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Re-Engineering Main Engineering: The Evolution of the Engine Room in the Original Star Trek Television Series
by Greg Tyler
June 13, 2004
Updated January 1, 2006

One might expect a starship of the future to experience a number of upgrades and overhauls during its operational lifetime. In the fictional future of the original Star Trek television series, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 would be no exception. As a creation for a 20th-century television production, however, the Enterprise's features and appearance was governed primarily by dramatic and budgetary necessities rather than by technological advances. Perhaps no interior space within the Enterprise demonstrates this more clearly than the ship's engine room.

The engine room of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 was where Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott minded his bairns and saved the ship from destruction countless times during the ship's historic five-year mission. Amazingly the engine room was seen in only 26 of the 79 episodes of the original Star Trek television series. During that time the engine room saw a number of changes, some minor, some not so minor. This article will document all observable changes in the engine room from Star Trek's USS Enterprise.

Engine Room Appearances in Star Trek
Season One
 5 The Enemy Within
 7 The Naked Time
13 The Conscience of the King
15 Court-Martial
21 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
24 Space Seed
Season Two
35 The Doomsday Machine
37 The Changeling
39 Mirror, Mirror
41 I, Mudd
44 Journey to Babel
48 The Immunity Syndrome
50 By Any Other Name
53 The Ultimate Computer
54 The Omega Glory
55 Assignment: Earth
Season Three
57 Elaan of Troyius
58 The Paradise Syndrome
59 The Enterprise Incident
61 Spock's Brain
62 Is There In Truth No Beauty?
64 The Tholian Web
66 Day of the Dove
69 That Which Survives
73 The Lights of Zetar
77 The Savage Curtain

Episode #5: "The Enemy Within"

In its first appearance, the Enterprise engine room was depicted as a large, almost cavernous facility. In addition to the room's high ceiling, clever camera angles, large foreground set props, and forced-perspective background elements added to the apparent scale of the room.

Spock and "good Kirk" search for "evil Kirk" in the Enterprise's lower levels -- the engineering deck.

As seen in "The Enemy Within," the engine room had a grated window in the far wall, behind which was a set of tubes and conduits of various sizes and orientations. For the purposes of discussion, this article will refer to the area beyond the grated window as the pipe chamber. Assuming this grated window wall was oriented toward the back of the Enterprise, to forward and port of the grated window wall stood two large, seemingly identical contraptions that this article will refer to as transformers. The transformers were arranged fore-to-aft, and they were oriented in the same direction, with giant blue tubes facing inward, and plain, flat surfaces facing outward. The starboard side of the room featured a row of what appeared to be instrumentation.

Because the engine room scene in "The Enemy Within" required good Kirk, evil Kirk, and Spock to remain obscured from view at various points in the scene, the episode's set builders constructed a wall of screened panels for this episode. Among the screened panels is a "circuitry junction," constructed so that evil Kirk would damage it with his phaser. This circuitry junction never again appeared in the Enterprise's engine room. Perhaps Scotty decided to relocate the apparently crucial hardware to a more protected area, such as behind a solid wall!

Somewhat off-topic, Thomas Sasser of Thomas Models pointed out to this author that the damaged circuitry junction set piece reappeared in at least two episodes: as the damaged machinery housing in "The Devil in the Dark," and within the USS Constellation engine room in "The Doomsday Machine."

Thomas Sasser of Thomas Models has observed that the transformers seem to be of slightly different sizes. In the image above, it appears that the transformer farther from the camera is slightly smaller, and has differently sized pipes near the base of the unit. In other shots, particularly focusing on the back sides of the transformers, the transformers seem to be the same size. This would seem to suggest that the transformers were intended to appear to be of identical size and shape, as they are depicted in the soundstage diagram published in The Making of Star Trek.

Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "The Enemy Within." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode.

To provide a sense of perspective to the diagram above, here's a run-down of the action from the engine room scene in "The Enemy Within."

Episode #7: "The Naked Time"

The engine room became the province of "Captain" Kevin Thomas Riley in "The Naked Time." The engine room not only gained a live musician -- it also gained a console, a chair, and what appears to be a contradiction.

In wide shots of the engine room, the two transformers can be seen to have been shifted about one foot to the right. In the wide shot from "The Enemy Within," the transformers slightly obscured the grated window; here, they do not. A new cylindrical item, which will be called a "fire hydrant" for ease of reference, has been added to the grated window wall, below and to the left of the window. The upper row of the two rows of horizontal pipes in the pipe chamber have been decorated with black text.

Kirk and Scotty attempt to cold-start the engines using a matter/antimatter implosion.

Kevin Riley commandeers the Enterprise from within the engine room, seated at a console newly added beneath the "circuitry panel wall display." The console resides in a corner of the room, and it seems likely that the wall perpendicular to the wall with the circuitry panel wall display was added for this episode. This is because, if extended for more than a few feet, this wall would seem to occupy roughly the same location as the screen wall from "The Enemy Within."

