Captain's Log

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Zapp: Captain's Log, stardate... uhh...
Kif: (sighs) April thirteenth!
Zapp: April thirteenth ... point two.

Futurama, "Love's Labours Lost in Space"
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"Captain's Log supplemental: Eh, beedoobeedoobeedoo. That's all."

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A voice-over of the lead character talking out a journal or Diary entry. At the beginning of the show, this is used to allow the main character to be Mr. Exposition, or to remind watchers of a Story Arc of which the current episode is a part.

Given that this usually supposed to be an official record of a commander's duties, there's some opportunity for humor when he experiences some embarrassing problems or has to make a difficult decision. In that situation, he often has to struggle to phrase his log recording in a way that could downplay it without getting into trouble for writing a false report.

In the middle of the show, it's used to move slow plot points forward (usually things that you suspect were once scenes but were cut for time, budget and/or script pacing).

At the end of the show, it's used to sum up the plot and deliver An Aesop.

Examples of Captain's Log include:

Trope Namer

  • Classic Star Trek: The Original Series uses this trope in virtually every episode, and the trope is named for it. Kirk would often dictate his log at the start of the show and after every commercial break. Sometimes this discarded all logic, as when he dictated about things he didn't know yet, or recorded his log when he was nowhere near a recording device. (Of course, that show got the log from the Real Life logs in sailing ships, but the use of it in the form of this trope came from the show.)
    • Though Deep Space Nine did show Odo making a log with a comm badge, leading to the possibility that TOS communicators could have that function, too; or maybe he made records from memory later.
      • In Season 2, there was at least one case when the log was played when Kirk was captive (with hands up etc.) so they are recorded from memory.
      • This and other situations were due to the perceived need to recapitulate the events of the episode. When it deals with events Captain Kirk was not aware of at the time of recapitulation, Kirk would say "Captains Log, Supplemental", meaning that Kirk added these remarks after he found out what had happened.
    • Reviewer SF Debris likes to poke fun when logs are made at inappropriate time. Such as when Riker is heading to engineering due to an emergency "and stops along the way to make a log on how urgent this is." Or when Kirk and someone else have a Freaky Friday Flip and Kirk somehow makes a log entry while detained in sickbay (as the crew is unaware of the switch).
    • The Captain's Log was planned as the narrative device for the show by Robert Justman and Herb Solow as a quick way of orienting the viewer in situations that could have been confusing. The "These are the voyages" business at the beginning was meant to be the same type of thing.

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Explorers on the Moon has a few all-text panels headed "Extract from the Log Book by Professor Calculus."
  • Rorschach's journal in Watchmen, at least to some extent.

Film

  • Avatar with Jake Sully's video logs.
  • Once Upon a Time In Mexico featured an FBI agent who was constantly giving a running commentary on what he was doing into a concealed tape recorder, presumably to be used as a record of what he thinks is a semi-legitimate investigation into a drug lord.
    • If one assumes that he is the Hero of Another Story (as he is presented in the movie), then this could very well be the source of the narration if he were the star. As it is, he ends up spending much of the movie talking to himself and commenting on whatever foolish thing he is about to do.
  • Used by April O'Neil in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie.
  • Various entries in the Terminator franchise use this plot device to justify Sarah Connor's voice-over narration.
  • Watchmen has Rorschach's journal.

Literature

  • Taken a few steps further in one of the X Wing Series novels, where Wraith Squadron captures an enemy ship where the Captain stores his Captain's Log in hologram form. We're talking hours of holo-footage here. There's so much of it that the Wraiths are able to use it cobble together a CGI Captain to mess around with the Big Bad of the novel in a rather delicious Indy Ploy.
  • The first couple of paragraphs of The War of the Worlds form an opening narration that sets the scene, then goes above and beyond Foreshadowing only to explicitly lay out the premises of the story that is about to come, namely that we are about to witness an invasion, that the invaders will be from Mars, and that they will ultimately die, mentioned in reverse order.
  • Parodied in The Witches of Karres: Captain Pausert makes an entry about battling space pirates to explain some unauthorized target practice on a nearby asteroid.

Live Action TV

  • JD of Scrubs constantly talks in voice-over, a internal monologue, and so serving the same role as a Captain's Log. These voice-overs also serve as An Aesop and Double Aesop in, quite literally, every episode.
  • Agent Cooper's dictaphone notes to Diane (his never-seen secretary) on Twin Peaks serve a similar function.
  • Janeane Garofolo's character on Felicity, as the never-seen therapist sending dictated comments serves as both An Aesop and a Captain's Log in reverse.
  • And of course both Doogie Howser, M.D. and Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City summarizing their episodes, quandaries and lessons into their computers.
    • One does wonder what they're going to think in 20 years, reading those elliptical, reference-filled sentences that won't make any sense at all to someone who hasn't just watched the episode. Also, wasn't Carrie supposedly writing her column rather than a journal?
  • Early seasons of The X-Files had Agent Scully writing reports to her superiors at the end of many of the Monster of the Week episodes. In the final seasons, after David Duchovny left the show, Scully read her journal entries as letters to the missing Mulder.
  • John-boy Walton of The Waltons kept a journal, and apparently couldn't write without moving his lips...
  • The early episodes of Red Dwarf often had the ship's AI, Holly, give a spoof captain's log, which (with one exception) were merely one-line gags with no relevance to the plot of the episode.
    • And again, in later episodes where a hologram from a hologramic ship "beams" aboard Starbug and documents the surroundings into a Dictaphone, Lister whips out a cigarette packet and gives his own captain's log. They both trade witty banter discussing each other until Lister mentions having a holo-whip capable of causing pain to holograms which ends the scene. He ate the cigarette...
  • On the pilot episode of Sliders, Quinn Mallory keeps a videotaped log, so that the audience can follow along with what he's doing. Later, Wade's handwritten diary is used for the occasional introductory voice-over.
  • Babylon 5 uses this occasionally, with not only the Captain's Log, but also Commander Ivanova and Dr. Franklin's personal logs.
  • Quark parodies this, along with almost everything else from the original Star Trek.
  • When 3rd Rock from the Sun did story arcs, Dick explained what happened last week with a Trek-style "High Commander's Log". Sally and Tommy later got into the act as well and, in fact, the first time Sally did this, she opened with "Lieutenant's Log; yes, I have one too."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actually does a Lampshade Hanging of this in the episode "Necessary Evil".
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Odo: Commence station security log, stardate 47282.5. At the request of Commander Sisko, I will hereafter be recording a daily log of law enforcement affairs. The reason for this exercise is beyond my comprehension, except perhaps that Humans have a compulsion to keep records and files — so many, in fact, that they have to invent new ways to store them microscopically. Otherwise their records would overrun all known civilization. My own very adequate memory not being good enough for Starfleet, I am pleased to put my voice into this official record of this day. Everything's under control. End log.

