The weapons of The Original Series offer a wealth of data regarding default phaser capabilities, serving as a baseline for their newer cousins.
The early Type-I or 'hand phaser' of the 2260's was a small black box with a pop-up screen, possibly used in aiming (though, in the image below, there's a big McCoy-thumb precluding any such use) or alternately as some sort of indicator of weapon status. Canonically, these were referred to as Phaser One, and considered much less powerful devices than the Phaser Two pistol ("Devil in the Dark"[TOS1).
Even at this point, these small phasers were quite capable little devices. The images above come from "A Private Little War"[TOS2], an episode in which we see McCoy using his phaser to vaporize a large 'mugato' beast and, just a few minutes later, to heat three rocks to the point of glowing in order to keep the injured Captain Kirk warm. In "Friday's Child"[TOS2], we see a Klingon use one of the landing party's hand phasers against them, producing large blasts akin to a stick of dynamite when firing against Kirk and Spock, and also vaporizing two Capellans, suggesting that multiple vaporization-level shots are possible. Other disintegrations by Type I include the large android Ruk from "What Are Little Girls Made Of"[TOS1] and the hobo from "The City on the Edge of Forever"[TOS1].
The weapons were also capable of wide-field stun effects and off-axis firing, both of which are visible in the shots below from "The Return of the Archons"[TOS1]:
From progenitors like the sweet plasma pistols of the 2140's, to the goofy-looking phase pistols of the 2150's, and on down the line to the pretty smooth raygun phasers of the 2250's and early 2260's, there was born the classic Phaser Two. But first, let's take a peek at the penultimate model:
These older pistols were in service with some modifications from at least 2254 to the mid-2260's, and constitute a vast improvement over the 'phase pistol' design from a century prior. (And yes, the weapons from "The Cage" were called lasers, but not only did they not act like lasers at all, they were also overloadable just like phasers. Add to that the fact that phase pistols existed a century prior, and I think it clear that the "Cage" weapons were also phasers, not lasers.)
The large belt seen in the first image was used alongside these weapons until both were retired, though fortunately the suspenders were dropped earlier. These weapons were set by rotating the silver barrel segments, which seems a bit cumbersome and, due to the three different girths of the final aperture, a little too revealing to one's adversary. However, they did show the same vaporization abilities as later models, and presumably featured a similar stun setting.
Dr. Crater in "The Man Trap"[TOS1] may have given us one of the best indications of the weapon's firepower when he used the weapon to blast apart the central column of some ruins, as seen below (note Kirk for scale).
The second stone of the four-stone column was almost entirely obliterated, with only some pieces of the right side and front remaining. Based on the amount of material displaced, this is at least on par with the test firing of a Type I from "Hide and Q"[TNG1].
It was the Phaser One / Phaser Two combination introduced circa 2264, however, that set the standard for phasers.
The Type I was an integral part of the larger Type II unit, and is visible in the image above plugged in at the top of the Phaser Two. In "The Enemy Within"[TOS1], we see Sulu plugging a Phaser One directly into the early white-handled Phaser Two prior to heating up some rocks. This is the only known example of the maneuver being made.
The handle of the Phaser Two was the power pack, and Starfleet officers could carry additional power packs in reserve on their belts ("The Omega Glory"[TOS2]). Below, we see Spock handing Kirk two expended power packs previously used by Captain Ronald Tracey.
The Phaser Two weapons were 'holstered' via various means which allowed them to hang exposed, connected to the hip area. The method of connection was never made clear. At first a tan-colored suede equipment belt was used that tapered down to a point on the wearer's preferred hip, though in lieu of the belt one could connect the phaser directly to one's pants ("The Galileo Seven"[TOS1]). Then a simpler black leather belt was used . . . however, these caused a bit of trouble since, without the taper, the phasers were carried higher, often within the range of motion of the wearer's upper arm.
the act of breaking glass with a tool of some kind, Kirk's elbow
knocks the phaser from his leather belt (falling phaser circled in yellow).
The fact that the phaser could be dislodged via accidental arm motion suggests that no special technique was required to remove the phaser, as is the case with some "grab-resistant" holsters today that require a set of manuevers in sequence to get the gun out. And, assuming the phaser could discharge due to trigger press without any sort of automatic system to confirm that the user is actually holding the phaser, it seems as if the unit could be accidentally discharged quite easily. On the other hand, the lack of any sort of covering holster material means that the weapon's quick-draw potential is quite enhanced. In any case, the black belt was dispensed with later, at which point some sort of hanging flap was employed to again allow the phaser to hang low near a "drop leg" position, with the communicator affixed directly to the pants or via a similar, smaller flap.
