As I have come to understand it, something cannot be canon if it is incompatible with information stated on screen and/or
the intentions of the original producers and production designers.
While doing an Oberth Class study I revisited the essential TOS book The Making of Star Trek
from 1968 (statements from the producers, i.e. Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman) and the Star Trek Sketchbook
from 1997 (with previously unpublished
original sketches and statements from the production designer and Enterprise
creator Matt Jefferies).
How Matt Jefferies came up with “NCC” has been quoted several times online, but what he additionally said is curiously sometimes missing:
“So the one seven stood for the seventeenth basic ship design in the Federation, and the zero one would have been serial number one, the first bird.”
“So 1701 was as good a choice as any. The reason we gave for the choice afterwards was that the Enterprise was the 17th major design of the federation, and the first in the series. 17-01!”
(Star Trek Sketchbook, page 62)
At first glance the “afterwards” seems like a ‘Retcon Maneuver’ but here it’s a) the father of the Starship Enterprise
talking about his intentions and b) actually something he intended early on once we look at the text of a genuine yellow Enterprise
production sketch from the early 1960’s:
17th CRUISER DESIGN
SERIAL N°1 = 1701
SERIAL N°2 1702
(illustration from Star Trek Sketchbook)
With that late but essential information, several original statements from the producers in The Making of Star Trek
no longer just seem to talk about a starship class of Enterprise
“types” but indeed about an Enterprise Class as USS Enterprise
was the first of it and therefore is also at least about 40 years old by the time of TOS (the age of the ship is another myth):
Bob Justman: “(D. C. Fontana) suggests that we establish the names of the 12 ships of the Enterprise Starship Class.”
(part II, chapter 1, page 165)
Stephen Whitfield (authorized by Gene Roddenberry): “The Enterprise-class starships have been in existence for about forty years and are now capable of surveying and exploring the uncharted remainder of the galaxy.”
(part II, chapter 3, page 203).
So where does that erroneous idea of a Constitution Class come from
Court-Martial” aired in February 1967, and the office of the portmaster of Starbase 11 included a “star ship status” wall chart which featured 10 registry numbers obviously belonging to unknown Federation starships – NCC 1700 at the very bottom - which compelled D.C. Fontana six months later to submit the aforementioned proposal to provide some names for starships.
It should be noted that “Constitution” wasn’t even among the first three published name lists (Mr. Whitfield just provided a final result which then included names that hadn’t been on the first three lists: Potemkin, Republic, Constitution, Kongo, Farragut, Valiant
) and that “NCC 1700” on that status chart was the farthest from being “complete”.
According to the ‘Jefferies Rule’ “NCC 1700” would have meant 17-00 (serial number zero) and possibly indicated a yet unregistered starship beeing built at the time.
The only screen evidence of a USS Constitution
in TOS was the screen display of Scotty’s technical journal in “The Trouble With Tribbles” displaying a “primary phaser” schematic belonging to a “Star Ship MK IX/01 Constitution Class”: http://images.wikia.com/memoryalpha/...ary_phaser.jpg
While it is correct that USS Enterprise
and her sister ships are vessels of the Starship Class, it had never
been established that all starships have to look like USS Enterprise
(and “Starship Reliant
” is sufficient proof).
According to the ‘Jefferies Rule’ Scotty would have just looked at the phaser design of an older class of starship (maybe NCC-901 or NCC-1601...).
Mr. Franz Joseph, being (also) unaware that USS Enterprise
was supposed to be “the first bird, the first in the series” (Jefferies), introduced the idea of the Constition Class (NCC-1700) with his Star Trek Blueprints
and the Star Trek Technical Manual
which nevertheless is as erroneus as the other and similar idea of the 1970’s that Enterprise
should belong to the Constellation Class just because
that was the lowest starship registry ever visible on screen (NCC-1017).
It looks like for the canon of Star Trek just the lesser of two evils had been chosen which still doesn’t put things right.
Personally, I have no problem that Kirk's Enterprise
became a member of the Constitution Class if that was the first vessel to undergo the refit / redesign / transformation of the 2270’s.
I know it’s unrealistic to expect this flaw to be corrected (think of the birds and the dinosaurs), but for the future I recommend to avoid the term “Constitution Class” whenever it comes to Kirk’s television “starship class” Enterprise.