Encounter with William Shatner

Willie Yee, MD, attended the William Shatner Weekend at the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, New York, June 7 – 9 2019. Dr. Yee is a volunteer for the organization.

This was William Shatner’s third visit to the Star Trek Set Tour. We were a bit surprised after his first visit when he said he would really like to come back again. He apparently likes the setting and the type of audience it draws, and the way we have treated him.

I was on the Set Tour crew for the first visit, and I barely got a glimpse of him, passing in the hallway, and getting out of the car. I missed the second visit. I made arrangements to go to this one in the hope that I might get a closer encounter. Also, going to the Set Tour is a chance to get together with friends that I have come to know over the past 10 or so years. I offered to help out in any way I could (priority) with the event, and hoped something might come of it.

Willie and William Shatner on the bridge

On Friday evening, I got dressed in my Governor Donald Cory costume, and staged myself in the Sick Bay. As Mr. Shatner came through on one of the tours he conducted, there was a pause while people squeezed into the small space of the examining room. I took to opportunity to elbow my way to the front of the crowd, and said to him “It’s time for the obligatory Star Trek inspiration moment.” He repeated my words to the crowd, and I proceeded to tell him about my daughter who is an astrophysicist and attributes her interest to Star Trek. He asked if she was here, I said no, and then he told Tommy Thobe, his personal assistant, to get my name. After the tour Mr. Thobe came and told me that Mr. Shatner would like me to be on the bridge with him Saturday morning, with a couple other people who were affected by Star Trek in some way.

Saturday morning, 10 o’clock, I was sitting on the steps of the bridge with a few others. Doug Drexler, Daren Dochterman, and the Okudas were sitting to the side (Scotty’s station), the security by the turbolift doors behind Mr. Shatner, and attendees filling up every space on the bridge that chairs could fit.

Mr. Shatner began by saying he wanted to have some conversation with a few people rather than the usual Q & A where people pretty much asked the same questions. He said he wanted to talk about why Star Trek endured, why people got attached to it, what it meant to them. After some more talking he introduced me, and asked me why I liked Star Trek. I started by explaining that I had seen very little Star Trek during its original run, since I was in medical school at the time, and did not have a TV. He said “That’s no excuse,” and we continued. I said I was attracted to Star Trek because I was always interested in science fiction, and this was the first TV science fiction show that was not a kid’s show. He asked “Why science fiction?” and I said it was because it presented the future. I said the future that science fiction presented was usually a world not better than ours, but that Star Trek was different it that it presented a future that was better, that we were going to overcome our differences and go on to explore the stars. And the appeal that Gene Roddenberry’s vision had for me was that humanity’s different races were all represented. And for me, Sulu was the first Asian character on TV that was not either an enemy soldier or a caricature. He asked, “What did that mean to you?” I said “It meant there was a place for me, that I had a right to be here, that I could belong. I took a lot of shit as a kid, it was during the Korean war, and this gave me a person and place I could see myself.”

I was pointing to Sulu’s station as I said this, and Mr. Shatner spoke up. “Then go sit over there! Get him a chair!” Someone brought a chair over to Sulu’s station, and I sat down, and the audience burst into applause. We continued to talk about what it meant to me and Mr. Shatner was clearly moved, as was I. I talked about my first visit to the set, and how even though I had never been there before, when I came through the turbolift doors, I thought “I’m home.” We talked a bit more about being a psychiatrist and the role of taking care of others and myself. He asked, “Do you want a picture?” Duh. So I got my phone and this photo was taken.

He then went on to interview the next fellow, who was a NASA affiliated scientist or engineer, and then talked briefly with Doug, Daren, and Michael.

I heard later that he mentioned our encounter a couple of time later in the day, so it clearly had an impact. For me, I will remember it the rest of my life.

Learn more about the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour.

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