Star Trek turned 50 this year.
I’m a second generation of Trek fan, one of the ones who first saw it in syndication in the 70s. Even today, I’m still an Original Series fan first and foremost. Which is why I’ve been celebrating all year.
In July, we had the release of the new movie, Star Trek Beyond, a solid entry in the series after the disappointing Into Darkness.
On July 30th, I took the Port Imperial Ferry over to NYC to see the Starfleet Academy Experience aboard the USS Intrepid in the New York Harbor. This was a lot of fun and if you’re in the New York area between now and October 31, you should check it out. Tickets are available here.
This is me with my friend Craig in front of the Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier that’s been converted into a sea, air, and space museum. Inside, they have a fun, interactive exhibit with props, costumes from the various Trek shows. As you go along, you’re tested in various Starfleet scenarios, and at the end of the tour, you’re told which division of Starfleet you’re best suited for. They also have the original shuttlecraft Galileo on display in the Space Shuttle Pavilion through December 4th.
On Labor Day weekend, I was lucky enough to score free tickets to go to Star Trek: Mission New York, the 50th Anniversary Star Trek convention at the Jacob Javitz Center, just a short walk away from the Intrepid.
This con was fun mainly because I got to meet several people that I’ve been a fan of for years. Comic book legend John Byrne was making an extremely rare convention appearance to promote New Visions, the Photoshop-created Trek comic he’s doing through IDW.
“The Trouble With Tribbles” author and TNG developer David Gerrold was also there. He had a fun unauthorized “St*r Tr*k” script for sale entitled “Escape From The Planet Of The Tribbles.”
Another person I met was Mark Altman, who wrote great articles about Star Trek for Cinefantastique back in the 90s. Later on, he started up his own magazine, Sci-Fi Universe, that I was a tremendous fan of. He also co-wrote and produced Free Enterprise, a Star Trek-themed comedy starring William Shatner. I won Vol. 2 of The Fifty Year Mission, a book he’s co-authored with Edward Gross about the history of Trek (along with a copy of Michael Kamen’s score for The Last Boy Scout, a movie I’ve never seen).
And this past Saturday, I decided to top off my 2016 Trek celebrations by taking a road trip to see Star Trek: The Original Series Set Tour.
These sets were originally built for the fan film series Star Trek: New Voyages (later known as Phase II) by TOS superfan James Cawley, the fellow in the second photo above. James and his team displayed a few set pieces and props at Mission New York, and that strengthened my resolve to go see his sets in person.
The sets are located in Ticonderoga, NY, which was a four-hour drive for me from Northern New Jersey. It was a grey day, but it thankfully never rained hard and I got to enjoy some gorgeous fall foliage on the drive up.
I was expecting the building to be in an isolated area, but as you can see, it’s right in the middle of town. There’s a pizza place right across the street, as well as a used bookstore (which was unfortunately closed by the time I finished the tour. Sorry, Greg Hatcher).
This is the POV of the sets from the lobby. You can get a glimpse of the bridge as well as the engine room. It was a nice teaser for the tour.
The sets that Cawley and company have built over the course of 15 years are in the exact same configuration that the Desilu sets were for the Original Series back in the 60s. I’ve numbered a copy of the TOS set blueprints below so that you can have a general idea of the route we took through the sets.
The big feature on Saturday was a very special tour guide: Doug Drexler, a man who knows his Star Trek. Doug worked on every Trek show from Next Generation through Enterprise, as a makeup artist, a designer, and a digital effects artist. He was involved with the reconstruction of the TOS sets for both DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations” and ENT’s “Through a Mirror, Darkly.” And he’s picked the brain of TOS set designer Matt Jefferies many a time. So he’s got tons of stories to tell.
There was unfortunately a bit of a wait to start the tour, but it was for the best possible reason: Doug is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the TOS sets that he was telling the tour groups everything he could about them. That’s why a scheduled 40-50 minute tour took about an hour and a half.
The tour starts at the blue doors. On the show, these were the doors that led into the Enterprise‘s shuttlebay (1), although they were also used for other parts of the ship.
One thing I should mention is how immersive these sets are. You really feel like you’re on the Starship Enterprise, or at the very least the Desilu lot back in 1967. And just like on the show, the sets are lit with colored spotlights, broken up by various diffusers. It really helps nail the look.
Here’s Doug on the Transporter Room set (2). At this point, Doug was briefly called away, but one of the regular tour guides stepped in without missing a beat.
