The user formerly known as uequalsw

  • 16 Posts
Joined 1 year ago
Cake day: June 12th, 2023


  • This is an excellent analysis. And you are totally right about Chakotay: he is never ever referred to as “Lieutenant Commander”. I like your Watsonian explanation! That’s a really interesting take.

    Of course, this is also the show that was bizarrely inconsistent with Tuvok’s rank. Interestingly, between Kes, Neelix, the Doctor, and Seven, I think VGR may have had the most rankless characters of any series up to that point. I suppose DS9 could be tied, since VGR only had three rankless characters at once, as did DS9 (Quark, Odo, Jake).

    But yeah – I wonder if this reflects a larger trend. ENT definitely leaned on simplified ranks as well – instead of the TNG-era 7-rank scale, we only ever see four on ENT: Captain, Commander, Lieutenant, and Ensign. (It’s not clear to me that the costume department even designed a “hollow pip” for the ENT uniforms.) Under that analysis, we see a gradual trend toward de-emphasizing rank, from DS9 to VGR to ENT to DSC to PIC & PRO (though not LDS).

  • I’ve always been a little unconvinced about this particular story. Memory Alpha seems to suggest “Kim Noonian Wang”:

    But, I dunno… it seems like a little bit of an odd way to reach out to an old friend. This friend was supposed to be Chinese… if so, why give him the additional decidedly un-Chinese names of Khan and Singh (and in more prominent positions)?

    There’s also an odd pan-Asian quality to the name: Khan is a South Asian name, usually given to Muslim men; Noonien is apparently supposed to be Chinese; and Singh is usually associated with members of the Sikh faith.

    This calls to mind the origin of Sulu’s name: the Sulu Sea, apparently so named because Roddenberry wanted Sulu to represent all of Asia.

    In both cases, we have this peculiar situation of various Asian backgrounds being smooshed together into a single character. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people with mixed Asian backgrounds, so it’s not that either Sulu or Khan are impossible. But… I dunno. It just makes me think that Roddenberry came up with a cool-sounding name and then figured out an impossible-to-prove backstory to provide for it.

  • I really like this analysis!

    2383 (speculative): Construction of the Romulan Rescue armada at Utopia Planitia is underway.

    This is likely earlier, since the Mars attack resulted in the loss of a portion of the rescue armada (if not all of it), and the Federation deciding that it was not worth the price of another new fleet is what triggered Picard’s resignation.

    Yes, I agree – I’m not entirely sure when the fleet construction would have begun, so that’s why I was somewhat vague here and just said “construction is underway”. My point is that, regardless of when it began, construction must have been in full swing by '83. I suspect construction actually began in '82, and it can’t have been earlier than '81 since that’s when Picard was promoted (I think) and he was the one who came up with the idea.

    The Synth ban might be intentionally bidirectional. Because of the risk of a set of potentially-sapient artificial constructs going rogue again, the ban might have been to protect them by preventing their creation.

    Yeah, this is a really interesting point. Perhaps the Federation believe it was possible that the synths went rogue because they gained sentience inadvertently (despite, I’m sure, Maddox’s assurances to the contrary). Honestly, that makes for the most compelling argument in favor of the Synth Ban that I’ve seen: while I don’t agree with it, the idea of preventing the creation of synthetic lifeforms because we can’t be sure when/whether they’ll become sentient at least has some air of “responsible creation of life” to it. (Vaguely akin to “Don’t have a child if you aren’t able to take care of it.”)

    I’m not sure that [the 2390s] were all that troubled.

    This is a fair point. I’m basing my assertion here on a “between the lines” reading of PIC S1, where there is a consistent theme of “Starfleet no longer being Starfleet”. To your point, the vibe I get isn’t that there were lots of crises in the 2390s, but rather that it was a decade of Starfleet not living up to its ideals, having lost its way, etc etc. But I agree that this is implicit in the text rather than explicit.

  • Oh that’s a really good point about the Holo-Revolt. And it’s interesting – now that you draw attention to it, I don’t think we have seen any holograms serving on ships we see on LDS. I wonder if a Holo-Revolt did happen and lead to Starfleet banning holographic officers… with Chakotay and Admiral Janeway managing to lobby for a one-off exception for the Protostar given a) the exceptional circumstances of returning to the Delta Quadrant and b) Janeway’s personal desire to never return to the Delta Quadrant but Chakotay insisting that her expertise was indispensable. Holo-Janeway could have been a one-off compromise.

