False facts about Star Trek you always thought were true

Star Trek has been beaming, warping, and time-traveling its way into fans' hearts for over 50 years. The series has excelled at reinventing itself time and time again, using different characters and settings to explore an interconnected and shared world, something that Trek was perfecting well before Hollywood started using the term "cinematic universe." Most fans think they know everything there is to know about Kirk, Picard, and the whole Trek crew. Along the way, though, those same fans absorb ideas about Trek and its characters from pop culture that simply aren't true. From famous phrases no one ever said to lies these shows deliberately tell, here are some false facts about Star Trek you always thought were true. 

Kirk said "Beam me up, Scotty" in the show

If there is one cultural catchphrase Star Trek is best known for, it's "Beam me up, Scotty!" It refers to Captain Kirk asking everyone's favorite Scottish engineer to beam him away from whatever salt vampire or lizard monster the crew is tangling with this week. Despite the prominence of this phrase for decades upon decades, the simple truth is that Kirk never said "Beam me up, Scotty."

To be honest, this is a pedantic point, as Captain Kirk said very similar things a number of times throughout the series, such as "Scotty, beam us up." In the beloved Star Trek IV, he says "Scotty, beam me up." However, the exact phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" appears in no official Star Trek series or movie, though it does pop up in some of the unofficial Star Trek novels and other media. This phrase can join the one associated with Data's favorite detective Sherlock Holmes who, incidentally, never said the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson."

Kirk was a huge ladies' man

One of the main qualities that people think they remember about William Shatner's James T. Kirk is that he was a huge ladies' man. Fans casting their minds back seem to think that every episode involved green women or short-skirted crew women throwing themselves at the feet of the famous captain. This misconception about Kirk is so fixed that it was played up by the J.J. Abrams-directed reboot, in which Kirk ogles the requisite green woman, hits on Uhura, and even gets distracted by some pretty faces on the Starfleet Academy quad.

However, this simply wasn't a major part of Captain Kirk's original character. There were times that he flirted with women in order to get vital information about the mission at hand. However, whether a consequence of the writing or of network censors, Kirk rarely slept with any of the women he flirted with. When women under his command did try to throw themselves at him, Kirk rebuffed them. And as Larry Womack points out, one weird episode involved an alien probe meant to discover the woman who is "foremost in his thoughts," and it uncovered Uhura. Despite what the Nu Trek movies show, Shatner's Kirk never showed any interest in Uhura, so the probe that fans would assume would reveal some green-skinned conquest instead showed a capable woman Kirk trusts and respects. Hardly the space pimp people remember!

Picard strictly obeyed the rules

One of the reason that fans so passionately debate Kirk vs. Picard is that the showrunners went out of their way to create characters that seem completely different. Picard is quiet and diplomatic in scenarios where Kirk would be a loud cowboy, and he's likelier to discuss Shakespeare with his android crewman than share a stiff drink with a country doctor. Because of this pointed contrast, many people simply assume that Picard is a stickler for the rules, including the main rule of Starfleet, the Prime Directive.

However, it turns out that Picard is much more reckless than Kirk. In the powerful Season 4 episode "The Drumhead," Picard Is accused by a fire-and-brimstone Starfleet investigator of having violated the Prime Directive nine times, and there were more violations in later seasons and movies. The episode does not specify the instances, and some of the possible examples are ones where the audience would likely sympathize with Picard. This includes saving hapless Wesley Crusher from a death sentence for breaking a greenhouse while playing a game with the natives (nice catch, Wesley) and allowing Data to save his alien pen pal's planet from complete destruction. So, while most of the audience would cheer for Picard each time, the surprising truth is that, much like Kirk, he does not hesitate to bend and break the rules when he feels there is more at stake than bureaucracy.

Spock never showed emotions

One of these Star Trek misconceptions is based on the character of Spock. Because he is a Vulcan driven entirely by logic, the character often presents himself as being free of emotions. This is, of course, one of the reasons why he clashes so often with the emotional Dr. McCoy, forcing Kirk to play the mediator between the two. However, long-time viewers of Star Trek can see that Spock shows emotions much more than even he is aware of.

There was the time he accidentally gets high from an alien plant and has an emotional hookup with one of the natives. In another memorable instance, he freaks out because he realizes he enjoyed eating animal flesh. He breaks into a huge grin when he finds out Kirk faked his own death and that he, Spock, is not responsible for killing his best friend. Later, he cries softly when he realizes that the intelligent space probe V'ger is experiencing the emptiness that Spock once felt when he realized that logic wasn't enough to make him feel complete. So, they are few and far between, but Spock can be quite emotional, which is what the Nu Trek films have made a point of very prominently illustrating.

