Star Trek Guide

Star Trek Makes The "TOS" Label Canon In-Universe — With A Twist

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Finale - "No Small Parts"

Star Trek fans have long used the abbreviation "TOS" as shorthand when referring to Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Lower Decks has now made "TOS" canon in-universe — but, of course, there's a twist. Creator Mike McMahan's animated comedy is just the latest spinoff following in the footsteps of the classic Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry that starred William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, and DeForrest Kelley as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation launched as the first Star Trek spinoff in 1987, it quickly became necessary for Trekkers to have a quick and easy way to distinguish Kirk's show, which at that point had evolved into the Star Trek movie franchise, and the new hourlong saga starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The 1960s Star Trek became "TOS," short for "The Original Series," while The Next Generation logically became "TNG." When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine launched in 1992, it was just as easy to abbreviate that title to "DS9," which was also the shorthand the characters in the show used to refer to their titular space station. Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise each took the first three letters of their subtitles to become "VOY" and "ENT," for simplicity's sake.

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It got a little more complicated for Star Trek: Discovery since the first three letters of its subtitle are "DIS" and otherwise, the initials of the entire title shorten to "STD," both of which are derogatory. But the show starring Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham ingeniously broke the three-letter tradition and went with the abbreviation "DISCO," which is spoken in-universe and also became T-shirts worn by the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery. Star Trek: Picard shortens to "PIC," although the show is usually just referred to as "Picard" out of regard for the Starfleet Legend. Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn't officially settled on its abbreviation yet, whether it's merely "LD" or "STLD". However, Star Trek: Lower Decks, which lovingly references every aspect of the Star Trek franchise, finally turned "TOS" into in-universe jargon.

In Star Trek: Lower Decks' season 1 finale, "No Small Parts," the U.S.S. Cerritos made second contact with the planet Beta III and Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O'Connell) commiserated with Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) that "it's always weird visiting planets from the TOS era." When Freeman questioned what Ransom meant by "TOS," a label she'd never heard before, her First Officer said, "It's what I call the 2260s. Stands for 'Those Old Scientists'. You know, Spock, Scotty, those guys." 

Beta III was last seen in the TOS season 1 episode "Return of the Archons." Back in the 23rd century when Captain Kirk's Starship Enterprise first encountered Beta III, the population was under the control of an evil sentient computer named Landru. Kirk and Spock destroyed Landru — or so they thought — but the Cerritos discovered that at some point after the Enterprise departed, the people of Beta III went right back to worshipping Landru! Ransom also noted that Beta III was an example of how, in the TOS era, "It seems like [Kirk and his Enterprise] were stumbling into crazy new aliens every week back then." By contrast, the 24th century Alpha Quadrant of the TNG era is largely explored, compared to how the final frontier was the great unknown in Kirk's time.

Star Trek: Lower Decks has also had fun with other famous TOS tropes, like turning "Beam us up!" into "Boim us up!" after a transporter accident temporarily changed Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid). It remains to be seen if Ransom's "TOS" designation for the 23rd century that he coined will catch on with the crew of the Cerritos and with Starfleet's population at large or if it's just one of Star Trek: Lower Deckscountless sly jokes about the venerable franchise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream on CBS All-Access.

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