The Door in SF

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

Ron Cobb does the business. That’s the kind of door we’re talking about…

image courtesy of John Eaves. Check out his chunk of posts on Ron Cobb here.

Let’s consider the humble doorway, and how it has become a character in and of itself in SF. In every other genre I can think of, they are simple objects. They open. They close, occasionally with a slam. In a prison context, they are symbols of incarceration, although to be frank characters tend to talk about the walls more, and they are the object that will have the graffiti and the gate-bar scratches, counting off the days until freedom comes.

SF doors are infinitely more complex. They are desperately over-engineered for the job at hand. And at the same time they barely fulfil the essential design requisites that you and I would consider the door would need. They rarely have handles, for example. You have to punch a code or say a password or, memorably in Jeunet’s Alien:Resurrection, huff your cheesy breath into a detector.

And that’s before the darn things will even open for you. Then you get the best efforts of a team of props men as they slide back on tracks or drop through the floor or iris open like a lens. In Star Trek: DS9 the doors were built like cogs, and they rolled out of the way in a way that was far too complex for the end result. Lights will frequently blink and flash. In Peter Hyam’s Outland, they had useful red or green fluorescents to let you know if they were locked or not.

And then of course, they always make noise. Helpful bleeps and chimes to let you know that they’re about to do that fancy three-way split. The hiss of hydraulics. The unzipping sound that accompanied Captain Kirk as he marched down the corridors of the Enterprise (those corridors were always too fancy for my liking, although I’ve always had a thing for the Jeffries Tube). And I have to mention the doors on the Heart Of Gold in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, that were programmed to take pleasure in opening and closing, and did so with an almost orgasmic sigh.

Of course, there are always exceptions. The doors in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica are heavy, unwieldy things, but at least they have a handle and they are pulled open and closed. However, as they’re all designed to isolate an area in the event of a leak, they still have valves and wheels and an excess of handles and cranks. Opening a door still takes up a disproportionate amount of screen time and effort.

I’ve not really talked about the more esoteric kind of SF door yet. The Stargates, for one, have devolved over the years from being a 2001-esque gateway across galactic space, complete with warp effects and the wailings of a heavenly choir, to the kind of thing that O’Neill and crew hop through when they fancy a walk in the Canadian woods. Then we have the organic portals of the living craft of Lexx and Farscape. These worry me. I’m not sure a door should drip and ooze. Or to that point, just vanish on you just at the point when you need them the most.

But of course, my all-time favourite SF door? Well, there’s no contest, really.

And don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same with a door that did that. I want one for my garage.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

3 thoughts on “The Door in SF”

  1. Wow, this post brought home to me how we should never underestimate a SF door. Not only do they keep out deadly gasses but they also retain that pleasing noise, that tactile quality. They take you through into a whole new world or, as in certain Star Trek episodes, to somewhere completely unexpected (usually Engineering). I never understood how the doors and lifts on the Enterprise worked. Chris Pine should give me a personal demonstration.

    It’s easy to say how much I enjoyed Airplane 2’s space station door, but I did. And Hitch Hikers the ‘Pleased to be of service’ door. They are characters of their own. They might be barriers between life and a horrible death but they have charm. And how many things can you say that about?

    As we’re talking scifi, can I just say how much I disliked Wesley? I have to get that out.

    Great post, Rob, thanks!

  2. Yeah, but I bet you like Wil Wheaton, doncha? Actually, I found Wesley more palatable as he grew up and shrugged off some of the boy genius baggage. And on the whole I found him less annoying than Data. That whole “robot struggling to be human” bit was getting old by the time Asimov did it in “Bicentennial Man”, and is trickledown from pioneering works like Frankenstein and Pinocchio anyway. Oh, and Roddenberry’s own “Questor Tapes” now I think of it.
    Sorry, geeking now. It’s a way of staying awake on the train into work!

    1. Best thing about Wesley was when that Time Traveller nabbed him and put me out of my misery.

      Wil Wheaton has some good points. Give me Chakotay any day 😀

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