Defending Discovery‘s Design Differences: Holography
“You think your world is safe? It is an illusion.” – Khan Noonien Singh, Star Trek Into Darkness
Earlier this week, it was reported that NASA has achieved holographic communication between Earth and the International Space Station. Very similar holography, like the starships, has been a mainstay of Star Trek. Of course, the holodecks on The Next Generation often malfunctioned and the EMH known as “The Doctor” had a seven-year mission to keep running aboard Voyager. These are just some of the many ways in which holographic technology has been represented in Star Trek. Let’s take a look at how this tech has been portrayed in Star Trek: Discovery.
A Short History of Holography
In its first two seasons, Discovery used holographic communication and displays. In previous Star Trek canon, holographic technology is shown being used by Starfleet (specifically a small hovering sphere to train for phase-pistol targeting) as early as the first season Enterprise episode “Sleeping Dogs”, which is set in 2151.
The first fully immersive holographic environments used by Starfleet appeared as early as The Animated Series episode “The Practical Joker”, set in 2270, with no indication that such elaborate holography wasn’t used earlier than that. In fact, Trip Tucker encounters fully immersive holographic environments as early as 2151, used by the friendly Xyrillian species in the Enterprise episode “Unexpected” (predating “Sleeping Dogs”). So, it would make perfect sense if Starfleet adopted it from them or perhaps another species which had developed holographic technology.
Granted, the many uses of the Starfleet holo-communicator in Discovery significantly predate its inclusion in earlier-produced Trek, chronologically starting with the Deep Space Nine episode “For the Uniform”. However, holo-communicators were conceived for inclusion in Trek as early as The Motion Picture, and the holograms in Discovery are shown to be rudimentary and occasionally glitchy. For example, there’s an immersive holodeck sequence in the episode “Lethe”, for combat training against Klingons, and it looks significantly less technologically developed than the holodeck sequences in TNG or Voyager.
Discovery goes out of its way to demonstrate the difference between much more transparent transmissions via holo-communicator and non-transparent holographic recordings (such as the sequence in “Lethe”, and a hologram of Dr. Culber in “Brother”). Meanwhile, the episode “If Memory Serves” demonstrates the difference between the semi-transparent holo-communicator transmissions and Talosian projections which are extremely convincing but are said to have limited range. Just how deceiving holograms themselves can be is demonstrated in “Project Daedalus”, with holograms of Admiral Patar and Lieutenant Spock having fooled Pike and his crew aboard the Discovery, although the Patar hologram is only ever seen as a semi-transparent holo-communicator transmission. There are also several semi-transparent holograms which Control takes on the appearances of, including Burnham, Pike, Saru and Leland, in the very next episode (“Perpetual Infinity”).
As the episode “An Obol for Charon” establishes, Captain Pike had a personal dislike of holo-communicators, believing they looked too much like ghosts. Aboard the Enterprise, Chief Engineer Louvier warned him that the holographic comm system might cause a ship-wide cascade failure. After they did (affecting the Enterprise only), Pike ordered his Number One, Commander Una, to rip the entire holo-communicator system out of the Enterprise. This helps explain the absence of Starfleet holo-communicators in the timeline until “For the Uniform”. As Una comments in “Such Sweet Sorrow”, “We’ll have no more holographic communications… ever,” to which Pike responds, “Probably for the best.“
Klingon holo-communication appears in the second episode of Discovery, “Battle at the Binary Stars”. This foreshadows the Federation President appearing via Klingon holo-communicator in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Final (Frontier) Thoughts
“I didn’t believe these simulations could be this real!” – Commander Riker, TNG: “Encounter at Farpoint”
The depiction of holographic technology, as well as many of the other technological aspects in Star Trek: Discovery, avoid contradicting Star Trek canon. They also bring the reality of the show closer to the level of technology we encounter nowadays in reality, as was intended by the show’s production crew. And in light of recent advancements, we’re now closer than ever before to such illusions becoming reality.
Next time, I’ll be exploring how decades of makeup changes to the Klingons have applied to their depiction in Star Trek: Discovery.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Also known as “The Scotch Trekker”, Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course run at Glasgow Clyde College, and ran The Scotch Trekker YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.