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In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the bridge of the Enterprise prominently features digital clocks above the viewscreen and all over the bridge. Why?

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Time is not relevant to the plot. The Excelsior's bridge does not feature any clocks, nor does the Enterprise in any other movie or episode. They don't seem to have any function in the film nor precedent in Star Trek.

This would a nightmare for the editor. Now the clocks could be digitally altered, but in 1991 the clocks would severely restrain how shots could be arranged. My theory is this was done deliberately by the director to make sure the film was released as they originally intended; no studio meddling. They do a really good job of keeping the clocks consistent, I only noticed a few slips.

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    Props love clocks [not]. Yes, every scene has a time of day & props must make sure any clock is correct every time. One can only imagine this clock was settable remotely & didn't advance, or if it did, then it was triggered manually. […and, no, I've no idea why they would give themselves that extra headache;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 16, 2023 at 7:34
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    Upvoted just for the interesting theory that it was done by the director to keep the film as he intended it.
    – Darren
    Jan 16, 2023 at 10:31
  • While researching my answer, I saw several mentions that this plot includes a (metaphorical) ticking clock. I need to re-watch it myself to decide, but it does make me question OP's assertion that "time is not relevant to the plot." That said, adding clocks to the set is not the only nor even best way to accommodate that kind of plot.
    – Tom
    Jan 20, 2023 at 23:30
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    I watched some of that movie recently, and the clocks are not all over the bridge as far as I can tell. The two images posted are where the clocks are - there is only 2. I thought the clocks were to play along with the little Sherlock Holmes mystery solving they went through when Kirk was on the Penal Colony - time to shoot, time to energize, time to assassinate, time to return before gravity is restored. A lot is made of the Bridge and most other sets being redressed due to budget considerations. Jan 21, 2023 at 11:04
  • Time is a consideration, lots of times in the film they say 'not enough time', 'time is short', etc, might just have been method to keep the ticking down to the peace conference in the audiences minds. Jan 21, 2023 at 11:19

2 Answers 2

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Quite plausible

Your theory, that the clocks are there to effectively lock down the editing, seems plausible. Not only does it actually accomplish that goal, it seems that the production of The Undiscovered Country was extremely fraught.

The way I see it, there were two main problems:

  • The previous film had done badly at the box office, and the studio was reluctant to throw good money after bad; apparently there was a hard rule that ST6's budget could not exceed that of ST5.
  • There was substantial disagreement among the major players about the film's themes
    • Gene Roddenberry was vehemently opposed to the militarism and bigotry
    • William Shatner was opposed to the bigotry and was perhaps actively deceived about how some of his scenes would be presented
    • Nichelle Nichols refused to speak a line that was a deliberate (and crude) reference to the film Look Who's Coming To Dinner; they put it in Koenig's mouth instead
    • Brock Peters, like Nichols, was saddled with some dialogue that was especially problematic owing to real-world race relations

On top of all this outright disagreement, quite a few cooks were actually allowed into the kitchen:

  • the screenplay had contributions from six people, including Leonard Nimoy
  • a very different alternative screenplay had been shopped around, written by the director, but which the studio declined

And, it was very consciously built around reference to some real-world events:

  • the Chernobyl disaster
  • the Cuban missile crisis
  • the fall of the Berlin Wall

These were all events of significant political and cultural importance, making for a lot of baggage that might give executives reason to re-edit the movie without regard for the original artistic intent or compromises that were made in good faith to keep all the players on board.


I could not find any concrete proof that the director deliberately added clocks to the bridge as a defense against studio meddling, but it does seem like he would have had more reason to fear that than most directors.

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  • I understand why the actors would be reticent to have lines that were racist or bigoted, but I think that was also a plot point - due to the decades of hostilities between the two superpowers, there will still many on both sides who saw even individuals on the other side as "less than" worthy of basic respect. And because Kirk, who had a very personal reason, could overcome his own bigotry, maybe there was hope for everyone else in that situation. Apr 5 at 17:15
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This is a partial (might be mistakes as im on the move atm):

In a movie that generally either has stardates that the general audience cannot reconcile with and the lack of clocks present because it is the future (Star Trek V bridge for example has no clocks, and VI is a redress of that set, the only new set built being the galley), this movie has clocks added as a method of reminding the audience that there is a countdown at hand, on two counts:

First, to play along with the Sherlock Holmes mystery solving of when the torpedoes were fired, and then when the assassination was carried out and then of when the perpetrators escaped.

Second to give the audience a countdown reminder to the peace conference. If the protagonists are not there in time, another event will unfold that they are trying to prevent.

I suppose a third is the short time in which to track Kirk and rescue him from the penal colony.

That the OP thinks there are many clocks on the bridge is not by accident.

There are actually only two clocks but their placement is important. The one on the bridge is nearly always in the background of hero crew shots and important plot points, including the first indicator of an energy spike, to classic original crew line up shots, its nearly always in a reverse shot; the other clock on the viewscreen is like a news channel, it time stamps important events, and is also the view from the bad guys.

Throughout the movie there are references to time, and most of it is how time is short:

SPOCK: We will be able to follow the Captain's movements.

VALERIS: How did you achieve this, sir?

SPOCK: Time is precious, Lieutenant. We must endeavour to piece together what happened here tonight.

NANCLUS: Mister President, they are vulnerable. There will never be a better time.

SPOCK: Even logic must give way to physics. Gravity had not been restored by the time they escaped.

SPOCK: Ah! Mister Scott, I understand you're having difficulty with the warp drive. How much time do you require for repair?

SPOCK: However, if I know the Captain, by this time he is deep into planning his escape.

McCOY: Well, if you've got any bright ideas, now is the time.

KIRK: Time is the problem.

SULU (on viewscreen): I'm getting underway now. We're now in Alpha Quadrant. The chances of our reaching the conference in time are slim.

KIRK: ...then all we have is a neutron radiation surge, and by the time we're close enough to record it we're ashes.

CHANG (on intercom): You do prefer it this way, don't you? As it was meant to be. ...No peace in our time.

FEDERATION PRESIDENT (OC): The total evacuation of Kronos has been calculated within the fifty Earth year time span.

SPOCK: The key, please, Doctor. Time is short.

FEDERATION PRESIDENT (OC): ...As you know time is of the essence.

Sound track-wise, I think it is has an undercurrent of time ticking away, for much of the period from when Kronos 1 is hit, onwards.

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    It's a nice theory, but those timestamps are never referenced. There's no countdown. Never a specific time mentioned. Urgency is conveyed by normal cinematic parallel storytelling. They have to rescue Kirk and McCoy before they freeze or are killed, which we are shown. They need to get to the peace conference before the president is assassinated, we are shown the assassin setting up. They need to rig up the torpedo because they're getting hammered. Maybe there's production notes out there saying they wanted a ticking clock plot, but cut it.
    – Schwern
    Jan 21, 2023 at 21:30
  • Can we talk about that galley? Why does a galley need so many blinking lights? Is it so we know it's a SPACE galley? Are those SPACE smart ovens? 😆
    – Schwern
    Jan 21, 2023 at 21:32

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