"The Naked Time" is also the first time that the audience sees the entrance to the engine room. It is possible that the entrance was constructed for "The Enemy Within," but this seems unlikely, as it was never featured in the episode, and the expense of the engine room elements seen in "The Enemy Within" already seems high, given the large size and complexity of the set.

When one observes how much space there seems to be for the new console and Riley's chair, and how little space there was between transformer #1 and the circuity panel wall display in "The Enemy Within," it seems likely that transformer #1 was moved throughout the filming of "The Naked Time." In wide shots, transformer #1 was positioned in line with transformer #2, similar to the configuration in "The Enemy Within," and in closer shots of Riley seated at the new console, transformer #1 was probably moved out of the way.

Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "The Naked Time." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode. Note that transformer #1 and the new console, chair, and wall segment seem to occupy the same space.

It should be noted that in this episode, Spock is seen to walk to the entrance to the engine room, and the surroundings during his walk suggest that the engine room's entrance lies along a curved corridor, and that the engine room lies immediately outboard of the corridor. This author has doubts that the entrance as seen from outside the room is the entrance as seen from within the engine room set. In later episodes, the engine room has a foyer between the main area and the curved corridor, and the dimensions of the main engine room area do not appear to have been changed. The only ways that both the pre-foyer and post-foyer versions of the engine room set could be adjacent to a curved corridor would be if the entire curved corridor were later moved in order to accommodate the foyer, or if the entire engine room were moved were later moved in order to accommodate the foyer. The curved corridor was adjacent to a variety of other sets, so moving it would have been impractical. The engine room would have been more easily moved in order to accommodate the foyer, but it also seems impractical to move. The grated window wall is enormous -- seemingly twenty feet or more in height. Because of this, it is likely that the wall and the ceiling of the set were both anchored to the rafters of the soundstage. Moving these structures in order to accommodate a tiny foyer would seem to be cost-prohibitve. It is more likely that the engine room set's entrance in early episodes was not adjacent to a curved corridor, and that scenes showing the entrance from outside the room actually made use of an alternate doorway.

Episode #13: "The Conscience of the King"

In this episode, Riley seems to have made his accommodations in the engine room more comfortable. Where there was once a wall, there is now sufficient space for a table to hold a tray of food. Three chairs have been added along the instrumentation panels.

Riley entertains himself in engineering, made easier by his new table and food tray.

The engine room seems to have undergone three additional changes:

  1. The fire hydrant from "The Naked Time" has disappeared.
  2. The pipe chamber now contains a third row of horizontal pipes. The uppermost row of pipes remain labeled as they were in "The Naked Time," the other rows remain unlabeled. Thomas Sasser of Thomas Models has stated a belief that the pipe chamber always had three rows of horizontal pipes. Observation of the pipe chamber in various episodes can neither validate nor invalidate this belief; however, it seems that the pipe chamber set piece was positioned at a lower elevation in earlier episodes. If three rows of horizontal pipes did exist in earlier episodes, then the bottom-most row of horizontal pipes would have been obscured by the wall below the grated window.
  3. A more subtle change is that transformer #1 has been rotated ninety degrees. The camera never reveals whether transformer #2 is present in the engine room during the events of this episode.
Additional engine room changes

Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "The Conscience of the King." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode.

Episode #15: "Court-Martial"

In "Court-Martial," the transformers return to their normal orientation, although they are again shifted to the right. The transformers are also positioned closer together. These movements were done presumably to allow room for the console that was added in "The Naked Time." The three chairs from "The Conscience of the King" have vanished, and there also seems to be no sign of the table or Riley's food tray.

Interestingly records officer Finney's technical know-how seems to know no bounds. In addition to tapping out the ship's primary energy circuits, he can also remotely operate the ship's transporter. When Kirk enters the engine room, a corner near the entrance is empty, but when Kirk and Finney fight shortly afterward, a small table appears with a wrench lying on top of it. Finney uses this wrench to threaten the good captain.

Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "Court-Martial." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode.

Episode #21: "Tomorrow Is Yesterday"

In "Tomorrow Is Yesterday," the two transformers are nowhere to be found, and the console that resided beneath the circuity panel wall display is now in the middle of the room.

Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode.

Episode #24: "Space Seed"

In "Space Seed," the center instrumentation panel now houses seven removable "billy clubs."

The console that normally resides beneath the circuitry panel wall display has moved back to that position. Two indicator lights have also appeared on the wall to the right of the console. The lower, green light appears to indicate normal status, while the upper, amber light flashes to indicate an overload in progress.

The two-paneled, angled wall just inside and to the right of the main entrance appears to be wider than in previous appearances. A wall detail visible in "The Naked Time" has vanished. There is also now a prominent, rectangular "support column" at the corner of the angled wall and the wall containing the circuitry panel wall display. This column may have been present in previous stories like "The Naked Time," but it appears to be more prominent in this episode.

Due of the increased width of the angled wall, it seems unlikely that both transformers would fit in the length of the room between the circuitry panel wall display and the wall with the grated window. Except for some insert shots of Khan, the transformers appear to be absent during much of the fight between Kirk and Khan. In the insert shots, only a single transformer is seen. This suggests that there is only one transformer, located farther away from the instrumentation panels than in previous episodes.

Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "Space Seed." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode.

Episode #35: "The Doomsday Machine"

Technically the Enterprise's engine room wasn't featured in this episode. The engine room set was, however, redressed to serve as the engine room of the Enterprise's sister ship, the USS Constellation.

"The Doomsday Machine" was not the first time that the engine room set was redressed to represent locations other than the Enterprise's engine room.

For this episode, the engine room set underwent its first major "persistent" upgrade. It is probably no coincidence that the change occurred while the set represented a room other than the Enterprise's engine room. As described in the Wikipedia, "in film, a redress is the redecoration of an existing movie set, so that it can double for another set. This saves the trouble and expense of constructing a second set." Some of the money saved by redressing the existing engine room set for the Constellation's engine room rather than building a new set from scratch would seem to have been used to upgrade the set for subsequent use as the Enterprise's engine room.

Major Upgrade #1: Redesigned "Instrumentation Panels" Wall

Prior to this episode, the Enterprise engine room's "instrumentation panels" wall was a continuous bank of hand controls and data displays. This bank of consoles was comprised of three adjacent units.

Also prior to this episode, the area above the wall was basically a fancy-looking flat. The best glimpses of the old version of the wall above the data displays are in "The Naked Time" and in "The Menagerie," when the set was redressed to represent a Starbase 11 computer facility.

Beginning in this episode, the "instrumentation panels" wall has lost one of its three adjacent units. The former position of Unit #2 is now occupied by a steep staircase with handrails. The data displays that once belonged to Unit #2 now belong to Unit#3, and the data displays that once belonged to Unit #3 are no longer present in the set. The remaining data displays have been redecorated, and a new plant-on detail has been added to each data display. The hand controls of the remaining instrumentation panel units have either been heavily altered or entirely replaced. New "greeblies" have been added below the hand controls.

(Note: Many of these images have been contrast-enhanced, since the set was minimally lit in this episode.)

Note that the stairway seems to be narrower than the instrumentation panel unit that it replaced. This might imply that the engine room has been compressed in length. Since the grilled wall was very tall and was likely anchored to the soundstage ceiling, if the engine room's length was in fact compressed, the opposing wall area -- including the entrance to the engine room -- was probably moved.

The area above the instrumentation panels' data displays has also changed radically. The somewhat bland former wall details have been replaced by an inset walkway with handrails that join with the handrails of the new staircase. A "booth" now exists at the end near the grilled wall. The booth has twin rectangular windows that overlook the bulk of the engine room. A single-pocket door provides access to the booth. Subsequent episodes make clear that there is also a single-pocket door along the back wall of the booth, suggesting a never-seen room beyond the booth.

Major Upgrade #2: New Set Prop

The engine room now has a new set prop -- a two-lobed gizmo with a box-shaped center connector. For discussion purposes this prop will be referred to as "floor binoculars."

Each lobe of the floor binoculars has a "clipped-corner triangular" plan outline. A basketball-sized sphere is located at each corner, as well as on the top center of one of the lobes. A coaster-like object is located on the top center of the other lobe. A blue topper is mounted on the top of the center connector.

Major Upgrade #3: New Foyer

A new reddish grill acts as a divider between the main area of the engine room and a new "foyer." The ever-moving console now resides in a more or less permanent position, along one of the walls of the foyer. Although not clearly visible in this episode, the circuitry panel wall display has likely moved to one of the walls of this foyer, because it is seen there in all subsequent episodes.

Other Changes

In addition to the major changes, a variety of minor changes took place, not all of which necessarily persisted from episode to episode.

Recycled Footage

Three shots featuring the Constellation engine room is recycled footage that was originally filmed for "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." Following a newly filmed shot of Scotty standing at an instrumentation panel, Kirk orders Scotty to send the damaged Constellation "full ahead." After the acceleration sends Kirk flying around auxiliary control, the first recycled shot occurs, showing Scotty being tossed from the instrumentation panel wall to a console in the middle of the engine room. The second shot follows shortly afterward, with Scotty clinging to the console as the engine room shakes. The third shot shows Scotty clinging to the grill on the grilled wall as the room shakes. All subsequent shots are newly filmed for the episode. Although the "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" Enterprise engine room differs in layout from the Constellation engine room, the context of the new and recycled shots indicates that Scotty is supposed to be in the same room throughout the sequence.

Set Redress - Auxiliary Control Room

Parts of the ehe engine room set serve double-duty in this episode. "Unit #3" of the instrumentation panels appears in the background of the Constellation's auxiliary control room.

Coming Soon: Approximate plan of engine room set as seen in "The Doomsday Machine." Based on plan in Stephen E. Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, supplemented by inspection of television episode.

Episode #37: "The Changeling"

Coming soon... er... or later...

Episode #39: "Mirror, Mirror"

Coming soon... er... or later...

Works Cited


The author wishes to thank Thomas Sasser of Thomas Models for his February 28, 2005 comments about this article, and for his observations of the Enterprise engine room.

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