  • … so, Romulans were running the show.

    In theory, we already knew this: Commodore Oh is a Romulan agent, and we are shown that she is in a position of power within Starfleet Security in 2385. In fact, given how quickly the Synth Ban is overturned in-universe, I think Chabon wanted to leave us with the general impression that Romulan/Zhat Vash influence was both pervasive and the driving force behind the Ban; once removed (by way of Oh’s exposure), the Federation seems to quickly revert to its “good” “uncompromised” self.

    Now, I think that’s an overly simplistic depiction of institutional prejudice and societal change, and I think it undercuts the attempts PIC S1 made to question the moral purity of, well, everyone: Picard as a person, Starfleet as an organization, the Federation as a society. The handwave of “…and it was all the Romulans’ fault!”, in my opinion, lets everyone off too easily.

    But I definitely believe that the textual intent was to indicate significant Romulan influence over Federation policy in the 2380s and 90s, and I think the backstory from PRO and LDS creates additional complexity and therefore additional opportunity to weave a more nuanced portrait of Romulan involvement.

  • appears to ban synthetic lifeforms themselves.

    This part, though, has never sat right with me. It deserves a lot more examination than the line or two we got in the season. Right, and that’s part of my point. The suspension of research I agree is one thing, and is better justified in the show. But the outright banning of synths is racist and reeks of fascist regimes in a way that, I agree, is completely underexamined in the show.

    My point is that we can recontextualize the Synth Ban into something that isn’t a reaction to a single event but is rather a reaction to a series of mounting crises. I’m not saying that it puts the Federation in a better light, but to me it makes it more believable.

    To draw a potentially provocative comparison: if the Attack on Mars is 9/11, then the Battle of the Living Construct is the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the Battle of the Texas Trio is the 1993 Bombing of the World Trade Center. And I’d argue that those are important pieces of historical context to understand the reaction to 9/11; 9/11 punctuated the emerging narrative from 1990s terrorism that the world Was No Longer Safe.

    Setting aside the plausibility questions though, one way or another the franchise has established this series of three AI catastrophes in short order (to say nothing of DSC’s Control Crisis, nor PIC S3’s use of interlinked starships); whether or not they needed to do this to justify the Synth Ban is, I agree, debatable. But yeah – intentionally or not, they do seem to have created a more complex backstory here.

  • Yet—and it’s obvious where I’m going with this—“Spock murdered EvilKirk” is not a meme. …[W]hy does he get a pass while Janeway is condemned?

    I’m gonna cheat here a little bit. There are lots of things about the Tuvix debate that really are not about Tuvix; we’ve seen Tuvix elicit underlying opinions about everything from abortion to the trolley problem, and we’ve often seen thinly-veiled misogyny lurking beneath the surface as certain folks appear interested in finding any flaws in Captain Janeway they can.

    So, yes, somewhat trivially, I think that Spock does not get condemned in part because he enjoys the luxury of not being targeted by misogynists. I think it’s a small part, but surely a part.

    I think the reason there aren’t memes is because, well… “The Enemy Within” is an old episode, it never attracted attention through debate, and also it’s a gross episode where EvilKirk straight up attempts to rape Yeoman Rand, and then Spock makes a joke (! Spock! A joke!) about it at the end of the episode. I’m sure it’s an episode numerous folks have tried to forget. (I know I have.)

    So, in terms of using the episode as a barometer to evaluate our own reactions to the two situations, I think there are overriding contextual factors that drown out any insight we might gain.

    As an aside, I also think there is a pretty straightforward argument that EvilKirk (and GoodKirk, for that matter) was not mentally competent. He was, by definition, the remnants of an individual who had had a significant piece of their person torn away from them traumatically.

    I think there’s actually an odd but useful comparison to dementia here: dementia does cause some individuals to behave “out-of-character”, immorally, or just meanly. If there were a “transporter reintegration” equivalent to treating dementia, and the patient said, “No, I want to stay like I am”… then I think probably the patient’s wishes would be ignored.

    Part of the reason “Tuvix” is hard is because, at least superficially, Tuvix appears mentally competent, so it’s much harder to justify ignoring his wishes.

    (As a second aside, one thing that always surprises me about the Tuvix Discourse™ is how little attention is paid to Tuvix being… well, somewhere between an asshole and a creep. He is incredibly manipulative toward Kes, preying on both her feelings for Neelix as well as her mentoring relationship with Tuvok. Neelix of course always was a bit possessive and jealous, but he at least was written “with a good heart”; I felt like Tuvix took those same qualities, but added a Tuvok-esque cold calculation to it. In any case, to me there’s a mildly interesting parallel between these two episodes where there’s this tone-deafness to the way the writers treat the behavior of the “transporter accident individual.”)

