Time traveled too fast for Scotty and for us

Pop Culture

July 24, 2005|By Barbara Brotman | Barbara Brotman,Chicago Tribune

I canna' give ya more power, captain!" He certainly can't now. When he died this past Wednesday, James Doohan, "Scotty" on the original Star Trek television series, left behind indelible images of his Scottish-accented heroics as chief engineer on the starship Enterprise and his connection to one of the most recognizable slang phrases in the English language.

Also, a reminder of that classic subject of science fiction, the passage of time.

Scotty dead? As unlikely as Captain Kirk gaining weight, as the youthful Uhura aging, as Spock pursuing spirituality. All of which, of course, has happened.

Stuff, as they say, does -- to the cast of Star Trek as to all of us. Only when it happens to the cast of Star Trek, it looks sudden and shocking.

Scotty and the others were frozen in time, in reruns and on DVDs, eternally serving on the bridge of the Enterprise. Watch them in 2005, and it is 1966 again and your mom is calling you in for dinner.

But see them in photographs or read their obituaries, and the game is up.

Sure, we know we have aged. But we have done so gradually and, on a day-to-day level, imperceptibly. When a TV figure from our youth abruptly surfaces having clearly experienced decades of reality, it is a sharp reminder of how much time has passed.

Wasn't it only yesterday that Scotty was holding the Enterprise together with the starship equivalent of duct tape? If he has succumbed to complications of Alzheimer's and pneumonia, then 40 years must have passed for us, too.

It seems impossible. I feel vaguely 35-ish, as I have for about the last decade and a half. At this point, though, the only circumstance in which I would be called young is if I were nominated to the Supreme Court.

But then, Star Trek always was about possibilities you couldn't imagine. I could never imagine getting invitations to join AARP, but check my mailbox now. The passage at age 85 of James Doohan is another reminder of the way the unimaginable becomes the ordinary.

Doohan helped launch a great fictional adventure, then returned to his nonfiction one. Here's to his life, on DVD and in reality, and to the creativity that is our human heritage as much as mortality.

Beam Scotty up.

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