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Old March 21 2014, 09:42 PM   #1
Clark Terrell
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The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

TOS--both TV and film--always left me with the impression that a captain's authority was not absolute but was sufficient to resolve most situations with little or no interference from Starfleet Command. This changed by the time of TNG, as Picard often discussed matters with Starfleet before making decision. One might attribute the difference in behavior to different styles of command, but I wonder if the change was also due to a relative reduction in a captain's importance.

There were fewer captain's in Kirk's time than Picard's, so it's not entirely implausible that they would be given greater latitude in handling difficult situations. Having more captains would mean a reduction in the scope of a captain's responsibilities, making the position seem less important than before, something we see during Picard's time when there are many more starships and officers of command rank.

But was this change intentional or accidental, merely an effect of how Starfleet of the twenty fourth century is depicted?
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Old March 21 2014, 09:50 PM   #2
Mr. Laser Beam
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

I think it just varies with the character. There are captains in the 24th century who were no more likely to call Starfleet than Kirk was. Ben Sisko and Mac Calhoun spring to mind.
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Old March 21 2014, 09:51 PM   #3
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

TREK was leaning pretty far to the left by the time TNG rolled around, so the command-by-committee structure had to check with the UN, er Starfleet for every little decision. Picard's crew routinely questioned his orders, too—argued with him. Anyone trying that with Kirk would have found themselves in irons pretty quick.
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Old March 21 2014, 09:54 PM   #4
Nerys Myk
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

Metryq wrote: View Post
TREK was leaning pretty far to the left by the time TNG rolled around, so the command-by-committee structure had to check with the UN, er Starfleet for every little decision. Picard's crew routinely questioned his orders, too—argued with him. Anyone trying that with Kirk would have found themselves in irons pretty quick.
I thought McCoy and Spock's "jobs" were to argue with Kirk.
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Old March 21 2014, 10:04 PM   #5
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

TOS was modelled partly on the American Navy but also partly on the romance of the Royal Navy in the 19th century. An explicit part of the format was that it would be about the Captain's decisions and that he would not be shown consulting or coordinating with Starfleet. And Kirk's "decide first, ask questions later" style often drove plots, in particular by the ways it often got him and the ship into trouble or led them down blind alleys. That's a pattern that starts with WNMHGB, whose entire plot stems from his decision to run the Galactic Barrier.

TNG was structured to show a Starfleet (or at least an Enterprise) with a different style. Picard's decisions were final -- I don't know where Metryq is getting the "his crew argued with him" bit -- but his style was more cerebral and cautious, befitting a more experienced and less reckless officer, and he did consult with his people and genuinely try to bring all their expertise to bear on a problem instead of "leading from the van." And Starfleet authority was "closer" and more attentive now, and not hesitant to hold him accountable. So it has a more "modern" feel.
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Old March 21 2014, 10:14 PM   #6
Clark Terrell
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

Nerys Myk wrote: View Post
I thought McCoy and Spock's "jobs" were to argue with Kirk.
Spock and McCoy were Kirk's friends, whom the latter implicitly trusted. I doubt he'd have put up with similar behavior from another officer, even one of command rank. Indeed, when Decker (rightly) called him out about trying to use the phasers with the warp engines not functioning properly, Kirk summoned him to his quarters with the intention of chewing him out.
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Old March 21 2014, 10:23 PM   #7
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

Meh, Kirk consulted regularly with his senior officers. Kirk would always confer with Scotty, McCoy, and Spock, before acting. He asked a lot of questions.

He'd argue with them, seek advice, and present his innermost psychological doubts.

When the time came, he'd exercise initiative, but that's what you have to do when you're a captain weeks away from getting orders telling you what to do next.

Kirk chews out Decker, but when Decker reminds him that it is his job, he lightens up, smiles and tells Decker to keep doing it. Also, this film is not a representative example of his command style. This is Kirk trying to get the hang of being in command again.

BigJake, watch Corbomite Maneuver, just for one example of heated argument between Kirk and McCoy.

TOS also had "let's sit around the table and discuss options" scenes (seated in front of the three-sided tv monitor) - it's just that TNG had more of them, long ponderous scenes of the officers sitting around table blabbering technobabble, stating the obvious, and reciting the dogma of the prime directive.
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Old March 21 2014, 11:02 PM   #8
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

A big difference is routed in technology. In TOS a deep spece starship could be out of immediate contact with higher command. If you have a pressing situation you can't wait days to weeks for a reply with directions. So you have to exercise initiative. Consequently a ship's commander could be granted a great deal of autonomy to make their own decisions.

