Production errors can yield some fascinating twists to continuity.
In the case of the original “Star Trek” series, the role of the USS Enterprise’s iconic assignment patch is a prime example.
Crewmen aboard Capt. James T. Kirk’s famed ship could later boast that its emblem became the primary symbol for Starfleet personnel as witnessed in later films and series.
Other ships in the show — like Commodore Matt Decker’s USS Constellation in “The Doomsday Machine” and Capt. Tracey’s USS Exeter in “The Omega Glory” — were shown to have their own uniform emblems, each apparently marked by the same command, sciences, engineering/support services and nurse icons.
In the episode “Charlie X,” even the freighter Antares had its own patch.
At some point, Capt. Kirk’s epic five-year mission was honored by the adoption of the Enterprise’s emblem by Starfleet, leading to the end of an era where ships deployed with their own insignia.
But according to a memo from Bob Justman, “Star Trek” associate producer, to William Ware Theiss, series costume designer, Gene Roddenberry had confirmed that “all starship personnel wear the starship emblem that we have established for our Enterprise crew members to wear.”
Dated Dec. 18, 1967, the memo is part of the “Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection, 1966-1969,” stored in the Film, Television, and Theater Archival Collections at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“Doubtless this situation has arisen due to the fact that a different starship emblem was used last season on ‘Charlie X,'” Justman wrote. “However, the personnel of that other ship in that show were the equivalent of merchant marine or freighter personnel — and therefore not entitled to bear this proud insignia on their individual and collective breasts.
“Please do not do anything to correct this understandable mistake in the present episode (“The Omega Glory”). However, should we have Starfleet personnel in any other episodes, please make certain that they wear the proper emblem.”
It’s interesting to note that the Enterprise’s insignia was actually intended to be Starfleet’s from the beginning and that the scenes showing the Exeter and Constellation patches were production mistakes.
Later, in the third season episode “The Tholian Web,” Justman’s notes were followed for the dead crew of the USS Defiant; however, the appearance of the Enterprise/Starfleet insignia on uniforms was discreetly used, perhaps to avoid the inevitable confusion that it would cause with astute viewers.
During the 2005 two-part episode “In a Mirror, Darkly,” the “Star Trek: Enterprise” sequel to “The Tholian Web,” producers of that series chose to avoid that confusion too. They created a new patch for the Defiant crew, reinforcing the canon that starships did indeed have separate emblems during that time period.
Justman surprisingly failed to also point out the Constellation’s patch seen prior to “The Omega Glory.” Decker’s patch, unlike Tracey’s, did not feature the command icon that comes with wearing a gold shirt. That may have been a production mistake too, or perhaps at one point they intended commodores to wear a fleet patch, which symbolized the group of ships that officer was responsible for.
Regardless, the fate of uniform embellishment is now in the hands of J.J. Abrams and his alternate universe films. With the USS Kelvin already seen utilizing the Enterprise/Starfleet emblem, Abrams has already weighed in, and unfortunately we won’t likely see a young Commodore Decker or Capt. Tracey strut into a scene proudly wearing their retro-ship insignias anytime soon.