Star Trek envisioned an ideal future filled with instant food replicators, warp-speed space travel, body-beaming transporters and phasers. What it did not foresee, apparently, was zippers.
Over his three-decade-plus career, television director Ralph Senensky worked on several classic series, including a dozen episodes of The Waltons. He also happened to helm a handful of Star Trek adventures. In recent years, Senensky blogged about his behind-the-camera career on his website Ralph's Cinema Trek. He happened to be working on set in 1968 when production commenced on the episode "The Tholian Web."
The bulk of the action takes place aboard two Federation ships, the Enterprise, naturally, and the USS Defiant. This being budget-minded Hollywood, the Desilu production crew used the same Enterprise sets for both starship interiors. That meant filming all the characters in the Defiant scenes first.
Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Chekov must slip into special environmental protection suits before boarding the Defiant. The sparkling silver costumes stand out in a series known for its bold colors. Bright blue, orange and pink tubes snake up the chest to a helmet with a vertical viewscreen. The actors' faces can be clearly seen. They are both a throwback to classic 1950 space movies and a precursor to suits seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
They were also a hassle for the cast and crew.
"There was an additional wrinkle in the day’s work. Well, actually it was caused by not wanting any wrinkles," Senensky wrote. "The costumes were skin-tight with no zippers; they would have shown. They had no buttons or snaps. The guys were SEWN into the space-suits. That meant when any of them needed to make a visit to the restroom, they had to be unsewn; when they were ready to return to the set, they had to be resewn into the suits."
Yes, if Shatner or Nimoy needed to use the men's room, first a wardrobe person would have to cut them out of the suits.
"Zippers are faster!" Senensky said, stating the obvious.
The story of the "Tholian Web" spacesuits does not end there. The costume had an altogether different alien encounter one decade later.
In 1978, Mork & Mindy was kicking off its inaugural season. The early episode "Mork Goes Public" features Mindy and her dad wearing costumes. Fred (Conrad Janis) is clearly sporting the familiar helmets from "The Tholian Web." However, he wears it over the red suit from "The Naked Time."
That one was probably easier to get in and out of.
Sundays 8 PM & Weeknights 1 AM Eastern