Star Trek had the first interracial kiss on American TV

The original Star Trek was bold and trend-setting in a number of ways. For instance, it had an amazingly diverse cast period for the time, and often used its wild sci-fi stories as allegories to explore issues in our own world, such as racism. Towards this end, Star Trek is often credited for a particular racial landmark: having the first interracial kiss on US television. The plot involved the crew being turned into puppets by powerful beings who can make them do anything, and one of the things they do is force Kirk and Uhura to kiss.

This scene has its own amusing backstory, as a nervous NBC wanted to shoot several alternate takes so they wouldn't offend their southern viewers and affiliates of the time. William Shatner decided to cross his eyes and make goofy faces for each of these alternate takes, ruining them all and eventually forcing the nervous execs to air the kiss.

Was it historic? Yes. Does it have a cute backstory? Definitely. But it wasn't the first interracial kiss on US television. That honor goes to a TV special called Movin' With Nancy, which starred none other than Nancy Sinatra. It aired a few months before the Star Trek episode and had a number of memorable cameos, including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., the latter of whom gives Nancy a kiss on the cheek at the end of his scene.

The moment looked like a spontaneous kiss, but Nancy, like Shatner, had a plan: she made sure the scene was shot at the end of the day, when she knew Sammy Davis, Jr. would have to leave, making it impossible for any nervous execs to make them re-shoot anything. It's hard to be progressive if you aren't clever, apparently.

The series was always popular with fans and critics

Star Trek has become an unstoppable cultural juggernaut, with over 700 episodes and a dozen-plus movies to its name (and counting). So you'd be forgiven for thinking that Trek was always popular. However, the original show was almost immediately on the chopping block.

The first season of Star Trek was not a critical or ratings darling, and barely scored a renewal for a second season. The somewhat-tepid reception continued, and NBC planned to cancel the show, until Star Trek fan Bjo Trimble organized the first major "Save Star Trek" campaign. She successfully rallied the really passionate fans, and they managed to get Trek renewed for a third season. If we're being honest, that third season was hot garbage, with such weird episodes as "Spock's Brain," where an alien steals Spock's brain to power a planet-controlling super-computer. Yeah.The show was definitively canceled after that third season, despite another write-in campaign that fizzled.

So, why is Star Trek still around? Back then, three seasons was the magic number to get a show put into syndication. There, Star Trek found the, well, next generation of young fans in the 70's, making the property popular enough to eventually push for the creation of the Trek movies. Even those were touch-and-go: the first movie was disliked by many critics and put many fans to sleep, and Wrath of Khan was only created because Paramount was convinced that by re-using as many ships, sets, and uniforms as possible, the film could be made cheaply and help Trek turn a profit again.

Gene Roddenberry was responsible for Next Generation's success

Gene Roddenberry is the undisputed architect of Star Trek, and since the legacy continued with the immensely successful Next Generation, most people assume that Roddenberry's the chief force behind that show's success, too. However, this isn't true at all.

Even the most ardent Next Generation fan acknowledges that the show starts out pretty rocky and takes two seasons or so to really get established (some fans joke that you can gauge the quality of a Next Gen episode by how full Riker's beard is). There's a reason for this. Early on, Roddenberry had more influence over the show, and he was a big believer that characters should never conflict with each other. This led to quite a few clashes with the veteran writers' room, as they knew damn well that conflict is the key to any good story. Adding to the problem was that Roddenberry was allegedly very worried about losing the show, so he was averse to doing risky things such as showing gay characters (even if they were minor characters).

As Roddenberry's health declined, Michael Piller took over as showrunner around 1991. He formed a core of writers who trusted him, began accepting outside script submissions, and allowed the show to go in ballsy directions, such as showing most of the crew dying bloody deaths in a different timeline. With all due respect to Gene Roddenberry, the quality of the Next Generation we all remember can be laid pretty directly at the feet of Michael Piller, who sadly passed away back in 2005.

Wesley is a "Mary Sue" character

The term "Mary Sue" (a relatively flawless character who is clearly the author's wish-fulfillment character) has always been connected to Star Trek. The term comes from an actual character named Mary Sue, created as part of a Trek parody called "A Trekker's Tale" by Paula Smith back in 1974. Her Mary Sue was described as "the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet—only fifteen and a half years old," and was intended to mock this "perfect young prodigy" character archetype produced by so much Trek fanfiction of the time.

