Star Trek offered viewers a utopian vision of humanity’s future. The reality wasn’t quite as perfect, according to star Walter Koenig.
Koenig, who played Ensign Pavel Chekov in the original series, says the set of the show was no more ‘utopian’ than any other.
“We did talk about the promise of a brighter and more positive future,” Koenig remembers, “and those are all very nice things to say. But we were all still human beings, and I’ve never met anybody that is so full of virtue and harmony and love that they aren’t capable of doing mean things. The people working on Star Trek did not have halos or wings.
“For the most part, they were good people who were considerate and sensitive and wanted the best for each other and the show. But we were not touched by God to be in Star Trek. We were just folks. So there was always some squabbling and some unhappiness on the set, just as there was anywhere else.”
Though the cast of the show will always be linked together in the minds of fans — and three of them will be reunited at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo on the Gold Coast this weekend — Koenig admits they have drifted apart over the years. When I ask him which member of the cast he remains closest to, his answer is frank and forthright.
“Nobody,” he laughs. “George Takei and I get along okay, and Nichelle Nichols and I get along okay. But James Doohan and DeForest Kelley are both gone. Leonard Nimoy is a great man with a strong sense of social justice, but he’s a private person and we don’t get to talk much. Then there’s Bill [Shatner]… We’ve just all gone our separate ways over the years.”
Two days after this interview, Leonard Nimoy passed away. Koenig’s statement after Nimoy’s death was essentially the same as what he told us beforehand — the pair were never close friends, but Koenig respected “his compassion, his intelligence and his humanity“.
Even if the set of Star Trek was no different to any other, Koenig still holds out hope that creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future will come to pass someday.
“I was brought up in a very liberal household,” he explains. “We always hoped for the best – racial equality, religious tolerance. I would like to believe that we’ve made great progress, but we still have a long way to go. You’re still seeing a lot of the same problems all over the world, including the United States. Religious intolerance, an inability to keep the peace. All of that, it’s an old broken record. Since the beginning of time, human beings have had difficulty getting along.
“There is hope. There are bright people, there are good people who embrace all cultures and religious beliefs and nationalities. There are people like that. So how do we project their point of view in a way that’s appealing to everybody? How do we avoid simply preaching to the choir? That’s the problem, and that doesn’t seem to have changed very much.
“I think that’s one of the reasons Star Trek continues to be so popular, because people keep hoping that we will achieve that future. Star Trek and other shows like it show us a future worth hoping for and working towards.”
Walter Koenig, George Takei and Nichelle Nichols will reunite at Supanova Pop Culture Expo at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre from April 17-19. For more information, visit our event guide.