“Take a look around you. This is how the twentieth century saw the future. We are studying sociology!” -- Tom Paris responding to criticism about his holodeck creation, Captain Proton, in the Voyager episode “Night.”
As sociology professors, we always enjoy whenever the words “sociology” or “sociologist” are mentioned on Star Trek. One of our favorite supporting characters of all time is Christopher Lindstrom, the Enterprise’s sociologist from “The Return of the Archons,” who stays behind to help the people of Beta III. However, our favorite mention may be when Star Trek: Voyager’s Tom Paris, in the fifth-season opening episode “Night,” argues that his holodeck creation Captain Proton is really a sociological exploration of how people of his past viewed the future. It is an exciting and innovated use by Paris of his sociological imagination.
There have been some interesting collectibles created inspired by Captain Proton, Buster Kincaid, Queen Arachnia, Doctor Chaotica and the many other characters of Paris’ sociological experiment. Because the world of Captain Proton has such a unique look, with black and white environments and 1930s retro technology that stand in sharp relief with the otherwise colorful and streamlined designs of most Voyager episodes, Proton merchandise was likely fun to create and certainly fun to collect. These are some favorites collectibles:
During the days of the Official Star Trek Fan Club and Star Trek Communicator magazine, several exclusive Captain Proton items were available. The first was an innovative and ironically colorful lithograph by artist Joe Boulden. At 18”x”24, the bold poster forsook the black and white design elements usually associated with the character and his worlds. For $30, limited to 1000 pieces, and printed on archival-quality paper, the artwork’s advertisement proclaimed the litograph “A decoration worthy of your IMPENETRABLE FORTRESS!!!” (Another colorful poster foldout was included with the 2000 Star Trek: Voyager calendar co-published by Pocket Books and Andrews McMeel Publishing. This image mimicked the style of a 1930s science fiction Saturday matinee movie poster with hilarious monikers for Tuvok (“The Alien!”), Seven of Nine (“The Cyborg!”), Chakotay (“The Illustrated Man!”), B’Elanna Torres (“The Warrior Woman!”) and Neelix (“The Cook!”).
A second item available from the fan club was the “Captain Proton Hawaiian Shirt” which featured a repeating image, in black and white, of Captain Proton, Buster Kincaid, Lonzak, and Satan’s Robot. The $55 shirt was made of 100% rayon, and the shirt also symbolized the frequent use of Hawaiian aloha shirts by characters like Tom Paris and Harry Kim in different episodes of Voyager.
Various trading card companies, including Decipher, Inc. which produced Star Trek collectible card game cards from 1994 until 2007, capitalized on the black and white imagery of Captain Proton to create unique trading cards. The most recent Star Trek: Voyager trading cards (The Quotable Star Trek: Voyager set) premiered in September 2012 via Rittenhouse Archives, Ltd. and featured the possibility of getting a Captain Proton autographed card from actor Martin Rayner (Chaotica).
Back in November 1999, Pocket Books published a Captain Proton novella/short story collection by Dean Wesley Smith (writing under the 1930s pulp name D.W. “Prof” Smith). Written as if it were from the 1930s, the book is a wonderful and fun wink at the pulp science fiction stories of the era. There are many Star Trek in-jokes and references, making this a wonderful bit of futuristic nostalgia.
November 2014, for example, will see the publication of the Star Trek Pop-Ups book by Thames & Hudson, featuring art by Courtney Watson McCarthy and text by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann. Early descriptions of the book mention that a Captain Proton pop-up is among the collection of pop up images.
“Bride of Chaotica” ends with a question mark, promising future adventures in the world of Captain Proton. The same is true for Proton collectibles: there is likely no end to them because of their fun and referential qualities. That said, wee never did get Captain Proton action figures... if anyone from the fifth dimension is listening!
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.