We all know about the main supporting cast of Star Trek. Lt. Uhura, Lt. Sulu, Ensign Checkov, Nurse Chapel, Yeoman Rand, and Mr. Scott were all regular players with important roles in the action of the original series. However, the show also created a sense of verisimilitude with another level of players, supernumeraries. These spear, or phaser, carriers may not have had lines (though many did) but they appeared in multiple episodes as crew members, thereby creating continuity. Sometimes, though, that continuity might have been set askew by outfitting them in different uniforms and occasionally having them show up as aliens or civilians filling out the background. After working my way through the series this year, I thought it would be fun to create a run down on the cast supporting the supporting cast.
My first entry is Dr. M’Benga (Booker Bradshaw). This sawbones made such an impression that many people, myself included, were surprised to realize that he only appeared in two episodes. In “A Private Little War,” his background interning in a Vulcan ward provided him with the knowledge that in order to bring Mr. Spock out of a healing trance, the first officer needed a good sock in the kisser. Poor Nurse Chapel, following Dr. M’Benga’s instructions, ended up in a tussle with Scotty, who didn’t understand why she was smacking Spock around. Fortunately, Dr. M’Benga arrived on the scene to slap Mr. Spock back to consciousness.
We might wonder if Mr. Spock thought the good doctor had been a little too good with his rough prescription. In “That Which Survives,” Spock verbally slices down the doctor for being a bit too cheery about pronouncing he has no idea why a crewman had died from having every cell in his body exploded. Then again, when crewman are dropping left and right (some not even in red shirts!), maybe a playful attitude about your ignorance deserves a cool comeuppance.
Even after the series ended, Dr. M’Benga’s popularity in the Star Trek universe lived on. He has been a major character in Star Trek novels and some non-canonical works. Everybody and his brother has a first name for him. Memory Alpha provides a nice bio of the character with more details. Actor Booker Bradshaw has the intriguing background of graduating from Harvard University, studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and acting as talent manager for The Supremes (IMDB and Find a Grave)!
Lt. Palmer (Elizabeth Rogers): Uhura has to sleep sometime! So, in two episodes, we find Lt. Palmer taking over for her at the communications panel: “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Way to Eden.” With her blonde beehive and patrician features, Palmer remains stoic and efficient in times of adversity, be it an omnivorous space Hoover, a nutso commodore commandeering the Enterprise, or really obnoxious space hippies. She must be fairly high in Communications, because she’s the only member of the department who, like Uhura, knew how to repair the Communications equipment. Enterprise GRRRLS do science!
In one Star Trek short story, her first name was revealed to be Elizabeth – a tip of the hat to the actress who played her. In at least one of the appearances, Palmer replaced Uhura because Nichelle Nichols had a singing commitment to fulfill. Reports differ as to which episode this was, but Rogers herself said that she was used as “an instant ‘threat’ replacement.” This last statement is according to Wikkipedia, which I am loathe to quote because they’re frequently soooo wrong about stuff; however, the writer of the article did cite These Are the Voyages, Season Two as the source.
Rogers is an interesting actress. On Star Trek, she also voiced “The Companion” in “Metamorphosis.” If you watch much sixties or seventies TV, you are likely to see her in a guest-starring role. Further, she was a friend of producer Irwin Allen and played in The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. I didn’t catch her in the second film (though I’ll be sure to look for her next time), but I remember her in The T.I. She’s the first one to ride the captain’s chair across the cable strung between two skyscrapers – and she’s screaming all the way! Planet-devouring doomsday weapons and pain-in-the-ass space hippies are nothing to her – but heights? That’s another matter! Memory Alpha and Memory Beta are solid sources for more information on the character and the actress.
Mr. John Farrell (Jim Goodwin) Like Dr. M’Benga, Mr. Farrell only appeared in a limited number of episodes. Three to be exact. Usually, he was navigator, though the gold-shirted young officer with reddish hair and slightly protruding eyes did take a turn at Uhura’s console in “Miri.” This installment of “Phaser Carriers,” we just seem to keep catching our girl Nyota off-shift! We discover that Farrell’s first name is John when Sulu refers to him as “Johnny-O” after they both have been knocked off kilter by the hormone-stimulating drugs of “Mud’s Women.” In this episode, poor also John Farrell gets schnoockered out of a communicator by one of Mudd’s gals, Magda. Interestingly, according to Memory Alpha and The Lost Redshirt sites, some dialogue cut from the scene reveals that Farrell had a girlfriend and was thinking of growing a mustache! Anyway, he’s not doing too well in the formal inquiry of Harcourt Fenton Mudd and his hotties, is he?
Also like M’Benga, Mr. Farrell made it into Star Trek short-story adaptations of episodes and other fiction. Though Farrell was scheduled for more appearances, his character was replaced in “Charlie X” and “The Naked Time.” Hmm, if it had been Farrell instead of Riley who’d been infected with the inhibition-freeing virus, maybe we would have discovered what his girl friend’s name was, with him singing, “I’ll take you home…?” James Goodwin, who played Farrell, was friends with associate producer John D.F. Black, so when Black left the series, our actor’s connection disappeared – and so did Farrell. Interesting to other New Englanders, Goodwin was from Boston and passed away at fifty years young in Beverly, Mass. There’s great detail on the character at Memory Alpha, Memory Beta, IMDB, and at the tale end of Tales of the Unknown Redshirt.
Images: author’s screen shots from original episodes (no copyright infringement intended, informational and educational use only)
Memory Alpha, Memory Beta, Tales of the Unknown Redshirt
2 thoughts on “Spear, er, Phaser Carriers of Star Trek, Part 1”
I’m so glad that you enjoyed this blog, Judy! I was inspired to do it while watching Star Trek this past year and taking screen shots from the TV. Did you see any characters that you remember? I’ve got plans for several more such blogs.
As an avid fan (still) of Star Trek, I really enjoyed this blog!