Inside Star Trek 5: James Doohan said “warp drive” way back in 1953, following a change in career plans

Inside Star Trek was a semi-official newsletter, published under the guidance of Gene Roddenberry. This connection gave the writers access to the actors, production crew and sets.

I own the complete run:

  • Issues 1 to 12: Inside Star Trek, edited by Ruth Berman
  • Issues 13 to 24: renamed Star Trektennial News, edited by Susan Sackett
  • Issues 25 to 31: again called Inside Star Trek, edited by Virginia Yable

Here are highlights from issue 5, published November 1968.

The cover of the Inside Star Trek newsletter, showing a sketch of three crew members on the bridge.

No single topic occupies a greater portion of my brain than does Star Trek the original series, and yet Inside Star Trek always teaches me something new.

Dr. Jimmy Doohan

Acting was not a flame burning within the heart of James Doohan. He sort of fell into it and, if that happy accident hadn’t happened, he was all set to be a dentist.

He told Ruth Berman:

“I was going to be a dentist, and I don’t remember being unhappy with that choice. [Then] I heard a radio show one night, and I said to myself, ‘I can do as well as that.’ So I went to a drama school in Toronto, and I won a two-year scholarship there to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.

“There was no burning desire to be an actor earlier in my life. It was just like fate said ‘Go on, you’re going to be an actor and that’s that.’”

After the scholarship ended, Doohan stayed at the school as a teacher for almost three years and in New York for another 18 months after that, before returning to Toronto for Christmas. On that visit he took a few small acting roles and then “before I knew it, there were so many jobs it would have been silly to move.”

He lived in Toronto for about eight years and then decided “I had gone as far as it was possible to go in Canada, and I needed new horizons.” He moved to LA and was cast in Star Trek, but he told Berman that Scotty was not his first ongoing part. “I was on a series in Canada that ran for a year.”

Space Command

That series was Space Command, a kids’ show set on an exploratory rocket. A full season was produced and aired in 1953 and 1954 by Canada’s CBC network, but only one episode exists today. Luckily, it is on YouTube. In the episode, rocketship XSW-1 is exploring space “26 thousand billion miles” from Earth. That’s 26 trillion miles or about 4.4 light years.

The episode is worth watching just to see Doohan contend with the weird bridge design that put the ship’s controls to the right of his huge chair, forcing him to twist awkwardly to make adjustments, often reaching down between the chair and the console.

Doohan plays crew member Phil Mitchell, and for TOS fans the best line in the episode is Mitchell’s analysis of a saucer-shaped alien spacecraft:

A screen cap from the TV show Space Command, showing James Doohan and two other actors on the bridge.

Look at the shape. That must have come from a planet with a thin atmosphere. And look, there’s no jet exhaust. That can only mean some sort of space warp drive or, better still, anti-gravity.

The concept of warp drive was apparently created by John W. Campbell in Islands of Space, which first appeared in Amazing Stories Quarterly in 1931, but it is still fun to hear Doohan say it in 1953. The Earth rocket XSW-1 is, of course, shown expelling a thick cloud of slowly rising exhaust smoke as it powers through space.

A screen cap from the TV show Space Command, showing James Doohan and two other actors on the bridge. Doohan's character is shown to be asleep at his station.
Doohan’s Phil Mitchell, asleep in his giant chair

One episode of Space Command featured guest star William Shatner, making the loss of almost all the episodes even sadder.

On playing Scotty

Doohan said Scotty was a weak role in the beginning.

It took a long time to build up the character. They didn’t really care about him in the first year. They knew the ship had to have an engineer, because ships don’t just run themselves, but…it’s a one-dimensional character, nothing human. The second season they started to get more in.

The honesty of Inside Star Trek is refreshing. As a semi-official newsletter, I expected a deferential tone, but here is Doohan saying Scotty initially had “nothing human” to do.

Introducing Ed Cotter, film librarian

I believe I have read every book on the production of Star Trek, but I was not familiar with the job of film librarian. A small essay written by librarian Ed Cotter set me right on this important job.

Cotter tells us that thousands of dollars were spent creating a few special scenes, notably the moving star field shown on the main viewer and the content routinely displayed on the bridge monitors.

A screen cap from the Star Trek episode Spock's Brain, featuring Captain Kirk walking in front of the large central view screen
Cotter’s work on display in Spock’s Brain (TrekCore)

This material is called ‘stock’ and my job is to catalog the negatives and the interpositives (which are reproduceables)…so that they may be quickly found and reused in subsequent Star Trek episodes. I distribute a list of information on what stock scenes are available to the various editors and assistant editors who put the show together after it has been filmed, see to it that the optical houses which do the special effects work get the proper film elements to work with, and — of course — see to it that these elements are returned to the library and filed for future use.

He adds that, at time of writing, Star Trek had three editors and four optical houses constantly working on the show’s post production.

Memory Alpha does not have an article about Cotter.

Inside Star Trek is an invaluable source of early Star Trek voices. I’ll cover each issue. Click here to read other articles in this series.

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