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    • Deep Space Nine, however, tended to avoid this, leading to very few episodes having stardates.
  • The earlier episodes of Roswell began this way.
  • Each First Wave episode starts with a fake Nostradamus quote, followed by the hero's exposition of what it could possibly mean. Sounds like he is reading from a journal.
  • Sheldon keeps a log on The Big Bang Theory, including stardate. With appropriately geeky attention to detail, the stardate is correct, working from 1987 (the first season of STTNG) as stardate 41000.
  • Good Luck Charlie: The titular baby's big sister Teddy is a recording a video diary with pearls of wisdom (mixed in with her own self-glorification) for her sister when Teddy (being a decade and a half older) is out on her own. It forms a substantial portion of the narrative.
  • The "Dear Dad' episodes of M*A*S*H used Hawkeye's letters home for the same purpose. Letters by Fr. Mulcahy, Radar, Klinger and Col. Potter were also used. Major Winchester taped nearly all his correspondence to his family, creating an actual (rather than mental) vocal narrative.
  • The title character's diary on Mr. Belvedere is the "end-of-the-episode" version.
  • The first few episodes of The Vampire Diaries begin and end with bits from Elena's diaries about dating Stefan (who's a vampire) and coping with life and stuff. These voice-overs were ditched at the same time the show became awesome.
  • The captain's log becomes a plot point in Season 2 of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. After the Galactica encounters the Pegasus and Admiral Cain takes command of the fleet, she reorganizes the crews of both ships specifically in response to the picture of favoritism toward Apollo and Starbuck painted by Commander Adama's own words.
  • The report back to Orson on the planet Ork at the end of each Mork and Mindy episode serves much the same purpose as a log entry, but with the minor unexplained ability of Mork's off-world boss to reply in real-time to something that should be light-years away.

Music

  • Back To The Ship follows the increasingly nonsensical Captain's Logs of Captain Kirk after he ingests way too much LSD. In particular, it does a great job of mocking the precisely numerical nature of the original logs:
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"Stardate 2 point... something, f*** it, I've taken too much LSD."

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Radio

  • The long-running radio series Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar used the title character's expense account entries; in the show's introduction, Johnny was credited as "The Man with the Action-Packed Expense Account".
  • Episodes of the 1940s radio series Voyage of the Scarlet Queen began and ended with Philip Carney, the Queen's captain, making entries in the ship's log.

Video Games

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Given a Shout-Out by Toy Story: When Buzz first "lands", he begins recording, and says "stardate". He later gives a Vulcan Salute to Woody.
    • The Pilot Movie of the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command spinoff takes the homage further; having Buzz making log entries incessantly, to the point where he's about to be brainwashed by the bad guys and opts to record his final moments — and the bad guys lampshade it but write it off as Buzz being a control freak as usual. Too bad for them he wasn't recording, he was transmitting and calling in the Big Dang Heroes.
  • The Futurama episode "Love's Labours Lost in Space" parodies this over and over again. Zapp trying to use Star Trek's "Stardate", which is nonsense in the Futurama world, Leela giving up when she fails to find An Aesop in the episode, and then there's this exchange:
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Zapp: Captain's journal, stardate 3000.6.
Kif: Who are you talking to, sir?
Zapp: You! Aren't you getting this?
Kif: (sighs)

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    • Which leads to a bit of Fridge Logic...would Zapp even know about the Stardate system? Considering that Star Trek is forbidden and all...
    • A cut scene from Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch was also to have featured Zapp's voice over to the Captain's log... a literal fallen tree that he found in the jungle.
    • Beast with a Billion Backs adds "Stardate... The Year of the Tiger."
  • Practically every episode of Doug, involves Doug writing the episode's events into his journal.
  • A short on I Am Weasel that featured Weasel and Baboon as a captain and first mate on a ship has Weasel doing the traditional approach with paper, and Baboon using an actual log.
  • The Super Mario Bros Super Show! started every animated segment with Mario's "Plumber's Log", setting up the exposition.
  • Dexter's Laboratory had an episode in which in the first few minutes, Dexter does a voice-over starting with "Dexter's Log, stardate 1234.5". This was one of the show's many homages to Star Trek, but still...
  • Skipper from The Penguins of Madagascar keeps his log on a handheld tape recorder.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle's letters to Princess Celestia on the Aesop of the episode are like this. Granted, unlike most examples, this happens at the end of each episode, but the basic idea is the same.