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Old December 2 2013, 02:44 PM   #1
Robert Comsol
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Location: USS Berlin
Wave-Energy Collectors, Chambers Coil and Photon Control

When I first saw TMP and TWOK in the 1980’s I wasn’t able to figure out some of the technobabble. Believing I might have a better understanding, now, I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of the original technobabble.

Wave-Energy Collectors

TMP’s intermix shaft was a visually impressive set, but its functions remained vastly uncommented and/or unexplored, IIRC. Rereading the TMP novelization by Gene Roddenberry (apparently influenced by aiming for scientific sound explanations accompanying the production of the first film) I found this passage from Chapter 7 rather interesting:

“The engine’s intermix chamber, extending three ship levels above [Scotty] and four more below, did not yet show the blinding, hellfire look it would have when delivering warp power, but even at this low setting, the flare of the wave-energy collectors gave everything an unearthly appearance.”

Both nuclear fusion and matter-antimatter annihilation have one thing in common, namely that they produce energetic gamma rays with short wavelengths that could be referred to as “wave energy”. Apparently the struts on these intermix tubes could be these wave-energy “collectors” and/or the circular ring segments at both ends. The function of these ring segments is equally enigmatic. I once read some conjecture (but don’t recall where) that those ring segments contain dilithium elements that amplify the energy of the previous tube segment.

Power transfer from these intermix segments to other ship’s systems appears non-existent, yet some of the horizontal ones rest on support stands above an area with devices of some kind (TMP style Goes-Nowhere-Does-Nothing tech panels for floor or wall decoration, seen throughout the films and subsequent Star Trek productions), theoretically these stands could be power transfer couplings to the floor devices, too (the transporter room featured the same kind of floor panels).

Chamber Coil

The mysterious “chamber coil” was mentioned in the dialogue of TWOK:

UHURA: I'm getting a voice message. They [Reliant] say their chamber’s coil is overloading their comm system.
KIRK: Spock?
SPOCK: Scanning. Their coil emissions are normal.

What I get from the dialogue is that the chamber coil is not part of the communications system but one whose emissions are overloading and thus interfering with Reliant’s comm system (of course, that’s only what Reliant claims but apparently such an adverse effect of the “chamber coil” is not unheard of in Starfleet).

Because we did have a TMP intermix “chamber” and a reactor usually has a reaction “chamber”, I do not think we are looking at a coil designed by a Mr. or Ms. Chambers (e.g. Jefferies Tube) but rather a colloquial Starleet term describing a component reminiscent of a “coil”, i.e. either the [intermix] chamber’s coil or the [reactor] chamber’s coil. In that case, I think we’d have two options how to interpret this:What do you think?

Photon Control

Frankly, I always thought that the “photon control” was one of the worst technobabble offenders, here is again Joachim’s report to Khan seconds after the Enterprise had destroyed Reliant’s “impulse deflection crystal”:

KHAN: Fire! Fire!
JOACHIM: We can't fire, sir!
KHAN: Why can't you?
JOACHIM: They've damaged the photon-control and the warp drive. We must withdraw.

Because the intermix shaft powering the warp drive supposedly also connects to the impulse deflection crystal at the top it stands to reason that the destruction of this crystal and the leaking of blue plasma energy caused an automatic shutdown of the intermix, depriving Reliant of her warp drive capability and subsequently her phaser power (assuming that like the TMP Enterprise the “redesign increases phaser power by channelling it through the main engines. When they went into anti-matter imbalance, the phasers were automatically cut off.”).

Thus, telling Khan that they had just lost warp drive capability may have been sufficient for Khan’s superior intellect to conclude that the phasers were cut off. But if these “photon controls” referred to the controls of the photon torpedos in the weapons pod (damaged by the shivers of the exploding impulse crystal below), then why did Joachim (and the screenplay writer) not use a term general audiences would understand like “photorp controls” or simply “torpedo controls”?

To better “understand” the power workings of the TMP Enterprise I decided to give the Enterprise Flight Manual (an instruction booklet from 1978 for the actors how to operate the TMP consoles in a realistic manner) another look, hoping that some of the displays and their text annotations may yield a better understanding how the TMP producers imagined the ship to function.

The engineering station on the TMP bridge had a display panel # 6 designed for “impulse system ignition”, apparently by laser fusion (“laser powered”) and with subsequently following functions such as “photon output”, “beam emission” and “ignition” (of the four impulse engine units). With that in mind, the damage of the “photon control” reported by Joachim could have indicated the damage of the impulse propulsion system, forcing Reliant to withdraw with reaction control thrusters exclusively, which is suggested by his later report:

JOACHIM: Impulse power restored.
KHAN: Excellent! More than a match for poor Enterprise.

To me it now looks as if the screenplay writer had been deliberately ambiguous putting these lines into Joachim’s mouth, allowing us to have two options for interpretation:
  • Since Khan was mostly interested in returning fire, Joachim was telling him that the “photon [torpedo] control” and the “warp drive” (phaser fire capability) had been rendered inoperative. Thus he suggested to withdraw to repair the weapon systems and return later.
  • Unlike Khan, Joachim immediately understood that both their impulse “photon [ignition] control” and warp drive system had been rendered inoperative, forcing Reliant to rely entirely on reaction control thrusters. But the reaction control thrusters might not have been enough to move Reliant out of Enterprise’s phaser firing range in time (while Enterprise was recharging her phaser bank with auxiliary power), so immediate withdrawal and creating some healthy distance between Reliant and Enterprise was the only way to avoid further phaser fire damage.
So we would have two possible interpretations how to interpret the actual dialogue with neither one being wrong. Fascinating - but unfortunately confusing for most audiences.

"The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth" Jean-Luc Picard
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
Albert Einstein
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