Earth Date: 21 May, 2019
Commander, reporting for duty. Yes, it’s true! I’ve been promoted!
Starting from the original series, the USS Enterprise has always been said to have a personality, a character. And perhaps this is simply because the characters, especially Captain Kirk, say she does. Sulu even comments on this at one point, wondering aloud why ships are always referred to as “she”.
But does she truly have her own character, or is it just in everybody’s head? By analysing the look and feel of this ship in this and even other Star Trek series, perhaps we can figure that out.
The original series certainly had the strongest sense of the ship having its own personality; everyone remembers the soothing pings of the ship, those blocky control panels, the command chair, the bridge, the turbolifts, the quarters. The Enterprise from Star Trek’s original series is widely recognised and beloved, especially by fans who have been around from the start. Even if you pass aside what the characters serving aboard the vessel thought, the ship itself made its impression on viewers, especially when you remember no one had ever seen a ship like it before.
The way the ship interacts with the crew, too, may contribute to how they conceptualise the ship in their minds. Sulu may complain about calling the ship a “she,” but the truth is that when recalling information from the ship’s computer, it responds in a woman’s voice. She was probably programmed to respond that way, by the makers of the ship who came to her design with the concept that she would be a “she,” but nonetheless it is a factor that makes up her character on screen.
And there’s also the fact that when Kirk talks of the ship constantly taking from him in The Naked Time, he talks of her as if she’s a real woman. This may be due to the fact that, while they’re away far from home, they’re always surrounded by the ship, and so it starts to become a constant presence over an extended period of time. Living like that can have a mental affect on any human, so they start to anthropomorphise the ship into a constant companion as a way of coping with so much sameness. It may even be a way of coping with loneliness; perhaps that’s what Kirk’s speech was really about.
It becomes a running joke on the original series that Kirk is in love with the ship, and that serves as an explanation for his character throughout the series. Yet in the third Star Trek movie, The Search For Spock, he destroys it for the chance to save Spock, which belies his true heart. It was always Spock, and this has been evident even during Star Trek’s initial run. He was constantly staring after Spock, and he proved time and again that he would do anything for the man. Anything, apparently including blowing up his career and his ship in order to save Spock’s soul, and later, his life.
Yet even while he was willing to do all this for Spock, he still looked up at his crashing ship for a moment of mourning and asked, “What have I done?” And before McCoy’s answer, we get a moment of grief, of whatever that ship meant to him. Stability, home, adventure, freedom, whatever it was, we mourn with him, just as we have until this moment believed in her as a character along with him. In the next moment, McCoy says, “Turned death into a fighting chance to live,” and we’re forced to move on to the next step of Spock’s rescue.
Another character who is seen to have an affinity with the Enterprise in this series is Scotty. Scotty is often to be found in Engineering, “giving her all she’s got,” and being “a miracle worker.” As the one most invested in the running of the ship, Scotty is also the one most in belief that the ship has its own character. He treats the ship like a lady, one deserving of respect.
As a matter of fact, when he turns up in TNG, having been caught in a transporter buffer for about 70 years, it becomes clear just how much he loved and now misses the ship he served on. The Enterprise-D just isn’t the same; it doesn’t feel the same, it isn’t home. Too much has changed, and it only serves to remind us that he’s a man out of his time, who just doesn’t belong anymore. He no longer has that connection to the ship; he doesn’t know the ship anymore, can’t tinker with his hands to stay physically connected, and he’s lost the emotional cohesion that he shared with his Enterprise. It no longer feels like a loved one, but a stranger.
In TNG and DS9, we have another engineer who feels a connection to the ship and then the station he serves upon: O’Brien. An Irish Chief of Operations, he shares Scotty’s connection to technology and technical know-how. In DS9, he tells us what we always understood: every computer has its own personality. He said that the Enterprise-D had a completely different personality to DS9, so indeed I do think other ships serve the same function as the Enterprise as having its own character. But it doesn’t come through as strongly, nor are other ships as iconic as the Enterprise.