  • Good call! Yeah, I think it’s really interesting how the two animated series have utilized more of those callbacks and deep cut references. I had mixed feelings about the last season of LDS, but PRO felt wall-to-wall like solid Star Trek and good television. These recent tax writeoff shenanigans notwithstanding, I imagine that the animated series are cheaper to produce – I wonder if on the whole it might just make more sense for the franchise’s future to sit in the animated world.

    (Of course, I’m tacitly suggesting here that “deep cuts” and “callbacks” are what “make” something into good Star Trek, and I don’t really believe that at the end of the day.)

  • I propose that the Enterprise-E became somehow entangled in something it could not be removed from. I have a mental image of the ship somehow stuck in “spatial quicksand” or maybe an infinite timeloop – some situation where Captain Worf saved the crew and the ship but then was not given the resources needed to extricate the vessel, leaving it to be abandoned in its place.

    More heroically, perhaps the Enterprise-E “saved the day” by hooking itself into, say, the mainframe and physical hull of some starbase that suffering from some sort of collapse of software and/or hardware – saving the station from imminent destruction, but irrevocably welding the ship and station together. Again, perhaps Worf thought he’d be given support from Starfleet to eventually extricate the ship, which would explain why he would later feel justified claiming that the ship’s ultimate fate “was not his fault”.

  • So, this may be a hot take but… I’d argue that Nog will never serve in Starfleet without the headskirt. Setting aside the fact that he’ll always have someone above him the chain of command, I’d suggest that Nog would believe that it’s an articulation of Starfleet ideals via Ferengi custom for him to never take off the headskirt. Why? Because Starfleet is about service to others and to each other. Nog would argue that becoming (or asserting status as) “top dog” is antithetical to Starfleet ideals; keeping the headskirt becomes a continued reminder to him of his duty.

  • It seems like a particularly glaring oversight to have the season of Picard featuring Picard and Beverly’s long lost son, Geordi’s daughters, memories of Thaddeus Riker’s death, and the first time we’ve seen Worf in a long time not explicitly mention at least once that Worf is also a member of the parent club.

    The fact that the oversight is so glaring is what makes me think that we are supposed to read in to the vague line about “sacrifice”, and that we are supposed to infer that it’s about Alexander. It’s subtle and I think it’s unsatisfying narratively, but I think that was the intent.

    As to why they didn’t just make an offhand reference like “Alexander is in command of an entire fleet”… I’m guessing they felt (rightly or wrongly) that it would be weird not to do more with the idea of “Worf as a father”, so… they opted to quietly make him Not A Father (Anymore). Which, to be clear, I’m not saying was a good decision, I’m just trying to do some tea leaves reading here.

  • Oh this one is really interesting, and a very compelling case.

    I think one thing that we risk losing as the Second Generation series (TNG, DS9, VGR and ENT) pass into memory is an understanding of the cultural context in which they were written. So I think it’s really useful that you’ve explicitly connected this to cultural anxiety around divorce, which I think is still present but doesn’t seem like nearly the fixation I remember from 20+ years ago. I wonder, assuming that cultural anxiety fades over time, how the perception of those stories will thereby be impacted.

    What follow is probably too freudian an analysis but: I wonder if fan reactions to DIS and PIC S1 and S2 can be read in this framework. Using this framework, DIS is characterized by an evolving roster of parental figures (lack of consistency) and betrayals of leaders (loss of trust), while PIC cuts its teeth on exposing the flaws of the titular father figure. There are lots of ways people have articulated that these series don’t “feel” like Star Trek, and I wonder if this subversion of convention plays into that.

  • Why Bother With All These Colors?

    I suggest two explanations — one for how this all started, and one for why it was maintained.

    As for how it got started: in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” Kirk has a curious line, when describing the group that built the Enterprise: “We’re a combined service, Captain. Our authority is the United Earth Space Probe Agency.” Author Christopher L. Bennett has explored this idea more fully — that Starfleet was formed from the various interstellar agencies of the Founding Planets of the Federation and that the uniform colors and patches reflect this. He discusses this some in his annotations, but you get a good summary from his sketch of his proposed 2160s uniforms. Likewise, I suggest that the colors may have been chosen in the early-to-mid 22nd century as Earth Starfleet was formed from the merger of, say, a United Earth Science Organization, a United Earth Security Organization, and a United Earth Spaceflight Organization — hence the “combined service.”

