Star Trek : Enterprise takes place over a hundred years before the "Original Series" (with Kirk and the crew) but we have a problem here.

The spaceship in the series TOS is very spartan, where they have almost no displays and panels at all whereas on the NX-01 spaceship they have huge view-panels, monitors and the font is smaller on the monitors.

Why does it look more modern inside the NX-01 than the USS Enterprise NCC-1701?

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    – Valorum
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:05
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    @Richard That's a pretty comprehensive link. You ought to format it into an answer, and get some up-votes. Your Reputation score is abysmally low on this site.
    – Nerrolken
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:25
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    Because one was made in the 2000s, and one in the 1960s. Nov 14, 2014 at 0:28
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    I think the querent is looking for an in canon reason.
    – Tritium21
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:29
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    The TOS era represented Starfleet's "Less is more" phase.
    – Omegacron
    Nov 14, 2014 at 20:18

4 Answers 4


There is no canonical answer to this, as it's not a problem of canon; it's a problem of out-of-universe (real-life) issues such as budget, imagination and special effects. For example, according to producers Robert Justman and Herb Solow (Inside Star Trek), the show's budget was "so tiny", they couldn't afford to have costumes made by union costume-makers — instead, they had them made overnight by a "sweatshop," and sneaked the finished costumes in through a back window at the studio. For its time it was not an inexpensive series, but comparatively, series that aired in the late 60's (Westerns, modern dramas, or sitcoms) relied on a well-established stock of costumes and props; everything in Star Trek had to be created pretty much from scratch. Star Trek needed a higher budget than most other series airing at that time. TNG came along after the success of Star Wars, which changed studio attitudes towards sci-fi. Enterprise benefited from the relative success of TNG.

The budget of Star trek averaged about $180,000 per episode. At around the same time, there was Irwin Allen's Land of the Giants (1968–1970), a sci-fi adventure wherein a sub-orbital transport spaceship encounters a strange space storm and is transported to a mysterious planet where everything is twelve times larger than its counterpart on Earth. It's budget was $250,000. Compare to $140,000 per episode for Lost in Space (1965–1968) a show not exactly well known for mind-blowing set or special effects. These are just the realities of real-life limitations on the quality of sets.

For another out-of-universe example, why did all the women wear velvet mini-dresses in TOS? Is this consistent with uniform evolution seen in Enterprise -> TOS -> TNG?

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    Then the question becomes, why wouldn't the creators of Star Trek Enterprise have tried to make the ship look more primitive than the TOS ship? Nov 14, 2014 at 3:53
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    @KeshavSrinivasan - That's not something I can answer without asking the show's creators or reading extensively about it. I can give you an easy out-of-universe answer, though. People want to make shows that other people will watch. If you can't reel 'em in with fabulous plot lines, you dazzle 'em with gadgetry. Nov 14, 2014 at 3:57
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    Great answer! Note though that out-of-universe reasons don't preclude canon explanations. For instance, the smooth foreheads of the TOS Klingons were later upgraded to ridges when the budget became available. This went unremarked for years, but was then lampshaded in "Trials and Tribble-ations" before being retconned in the last season of Enterprise.
    – deltab
    Nov 14, 2014 at 4:14
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    "why did all the women wear velvet mini-dresses in TOS? Is this consistent with uniform evolution seen in Enterprise -> TOS -> TNG?" - Since when is fashion logical?
    – Izkata
    Nov 14, 2014 at 5:35
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    Also to note, the concept of modern continuously evolves. Not only for the technology involved, but also for the design. At each moment, the artists wanted to get a "modern" feeling (but not so much modern that viewers could not identify what an item is). Since the "modern" ideas of ST:E are closer to our own conception of "modern", it looks better than TOS.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:22

There is one major event that happens between Enterprise and The Original Series that has not been directly depicted onscreen: The Earth-Romulan War. What little official canon we know about the nature of this war comes from Spock's remarks during TOS:

As you recall from your histories, this conflict was fought, by our standards today, with primitive atomic weapons and in primitive space vessels which allowed no quarter, no captives. Nor was there even ship-to-ship, visual communication; therefore, no human, Romulan, or ally has ever seen the other. Earth believes the Romulans to be warlike, cruel, treacherous... and only the Romulans know what they think of Earth.

Photonic torpedoes (not photon torpedoes) were introduced at the end of Enterprise Season 2, so initially it would appear that this description is pretty far off. However, Memory Alpha does note that the type explosive used in spatial torpedoes has not been specified, and they were seen in the Enterprise's armory in the final season when conflicts with the Romulans were beginning. If they were classified as atomic, then Spock's comment could be seen as a simplified history. The same might be said of the rest of it, as well.

The lack of ship-to-ship visual communication seems to be a direct contradiction to what was shown on Enterprise, given that it was standard throughout the series, unless something happened that caused Starfleet to temporarily give up on such communication channels.