In TNG they seemed able to make immediate contact with higher authority, hence a lot more decisions could be taken right out of their hands.
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Old March 21 2014, 11:13 PM   #9
C.E. Evans
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

I think with the captains of TNG and DS9, there was less of a sense of being out of contact with Starfleet. In comparison, the captains of TOS, VOY, and ENT had greater autonomy to interpret policy as they saw fit, IMO.
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Old March 21 2014, 11:14 PM   #10
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

Warped9 wrote: View Post
A big difference is routed in technology. In TOS a deep spece starship could be out of immediate contact with higher command. If you have a pressing situation you can't wait days to weeks for a reply with directions. So you have to exercise initiative. Consequently a ship's commander could be granted a great deal of autonomy to make their own decisions.

In TNG they seemed able to make immediate contact with higher authority, hence a lot more decisions could be taken right out of their hands.
Of course in TNG, the Enterprise always seemed to be only hours away from the UFP, if not Earth it's self.
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Old March 22 2014, 06:29 AM   #11
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

I also imagine that starbases and outposts, being relatively stationary, are easier to contact that mobile starships all over the quadrant, perhaps.

One thing about bureaucracy is that those who are in it and find themselves constrained by the system tend to find ways to work through or around it to the advantage of the work product, like how the DS9 staff didn't give more information to Starfleet than they needed to (ie, informing Starfleet Operations of the Defiant's ablative armor).

But then again, the rank of the captain (or at least, highest ranking officer) is meant to act as the best representative of Starfleet in that particular area, and they get to that point because Starfleet trusts their judgment overall, even if it's not a choice they'll agree with from time to time. Kirk, Janeway, and Archer showed that well; but for all the times that Picard conferred with Starfleet, he always made his snap decisions with his own responsibility on the line, rather than pussyfooting it like Esteban.

I'd imagine that the rank of captain actually becomes *more* important as time goes on, simply because the Federation will keep growing and gulfs of space become wider and wider. Even if Starfleet had quantum slipstream drive, you'd still run the risk of forces being spread out too thin or situations moving over a wide geographic area, plus you'd need experts who know the area's races and politics; in the real world, even though we have things like the internet and satellite communication, governments and businesses still send folks with specialized local knowledge to various parts of the planet to act as their representative.
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Old March 22 2014, 06:34 AM   #12
Clark Terrell
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

Cyke101 wrote: View Post
I also imagine that starbases and outposts, being relatively stationary, are easier to contact that mobile starships all over the quadrant, perhaps.

One thing about bureaucracy is that those who are in it and find themselves constrained by the system tend to find ways to work through or around it to the advantage of the work product, like how the DS9 staff didn't give more information to Starfleet than they needed to (ie, informing Starfleet Operations of the Defiant's ablative armor). But then again, the rank of the captain (or at least, highest ranking officer) is meant to act as the best representative of Starfleet in that particular area, and they get to that point because Starfleet trusts their judgment overall, even if it's not a choice they'll agree with from time to time.
I agree with this to a point. Even on DS9, there were instances where Starfleet overruled Sisko's judgment or forced him into a decision he didn't want to make--the entirety of his relationship with Michael Eddington is the best example, first with Sisko being forced to accept him as Starfleet security chief and later because Eddington committed treason by stealing replicators and giving them to the Maquis.
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Old March 22 2014, 07:19 AM   #13
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

Agree with Cyke as far as the MORE important role of Captain, and I am imagining Star Fleet would not give a Star Ship to a captain who is going to call in for permission for every little thing...

...that said, were not our politics here on Earth changing as TNG was coming on board, and leaders world-wide looking for shared decision-making and consensus, either as a truly desired outcome, or a "CYA" sort of thing - or, indeed, a little of both!?...maybe the writers picked up on that?

...and even Star Fleet's role was still evolving and coalescing into the single unified organization it is "today", back in the 2100's and above...as the various sub-fiefdoms (Earth Cargo Services, United Earth Probe Space Agency, United Earth Diplomatic Core, etc.) were surely jockeying for position and influence...maybe more independent and autocratic captains were needed/tolerated?...

...with the final outcome all of the above, and Star Fleet itself being folded into the United Federation of Planets, comprised of a president and Federation Council, the notion and desire of consensus would, I believe, trickle down from the multi-species overseers to the requisite divisions and areas and eventually the ships themselves...

...as he did in his ready room...conference room...holodeck and sick bay...soliciting facts, perspectives, opinions and recommendations, Picard may have been mirroring this "Culture of Consensus"...not lock-step, to be sure...but in circumstances that were logical and available for the exercise...
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Old March 22 2014, 12:58 PM   #14
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

It has to be considered that faster communication had something to do with less control.

With that said, they still had massive amount of authority.
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Old March 22 2014, 03:36 PM   #15
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Re: The Captain's Rank: Less Important as Time Passes?

It all comes down to the different nature of the series. TOS was based on pre-20th century naval life where a ship didn't have the luxury of staying in regular contact with home and command authorities and therefore the captain had to act with complete independence and was as far as ship and crew were considered God. TNG is based more on modern times where communications have made home a quick transmission away, thereby allowing admirals a way to peer over captains shoulders and captains pretty much have to clear really important decisions with their superiors.
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