    The maintenance of different department and division colors could be justified by the need to categorize an unknown officer’s problem-solving skill set during a crisis situation. Need something fixed? A (24th century) goldshirt can probably assist. Need to understand a mysterious phenomenon? Call over a blueshirt. Need someone to delegate prioritization and management to during a crisis? Call a redshirt.

    Conclusion and Notes

    The core of these categorizations sits with the approaches of each division. The storytelling value is understated but profound — to solve problems, you frequently need to have contributions from all of these approaches. You need cerebral researchers, you need pragmatic builders, and you need bold decision makers. Any one of these working on their own has gaps and blindspots. But working together, they are a force to be reckoned with. Put another way — humanity needs all of us to work together, to succeed.

    Thus, as a storytelling device, uniform colors reinforce a core tenet — perhaps the core tenet — of Star Trek: infinite diversity in infinite combinations.


    My original comment on this topic was in a Daystrom reddit thread by NervousEnergy. Additional tips of the hat to rockerfellerswank, iamzeph, Flynn58, and ConservedQuantity.

  • Phaser Control crews in the 2260s are shown in Command Gold (see below). 24th-century officers of the Judge Advocate General, such as Phillipa Louvois and Rear Admiral Bennett are also in Command Red. Intelligence officers such as Worf and “Rota” are in Command, as is Sloan when he appears to work for Internal Affairs. Worf also brings the role of Strategic Operations into the Command Division. And numerous 24th century administrators, including Ensign Weldon, Commander Hilliard, and then-Commander Benteen, are shown in Command (though see below).

    The trend we see developing here is that the Command Division encompasses roles that range from administrative to real-time control — all involving some level of command decisions, all involving complex situations with many variables. As such, I and others suggest that dedicated diplomatic officers would likely also be in this division, along with dedicated shuttle pilots.

    In all cases, we see an emphasis on the complex analysis of secondary data sources. A JAG officer must weigh this legal precedent against that, must compare the strength of this counsel’s argument with the other’s. An administrator (and starship CO and XO) must balance multiple priorities, coordinate multiple efforts, make executive decisions on which project gets which resources. An intelligence officer must read countless briefings and analyses and meta-analyses, and conduct their own constant analysis of the information at hand. A diplomat has to constantly balance various parties’ interests at once, all while appearing equanimous. And a pilot (and weapons control officer) must bear in mind the position of nearby objects, the capacity of the ship’s engines, the strategic requirements of the situation, the physics of starship motion, and the relevant impact of stellar and interstellar phenomena, all simultaneously.


    The 24th-century trend points towards administrators being part of the Command Division (c.f. Weldon, Hilliard, Benteen). This is consistent with the general idea of needing to be able to multitask, pivot from crisis to crisis, and engage in some level of command/control. The 23rd-century trend points toward administrators being part of the Operations Division — for example, almost all of the yeomen aboard the NCC-1701 — Rand, Colt, , etc. – are shown in the Operations color of their era. Likewise, Commodore Stone and Commodore Stocker, who are depicted as more paper-pusher administrators than Sisko ever was, despite their shared positions as base commanders, are shown in Operations. On the other hand, Commodore Mendez is shown in Command.

    There is logic to both approaches — one could imagine a starship yeomen’s responsibilities being more clearly defined (and thus a better fit for Operations) while an admiral’s adjutant may be responsible for handling a wider range of unexpected circumstances (and thus a better fit for Command). The shift between 23rd and 24th centuries may represent a change in Starfleet’s approach, or it may be that different administrative positions fall under different divisions, depending on their specific job requirements.


    A conversation between Sisko and Eddington in “The Adversary” has been taken to mean that only Command Division officers can rise to captain or higher. This would seem to be generally true, but not a hard and fast rule. Montgomery Scott held the rank of captain while still maintaining membership in the Operations Division, and Admiral Toddman did the same while serving with Starfleet Security. In the 23rd century, Commodore Stone and Commodore Stocker both wear Operations Red, which is consistent with the general trend of that era of putting administrators in Operations rather than Command. Though all these examples represent a minority, it’s clear that there is no hard requirement that captains and flag officers be part of the Command Division. More likely is that the available positions for such ranks skew toward the Command Division — i.e. a primary reason for promoting someone to admiral is to have them be responsible for a large number of people, which is usually a job for an administrative or command expert; there are cases where you would prefer to have an engineering or security expert managing a large number of people, but they are rarer.

