Call Me Tiberius

While researching the Honorary Unsubscribe for writer D.C. Fontana, I came across a bit of Star Trek trivia that caught my eye — something I, as a life-long Trek fan, never knew.

Star Trek writer and story editor D.C. Fontana in 2012. (Photo: The Writers Guild Foundation)

You know how Star Trek’s captain was named “James Tiberius Kirk”? That middle name was thought to have come from The Lieutenant — the show Gene Roddenberry worked on before Star Trek. In The Lieutenant (1963–1964), Gary Lockwood starred as USMC Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice. (Lockwood later guest starred in Trek’s (second) pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.)

Yet the captain character was only named as “James T. Kirk” until a writer wanted to use his middle name in an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series. That writer: David Gerrold, who wrote “The Trouble With Tribbles” for the original series, and later went on to be well regarded as a Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning science fiction author.

Gerrold didn’t even know about the Lockwood character’s name until 2014: it was a total coincidence that they matched! (Gerrold says he was inspired to name a character Tiberius by the 1934 novel I, Claudius.)

Roddenberry Went Out on Limbs

One episode of The Lieutenant brought huge controversy: “Set It Right” was about a black Marine facing racial prejudice from a character played by Dennis Hopper(!). The Marine was played by Don Marshall, who later starred in Land of the Giants, and that character had a fiancée who was played by …Nichelle Nichols, who went on to be a leading character on Star Trek, Lt. Uhura.

But when “Set It Right” was delivered to NBC, the network refused to run it: “racial controversy” was Just Not Done in 1960s entertainment television. NBC even refused to pay for its production, leaving the production company on the hook. Roddenberry, the series’ creator, was so incensed over that rejection that supposedly, he decided Star Trek stories should be allegorical morality plays.

The kiss. (Desilu Studios)

Famously, the season 3 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” featured William Shatner’s Kirk being forced by aliens to kiss Lt. Uhura for their entertainment — the first interracial kiss shown on television.

The actor connections don’t end there. Other Lieutenant players who also came along for the Star Trek ride included Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Walter Koenig (Chekov), and Majel Barrett (the first officer “Number One” in the first pilot, and Nurse Chapel subsequently). Oh, and one other Lieutenant actor who later guested on Trek: Ricardo Montalbán as Khan, which role he later reprised in the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan.

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Nichelle Nichols died in July 2022. I didn’t think it needed to be said, but in this context “interracial” refers to Black-white, even though there are obviously other “races” within the “human race.”

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10 Comments on “Call Me Tiberius

  1. That is so cool! I, too, am a lifelong Trekkie, but never knew of so many connections between those two Roddenberry shows. Thanks for the info, Randy!

  2. That’s all news to me, too. I can’t call myself a lifetime Trek fan because I watched the original show when it was new, but I’ve been a fan ever since, and I never knew about all the connections between The Lieutenant and ST:TOS. I’m not surprised, though — the actors who were on ST:TOS were all lesser-known but regularly working folks, so their paths probably crossed many other places as well.

  3. Actually, Captain Kirk was originally James R. Kirk. I can’t remember which episode in season one it is, but toward the end when he is fighting with a “transformed” crewman on the planet below there is a tombstone for the Captain to be buried in labeled “James R. Kirk”. It was much later that the “T” for Tiberius came along.

    Well, again, the “T” was there for the series and it wasn’t until after it ended that David Gerrold made it stand for Tiberius. As for the R, that’s already been explained …by D.C. Fontana herself:

    In the introduction to Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 1 by D.C. Fontana, when the mistake over the middle initial was discovered, Gene Roddenberry decided that if pressed for an answer on the discrepancy, the response was to be, “Gary Mitchell had godlike powers, but at base he was Human. He made a mistake.”

    (emphasis added). So there you go. -rc

  4. Again, you’ve gone where too many men have gone before …. Trek Trivia! Love it. Thanks.

    🙂 Hopefully something you hadn’t heard before! -rc

  5. I also consider myself a life-long Trek fan, starting as a 9 year old boy planted in front of our black and white TV as Star Trek first aired in Sept. 1966. My love of Sci-Fi began before Star Trek as I had watched several of the Gerry Anderson “Supermarionation” shows like Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds.

    I knew about Gene’s show, The Lieutenant, but not the connection to Trek. Thank you for that. Now to see if The Lieutenant has been released on DVD.

    I remember the Thunderbirds too. Wonderfully campy. -rc

  6. Don Marshall also appeared in a Star Trek episode, The Galileo Seven. Another connection to The Lieutenant.

    I actually thought he was in a different episode, The Ultimate Computer. Turns out that was a different black actor named Marshall, William Marshall.

  7. This callback to 2019 taught me something about myself: Never trust my own memory!

    I’ve known for decades that Kirk’s middle name was Tiberius. However, I was 100% absolutely sure it was revealed in the original series. Also, I don’t remember this from 2019, which begs the question: Did I miss it, or forget it? Argh, so many questions!

    I have the boxed set of DVDs for the original series (at least I think I do — what if I’m wrong about that too?) so now I must watch them again to be sure where I did or didn’t hear it.


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