Inspired by Greg Tyler’s article on the topic
and BBS fan art I wondered whether there was still a chance to rationalize the “torpedo bay” to make sense “in-universe” – or to write it off as a production screw-up best to be ignored because this set, introduced in Star Trek II (The Wrath of Khan),
obviously has a couple of issues which are highlighted in one particular scene of the film:
Already in the original series (and the previous film) it had been suggested that firing photon torpedoes was a) an automated business and b) torpedoes could be fired in a rather quick succession. The Starship Reliant
in ST II seemed to fire her torpedoes automatically, so did the Enterprise
in ST III and eventually in ST VI – and again in quick succession which seems to be somehow incompatible with the illustrated scene.
It’s been written that director Nicholas Meyer wanted to add a maritime and naval touch to ST II and that the scene was intended to carry allusions of cannons being readied and run through opening gunports on an 18th Century sailing vessel. Ironically, he could have had exactly the desired effect, if he would have just went along with what Andrew Probert had originally designed for the ship
According to Vonda McIntyre’s novelization, presumably based on an earlier screenplay, the travel pod with Kirk and company (and the Excelsior’s
future Captain Sulu…!) arrived at the “landing bay”. There is no mentioning of a “torpedo bay” in the novelization, except that “Saavik took her place at the torpedo guidance console”
and “pallbearers lifted Spock’s black coffin into the launching chamber.”
It was not before that scene that we actually do see “Mark VI” written on Spock’s (short) casket, which ST III revealed to be a “photon tube”,
obviously another name for a “Pho-Torp” (aka photon torpedo) judging by the labeling, already there in ST II but much better to read in the third film
The next time we see such a photon tube / photon torpedo is in ST VI when Spock and McCoy perform “surgery” to modify a photon torpedo
with equipment designed to “catalogue gaseous anomalies”. Although this happens under tremendous time pressure, it is remarkable how well these components fit so quickly into the torpedo, thus it stands to reason that the Enterprise’s
probes and other remote devices possibly look similar to photon torpedoes and have compatible interior circuit boards.
Because we do not learn
what it is exactly that’s being lowered by loading arm “4” onto the pre-launch track in the illustrated scene of ST II on top (other than to assume
it’s a photon torpedo because that was probably the intention of the director not too familiar with the mechanics of the 23rd Century) we could consider the possibility that it was something other
than a photon torpedo (though probably not Peter Preston’s casket as one might expect that Scotty’s nephew would have received a proper burial).
As a staging area to do final adjustments on sensor probes or similar devices (not too dissimilar to what we saw Spock and McCoy actually doing in ST VI - shot by the same director and perhaps a hint how to re-interpret the scene in ST II retro-actively?) this area would make some sense, yet wouldn’t interfere with the automated launching of the actual photon torpedoes (apparently already stored in the vicinity of the actual launch tubes and ready to be instantly fired when required).
What would the launch of a sensor probe prior to the Mutara Battle have been good for?
Although the torpedo bay doesn’t really play a part in the ST II novelization, the novelization provides a helpful clue, nevertheless.
One of the questions in the film was how the Enterprise knew her orbital position around Regula
but the Reliant
did not. Spock: “Spacelab’s scanners [Regula One], however, are fully operational; they are transmitting the position of Reliant.”
So the Enterprise
was tapping into the scanners of Regula One
to gain a tactical advantage. About the Mutara Nebula Saavik reported “Trouble with the nebula, sir, is all that static discharge and gas clouds our tactical display. Visual won't function and shields will be useless.”
Deploying some probes into
the nebula as an attempt to extend or enhance limited scanning abilities could not only have provided the Enterprise
with yet another tactical advantage, but could be the explanation how Enterprise
knew exactly when to ascent in order to pop up right behind the Reliant
in order to immobilize her.
If the staging area is designed to prepare probes and other devices prior to launch (but not photon torpedoes), then “torpedo bay” looks like a misnomer
What actually is the “torpedo bay”?
Is it truly just the interior compartment/s we saw in ST II or does “torpedo bay” refer to the whole superstructure below the connecting dorsal and above the engineering hull
In the latter case the actual torpedo bay, named for its prime function (i.e. to launch photon torpedoes) would probably consist of various sections which may explain what we saw numbered and suggested in the film:
There is no indication the refit / movie Enterprise ever had an aft (torpedo?) launcher
- Torpedo bay (Section) 1 - exterior starboard area including Docking Port 2
- Torpedo bay (Section) 2 - probe staging area and pre-launch track (front launcher), e.g. Kirk and company arrival scene, Spock's funeral
- Torpedo bay (Section) 3 - exterior port area including Docking Port 4
- Torpedo bay (Section) 4 - probe staging area and pre-launch track (aft launcher), e.g. red alert scene prior to Mutara Battle
That apparently applies for the Star Trek I (The Motion Picture) Enterprise
as the black area at the connecting dorsal’s stern was merely labeled as “photon exhaust” (and not “photorp exhaust”) in the official blueprints for the film.
But the whole concept of an aft (torpedo) launcher was first visualized in ST I for the Klingon Battlecruisers seen at the beginning of the film. There was no indication in the original or the animated series that a Klingon Battlecruiser had such an aft launcher.
As a possible Klingon upgrade in ST I, Starfleet may have been interested to add such a feature aboard its starships, too, which might just be what we saw in ST II, taking place a couple of years after events in ST I.