Starship class, part two: Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies

I grew up believing the Enterprise is a Constitution-class ship. I later learned differently and recently wrote The Enterprise is not a Constitution-class ship

Many people really did not like that. Within 24 hours, the article generated lots of comments on social media, not all of them kind, and a bunch of hits on this site. (The traffic and the comments surpassed the previous champ, my piece on Harlan Ellison’s drug-dealing crewmember, in less than a week.)

Here’s the thing: we discuss this stuff because we love Star Trek, and I respect that, and anyone can disagree with me. I’m just this guy. 

But if you hold fast to the idea the Enterprise is a Constitution-class ship, you are also disagreeing with Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies. 

The creator

The cover of the Star Trek Writers/Directors Guide

Gene Roddenberry created what’s typically called a “bible” for his show. The Writers/Directors Guide was a briefing document for people who were not part of the ongoing production and therefore needed basic information on the show. On page 7, Roddenberry and his staff wrote: The U.S.S. Enterprise is a spaceship, official designation “starship class.”

My copy is of the third revision, dated April 17, 1967. The date is important. This is almost two years after filming Where No Man Has Gone Before. It has been suggested that the dedication plaque, which states the Enterprise is a Starship-class vessel and which forms the basis of my argument, was a leftover from the pilot days that no one could be bothered to replace. This document makes it clear that is not the case.

You can disagree with me. I don’t think you can disagree with Gene Roddenberry.

The designer

Walter Matthew Jefferies designed the Enterprise. The Making of Star Trek, first published in 1968, includes Jefferies’ renderings of the Enterprise, the bridge, the hangar deck, the shuttlecraft and the Klingon battle cruiser.

The Enterprise, depicted on page 178, is labelled “Space cruiser. Starship class.”

A drawing, from The Making of Star Trek, by Matt Jefferies of the Enterprise

You can disagree with me. I don’t think you can disagree with Matt Jefferies. 

If you haven’t done so, please read my first piece on this. I know a lot of people don’t like to hear it, but the reality is the Enterprise is a Starship-class ship. 

I appreciate everyone who took the time to engage with me on this. Special thanks to Robert J. Sawyer and Pierre Charles Dubreuil who pointed me to the Jefferies drawing and the show bible, respectively.

Postscript

Captain Pike assigned one crew member to do nothing but stand beside the turbolift. He is there in every bridge scene in The Cage, so I have no idea if the plaque was on the set in 1964.

Update: Trek fan Karl Tate pointed out that guy moves off the wall in one scene and you can see the space beside the turbolift — and there was no dedication plaque on Pike’s Enterprise.

11 Comments

  1. I’m really enjoying these posts. And I’m glad that they’ve prompted a lot of discussion. Well done!

    With regards to your postscript: the guy in the corner looks like someone I went to school with who was known fir being a bit of a fighter. Maybe he’s been given a time out?

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      1. Seriously though: I’m loving this. I’m glad it’s causing debate and forcing people to question something they knew to be true. I did.

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  2. You are arguing that behind the scenes info takes precedence over other behind the scenes info.one agrees with you and the other does not. Jefferies created the graphic that Scotty looks at that says Constitution Class. Constitution was one of the names selected for use as a Starship. The 1700 registry was seen on screen. These pieces all refute what you are saying. Starship Class is like aircraft carrier, it denotes the type of ship. Though it is more like Ship of the Line from the days of sail even than that. It was Jefferies who made it Constitution Class.

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    1. Hi again, Robin. Thanks for reading this one as well.

      A lot of people are really invested in the Constitution designation, and that’s great. To them, and perhaps to you, the Enterprise will always be a Constitution-class ship. That dedication to this idea is the only explanation I can see for this being a debate — when both Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies said it is a Starship-class ship and when that writing is literally on the wall.

      As for the graphic in Tribbles, yea, but you saw my suggestion in the first article on that. I don’t actually believe the part itself is Constitution class, but it is true that the image is of a phaser component, not of the ship. The only reason you think the Constitution refers to the ship is because Franz Joseph and many others told the fans in the 70s that is the Enterprise’s class.

      So I am fine with you holding to your opinion; no argument from me. But, please, stop conflating these two statements: “Constitution was one of the names selected for use as a Starship. The 1700 registry was seen on screen.”

      The second statement is true, in Commodore Stone’s office in Court Martial, but the chart DOES NOT include ship names. You can repeat over and over that the NCC-1700 is the USS Constitution but that is never stated on screen and the ship is never seen in an episode.

      As I said, you do you, but please stop saying things that just aren’t true.

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  3. It could be both things, they are not mutually exclusive. The Enterprise is a Constitution-class starship. As with US Navy ships the first vessel of a design gives the design class its name, but its size and function determine the type class whether it’s a battleship, cruiser, destroyer, etc. But other ships of the same design would not bear the name of the first vessel on them, other than possibly on engineering documentation.

    At the time of the writers guide, no other ship names had been written so the design class was fleshed out later.

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    1. Hello. Thanks for reading.

      Your solution is reasonable in terms of what later became canon. I do quibble with two points.

      When you say the first vessel of a design gives its name, that’s true in general but we have no idea what the first vessel of this design was called. NCC-1700 is seen on a chart (in Court Martial) but there are no names attached, so we neither see the USS Constitution nor hear it referenced over the three years of the show.

      Second, as I said in the article, the writers guide I referenced is the third revision, dated April 1967. That is two years into production of the show.

      And, of course, the phrase “Constitution-class starship” is not in any of the source material from the 60s.

      It turns out many fans have a real affection for the Constitution-class designation. As I said, thanks for reading.

      Like

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