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