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Star Trek’s James Doohan Dies

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Star Trek’s James Doohan Dies
A Reflection by Victor Lana

I know that enough has been written about Star Trek over the years since the original TV series began in the 1960s, but the death this week of one of the main actors from that series has me thinking about the show in a new way, thus I am compelled to write about it.

James Doohan’s death at 85 makes me feel the truth of my own mortality just a little bit more. Having grown up with the original series, I thought of Doohan’s character Scotty as someone I knew. All of the characters seemed to make a connection with me in different ways: the courageous Kirk, the loyal Spock, the abrasive Dr. McCoy, the beautiful Uhura, and the ever inventive Scotty. The loss of one of them is like losing an old, beloved friend.

James Doohan joins DeForest Kelley (who played Dr. McCoy) in that great universe, that place beyond perhaps space itself. And this is what has been making me rethink the purpose of the original series and the subsequent feature films derived from it. I found I kept asking myself, what was the overall purpose of Star Trek?

I believe the answer can be found in two famous lines of dialogue that emerged from the series. One is probably the most memorable: “Beam me up, Scotty.” This line, which I think in the original series was actually “Beam me up, Mr. Scott,” morphed into something so overwhelmingly repeated and misused that its intended significance seems to be lost.

What Kirk is actually asking for in this line of dialogue is salvation. If one is familiar with the series, Kirk and his colleagues are saved countless times by being “beamed up.” The practicality of this technology as a means of transport, aside from the movement of a human body in such a manner, would seem, especially to ancient cultures, as an ascension into heaven. We understand that supposedly the Starship Enterprise was in orbit around a particular planet, and that Kirk and the others were taken on board the vessel, but the symbolic ramifications are obvious.

Also, what about the overall mission of the starship? In the second of the two famous lines of dialogue I mentioned, we have Kirk’s voice-over: “…to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” While it’s stirring in and of itself, and echoes thematically the words said by Neil Armstrong during the first moon landing (which wouldn’t occur until 1969 – three years after the premiere episode of Star Trek by the way), it is also a case for the search of something much more intangible.

I believe Star Trek has always been about more than distant planets and strange looking aliens and lovely space sirens to whom Kirk can make love because he is the bold starship captain, a Caesar of the stars. No, I think the true and underlying reason for the mission is to find God. Why has the human race always looked to the stars? Because there is hope in the infinite reaches of space, the endless and inconceivable expanse between galaxies, and the unimaginable touch of time, all of which insinuate the existence of a creator.

The dramatic arc of the series and the movies that followed all seem to be about this search for origins of the human race and the universe. The ultimate conclusion is rather obvious: there is redemption and renewal for the crew and the viewer in the question, “Where is God?” Even if it appears to remain unanswered because it is clear that on the Starship Enterprise the human race has evolved to live in peace – all races live in harmony – and the collective good is more imperative than the individual need, though the individual deserves respect and should always be treated with dignity.

I feel this portrayal of a tolerant and peaceful future captures the essence of the line from The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps if we humans can ever find a way to live in peace, we truly will be living the way God intended for us.

The Star Trek series shows us that this way of life is not only possible but also desirable; therefore, we can arguably say that the crew of the Enterprise had already found God, that their search was not necessary for the heaven they sought actually existed on their ship. In this time of war and terrorism, the thought of that kind of existence, a Star Trek type of equitable future for all humans (and other life forms like Mr. Spock), is all the more appealing.

So James Doohan has been beamed up, and no doubt he and Deforest Kelley are having a few laughs right now while we shed a few tears. Inevitably, we will all need to be beamed up some day. Rest in peace, Scotty.

Copyright Victor Lana 2005

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.
  • Very nice.

    I am a always amazed at those – bloggers in particular – who profess to be Star Trek fans who also have violent blog personalities and think violence is the answer FIRST.

  • Eric Olsen

    quite beautiful and profound Victor, thanks and welcome!!

