Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lord, One to Beam Up

James Montgomery Doohan
3 March 1920 - 20 July 2005

In case you hadn't heard, James Doohan, the actor who played Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek, died yesterday morning from pneumonia. He was 85 years old, which surprised the hell out of me. My grandmother, who died a couple of years ago, was born in the same year, yet he was in far, far better shape. Must have been all that scotch. Scotty was probably my favorite character in any of the various incarnations for Star Trek (though I really didn't like his appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation -- it was as though he was playing a caricature of himself). Kirk was too pompous for his own good. Spock was okay, but it's hard to feel for someone who doesn't feel. Scotty, on the other hand, was a character in every sense of the word. He was always my favorite character on the show, the one I most identified with. While it may be true that Doohan was never able to get away from the role of Scotty in his acting career, in truth, he didn't need to. He was like someone who played the best department store Santa you've ever seen. You didn't want him to play anything else.

In reading the obituaries and tributes to him, I learned some things I didn't know. For example, he hit the beaches of Normandy in World War II and lost a finger in the process (you'd never know it from the series or movies). He didn't like Bill Shatner, but while I didn't know that, it really didn't come as a surprise. No one liked Bill Shatner. I still don't. Captain Kirk was moderately okay sometimes, but the actor himself just grated on my nerves. His latest line of commercials are simply pathetic.

But Doohan had class. He knew he had been permanently type-cast, so he made up his mind to have fun with it. And have fun he did. I respect that a great deal. You know the man had a great life when you consider that his youngest son was born in 2000. You go, Scotty!

What was the appeal of Star Trek? Many people wiser than I have asked that question. I think that, more than anything else, Star Trek was the first television series that offered a complete world to the viewer, instead of isolated stories that could have taken place anywhere. People saw a place where they wished they could actually live, so they formed communities to live out that dream. It wasn't the series itself, I don't think. It was the sense of community among the fans that fueled the phenomenon. While this kind of community is somewhat rare in written fiction, it does occur. I think Anne Rice's vampire novels are the best example of this. Even Harry Potter doesn't have a large a cult following. I think this stresses to us as writers the importance of a solid, believable background for the worlds we create. Can you tell a good story without a fully-developed background? Sure you can. But you can tell a much more powerful story if you take the time to create a world that your readers would like to explore themselves one day.

Warp speed, Scotty. You will be missed.

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