    Tactical and Weapons Officers

    During the 2260s, operation of shipboard phasers was at least partially executed by the Phaser Control crew, a measure perhaps introduced following the Control Crisis of 2257 or possibly as an anti-telepresence mechanism; these personnel wore Command Gold, reflecting their close relationship to the Flight Control department. It is likely that there is significant cross-training between the two departments during this era, during a time when shipboard weaponry was mounted in single location as opposed to arrays, thus necessitating close teamwork between the two. (This would also dovetail with Chekov’s eventual transfer from navigator to tactical officer in the 2270s.)

    A century later, the role of the solitary tactical officer has once again emerged, apparently replacing Phaser Control crews, and reflecting a general trend back towards automation. Until the 2370s, tactical officers were again in the Operations Division, likely due to closer personnel integration with the Security Department, and with the Engineering Department, as weapons systems become more reliant on the computer. (For a real-life analogue, consider that accountants of 100 years ago required high mathematical aptitude; nowadays, wizardry with Excel is just as important if not more.)

    However, by 2379, Worf appears to be serving as tactical officer again on the Enterprise while still wearing Command Red. It is possible that tactical officers once again moved back into the Command Division during the Dominion War, as battle tactics shifted more toward fleet engagements and away from one-on-one dogfights. In that environment, a tactical officer would be more akin to a multitasking commander.

    Comparing The Divisions

    The three divisions form a spectrum of fundamental approaches: the Science Division works slow and deep; the Command Division must work broadly and often with urgency; and the Operations Division falls in the middle, emphasizing straightforward practicality.

    Both starship commanders and flight controllers must make split-second choices; engineers rarely must do this and scientists almost never. Security and tactical officers will sometimes need to make split-second choices, though mainly under the commands of a senior officer, and almost invariably within the specific confines of their discipline; they are drilled in making the kind of split-second decisions they need, almost to the point where it is automatic. It would be unusual for security to multitask, though less so for tactical officers, which is why we see that role bouncing between divisions. While doctors too will need to make split-second decisions, their approach, as described above, is fundamentally different from those in the command division — in essence, only within the command division is it acceptable for officers to be slightly reckless – scientists, engineers, security personnel and most of all doctors must be more conservative.

    Of course, these divisions only reflect the fundamental approaches of basic training, the “starting points” for each officer. Starfleet officers of all backgrounds are expected to grow and diversify their skills; just because someone received scientific training at the Academy doesn’t mean that they can never pick up the practical approaches used in operations. An engineer certainly should not shy away from the slow, in-depth style of the sciences, nor should a scientist avoid the interdisciplinary approach of the command division.

    [continued below]

  • A Watsonian Theory

    As you can see above, it actually takes very little to suggest (from an in-universe perspective) that the Prophets may have been the agents behind the Valerian Situation.

    We know that the Prophets have the ability — both through the Orbs and through direct interaction in the wormhole — to influence people telepathically. The most obvious example of this was when they “de-evolved” Zek in “Profit Motive,” but we also see things like the “Orb Shadow” events, and of course Orb Encounters themselves.

    It’s possible that the Prophets themselves created the telepathic energy matrix, set it on the Klingon ship, and then let events carry on through there. (The energy spheres on Saltah’na being implanted memories.) Their objective would have been to indirectly bolster the relationship between Sisko and the Bajorans by allowing them to “get it out of their systems” — inoculating them against further conflict.

    Normally I’m pretty wary of theories like this — “xyz happened because the Prophets did it” or “because Q did it”. But the confluence of alien telepathic influence, the presence of the wormhole, and the direct impact on the good of Bajor — which the Prophets take an active and repeated interest in — makes it seem a little bit less arbitrary.

    Put In A Different Light

    I’ve written before about how the Prophets are underdeveloped as characters, and how there is distinct benefit to retconning things as being caused by them. Previously I had described how the idea of a Prophets-influenced Rom serves to put the Prophets in a bit of a different light, moving them from this ambiguous portrayal wherein they are maybe good “people” (and maybe they aren’t), to a slightly more positive depiction wherein they really do “care”. Tying them into Rom’s story arc gives us more to judge them by.

    Tying the Prophets into the Valerian Situation also gives us more to judge them by. In contast, though, this would put them in a more ambiguous light. Yes, the crew of DS9 learned their lesson and made sure to play nice together, ensuring that The Sisko would stay around long enough to do his The Sisko Thing.

