Remember the Star Trek episode in which Kirk, Spock, and Bones got sucked through a giant alien doughnut and hurled back in time? Now we know how they felt. Stepping through the doorway of Stage 11 on the Paramount lot, where the psychedelic sets of the original 1966-69 series have been meticulously re-created, is such a freaky, out-of-decade experience you half-expect to find yourself sprouting big sideburns and wearing a Nehru jacket. ”It is weird,” offers Chekovian actor Walter Koenig, who has popped by his former studio for a peek at the old Enterprise. ”The minute I walked in, I wanted to shout, ‘Keptyn!”’ The reason for the time warp is a Deep Space Nine episode, airing the week of Nov. 4, that pays tribute to Trek’s 30th anniversary by literally going back to the future. Using the same sort of optical-effects wizardry that had Tom Hanks shaking hands with JFK in Forrest Gump, the Deep Space producers are splicing contemporary characters into a classic episode from the 1960s. And not just any episode, but the most beloved Trek of all time, the one that introduced those adorable extraterrestrial fur balls that almost overwhelmed the Enterprise. No, not Shatner’s toupee collection — we’re talking ”The Trouble With Tribbles.”
”We just thought it would be fun to have Sisko and Dax and other characters from our show standing on the old Enterprise and suddenly see Kirk and Spock walking by,” explains Deep Space executive producer Ira Steven Behr. ”It’s really every fan’s fantasy.”
Here’s the episode’s loopy, Einsteinian premise: An aging Klingon steals a cosmic orb and uses it to time-travel to his own youth, when he first encountered one James Tiberius Kirk. Turns out he’s the same Klingon that Kirk exposed as a spy and quadrotriticale poisoner in the Tribbles episode; now he’s planning on changing history by going back and assassinating the captain — unless the Deep Space crew can stop him. Bonus points for those who recognize the Klingon: He’s the same actor — Charles Brill — who played his younger Klingon self in the original episode. ”I don’t really remember very much about filming the first one,” he says, ”except that William Shatner was always doing push-ups on the set.”
The technology involved in transporting Deep Space’s characters onto the old Enterprise is so complex it’d blow a fuse in Spock’s tricorder. Suffice to say it involves blue-screen trickery, computer imaging, and tachyon-beam distortions in the dilithium crystals. Something like that, anyway. A more down-to-earth problem was getting the classic Trek actors to allow their images to be reused; it took three months of negotiations and a bundle of cash before the old crew would agree. ”I’m getting paid eight times more than I was to do the episode in the first place,” smiles Koenig.
Next challenge: re-creating the original Enterprise sets, right down to their lighting angles and the Day-Glo color schemes, so that new shots could be seamlessly sewn into the old footage. Even the uniforms were replicated, much to Terry Farrell’s dismay: ”The miniskirt has a flap in the back,” reports Deep Space’s Dax. ”Sometimes the flap sticks. You’re walking around with your ass hanging out.”
The hubbub over this intergenerational Trekking should help give Deep Space a much-needed ratings boost (although it’s still the No. 1 syndicated sci-fi show, it has never matched the success of Next Generation). And if the editing technique works well — a sneak peak at some early test footage does hint at spookily realistic results — it could open all sorts of enticing opportunities for TV’s future. Urkel visiting Good Times. Jenny McCarthy appearing on The Mod Squad. The possibilities are endless.
Looks like Scotty was wrong after all. Apparently you can change the laws of physics — at least on TV.