Is There a Story Behind TOS Checkerboard Fabric?
Why the checkerboard fabric and not just all black cushion chairs for the show?..one might ask. There seems to be a scientifically based purpose for TOS using checkerboard fabric by the show’s many contributors. If so, has anyone considered making a checkerboard fabric functional in some way using embedded electronics, miniaturization or Internet Of Things (IOT) computerization techniques these days? Functional purpose was apparently the original idea behind having the checkerboard fabric used in various settings for TOS in the first place. There may be earlier indications such as the Talosians’s metal fabric clothing that led up to it and later such as the sensor gown used by Miranda in the Is There in Truth No Beauty? episode. These may be only coincidences.
If you’re like me there remains to this day a superior quality about the science operating in the background of TOS’s fiction. Roddenberry kept working on the problem of believability and perceived the scientific to be significantly helpful to that end. At the same time, TOS achieved genuine science fiction status unlike anything before or since because it was done in a unique manner. There are indications that each apparatus used in TOS was methodically thought-through inclusive of the hard sciences. To me, science means the measurable and is the difference between plain fiction and science fiction. For example, it can be demonstrated that the glistening gold used in the sickbay’s checkerboard fabric served an intended purpose. Roddenberry had hired Harvey Lynn III from Rand Corporation for $50 per TOS episode to advise and comment on the series’s technical and scientific feasibility:
“There has been developed an instrumented chair that monitors the vital functions of the body - pulse rate, respirations, heart sounds, and impulses - with no sensors attached to the person. The upholstery of the chair contains a series of electrical pickups which serve the same purpose as strapped-on electrodes. It takes the place of the stethoscope, electrocardiogram, and other clinical instruments” – Solow, H. and Justman, R. (1996) Inside Star Trek The Real Story, Pocket Books, New York, NY.
To many, TOS is hardly “freeze-dried” science fiction. The only reason I mention this here is to establish what is true about the TOS rationale behind designers using checkerboard fabric, proposing explanations for discussion but without baseless speculation. Also, prop-makers in general can always consider the difference between then and now insofar as it may really be appropriate and entirely possible for incorporating more recent technologies into TOS prop design considerations without altering appearances. That’s the unique TOS prop-maker’s challenge.