The Transporter Console above is a good example of Matt Jefferies’ design aesthetic: Straight, clean lines, where form follows function. Jefferies, like Gene Roddenberry, had an aviation background (they both flew B-17s during World War II), and he brought that practicality to his designs. But he also had an artistic eye, knowing exactly where to add some color or detail to create visual interest.
Sickbay (3) looks a bit unusual at first, but there’s a good reason for that. The New Voyages crew added in the fourth wall that you never saw on TV. You may recognize the control panel on the left from the episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”.
The examination table swivels up and down just like it did on the show.
Here’s one of the beds on the sickbay set. James Cawley had specially-made sheets manufactured to match the ones seen on TOS.
The monitor screens above the beds are actual flatscreen TVs that display the same readouts McCoy would diagnose patients with. These were animated and the tabs were constantly moving up and down.
In McCoy’s Office (5), Cawley and company have duplicated it down to the alien skulls McCoy had on display.
In McCoy’s Laboratory (6), Doug pointed out where certain set components were recycled from. The chamber he’s pointing to was one of Khan’s cryogenic beds on the Botany Bay, and the red, green, and blue light fixture on the table was originally seen on Balok’s ship the Fesarius in “The Corbomite Maneuver.”
Beyond McCoy’s Lab, work is proceeding on the next part of the set — the Decompression Chamber where Khan trapped Kirk in “Space Seed.” Doug noted that “Space Seed” was an episode produced close to the end of the first season, and yet Matt Jefferies and the show’s crew still went to the effort to design and build a brand new set for it. That’s a real testament to TOS’ commitment to quality.
Next was Captain Kirk’s quarters (7). The show had only one crew quarters set, which they would make into different cabins through redressing and varied camera angles.
Doug pointed out that unlike the exotic quarters of Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk’s quarters are quite sparsely decorated. This is a man who doesn’t reveal a lot about himself through his belongings.
Next was the Briefing Room (8). Here Doug pointed out the beams along the side wall, resembling the beams of an old sailing ship, giving the room a subtle nautical feel.
The unusual shape of the conference room table provides a lot of possibilities for shooting, and looks interesting from most any angle. The briefing room was another set that was a bit smaller than you’d expect, partly due to the addition of the fourth wall.
In the Engine Room (9), there’s a chamber of pipes built in forced perspective that make the set look much larger than it actually is. The original TOS set had a mesh screen in front of the engines, which the New Voyages folks haven’t put in yet. Apparently these mesh screens are some of the toughest things to match, as they aren’t manufactured any more.
Camera angles and lenses also contribute to the illusion of floor space. When you see the Engine Room in person, it seems subtly smaller than it looks on TV.
Here’s the dilithium crystal chamber that was added to the Engineering set in the second season. In Doug’s mind, the long intermixing shaft that we saw in the movies and the TNG-era shows is on the deck below this one.
Here’s the forced perspective set from a different angle, where you can get a better idea of its actual proportions.
Finally, we got to the climax of the tour — the Bridge (10). Doug called our attention to the logic and efficiency of the design: the Captain’s chair in the center, with all of the bridge stations in easy view. Matt Jefferies did such a wonderful job with the bridge design that the U.S. Navy actually adapted it for a master communications center.
Here’s Mr. Spock’s science station, followed by Uhura’s communications station to the right. The overhead screens featured looping computer animation, unlike the original show’s still photographs.
A closer look at Uhura’s communications station.
Spock’s science station from the opposite angle. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to look into Spock’s viewfinder.
Here’s the diagram of the Enterprise that’s visible just to the left of the turbolift doors. In person, the color is a straight orange, but it has a cool glowing effect when it’s photographed.
James and the New Voyages crew took a bit of artistic license with the schematic screens on the bridge. They’re done with looping computer animation rather than colored stencils, but the design aesthetic is still very TOS.
Here’s a view you rarely got on TV… the helm as it looked from the Captain’s chair.
And although the next tour was waiting to start, there was just one more thing I had to do…
…I would have stayed there for the rest of the day if they’d let me.
Thanks again to James Cawley, Doug Drexler, and all of the folks over at StarTrekTour.com for such a great time. I highly recommend it to any Trek fans out there. It’s just like travelling back in time using the Guardian of Forever, only without that whole “watching Edith Keeler get run over by a truck” part.
See you next week!