Understandably, many people feel that Wesley Crusher was also a Mary Sue. After all, he is a teenager that gets to fly the ship, join Starfleet early, and save the ship every other week. However, the truth is that Wesley is not a Mary Sue. Or, put more accurately, he wasn't meant to be such a character. From the beginning of Next Generation, Wesley's intended role was to be an audience surrogate figure. This figure appears in most fiction as "the new guy," and provides a built-in narrative reason for the characters to explain how things like holodecks work. That's exactly how he functioned in the show's pilot, as Wesley serves as the perfect vessel through which the audience learns about the holodeck, Mr. Data, the Enterprise, and the characters themselves.

So, what happened to audience-surrogate Wesley? The aforementioned issues with the writer's room meant that few people were comfortable writing wide-eyed and wonder-struck Wesley, and instead wrote him as a one-man plot resolution machine, as they found it difficult to write a child prodigy character in a way that didn't make the rest of the crew regularly look stupid. So maybe it was the writers who needed to shut up, and not Wesley.

Nobody uses money in the future

There are fewer complicated ideas regarding Star Trek than the idea of money. Most casual fans believe that there is no money in the 23rd and 24th centuries, which makes sense seeing as how Captain Kirk himself confirms "they don't use money in the 23rd century" in The Voyage Home, and Captain Picard claims in First Contact that "money doesn't exist in the 24th century." Seems pretty clear-cut, right?

Except that any sampling of episodes from almost any series of Trek will prove this is wrong. Kirk offers to pay some miners to settle a dispute in The Original Series, and the crew later buy Tribbles with, presumably, some form of currency. Dr. Crusher casually buys stuff from a marketplace in the Next Generation pilot and sends the bill to the ship, and the Federation later participates in an auction for a stable wormhole. On Deep Space Nine, the crew regularly buys drinks, rents holosuites, and gambles at Quark's, an establishment that only accepts latinum (gold bars from spaaaaace) as payment.

So, reading between the lines, it seems like both Kirk and Picard have a tendency to talk up the moneyless future they've traveled from, leaving fans to argue for decades over where all the money is coming from, when it comes to Starfleet officers who claim to not get paid.

Starfleet are the good guys

The most baked-in assumption about Starfleet and the Federation is that they're the good guys. They're presented as Utopian ambassadors of a better, peaceful way of living, and if they have to fight, it's always in defense of their own lives or their member worlds.

However, some of Trek's best episodes come from the conflict of those ideals with practical concerns, and even a cursory examination of those plots reveals that Starfleet is definitely an evil organization. For instance, Captain Picard and his crew are generally considered the best of the bunch when it comes to being moral and wholesome. But when they capture a Borg survivor, they waste no time rigging him with a fractal algorithm intended to kill his entire race when he reconnects with them. Picard backs off when the Borg becomes an individual, but Starfleet signed off on this plan, and an admiral even yells at Picard later for not going through with the whole genocide thing. Or how about Star Trek: Insurrection? In this one, Starfleet has uncovered a "fountain of youth" planet and intends to forcibly remove its natives so Starfleet can get an upper hand in the war against the Dominion. Some heroism.

Then there's Captain Sisko. In Deep Space Nine, Sisko enlists Elim Garak's help to deceive the Romulans, and Garak ends up blowing up an entire ship to cover the pair's tracks. Sisko doesn't report him, because their goal of making the Romulans think the Dominion did it is successful. Sisko also combats the Maquis who are dropping dirty bombs on Cardassian worlds, by dropping his own dirty bomb on a Maquis world. At the end, he says the humans and Cardassians will just swap planets and jokes about his plan that endangered an entire planet — in the real world, that would definitely make him a war criminal.

Ultimately, Starfleet is a ruthless regime that breaks bad, but acts like they're perfect.

Star Trek is friendly to fan projects

In a lot of important ways, Star Trek has always had high levels of fan engagement. From the '70s to the modern day, the world of Trek fan art, fan games, and fan movies absolutely exploded. Because of this, most people assume that Star Trek, as a corporate entity, is friendly to fan projects.

While that may have been true before, it is categorically untrue now. It all started with a crowdfunded movie called Axanar. Unlike most fan creations, Axanar was a professional-looking movie made by professionals who could afford it, after receiving over a million dollars in crowdfunding. Oh, and they sold a lot of Axanar merchandise that used homemade Trek logos, symbols, and settings. In 2015, Paramount unsurprisingly filed a copyright injunction against Axanar, but the film's producers countered by pointing out that Paramount never had actual rules of any kind for what fan projects can and can't do.