  • Kris


    I believe you bring up some excellent points about Star Trek: The Original Series and the Star Trek Universe. While I grew up enjoying series like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nice, I still respect the original cast for who they were and the series for what is was. It seems to me that someone asked the creator of Star Trek Gene Rodenberry once what Star Trek was all about and his reply was “Morality.” (It could have actually been Mrs. Rodenberry who made this statement after Gene’s death as I am not for sure). At first, I was puzzled by this statement as I had always been attracted to Star Trek for it’s surface elements (space travel, alien races, futuristic setting & technology) but the more I thought about it the more it makes sense.

    Star Trek has always been able to deal with “hot button” topics such as prejudice, tolerance, abuse of power, the role of the diplomacy, communism and has even tackled issues as contemporary as cloning, showing just what a visionary Mr. Rodenberry was. Sometimes I even catch myself thinking about where I learned by own attitudes about these issues and I can trace my feelings to, quite frankly, things I learned from Star Trek.

    As I look specifically at the late James Doohan I have nothing but the highest respect for his role in the legacy of Star Trek. In a time when their wasn’t much tolerance for anything or anyone ‘different’, Star Trek had one of the most diverse casts in television history; by design no less. Mr. Doohan, though in my mind he will always be Scotty, was part of one of the most beautiful legacies to every grace a television screen and for that he will always be ‘beamed up’ larger than life.

    – Kris

  • gavin

    After reading the statement above it shows above all the powerful and lasting themes of Star Trek. Although I am a next generation, deep space nine and voyager person there is a fundamental theme that runs through all the star trek series including the recently cancelled Star Trek Enterprise and that is one of tolerance and compassion. James Doohan and the rest of the original cast put forward concepts which are just as important today as they were almost 40years ago. We live in a time where we are told to be afraid of everyone, and our governments try to tell us the only way to defeat our enemy is war in foreign lands. Violence is the first course of action not the last, maybe if we spent more of our time trying to cooperate in a fair and equal way with everyone on this planet we might just defeat terrorism without a shot fired. The terrorists attack us because they see our armies trampling over their holy lands, our military bases in their countries supporting oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, ( remember Bush is best buds with the Saudi royal family who’s human rights record is damn shameful) maybe if we traded fairly and refused to support governments who practice human right violations the world may just be a safer place to live. In the blog above the author talks about how the search for alien life is an analogy to find God, maybe it is, and maybe we will find God in our selves if we maybe seek peace and a pursuit of common scientific knowledge, the last time I checked that is the basic tenant of all the major religions that claim to be the word of God. Star Trek teaches peace, compassion, common understanding and basic decent morality and ethics. Was it not Star Trek where the world first saw people of two different races kiss? It is a show that helped us break down the oppressive barriers in our culture and all the actors over the last 40 years should be proud to have been apart of such a brilliant series. May James Dohan and Defrost Kelly find peace amongst the stars and with what ever awaits us beyond this mortal life.

  • Mark

    God Speed James Doohan.
    Gavin, This is supposed to be a tribute to the life and accomplishments of James Doohan not a Bush bashing commentary. If you wish to discuss the Middleast problems please go elsewhere. It is that type of talk that drives the problem. Mark

  • Charles

    I was not born around the first series of Star Trek, But Star Tek with james Dohan and the rest. It was the first series I saw. I loved it fromn the begining. I was only 8 Years old when I saw it for the firs time. I think that James Dohan was imporytant and he is one of my favorites in the series. and I will pray for his familu. He has helped open up our eyes so that we can see stuff they way we didn`t expect. I don`t know what else to say, All I can say is horay James Dohan for all those years in star trek and in the movies. and even in TNG. I will be praying for you and you will be remembered by me.

  • Damian

    Great stuff Victor,I’m sure we all feel the same way.He will surely be missed and be remembered for years to come.His character was a big piece of the enterprises sucess,cause we all know that with out Scotty pulling out all those miracles,Kirk would’nt have gotten very far.May he be in a better place and GOD BLESS HIM AND DEFOREST KELLY.