The similar scene — Michael and Book flying around inside the Discovery didn’t because it was inside. Perhaps if they could have had this battle against Oysraa’s bad guys inside the gigantic Viridian, we’d have nothing to quibble about.
Hopefully, in Season 4, Michelle Paradise, Alex Kurtzman and others remember one of the most famous tenants of Star Trek wisdom when laying out everything — “you cannot change the laws of physics.”