Variations of the TOS Desktop Monitor

by Jörg Hillebrand and Bernd Schneider

1 TOS Standard Monitor2 Triangular Monitor3 Media4 Oval Monitor5 TOS-Inspired Monitors


This article is an investigation of the desktop monitors that appeared in TOS. We can distinguish the following four types that appeared during the three years of The Original Series:

During the three years of TOS, none of the regular monitors, in contrast to the ones of TNG, DS9 and Voyager, was ever painted in a different color or otherwise visibly modified. It sometimes looks like the color varies between gray and blue, but this only depends on the lighting and perhaps on the film development. The shape always remained the same. Only the two monitors in sickbay were replaced after the second pilot episode, putting the regular TOS monitors on the swivel arms. One of the simplistic older devices shows up in the Tantalus Colony in TOS: "Dagger of the Mind".

Using stock footage was quite common whenever a close shot of a monitor was required. Actually, with one exception, all close shots of all screens are identical, with only new content inserted each time.

This article takes into account the order of production, rather than the airing order. Only this way it is possible to trace changes or new developments between the episodes. The screen caps are from the remastered version, unless a distinction is necessary because introduces different footage than the original.


1 TOS Standard Monitor

1.1 Monitor on triangular base

This common monitor could be seen for the first time in TOS: "The Corbomite Maneuver". It consists of a pivoted angular screen on a triangular base. One corner of the triangle usually points backward. In the front side of the base we see a cavity in which colorful memory tapes can be kept. Beneath this cavity there is a slot to insert the tapes to bring their data on the screen. The edge of the slot is coppery and slightly protrudes from the case. On the left and the right there are two switches to operate the device. The best look at this part of the monitor is possible in TOS: "Charlie X" when Janice Rand switches the monitor on to use it as intercom interface, in order to report that Charlie molested her.

We are frequently shown the device with the rear side pointing to the camera, so that we rarely see what is on the screen. Repeatedly a character is looking at the screen, with flashing white light on his or her face. This is the effect of the lighting inside the monitor.

The monitor with the triangular base most often appeared in crew and guest quarters, like in those of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Janice Rand, Marla McGivers, Sarek, Scotty, Uhura and Dr. Miranda Jones. Aside from that the monitor can be seen in various other locations, such as in sickbay, in the arboretum in TOS: "The Man Trap"), in the engine room in TOS: "Balance of Terror", "Elaan of Troyius") and in the courtroom or rec room.

Outside the Enterprise these monitors show up in Commodore Stone's office on Starbase 11, in the bar on Starbase 11, in the courtroom of the starbase, in Commodore Mendez's office and registry, in Vanderberg's office on Janus VI, in the outpost on Minara II, in Admiral Fitzgerald's office in TOS: "The Mark of Gideon" and in the station Memory Alpha. The same monitors appear in the Mirror Universe of TOS: "Mirror, Mirror" in Kirk's quarters and in sickbay. Furthermore we can see the devices on the USS Defiant NCC-1764 and the USS Exeter.

We can witness in two episodes how a monitor of this type gets destroyed. In TOS: "The Enemy Within" Kirk knocks the upper part from its socket. When it hits the floor off-screen we hear the sound of breaking glass. In "Amok Time", on the other hand, we see how Spock slams his fist into the monitor case as if it were made of thin cardboard or polystyrene. There's no cullet and no sound of shattered glass. Perhaps Kirk's monitor damaged another glass object in his quarters, which produced the sound?

A close take of the monitor screen was filmed for TOS: "The Corbomite Maneuver" to insert images using the bluescreen technique. The shot shows the display filling the whole TV screen, with the red angular indicator at the lower edge. On the right side of the frame we can see some dirt. This is the evidence that one and the same piece of stock footage was re-used over and over again, with one exception in "Day of the Dove". We can see it no less than 20 times, each time with different content, in 14 episodes altogether. One more thing to notice is that the monitor case sometimes appears to be gray and sometimes blue. But evidently it was always the same footage, and only the post-processing can be responsible for the color variation, which is found in the rest of the images as well. These differences are still present to some degree in the remastered episodes.

Like other effects and graphics too, some monitor images were replaced or modified in the remastered version.

1.2 Monitor in engineering

This is essentially the same monitor as the one of chapter 1.1. The only difference is that the base had to be shortened to put the monitor on the narrow engineering console. The front side is identical, again with a pocket for the memory tapes, two switches and one slot. The monitor was required for one particular scene in TOS: "Journey to Babel" in which Uhura contacts Kirk in engineering. After that the device remained in engineering and could be seen in various episodes of the second and third seasons. It is clearly visible e.g. in "The Immunity Syndrome", "The Ultimate Computer" or "Is There in Truth No Beauty?". Furthermore the monitor was also present in the engine rooms of the USS Exeter and the USS Defiant. Still, "Journey to Babel" remained the only time that anyone made use of the monitor.

1.3 Monitor on swivel arm in sickbay

This sub-type of the monitor could be seen as soon as in TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before". While the swivel arm remained the same, the screen was replaced some time later. The one from "Where No Man Has Gone Before" did not yet have the red light below the screen and the large frame that runs around the casing like a collar. Until "The Enemy Within" it was replaced with a standard TOS monitor like in 1.1. Still, we should see the simple monitor once again. It showed up in TOS: "Dagger of the Mind" in the Tantalus Colony, here on the top of a desk without a swivel arm or anything. All the swivel arms obviously remained in sickbay.

As already mentioned, the new sickbay monitor made its premiere in "The Enemy Within". A pocket for memory tapes is located at the rear end of the swivel arm. Closer to the screen there is a white switch to activate the screen and display the data.

