Captain's Log, stardate... uhh... Kif:
(sighs) April thirteenth! Zapp:
April thirteenth ... point two
, "Love's Labours Lost in Space"
A voiceover 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
One downside of using a "Captain's Log:" the obviousness that, at least the Captain (or whoever recorded the log) would survive the episode, no matter how terrible the situation or what manner of danger was presented the crew. Otherwise, who would have been around to record the log afterwards?
One element of this trope that often goes unexplained is the question of when the character had the time to make all of these entries (always in present tense) while in the middle of said dangerous situations. Especially when he wouldn't plausibly have any down or quiet time, let alone access to a recording device.Is he keeping a log in his head?
If it's being used for exposition purposes when the viewpoint characters are Late to the Tragedy
it probably fits better under Apocalyptic Log
, but the two can overlap
. Compare Private Eye Monologue
, a similar narrative style typically used in Film Noir
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- Classic Star Trek 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.)
- 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.
- The Next Frontier spoofs the Trope Namer (or its local equivalent) in-universe with the Captain's Blog but nevertheless uses it straight as a Framing Device for exposition and world-building that pulls double-duty as a Fourth Wall Mail Slot.
- The lead character of Empath: The Luckiest Smurf occasionally begins the story with an entry in his personal journal, and in some stories updates his journal with things that took place in the story from his perspective.
- Bait and Switch fics usually ignore this entirely, in keeping with the Mildly Military nature of Captain Kanril Eleya, but "Frostbite" opens with a classical Star Trek log entry from her executive officer Commander Tess Phohl.
"First Officer’s Log, Stardate 87234.2. The Bajor
has been on patrol in the Rolor Nebula north of Deep Space 9 for the last week. Twelve hours ago our long-range sensors detected a previously uncharted Class M world orbiting Alpha Quinque Fratres, a G 2 V
yellow dwarf star, same as Sol or B’hava’el. Per standard protocol we’re now on approach to investigate."
- Averted in the Aubrey/Maturin books. Aubrey's log is referred to occasionally, along with the logs kept by the Sailing Master, the midshipmen (which Aubrey reviews as part if their training) and there is also a scene where Aubrey specifically refers to his log while appearing before a Navy Board, but the use of "Captains Log" as exposition never appears
- 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 sequence is a subtle Take That to Star Trek, as the characters find the concept ridiculous and lambast it as an example of the captain's arrogance.
- Mace Windu records a series of journal entries in the novel Shatterpoint, one of which includes commentary from Nick Rostu.
- 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.
- Frequently used by John Wyndham, with several books opening with a description of what situation humanity will be in by the end of the book. In addition, since the books are often framed as an in-universe account by the main character, some entire books could be seen as fitting the trope. The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes are probably the two best examples.
- 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.
- The original Dracula uses this trope for exposition in one chapter, and somewhat unusually the result bears a passing resemblance to a genuine ship's log of the period; remarks about the increasingly weird goings-on aboard the ship initially take a back seat to everyday stuff like position, condition of the ship and provisions etc.
- 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, quandries and lessons into their computers. In Carrie's case, speaking out loud as she writes her column.
- 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 captians 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 voiceover.
- Babylon 5 uses this fairly frequently, especially in the later seasons. In this case, not only Captain Sheridan keeps a log, but also Commander Ivanova and Doctor Franklin. Sometimes a distinction is made between their personal and professional logs, and occasionally other characters narrate in a similar way, though without the "Log" intro at the beginning of the voiceover. They are generally used to show the characters' thoughts and reactions in a way that couldn't be done through dialogue, and they additionally help with the intended feel that the show is a historical record of events long-past.
- Quark parodies this, along with almost everything else from the original Star Trek.
- Starhunter has a few of these, which is to be expected since it's a space exploration show. There's no stardates though, and he's a bit more of a Terse Talker than normal captains.
- 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".
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.
- Deep Space Nine, however, tended to avoid this, leading to very few episodes having stardates. The above example in "Necessary Evil" ends up the equivalent of a Private Eye Monologue.
- The episode "In the Pale Moonlight" uses the Captain's Log as a framing device for the story as Sisko recounts how the Romulans were convinced to join on the Feds side of the War. Since the story involves several serious crimes Sisko was party to and is struggling to live with, Sisko actually winds up destroying the logs.
- Star Trek in general liked to play around with the Captain's Log a bit, especially in the later series:
- On Deep Space Nine, when the Cardassians retake their station from the Federation, Gul Dukat actually makes some log entries of his own.
- On Enterprise, the Mirror Universe two-parter treats us to the villainous logs of Captains Forrest and Archer in turn.
- On Voyager, "Muse" actually opens with some actors from some extraterrestrials' roughly Bronze Age culture putting on a theatrical production with something a lot like a Greek Chorus reciting some of Voyager's logs to their patrons in the audience to set the tone for their story.
- The earlier episodes of Roswell began this way.
- The main character in The Invisible Man starts every episode with a famous quote, usually foreshadowing the episode's plot.
- One episode had Darien narrating a flashback and starting it off with a quote, causing the listener to stop him ask him about his quoting.
- 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 Mash 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 Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). 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 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.
- Halo Wars plays this straight. In this case, though, it goes: Captain's Report, February 14, 2531. Just to be different.
- The Neverwinter Nights 2 module "Dark Waters" has a parody of this trope as a dialogue option at the end of the first chapter, with the player commenting that he didn't bang any green skinned space babes on this particular voyage, and Daniel and Heather giving classic Spock/McCoy reactions.
- Kazuma Ardygun from Super Robot Wars W keeps a diary that he writes on at the beginning of each chapter. When he can't update it, his sister Mihiro takes over for him.
- Borderlands has many ECHO logs from a variety of characters, but the one that matches this trope best is the collection of logs made by General Knoxx. He tends to complain about the Admiral, his life on the planet, the Admiral, sponges, cupcakes, the Admiral and the Admiral.
- The Curse of Monkey Island opens with Guybrush recounting the events of his adventure up to that point, while adrift in a bumper car.
- One of many Shout Outs by George in The Longest Journey.
- In Battle Zone 1998, missions start off with a spoken journal record of the Player Character - Grizzly One detailing his thoughts and feelings about being in the Cold War gone hot. The sequel, Battlezone II: Combat Commander, likewise starts each mission off with a journal by the player character, John Cooke, showing his divided loyalties when stranded halfway across the universe god-knows-where.
- The Sega Saturn adaptation of Magic Knight Rayearth had each of the three protagonists write illustrated diary entries about the towns they visited. Given that they're a Power Trio of fourteen-year-old girls (Hikaru as The Kirk, Umi as The McCoy, and Fuu as The Spock) they are subject to Unreliable Narrator and Alternate Character Interpretation about their adventures and the people they meet. One of the villains also records one◊ about how he's Surrounded by Idiots.
- In The Transformers' three part pilot, Spike uses his diary at the end of each episode as a framing device, but this was never used again. The Transformers Ladybird Books however, borrowed this from the show and used it occasionally.
- played with in Family Guy when Peter "narrates" his life for some reason
- 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:
Zapp: Captain's journal, stardate 3000.6.
Kif: Who are you talking to, sir?
Zapp: You! Aren't you getting this?
- 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 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.
- One of the space episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show has Captain Ren reporting to his log (not that one) with a helmet that sends thoughts bulging down a wire into a computer.
- 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.
- In season four the main cast actually get a collective diary to track the aesop of the day.
- South Park usually ends with one of the children giving a Captain's Log style Aesop. Occasionally subverted and lampshaded:
"We've learned something today..."
"No we haven't dude."