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I recently starting watching Star Trek: Generations again. In the opening sequence when the Enterprise - B encounters the Nexus, Captain John Harriman seems to be completely paralysed with indecision, and instead requests that Captain Kirk take control of the situation.

Memory Alpha says the following:

Initially, Harriman was slow to respond and reluctant to attempt a rescue, aware that the Enterprise did not yet have a full crew complement and that several key systems were not installed; however, he was forced to respond as they were the only ship in range.

This seems strange for a captain who has been awarded command of Starfleet's flagship. I would have expected the captain of the Enterprise to be very experienced and has handled many difficult and dangerous situations. Even being awestruck by the presence of Kirk and his senior officers does not seem to be in character.

So my question is, Why does the captain of the Enterprise - B seem so inexperienced?

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    Compared with Kirk, anyone would look inexperienced! – Often Right Nov 9 '15 at 4:30
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    @JaneS : It wasn't clear that the Enterprise-B was the flagship --- more likely, the Excelsior was at that point in time. – Praxis Nov 9 '15 at 4:35
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    @Praxis Point taken that it may not have been the flagship, but bearing the name and serial number of the most famous ship in Starfleet, it doesn't really seem to make much sense to place a rookie at the helm. – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 4:40
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    Not sure how complete of an answer this is: maybe all the best qualified captains are out where they're needed - exploring the galaxy, and squaring off against Klingons and Romulans and whatnot. How much experience does a captain need for a shakedown cruise in the Solar System? – HorusKol Nov 9 '15 at 6:09
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    Out of universe: It was to show just how awesome Kirk is. This guy -- who is Kirk's replacement -- who should be just as good as Kirk, couldn't manage and had to be bailed out by Kirk. – Shane Nov 9 '15 at 21:37
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Because his ship wasn't ready...and he was being filmed!

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Harriman was young, but he was also being filmed by Federation news crews, who were on board for the special occasion.

Having to make a decision about rescuing over 300 people from a never-before encountered energy phenomenon on a ship missing key pieces of equipment and with no medical crew in front of billions of Federation viewers would make anyone hesitate...

...anyone who isn't James T. Kirk.

Good references

One could argue that, even if we allow him some initial hesitation, Harriman should have regained his composure and had the reporters turn the cameras off or clear the bridge. It's clear that Harriman failed to take control of the situation. We can wonder why he made it so far up the ranks so quickly without an ability to think quickly on his feet.

For this, we can't ignore the effect of a good reference. If his captain during his previous posting was well-liked in Starfleet, and if that captain was fond of Harriman, that could have had a profound effect on Harriman's career. (For instance, a strong recommendation by a "Captain Gleason" got Barclay onto Picard's Enterprise despite some troubling notes in Barclay's mental profile.)

Starfleet is a meritocracy in the large, but being well-liked helps.

  • I did consider this and I think I partially addressed this in my question, but any captain of a Starfleet vessel, especially the Enterprise should be more than capable of dismissing a bridge full of media when a real crisis occurs so he or she can concentrate on the task at hand. – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 4:46
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    @JaneS : In principle, sure, but how many times has it actually happened? This is perhaps the only time it has ever happened. Having your decisions broadcast to billions must do something to one's nerves. – Praxis Nov 9 '15 at 4:48
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    Yes, I would imagine! But that's why the very first thing that Kirk did was to get the cameraman to turn it off. Why didn't Harriman just clear the bridge? – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 4:50
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    @JaneS : He seemed a bit paralyzed in the face of everything that was going on. We also can't ignore the impact that the reference of his previous commanding officer would have had. If his previous captain was well-liked in Starfleet and took his own liking to Harriman, that could have had a profound effect on Harriman's career. (A good reference by Captain Gleason got Barclay onto Picard's Enterprise despite some troubling notes in Barclay's mental profile.) I might add something to this effect into the answer. – Praxis Nov 9 '15 at 4:54
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    This kind of thing has happened in real-life military forces - especially during peacetime. Ship captains and army colonels and even admirals and generals have gotten commands by not doing anything wrong - but also without facing real challenges (only training). When a crisis does occur, this can become a real problem (British and French leadership in WWI). – HorusKol Nov 9 '15 at 6:06
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Probably because he was inexperienced

That same Memory Alpha page says that:

The script for Star Trek Generations describes Harriman as, "young, confident, eager -- this is his first command and he takes it very seriously."

Sure, he would've gone through captain's tests like the Kobayshi Maru, but when it boils down to it, this was his first command and he really hadn't anticipated doing anything spectacular - just a small trip to Pluto and back; nothing special. The fact that he was suddenly put on the spot and forced to make a difficult decision, and he hadn't been on the job all that long (this was his first command after all) is probably why he seemed to flustered and inexperienced.

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    I'll admit I didn't read that part :) I guess to me that it just doesn't make sense why would they place an inexperienced captain at the helm. I'll very likely accept the answer a bit later, I'd just like some more viewpoints before stifling additional responses :) – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 4:43
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    @JaneS that's totally fine. To answer your question as to why they'd put an inexperienced captain at the helm, well it wasn't Starfleet's plan to send him on a rescue mission without a fully functional ship and all Captains are inexperienced at some point! – Often Right Nov 9 '15 at 4:44
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    Next Tuesday was going to be a busy day on the B :) But you would think that Starfleet would season their captains on smaller, older vessels before putting them in charge of a brand new ship that has half its systems not ready, even if it was only doing a trip around the "block", so to speak :) – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 4:48
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    Much as I like this answer as is perhaps the most canon (from the script, no less!), from an in-universe perspective I think Praxis's answer gives a little more on the range of interplaying factors :) – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 6:51
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    @JaneS that's totally okay; as the OP it is your call as to which answer best addresses the question. Just glad to have offered another perspective :D – Often Right Nov 9 '15 at 7:44
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I'm not sure if you are interested in answers that rely on apocrypha, but I want to expand on the "Good references" point that Praxis made by referring to the Lost Era novel "Serpents among the ruins" that features the Enterprise-B under Captain Harriman. A quote from the relevant part:

By the time Harriman had graduated the Academy, his father had attained the rank of rear admiral, a position that had allowed him some influence in forwarding his son's fledgling career. Doors of opportunity had opened early and often for Harriman, more so than his performance - as good as it had been - had merited. More so than anybody's performance would have merited.

  • It's interesting, and adds a nice in-universe backstory :) – Jane S Nov 9 '15 at 20:57

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