So Paramount called their bluff and created some. Now, fan films can't go longer than 15 minutes, and no stories can total more than 30 minutes. If there are any Star Trek uniforms or props, they must be "official merchandise" and not fan-made. Also, no professionals can help with making anything like a fan film. So Axanar had their belated rules, but these rules are so stringent, they threaten many long-running fan series, podcasts, and so on. Also, these rules conveniently force people to buy expensive "official" merchandise, just as salt in the wound. Trek was suddenly a lot less friendly to the fans who had kept it alive for decades, all because one fan-film flew too close to the Sun, and then challenged it to a fight.

Data's programming keeps him from taking life or lying

In many ways, Mr. Data's programming was seemingly modeled after Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics. This can be seen in his willingness to take orders from Starfleet, his desire to protect himself, and his seeming inability to hurt living creatures. In the show and movies, the shorthand for this is that Mr. Data has an "ethical subroutine." Because of this, there's a misconception among viewers that Data himself does his best to spread: that he is incapable of killing someone.

Specifically, in the episode "The Most Toys," Data tells the man who captured him, Kivas Fajo, that he is only able to kill in self-defense (which makes sense, because otherwise Data would never be able to help defend the ship in a fight). Fajo is a collector of rare items and has managed to kidnap Data while making it look like the android was killed. He is assisted by a woman named Varria. She reveals that Fajo can be cruel, but she ends up helping Data escape. This is where things get interesting, as Fajo kills Varria for disobeying him. Fajo then gives a classic villain monologue about how Data, now armed, is unable to kill out of the rage a living being would feel. Data, though, begins to reason that Fajo will just get someone to replace Varria and he will eventually kill her, so letting Fajo live means letting the cycle continue. Data raises his laser to kill Fajo and is then beamed away by the Enterprise; they notice his gun is firing at the moment they beam him out and ask him about it. Data proceeds to look them right in the eye and suggests the transporter must have set it off. It turns out that a properly motivated Data is perfectly capable of killing and lying to the people around him who think that these things can never happen.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was an original idea

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is memorably bad, with a bizarre story about the crew encountering God … who somehow needs an Starfleet Uber lift off the planet. Most people assume this terrible story was the brainchild of William Shatner, who both directed and wrote the thing. The truth is, however, Shatner plagiarized from no less a source than Gene Roddenberry himself.

The first idea that Roddenberry had for a Star Trek movie was called The God-Thing, and it involved the Enterprise encountering a creature claiming to be God and taking many different shapes, including Jesus. The twist was that, while it was an alien and not God, it was supposed to be the true source behind many religions throughout the galaxy. The crew ends up helping heal the creature and sending it back to its home dimension. Put more simply, God needed a starship.

Roddenberry's original idea was meant to challenge our notions of God and religion, while William Shatner, in appropriately Kirk-like fashion, just wanted to shoot God in the face. Thus, Shatner perverted one of Roddenberry's wilder concepts, but it could have been worse: the original plot for Final Frontier involved "God" being literal Satan and sending the crew to literal Hell. Fortunately, Shatner settled for simply sending audiences to a metaphorical Hell.

Next Generation was the first sequel series

The next misconception involves Star Trek: The Next Generation. The pressure was high for showrunners to create a series that simultaneously carried on the spirit of the original show while providing original characters and plots so things didn't feel like fans had already been there and done that. As such, Star Trek: The Next Generation cemented itself as the sequel series to the original Star Trek series. However, it turns out there was an entire galaxy of adventures that many people are simply unaware of.

The first sequel series was hidden from many fans until they saw it pop up on their Netflix queue. Years after the original Star Trek stopped producing new episodes, Star Trek had an animated series. It was voiced by most of the original cast and has been selectively considered as canon, with a handful of live-action Trek episodes referencing events from the animated series. These cartoons went on for two seasons and were nearly replaced a few years later by another live action series. Star Trek was getting popular in syndication (which was why it got a cartoon revival in the first place), and both Roddenberry and Paramount were interested in creating Star Trek: Phase II. This live-action series would have brought most of the cast back (except for Nimoy, who declined) and introduced new characters such as Commander Decker and Ilia. Paramount soon determined their pilot would make a better movie than an episode, and this, combined with the runaway success of Star Wars, meant that the Star Trek film series started. As a consequence, fans forgot about the cartoons and the series that almost was, leaving The Next Generation as the third planned sequel series rather than the first.

Troi was always an empath

Deanna Troi was a crew member with special powers. In addition to making fans' hearts flutter by wearing a variety of non-regulation uniforms, Troi was an empath who was able to read the emotions of others. It seemed perfect that someone who functioned as the ship's counselor was able to read emotions … so perfect that most fans assumed that this was the power she was originally designed to have. However, the truth is a bit more complicated.

