Geek Trivia

Viewers Of Star Trek: The Original Series Found Which Of These Confusing?

Vulcan Behavior
Lack Of Laugh Track
Uniform Colors
Which Of These Bowling Variants Is Extremely Popular In Eastern Canada And The New England Area?

Answer: Stardates

There are certain elements of both the original Star Trek series and the subsequent series and movies that are beyond iconic in the way they are enmeshed in the public consciousness. Among the more prominent elements of the franchise like that is the use of “stardates” to represent time in the future and, specifically, the way the phrase “Captain’s Log, Stardate…” provided a way for the writers to anchor events and plot developments in the timeline. Here’s a sample of such a passage from the script of “The Corbomite Maneuver”, an episode from the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series:

Captain’s Log, Stardate 1512.2. On our third day of star mapping, an unexplained cubical object blocked our vessel’s path. On the bridge, Mr. Spock immediately ordered general alert. My location: sickbay. Quarterly physical check.

The only problem with the stardate system, however, was that it introduced significant confusion instead of anchoring events and providing a smooth sense of order and continuity for the viewers. This confusion was primarily the fault of the writers though and had little to do with the viewers’ inability to understand what a stardate was. During the early years of Star Trek, the rules for how stardates should be used were inconsistent at best. From the Star Trek writer’s guide:

Pick any combination of four numbers plus a percentage point, use it as your story’s stardate. For example, 1313.5 is twelve o’clock noon of one day and 1314.5 would be noon of the next day. Each percentage point is roughly equivalent to one-tenth of one day. The progression of stardates in your script should remain constant, but don’t worry about whether or not there is a progression from other scripts. Stardates are a mathematical formula which varies depending on location in the galaxy, velocity of travel, and other factors, and can vary widely from episode to episode.

Because of this early guideline, the stardates within a given episode were consistent, but not always so between episodes. Further compounding the problem, NBC frequently aired episodes out of their original production order, which meant any attempts to keep the stardates consistent between sequential episodes failed. As a result, fans frequently wrote in asking for clarification about the stardate system and expressed confusion over why episodes aired in sequence by their local television station rarely had sequential stardates. In later iterations of the Star Trek franchise, the rules for the stardate system were further refined and inconsistencies became rare.

Image courtesy of CBS Television Studios/Viacom.