Let us calibrate our tricorders to the sequence of images being viewed through the portal of The Guardian of Forever, and take a leap as an image passes by of a living room in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, sometime in the year 1968.
The living room is within a modest bungalow style home. It is immaculate with few luxuries. The large window facing the front yard is much like a Star Trek bridge view screen. In front of the window are 3 large orange flowering plants on wooden stands. There is barely enough room for an 8 year old boy to squeeze between a plant and the window. (Unfortunately, I cannot warn the 6 year old boy in the room to keep away from the plants. Two years from now, he will unwittingly knock one of the plants over, causing soil to spill all over the carpet.) Off to one side is an alcove with the rarely used front door. In one corner is a 26″ wood cabinet television. But we’re not here to study home design.
On the television is an episode of Star Trek titled “Catspaw.” This is the 2nd season Halloween episode written by Robert Bloch. But more importantly, it is the episode where the aliens are revealed at the end to be wire drain cleaner puppets. I’m not exaggerating here. The aliens are constructed from wire drain cleaners and move about with visible strings. (Strangely, years later, these aliens were not replaced with CGI aliens when the episode was updated with new visual effects. I don’t even think the strings were digitally removed.) But we’re not here to criticize the cheesiness of this Original Series episode.
Seated on the mustard yellow carpet is the 6 year old boy who will grow up to be Reed Farrington. It is the first episode of Star Trek he has ever seen. His brother and his brother’s best friend are on the forest green couch decorated with white lace doilies. Reed is the kind of younger brother who is a pest. Reed’s best friend is the younger brother of his brother’s best friend. That gives you an indication of how much Reed’s life revolves around his older brother. Reed’s earliest memory is falling down a flight of stairs in an attempt to keep up with his brother. His first Star Trek collectible is a thick military green belt-like strap upon which his brother had drawn a Star Trek logo with a blue Bic ballpoint pen, which is an innovation for this time period. But we’re not here to observe how much Reed idolized his brother.
(When I recollect this memory of watching “Catspaw,” I remember the episode being in colour, but I think we watched the episode on a b & w television. Umpteenth viewings of this episode since have literally coloured my memories, I think.)
There are only 2 English television channels available. (Although the year might not be 1968 and Star Trek may be in syndication, I believe “Catspaw” is the first Star Trek episode shown in my hometown.) Figuratively speaking, Reed’s only previous exposure to outer space had been Lost in Space. And since Lost in Space had the robot, Reed may have actually preferred it. Not to mention Will Robinson, who was a character Reed could perhaps identify with. But we’re not here to compare the merits of Star Trek and Lost in Space.
For some reason, Spock’s pointed ears do not draw Reed’s attention. Maybe it’s because when we’re younger, we haven’t yet formulated the notion that we’ve seen everything since every day brings new experiences. And, to Reed, neither Spock’s slightly oriental look nor Sulu’s obvious Asian origins make Star Trek different from other television shows. Reed’s first encounter with Asians on television was probably Hop Sing from Bonanza. The uniqueness of Star Trek’s multicultural crew is lost on Reed. But we’re not here to formulate a social commentary on the cultural changes that occurred during the 60s.
(Even at the age of 7, mankind landing on the moon didn’t seem so special to me. In trying to make sense of events by introducing causality where none existed, people have said that Star Trek was cancelled because man landing on the moon made space travel mundane. For me, it was the other way around. Seeing the adventures of Kirk and crew traveling through space on the Enterprise made landing on the moon seem like a cakewalk.)
We are here to witness the beginning of Reed Farrington’s inculcation in the cult of Star Trek fandom. And as with many life-changing events, there is no reason to suspect that one is taking place. When the episode ends, Reed’s brother and his brother’s friend both agree that Star Trek is “far out.” It is hard to judge Reed’s opinion. At the risk of interfering with the time-line, I am tempted to ask Reed directly. But I suspect Reed would shyly not answer and instead call out for his mother.
I doubt that Reed would believe that some 40 years later, he would be anticipating the continuing adventures of earthmen in pajamas exploring the universe. For now, let us end our trip to the past. And though it is tempting to use the Guardian to make a leap forward to Christmas 2008 to catch the opening of Star Trek XI, we’ve learned from Star Trek that it’s best not to tamper with the flow of time. — Reed
(Thanks to Henrik for providing the inspiration for the title of this column.)