While non-canon, the novels did introduce some Romulan technology that could explain this.

Near the end of Enterprise, in the three-parters 4x12 through 4x14 (Babel One, United, and The Aenar), we learn the Romulans are experimenting with telepresence-controlled ships, using Aenar as their test subjects.

The summary of the ENT novel Kobayashi Maru, which takes place after the end of the TV series, indicates the Romulans have a new technology based on telepresence, called telecapture. They'd successfully used it to hack in and take over Klingon and Vulcan ships, and planned to use it on the Enterprise as well.

Two simple ways to defend against such technology immediately come to mind:

  • Eliminate access points (such as reducing external communications to only what was necessary)
  • Replace electronic components with mechanical ones, so they can't be modified without physical access (as seen in the NCC-1701's design)

So Spock's description of the Earth-Romulan war may have been literally correct, not because of a lack of technology, but rather as a defence against a new weapon. Post-war, when little was still known about the Romulans, the mechanical controls seen in TOS could have been maintained to avoid risking the telecapture technology being used again.

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    Looking to glorified fan fic (EU is glorified fan fic) is a clear indication that there is no in universe answer.
    – Tritium21
    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:49
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    @Tritium21 Licensed works are a good step above fanfic in that Paramount still has some say in how the universe is depicted
    – Izkata
    Nov 14, 2014 at 19:33
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    A baby step above. They have as sway with the canon universe as Fanfic - that is - none.
    – Tritium21
    Nov 14, 2014 at 20:53
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    A bit like how Galactica (in the re-imagined series) was deliberately built to be crappy and old-fashioned, because it was built to fight the Cylons at a time when cutting-edge technology, holograms and whatnot had just caused a war. Nice answer. Jan 23, 2015 at 23:45

The answer to this comes down to exactly one factor and one factor alone: Size.

The NX Class Enterprise was the first of its kind - a Warp 5 Capable Starship. It was packed with as much of the fledgling Earth Starfleet's technology as it could get. And it was 225 meters long, 135.8 meters wide, and 33.3 meters tall. - Memory Alpha

Compare this to the NCC-1701, which had comparable width, but was over 300 meters long and over 70 meters tall. (Note: It was difficult to find specs for the NCC-1701, and I assume that "Beam" is comprable to width here, which could be wrong)

Because the NX-01 was much more compact, we see a lot more of the onboard navigation and technical equipment packed into one place (like our present-day spaceships/stations would be). But on the NCC-1701, that's no longer an issue. It's a much larger ship, and allows for a much more comfortable, lived-in aesthetic.

In short, the reason the NX looks so much more 'advanced' is precisely because more of its tech has to be visible in a smaller space in order for the crew to interact with it.

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    Earth Starfleet* Jan 23, 2015 at 23:45
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Wasn't Starfleet founded by Earth? I don't recall ever seeing any Starfleet ships diverting from the saucer/nacelles design.
    – Zibbobz
    Jan 24, 2015 at 12:06
  • What I'm saying is that you wrote "Earth Federation", instead of the correct "Earth Starfleet". The Federation did not exist for any of the show's run. Jan 24, 2015 at 12:49
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Oh! Well you know, you CAN edit another person's post, and I would accept it if you did. ;)
    – Zibbobz
    Jan 25, 2015 at 13:07
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    "Beam" is the naval term for "width at the widest point".
    – T.J.L.
    Oct 29, 2019 at 15:32

Perhaps the technology seen in TOS is not inferior to that on ENT. Perhaps the light panels and switches of the TOS era were easier to use than the keyboards and touchscreens of the ENT era, but not in a way that is obvious to us in the 21st century.

Another explanation is that the TOS era Enterprise was not all that long after a war with the Klingons, and was doing a lot of dangerous missions. Real life naval ships often use relatively old technology, simply because it is more reliable and easier to operate in a battle. By the TNG era it's pretty normal for control panels to explode when the ship is damaged, not something you want want on a TOS era ship where conflict is a regular hazard.

The TOS era ships seem to be designed with combat in mind, for example by having manned phasers rather than purely automatic ones as seen in ENT and DIS/SNW. Maybe they are more powerful but require being manned, or maybe they are manned to increase reliability and effect repairs during battle.

Tapes used for data storage and the very mechanical computer voices can be justified too. Perhaps there was some over-reaction to AI and highly complex computers, kicked off by the threat posed by Control in season 2 of Discovery. There is also the threat of hacking, which has appeared on various Trek shows over the years. It's possible that the technology was deliberately downgraded to reduce risk.

In Discovery season 2 it is mentioned that Enterprise is incapacitated by a botched upgrade, and decides to revert to older systems for reliability reasons. That was apparently forgotten about when SNW started.

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