Originally, Deanna Troi was meant to have full telepathy. This is most clearly exhibited in the pilot episode "Encounter At Farpoint" when she both reads Riker's thoughts and projects thoughts into his mind. Later episodes reduced her to having empathic abilities for a few reasons. The first is that according to Larry Nemecek, she disliked the "emotional soliloquies" that she had in that episode as a consequence of being able to read people like a book. Having someone who could fully read minds also presented storytelling issues, as it's tough to have a mystery when the person next to Picard is a living lie detector. By changing her to an empath, the writers could offer an explanation that she was unable to read the emotions of certain alien species, like the greedy Ferengi. Nonetheless, writers struggled with working around her empathy powers, with Nemecek pointing out that they dropped her from four episodes of the earliest season and nearly dropped the character altogether.

Khan couldn't know Chekov

This next misconception is rare in that it is one that has been spread by the most ardent Star Trek fans. The second Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, was the sequel to the original series episode "Space Seed." That episode introduced genetically enhanced villain Khan, and ended with him and his genetically enhanced crew being left to start a new life on an alien world. Unexpected disaster turns that world into a hellhole filled with parasitic creatures, so Khan is understandably pissed when a Starfleet survey crew shows up on his planet. Chekov is part of this crew, and Khan specifically tells him that he remembers the young officer and that Khan never forgets a face.

Here, the collective Star Trek fandom always takes the time to remind people that this is impossible. Audiences not only never see Khan and Chekov meet in the first-season episode "Space Seed," but the character of Chekov was not introduced until the second season of Star Trek. Therefore, most fans assume it's impossible for the two to have ever met. However, the second-season episode "Catspaw" stars Chekov and takes place during a stardate that is earlier than the one featured in "Space Speed." It's entirely possible this was just a slip-up in the writers' room, but it provides evidence that Chekov was around when Khan was on the ship. Given Khan's interest in learning about the ship and Kirk's initial willingness to show him around, it makes it that much likelier Khan could have run into Chekov.

Seven of Nine was exploitative

When Seven of Nine's character was brought on Star Trek: Voyager, many assumed her casting was something of a ratings ploy. After all, they were essentially replacing the modest alien Kes with a blonde bombshell in a skintight catsuit. Incidentally, this was a view that was initially shared by Kate Mulgrew (who played Kathryn Janeway) herself. Holographic doctor Robert Picardo said in an interview that Mulgrew initially thought casting the vivacious Jeri Ryan in the role amounted to bringing a sex gimmick to the show. This cued off the mixed fan reaction. Some fans adored the sexy new addition to the crew, as did the media. Jeri Ryan graced magazine covers that dubbed her things like "the hottest gal in the galaxy" or "Borg babe," and counted her among the "sexiest stars in the universe." Many others, though, were highly annoyed on principle that such an exploitative character was brought onboard the most explicitly feminist Star Trek show.

Here's the thing, though: Seven of Nine was actually a very positive female role model. Viewers often see her rebuffing unwanted male attention, as she does with an alien ambassador in the episode "Someone to Watch Over Me." She becomes an instrumental part of the crew, helping them establish actual communication with Starfleet way back in the Alpha quadrant. She often serves as a powerful counterpoint to Janeway's perspective on issues such as alien cultures and technology, as audiences see when they clash over whether to destroy or preserve some Omega particles. And throughout her entire story is the message of actualization and individual identity, as she shakes off her identity as a member of the Borg collective and becomes her own person with her own strength and values. Ultimately, this sexy, "exploitative" character ended up being one of Trek's most inspiring women.

Starfleet and the Federation embrace diversity

This misconception is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the concept of a show versus the production of a show. On paper, both the Federation and Starfleet are supposed to be highly diverse to embody the Vulcan ethos of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations." It's tough to go two episodes without Picard or another crew member talking about how great it is that the 24th century is free of the bigotry and racism that plagued earlier times. Most viewers believe this, possibly because of the hypnotic quality of Patrick Stewart's voice.

However, it's very much not true. The vast majority of characters onscreen are human, despite the fact that Earth is but one planet in the huge United Federation of Planets. Both the Federation and Starfleet are centered on Earth, making humanity the center of the universe for this huge collection of cultures and people. Half of the presidents of this Federation that audiences see are also human. Ultimately, it's not very diverse when it comes to representing alien races, and the diversity for humanity is also a bit lacking: there have yet to be any canonically gay Star Trek main characters. It turns out "infinite diversity" mostly covers straight, usually white humans, even in the 24th century.