Into Blackness, week 2: Dr. Erickson, Father of the Transporter

Welcome to Black History Month at Women At Warp! This is an installment of our month-long celebration of Starfleet officers and the adjacent personnel who are members of the Cosmic African Diaspora. These officers are curated in chronological order in an attempt to illustrate how their contributions have influenced humanity’s presence in the galaxy.

Among many other things, Star Trek is known for its daring views of technological advancements, speculating upon their effects on the human experience. If we consider the most obvious of advancements, the starship, several components come to mind. Life support systems, replicators, and phasers usually spring up in conversation first, but the core elements of starship functionality have been taken for granted to the extent that we rarely, if ever, take the time to discuss them thoroughly.

For instance, the invention of the transporter revolutionized humanity’s ability to overcome their environment. While the most recent version of the technology seen on Star Trek: Discovery nullifies the necessity of the transporter pad itself, it’s important to remember the pioneer responsible for the invention in the first place. It would be an oversight to this series if we didn’t include the inventor of the molecular transporter, Dr. Emory Erickson (Bill Cobbs).

A brilliant and charming man with a straight-forward temperament, Dr. Erickson began developing transporter technology in 2103. After a series of trials and tribulations, he was able to utilize the new technology himself and others. While the scientist became a wheelchair user due to a transporter accident, Dr. Emory devoted his career to perfecting the technology, incurring great defeats along the way.

During trials for what he called ‘sub-quantum teleportation’ in an area of space called The Barrens, Dr. Erickson involved family friend Capt. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and the crew of the Enterprise NX in a daring and reckless attempt to rescue his son, Quinn. Together, they succeeded in rescuing him from being trapped in subspace, but the attempt was not without its failures. Ultimately, Dr. Erickson had to accept that there was nothing he could do to save his son, and had to serve the consequences for petitioning Starfleet to use the Enterprise under false pretenses.

Over the course of this episode, we get to see some extremely honest moments from Dr. Erickson as he reconciles with the consequences of his decisions. His daughter, Danica Erickson (Leslie Silva), had immediate concerns with not being truthful about their mission, and implored him to tell Capt. Archer the truth from the beginning. While he ignored her at the time, he eventually came clean with Archer. He admits to the pressure that can follow high-level scientific achievement early on in life, and his quest to maintain the status that came with it. He eventually concedes to failing in maintaining his scientific integrity by not clearly stating his intentions to Starfleet or to Archer.

It’s at this point where it’s important to note exactly how Archer decided to handle this revelation. Both of his senior officers were ready to condemn Dr. Erickson for his deceit and abandon the project, and Quinn. While Archer was visibly agitated by the position the Ericksons put him in, he had enough clarity to focus on the rescue rather than judge the family and their acts of desperation.

Ultimately, Dr. Emory Erickson was remembered fondly in Star Trek history, despite the perjurist acts he committed later in his life. His story shows the complexities of ethics when it pertains to one’s own family, and the strides one can make to bring their family home.

Bill Cobbs is a former Air Force radar technician and Emmy Award-winning actor, with a performance career that spans 4 decades across several platforms and a multitude of genres.

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