These weapons were capable of a variety of settings, as a close view from "In a Mirror Darkly, Pt. II"[ENT4] seems to indicate:
The weapons were set for stun in about 20 episodes throughout TOS, with "heavy stun" setting also being ordered on occasion ("Tomorrow is Yesterday"[TOS1], "The Omega Glory"[TOS2], "The Savage Curtain"[TOS3]). There must also have been a light stun setting, judging by Kirk's pinging of Crater in "The Man Trap" without producing unconsciousness. There was also a basic kill setting (referred to as "force three" by Kirk in "Operation Annihilate"[TOS1]), and a "disruptor beam" or "disruptor effect" setting, employed by Kirk in "Obsession"[TOS2], though the power level of this particular setting is unclear. In addition, we saw a vaporization setting used several times (most notably by Tracey in "Omega Glory"[TOS2]), which may be the same setting referred to by Mirror-Archer when he notes that according to what he's heard, a Phaser Two on maximum setting can "disintegrate" a person ("In a Mirror Darkly, Pt. II"[ENT4]). On the flip side, Yeoman Rand somehow used a phaser to heat coffee ("The Corbomite Maneuver"[TOS1]).
We know a great deal about the capabilities of the weapon. As noted, it can heat rock quite effectively to produce a near-molten glowing state. Kirk, in "That Which Survives"[TOS3], says that some rock he fails to cut through must have a melting point of "8,000 degrees centigrade", indicating that his phaser is capable of producing temperatures near but not equal to that. In "Devil in the Dark"[TOS1], Kirk nearly decides to have his security personnel dig their own tunnels in the underground caverns by using their phasers.
The range of these weapons was suggested in "Arena"[TOS1], in which Kirk orders two men to lay down fire on the coordinates given to them by Spock. The attacking Gorn are stated to be 1570 yards distant (0.8 miles or 1.4 kilometers). Since Spock mentioned intervening high ground, we may assume this was simply suppressive fire designed to either keep the Gorn from charging (such as Gorn can charge, anyway, though this wasn't known at the time) or to keep them from being able to take up position and vaporize more of the Starfleet personnel . . . probably the latter. In any case, this suggests hand phaser use at ranges of at least several hundred meters.
The weapons also have demonstrated a wide-field effect, composed of numerous short pulses:
This not only demonstrates off-axis firing, but also . . . due to the simultaneity of some of the shots (as seen in the first image above) . . . we see that "normal" wide-beam mode should be possible.
Tactically speaking, the Phaser Two is extremely effective. In "The Omega Glory"[TOS2], Captain Ronald Tracey becomes stranded on a planet in a pre-industrial state, abandoning the Prime Directive in favor of a fountain of youth he believes he has discovered. Installing himself as ruler of the Kohm tribe he has made contact with, Tracey uses his phaser to defend the village against the enemy Yang savages.
Upon the Enterprise's arrival, the crew learns of this. Spock finds Tracey's reserve power packs amongst "several hundred Yang bodies" from an attack a week prior. When Kirk prepares to confiscate Tracey's phaser, Tracey takes the Enterprise landing party prisoner, vaporizing Galloway in the process, and puts McCoy to work to find the (non-existent) immortality serum. (Note that since there were several hundred Yang bodies from the attack a week prior, it is logical to assume that Tracy had used the lowest kill setting, as opposed to the constant vaporizations he used against the Enteprise party.)
He tries to convince Kirk to join him, to help him defend against the thousands of Yangs massing for another attack. Kirk refuses, he and Spock escape, the two find McCoy, and the party survivors prepare to contact the ship. Then Tracey enters, looking haggard . . . the final Yang attack is in progress.
Tracey: "They sacrificed hundreds just to draw us out into the open. And then, they came, and they came. We killed thousands, and still they came!" (emphasis his)
He goes on to say that they drained their phasers, and that his phaser was nearly drained. It is worth noting that there were, after Galloway's death, only four phasers on the planet. The Yangs almost certainly used only the most basic tactics . . . they were probably out in the open and dressed in various animal bits when fired upon by Tracey. However, given that the Yangs carried spears, we must assume that the range at which Tracey killed them was sufficient to keep the statistical likelihood of his being hit reasonably low. Even the prehistoric bow and arrow (or its precursor, the even more prehistoric atlatl) could be employed reliably out to about 40 meters, suggesting that a significant percentage of Tracey's kills were at about that range.
Even assuming a mere 2,200 were killed (low "hundreds" plus low "thousands"), that is still 550 deaths per phaser in just the last attack. Captain Tracey's reserve belt packs had been found by Spock, and the Enterprise crew was not carrying any (none were seen taken when the party was taken prisoner, though communicators and phasers were). We can thus gather that, per power pack, up to 550 kills can occur. One would presume that a similar number of stunnings would be possible.
The phaser rifle was only seen once in The Original Series, during the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before"[TOS1]. Little is known about the weapon . . . it has a rotatable assembly in the center (perhaps similar in concept to the rotating barrel of the 2250's era pistol), and is sufficiently powerful to blast a sizable hole in a rock outcropping, though we did not get to observe it do anything quite on par with Crater's pistol. The units were rather bulky due to the rotating section, and had little in the way of a forward grip. Despite the ergonomics, however, the weapons seemed to be quite useful. Neither off-axis nor widebeam firing were observed in this model. The weapon also has some sort of targeting screen built-in as seen below.
enhanced to show "bullseye" reticle
Special thanks to Graham Kennedy for specially providing the long-sought "Enemy Within" plug-in shots, among others. Special thanks also to Lee Kelly and "Ariane" for many of the screenshots used on this page.
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