    But. Um. All those Klingons. Yeah, they died. Lots of stabbing, big boom.

    To be honest, I don’t think this is entirely out of character for them. Don’t forget that they also had no problem overwriting Zek’s personality, they had no problem using Akorem Laan to send Sisko a message, they had no problem hijacking Sarah Sisko’s body, they had no problem winking thousands of Dominion soldiers out of existence, and they apparently had no problem with the Occupation of Bajor. These Klingons were among the most innocent bystanders, especially when the severity of their fate is considered, but it wouldn’t be wildly out of character for them.

    Am I planning to add this idea to my personal headcanon? Probably not. It paints the Prophets as just a little too Machiavellian for my tastes. But, if some tie-in author ever decided to run with it, I wouldn’t dismiss it as outlandish.

    In Conclusion

    “Dramatis Personae” is a good example of an early DS9 episode, in that it has lots of really interesting pieces that almost fit nicely into the overall lore of the series, but which just ever so slightly miss. “Past Prologue,” “A Man Alone,” “Captive Pursuit,” “Battle Lines,” and “Second Sight” are other examples of this — we can recognize the common ideas that these early episode share with later, more developed storylines, but they don’t quite sync up.

    Which is fine. One thing to say about DS9’s first season: it is, by far, the strongest first season of any of the Berman-era series. It doesn’t have too many great episodes, but basically the entire season is solid. None of the episodes I’ve named are particularly “bad”, just sometimes less interesting. The fact that they don’t “line up” as well as they might with future episodes isn’t really something to complain about — just to note.

    I do wonder sometimes — what would DS9 have been like if they had planned things out more? Obviously there are some days (like today) when I say, “Ugh, it would have been so awesome if they had done more to tie in the First Season. Sometimes it feels like the show didn’t even start until Season Three!” And then there are other days when I wonder if maybe the reason it worked as well as it did is precisely because they didn’t plan it out. Maybe that’s the secret.

  • The showrunners have hinted that they’re gonna play a little loose with established canon this season – I think in particular with regard to Spock/Chapel, but also likely with the Gorn. Which honestly is an interesting choice – SNW is supposed to appeal to folks who miss TOS (and the vibe of TNG, even if LDS and PIC are more literal successors to TNG), and so I wonder if they are counting on that “credibility” to seek “forgiveness” from fans who object to continuity issues.

    (On the other hand, they also seem to be doubling down on certain elements from canon; for example, they are taking very seriously this notion that 2250s Spock is noticeably greener, no pun intended, than 2260s Spock, drawing much more on “The Cage” than his later appearances. To me, this is in contrast to the Kelvinverse interpretation of the character, who, while still more emotive than 2260s Spock Prime, nevertheless seems to be drawing primarily from that version of Spock, rather than the one from “The Cage”.)

  • I’d argue that, in some ways, Deep Space Nine is the answer to your question. For the most part, DS9 did not utilize the “away team” concept much at all. Now, if you are asking more broadly about the effect of putting our characters “in danger”, than I suppose you could argue that all of DS9 was an “away mission”, but I think the dynamic was significantly different.

    With respect to TNG, I suspect showing a wider diversity of crew on away missions would have heightened the feeling of the Enterprise-D as a “university town”, with a range of experts in different fields, but where the senior staff are seen – not as less expendable – but rather as generalists, or perhaps even more like “philosophers” (in an old-fashioned sense of the term), who must take in information from a much wider range of sources and figure out what to do with it.

    Dramatically, however, I think this would have made TNG even more “talky” than it already was. Without the senior staff going planetside and seeing the strange new world for themselves, I think we would have that much less emotional involvement with the “extra of the week” doing the exploring instead. Could it have worked with, as you suggest, a subcast of “away team” characters? Perhaps, but I think you would have needed to remove some of the existing cast, or reimagine them significantly – I don’t think TNG could accommodate too many more regulars. (A rebooted TNG where Geordi, Worf, and Tasha are the “landing party” crew could be interesting, but would be very different from what we originally had.)

    That all being said… I’ve long felt that Star Trek was at its best when it told stories that could be told as stageplays (or could be easily reimagined as stageplays). A TNG without away teams would work very well as a stageplay, and could serve as a way to focus the writing: the story has to be compelling through the dialogue and acting alone, and can’t lean on the tropes of the “dangerous away mission” or the “mystifying abandoned alien planet”.