Published On: Fri, Jan 11th, 2019

‘The Man Trap’ was the first Star Trek episode to air — but the Star was there first

When the late Toronto Star photographer Reg Innell stepped into a Los Angeles studio 53 years ago to photograph a bunch of unknown Canadians on a TV set, he likely didn’t think much of the assignment he was doing on a lark.

After all, Innell’s career had taken him around the world including meeting Cuba’s Fidel Castro, China’s Zhou Enlai and any number of Canadian prime ministers. Besides, he didn’t watch much television. His tastes ran toward the ballet, opera and film, where he would meet Rudolf Nureyev, Marlene Dietrich and Laurence Olivier, becoming such a part of the inner circle of the arts world that he became the exclusive photographer for the wedding of ballerina Karen Kain.

Francine Pyne as Nancy Crater on set with the television crew filming “The Man Trap.”
Francine Pyne as Nancy Crater on set with the television crew filming “The Man Trap.”  (Reg. Innell)

Pop culture didn’t much interest Innell, who would make the trek to Los Angeles every once in a while to peruse vintage bookstores. So it’s hard to imagine what Innell would make of a low-budget science-fiction show called Star Trek.

The photographer happened to be on vacation in Los Angeles in July of 1966. There he shot pictures of a bunch of unknown Canadians — William Shatner as Captain Kirk and James Doohan as Scotty — and happened to capture a moment in pop-culture history.

Star Trek episode "The Man Trap" proved to be the first episode of the influential series to air, and Reg Innell happened to be there, took some photos of Canadians James Doohan and William Shatner, and moved on.
Star Trek episode "The Man Trap" proved to be the first episode of the influential series to air, and Reg Innell happened to be there, took some photos of Canadians James Doohan and William Shatner, and moved on.  (Reg. Innell)

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That particular episode, “The Man Trap,” would debut in September as the very first Star Trek episode to be seen on television, although it was the sixth to be filmed. That’s where Kirk and crew head to an outpost and are attacked by a shapeshifting alien creature that extracts salt from their bodies.

The pictures snapped by a Star photographer, of Canadians on set while they created one of the most influential television shows ever, were never published. Until now.

Francine Pyne as Nancy Crater on set of "The Man Trap."
Francine Pyne as Nancy Crater on set of "The Man Trap."  (Reg. Innell)

Star Trek, originally pitched as a kind of “Wagon Train to the Stars,” by creator Gene Roddenberry, would go on to spawn six successor series (including the upcoming Picard) and 13 movies. It would influence a generation of space explorers, including the first NASA space orbiter shuttle being named the Enterprise, after Kirk’s fictional ship.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield as well as physicist Stephen Hawking were fans of the show, which also pushed cultural boundaries, including television’s first interracial kiss.

Fifty-three years after the Star first set foot on set, and the original series debuted, Star Trek has come full circle.

From left: Anson Mount as Captain Pike, Rachael Ancheril as Lieut. Nhan and Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery, the Toronto-filmed show whose state-of-the-art special effects are a far cry from the original.
From left: Anson Mount as Captain Pike, Rachael Ancheril as Lieut. Nhan and Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery, the Toronto-filmed show whose state-of-the-art special effects are a far cry from the original.  (Jan Thijs/ Crave TV)

For one thing, Innell wouldn’t have to fly to Los Angeles to visit the set now. The newest iteration of the show is shot in Toronto, a 10-minute drive from the Star building at Pinewood Toronto Studios by Lake Ontario. Star Trek: Discovery, starring Sonequa Martin-Green, returns for a highly anticipated second season on Jan. 17 on Crave.

As fans know, the new series takes place roughly a decade before the classic Star Trek series. The action-filled first episode of the new season has Captain Pike (Kirk’s canonical predecessor on the Enterprise) leaving the ship and taking command of the Discovery. The special effects on the current show remain the gold standard for science fiction series — a noteworthy achievement, considering that the original series was known for cheesy, low-budget effects and props, including Dr. McCoy’s medical instruments, some of them made out of salt shakers.

After Innell’s death in 2018, boxes of his negatives were donated to the star courtesy of his life partner Margaret Serrao. The photos were unearthed by Star video producer Kelsey Wilson.

The slides of pictures snapped by Star photographer Reg Innell on set of Star Trek in 1966. Little did he know they were creating one of the most influential television shows of the era. These photos were never published in the Star.
The slides of pictures snapped by Star photographer Reg Innell on set of Star Trek in 1966. Little did he know they were creating one of the most influential television shows of the era. These photos were never published in the Star.  (Kelsey Wilson)

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“He never read science fiction and I doubt if he even looked at the show when it aired,” says Serrao in an interview. “But he was always interested in celebrities and people stories for the Star. But a lot of what he shot never got published.”

Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley, centre) gives Prof. Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) a physcial examination while Captain Kirk (William Shatner) watches.
Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley, centre) gives Prof. Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) a physcial examination while Captain Kirk (William Shatner) watches.  (Reg. Innell)

Shots taken by Innell that day show many behind the scenes moments with director and crew discussing the shoot. There are also shots of the two Canadians Doohan and Shatner, perched on colourful Styrofoam rocks as Kirk, Scotty et al discover that not all on this planet is as it seems — a scenario to be played out again on countless episodes of various Trek series since.

“He was there during the golden years when photographers had a lot more access to their subjects and you could interact with them,” says Innell’s daughter Adrienne.

She added that her father would photograph Shatner more than once over the years.

NBC promotional material, explaining the new show Star Trek, sent to the Toronto Star in 1966 accompanying publicity photos for NBC shows.
NBC promotional material, explaining the new show Star Trek, sent to the Toronto Star in 1966 accompanying publicity photos for NBC shows.  (NBC)

An article in the Star at the time of Innell’s visit to Los Angeles headlined “The Canadian Colony” reports that the photographer was on vacation in L.A., not on assignment, when he visited one of his best friends, the Peyton Place actor Jim Begg. The story mentions Canadians living and working in Los Angeles, and the new NBC series employing a couple of them is given a throwaway line:

“Don Francks is at work on a new TV series Jericho, and so is James Doohan in the series Star Trek, a science fiction starring fellow ex-Canadian William Shatner,” reads the article, barely foreshadowing the impact the two Canucks would have starring in one of the most enduring TV shows in history.

Tony Wong is the Star’s television critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong

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‘The Man Trap’ was the first Star Trek episode to air — but the Star was there first