One of the two swivel arms disappeared in the second season. In TOS: "Return to Tomorrow" only of of them is left, the second one was removed to make way for the light spheres of Sargon, Henoch and Thalassa. In the third season none of the swivel arms is visible any longer. The best look at the monitors is possible in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "The Naked Now", "Space Seed" and "The Changeling" (when Uhura has to learn to speak again after Nomad has wiped her memory).


2 Triangular Monitor

This monitor shows up exclusively in the briefing room, for the first time in TOS: "The Corbomite Maneuver". It consists of three screens in a 120° arrangement on a triangular base. It can be operated using buttons and tape slots in the conference table.

For all close views there is only one piece of stock footage, initially filmed for TOS: "Mudd's Women". Different content was inserted for several later episodes. There are 9 different images in total, in 6 episodes.

The screen is faintly illuminated in many episodes even when it can be supposed to be off, and the screen always appears to be white. In later episodes, however, the screen is always pitch black when it is inactive.

Whenever a video is shown using the bluescreen method, only one side of the monitor is visible, obviously because otherwise it would be necessary to create an appropriately distorted view of it, corresponding to the perspective. Only in "Friday's Child" we can see a big portion of one screen and a small strip of the next one to the right. The perspective, however, was not corrected (which will be a recurring problem especially of TAS too).

This sequence was not improved for TOS-R, maybe also because of the overall poor quality of the original footage.


3 Media on the Screen

The three basic methods to display something on the screen already existed in the time of TOS:

Illumination with a transparent slide from inside

A slide with a graphic was put into the screen and illuminated from the inside with a lamp. This method was applied in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (text), "The Corbomite Maneuver" (star chart), "The Changeling" (Nomad schematics), "The Enterprise Incident" (Enterprise und Romulan battlecruiser side views), "The Lights of Zetar" (brain waves), "Space Seed" (graphics), "The Trouble with Tribbles (Scotty's technical journal), "The Tholian Web" (spatial interphase graphic) and "Day of the Dove". For the last one a graphic of the hull pressure compartments was removed from the bridge and put into the monitor. The graphic was never returned to the bridge. Also, as already hinted at, a new close shot of the monitor was filmed for this episode.

Insertion of an animation

This technique shows up less often in TOS than in TNG, for the simple reason that the animation technology was not yet very advanced and computer graphics were not yet available. Animations are visible only in "Mudd's Women" ("lie detector" oscilloscope image) and in "The Light of Zetar" (animated brain waves).

Insertion of a video

In all other episodes in which the monitor is not switched off we can see inserted video scenes.


4 Oval Monitor

In "The Cage" we can see small egg-shaped monitors on flexible arms in many places on the ship, like on the bridge, in the transporter room or in Pike's quarters. They were removed for the most part prior to "Where No Man Has Gone Before", but are still visible in this second pilot episode on the captain's chair and on some of the bridge consoles.

Furthermore we can find one of these devices in the Tantalus Colony in "Dagger of the Mind", directly beside the already mentioned former sickbay monitor. Also, the oval monitor shows up in Commodore Mendez' office in "The Menagerie I".

After a long time the monitor appears, without the arm but only on a short rod, as the top part of a Romulan computer in "The Enterprise Incident", here used by the Romulan commander to record Spock's guilty plea. This whole device, including the monitor, can be seen at Memory Alpha in "The Lights of Zetar" as well as in Flint's lab in "Requiem for Methuselah". So eventually there is one TOS monitor which was re-used for different purposes. ;-)


5 TOS-Inspired Monitors

5.1 Triangular ENT monitor

In the fourth season of Star Trek Enterprise, overall a single huge homage to TOS anyway, it was decided to introduce the triangular monitor similar to the one from TOS in the prequel series. We can see one of them on Earth in ENT: "Home". It is placed on a triangular base just like the TOS version, but on a considerably longer post. The monitor features a sort of elevated roof, and a number of Starfleet buttons below the screen. When it was re-used in "Cold Station 12" and "The Augments", the base was still in place but was covered by the console in which the monitor was integrated. Moreover, the buttons were removed, now leaving just a number of round holes.

Finally the monitor made an appearance on the USS Defiant in "In a Mirror, Darkly II". The buttons were not attached again, but the monitor is now standing on its original base again. It looks like there is a monitor type on the Defiant (from our universe) which was never visible on the Enterprise in the three years of TOS.

5.2 Monitor reconstruction in ENT

Furthermore the regular TOS desktop monitor was reconstructed for Archer's quarters on the USS Defiant. At least, the monitor was supposed to look like the original. At a second glance we can see that the new casing is overall considerably flatter and its base is rectangular instead of triangular. There are two white switches like on the original monitor and a storage cavity, but the slot is missing. In TOS: "The Tholian Web" we could see some monitors on the Defiant such as in sickbay which were naturally the very same models as on the TOS Enterprise. Maybe the captain of the Defiant simply had a different type in his quarters?

5.3 Monitor reconstruction in SNW

Strange New Worlds shows a monitor reconstruction whose proportions are closer to the original that the one seen in ENT, only painted black here. We initially see the monitor in the Enterprise ready room on two occasions, curiously only in alternate realities. In "Charades", the device finally appears in the "real" timeline.



HD screen caps from TrekCore and TrekCaps. Thanks to Tuskin38 for the hint about the SNW monitors.


See Also

Variations of the TNG Desktop Monitor - investigation of its evolution and all variants, including the TNG movie monitors

Variations of the DS9 Desktop Monitor - investigation of its evolution and all variants, including other monitors of the series

Variations of the VOY Desktop Monitor - investigation of its evolution and all variants, including related monitors

Re-Used Props - Mobile Computers - desktop computers, handheld computers


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