Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wide Beam Phasers Revisited

In the earlier post “Nothing New Under the Sun . . .” I wrote about the progressive revelation I had regarding how far back the use of the wide angle phaser setting goes. Recently I came across some additional information on a Star Trek forum. [Unfortunately the thread, and evidently the entire forum, are no longer there anymore.]

To summarize the discussion: There are at least two other places the wide beam phaser setting was mentioned or used that I had overlooked. One was in the Next Generation episode “Power Play.” Troi, Data, and O’Brien were “possessed” by alien life forms and had taken hostages in 10-Forward. One rescue option that was discussed was to storm 10-Forward with wide beam phaser fire—stun everybody, sort it out later. Secondly, on Deep Space Nine wide beam phasers were used to sweep rooms for hidden changelings. (There is a third reference on this forum to another use or mention of it in an episode of TOS, however in the post there was some uncertainty as to which episode this was in and, unlike the other two examples, I have no recollection of the situation described.)

Interestingly the topic was raised with the specific issue I had also wondered about: Why wasn't the wide angle setting used against the Borg? A variety of theories are offered that revolve around the basic ideas that wide beam phasers beams get weaker as they spread out and therefore may not be powerful enough against the Borg and/or the wide angle setting drains the power cells too quickly to be useful in a combat situation.

These theories are reasonable enough, although, as some of the other posts indicate, not necessarily unassailable. Physically speaking it makes sense that the power of a wide angle beam would diminish significantly over a given distance, but Tuvok did threaten to use wide beam dispersal that was set to kill.

The counter-argument offered is that by the time the beam spreads out perhaps it’s not strong enough of a kill setting to use on a Borg (whose body armor may withstand lower kill settings). Well, maybe that’s so. As far as the power consumption theory goes, the counter-argument is you don’t get very many shots against the Borg anyways so, why not drain a couple of phasers if it disables more drones?

Reading the discussion got me thinking about the issue some more myself. A combination of the issues mention might make the setting unusable—the power setting needed to have any impact on a group of drones may overload the phaser or be greater than its total output capacity.

Or let’s assume that Tuvok’s threat implies phasers are fully capable of firing at wide beam dispersal, even at the highest settings. What if the wide beam setting only works for a certain frequency or a small range of frequencies, perhaps the standard phaser frequencies that the Borg long ago adapted to?

The problem with all of these "what if's" is you can "what if" right back at them. Couldn’t someone design a wide angle that overcame these limitations—increased power and therefore increased range, larger power cells, variable frequencies?

Enterprise adds another layer of confusion to the issue with the introduction of the stun grenade to Trek lore. Given two centuries to perfect it, couldn’t such a device be created with a kill setting, perhaps even one powerful enough to use against the Borg?

In the end dramatic considerations must win out for the writers and suspension of disbelief should kick in for us as the audience. The very fact that this technology is mentioned so infrequently during the hundreds of hours of episodes and movies shows that this is simply not a common way the phasers are used. We can assume that a battle with the Borg is just one of many scenarios where it just doesn’t work that way.