Saturday, February 14, 2015

What Happened To Dr. Crusher?

It has been awhile since I blogged about Star Trek. I like to do so because my blog hit stats go way up.  Trekkies can't seem to get enough of reading and writing about the show even though it has been off the air for about ten years now. When the Star Trek: The Next Generation (aka TNG) came out in 1987, on demand viewing did not exist yet. The Internet was still a baby, known by very few people. To catch the week's new episode, you had to be at your television at the time it played which made for more communal viewing. For me, it was 7PM on Saturdays. I was still living at home so I roped my dad into watching it with me. We were a one-tv home. I am not sure if those exist anymore. I could always set the VCR's timer to record the show for me, but that didn't always work. Now, it is a real treat being able to pull out my phone and watch any episode at a moments notice if I want to.

Great television shows were a rarity back then. If TNG came out now, it may not have been such a sensation, but at the time, there wasn't much else worth watching from a sci-fi standpoint. I'd go out on Saturday nights to meet friends and that week's episode would always come up. This is something that we miss now. Most of us don't watch shows at the same time. Water-cooler talk doesn't go into the realm of television much when everyone is binge watching different shows.

The first season of TNG was uneven in quality. The characters were kinda goofy, the music was awful and the writing was all over the place. It was nice to see Star Trek back on television but I wasn't optimistic that it was ever be as good as the original series (aka TOS). At the time I referred to TNG as "Yuppies in Space." The characters looked so handsome and neat without any edge and depth. The feeling was that all our problems in the future are resolved and everyone is going to be boring. The first seasons ended in a low point, during the writer's strike. The last episode of that season, "The Neutral Zone," is one of the worst episodes ever made with two unrelated plot lines that go nowhere. They had pulled some fan fiction from a pile and a few producers carved the episode together. By the end of the first season, I doubted if the show was going to be on the air for long, but the ratings were so high, it was clear it wasn't going away.

The changes they made in the second season may have saved the show. At least it did for me. Many were subtle. Commander Riker grew a beard. He looked a lot older without the baby face. The only female character from the first season to make it into the next season was Deanna Troi, the ship's counselor, who also got a badly needed hair-style change. The ship now had a bar with Whoopi Goldberg as the bartender. Of course, the biggest change was the new chief medical officer, Dr. Pulaski, portrayed by Diana Muldaur, who appeared in two TOS episodes portraying two different characters. Gates McFadden, aka Dr. Beverly Crusher, was fired after the first season.

Many of the characters, particularly the females characters, were poorly developed in the first season. The actresses were not happy about it. Denise Crosby, aka Tasha Yar, didn't make it through the entire first season. It was clear to her that the male characters, Worf and Data, were gaining in popularity and her character was being thrown into the background by the writers. She quit and they killed Yar off in the 23rd episode. Yar was very poorly written, flippant and inconsistent. You wonder if Crosby would have stayed with the show if Yar would have been developed better like the rest of the show. Gates McFadden, who portrayed Dr. Crusher, had the same gripe with the writers. The added stress of the writer's strike didn't help. The working relationship became unmanageable and she was fired.

One of the better things that happened to the show in the second season was the introduction of Dr. Pulaski to replace Dr. Crusher. She was a better actress and her character was better written. Her character was edgy, which was badly needed on this show. All the characters up to this point were just perfect people, particularly the humans. They all got along too well, with little conflict and very few flaws. Then came Dr. Pulaski. She was abrasive and somewhat of a bigot which made her interesting. Her bigotry was a new one for the 24th century. She was uncomfortable around androids. She would refer to Data, the android on the crew, as "it" and she would continually challenge the idea that he was a sentient being. While the rest of the crew was not phased by his sentience and accepted it unquestioningly, she struggled with it. It was this struggle that made her a better character than the rest of the crew, annoying but more realistic. This was the kind of stuff that we expected from Star Trek. McCoy had a problem with Vulcan and this made for good television.

Of course, most people don't agree with me. The fan-base of the show complained and demanded the return of Dr. Crusher. The character hadn't been killed off. She was written out of the show by stating that she was the head of Starfleet Medical so they could easily write her back in. Nothing much was said about the reasons for her return. Her character was still overshadowed by most of the male characters although she did star in some of the episodes, some of the worst Star Trek episodes ever made.

16 comments:

Olga Hebert said...

Star Trek re-runs are still on television here in Florida. But then so are Lawrence Welk re-runs--every Saturday night.

Brodie Man said...

Dr. Pulaski was a horrible character. Thank God they brought Dr. Crusher back.

Mark Peloquin said...

I obviously don't agree Brodie Man. I think she brought a badly needed edge to the cast. They get along too well and needed some conflict. This might be why I like Deep Space Nine so much more. Also, she is a much better actress than Gates McFadden. I was disappointed that they didn't stick with her.

Mike Rogers said...

I interpreted Pulaski as an attempted retread of the McCoy character.

Mark Peloquin said...

That's a good point Mike. She is a lot like McCoy, argumentative and feisty. I never thought of that.

Mike M said...

I definitely enjoyed Pulaski more. I think McFadden's acting skills grew stronger in the later seasons. McFadden was horrible in season 1. I would have loved to see the show continue with Pulaski.

Mike M said...

I definitely enjoyed Pulaski more. I think McFadden's acting skills grew stronger in the later seasons. McFadden was horrible in season 1. I would have loved to see the show continue with Pulaski.

Unknown said...

Crusher > Pulaski

writermom said...

I like both Dr. Crusher and Dr. Pulaski, but I am glad they brought Dr. Crusher back. Her backstory with the captain and semi-flirty relationship with him was interesting. I do not think the episodes that featured her were the worst by any means. But then, I also liked The Neutral Zone. It was different.

Everyone knows what the worst episode was...or does that one not count? Every clip of Riker ever while Deanna clutches his hand and looks pained in little scenes between. I thought Riker was the weakest character on the show as far as depth and development, and I never bought the thwarted love between Deanna and him...Deanna and Worf was WAY more interesting, though I get why they scrapped that when they went to movies.

B Movie Fan said...

She did bring a needed edginess,but they forgot to make her likeable. I feel "It" was a much more enjoyable and likeable character, and didn't even have an emotion chip yet.

Mark Peloquin said...

I found her lack of like-ability to be refreshing. I know people cringed when she referred to Data as "it" but to me, this makes sense. The way the rest of the crew just accepted Data as a peer, immediately, is more cringe-worthy. Her slow evolution to accepting him was far more interesting. I was looking forward to seeing more of it.

BatMansBestFriend said...

Dr. Pulaski always came off as the type who would call you weak for crying at your own mother's funeral. It was like someone told her to watch reruns of the original series and learn Dr. McCoy but all she did was watch 20 seconds in which McCoy and Spock had one of their usual discussions (almost fights) and mistook McCoy for an old crab who lacked empathy and decided that was enough of an assessment.

I always got the feeling that she lacked empathy and thought that the existence of others were annoying because she knew they were bound to display emotion at some point and the only reason she ever displayed any sympathy was to keep whatever person she was dealing with from showing any further emotion and annoying her...possibly to her own death. It was like some writer decided to take qualities from both Spock and McCoy and mash them together without realizing that they had only used the worst qualities of each.

BatMansBestFriend said...

I dislike her so much that if they had replaced her with Quark from DS9 I would have said at least he's more likable.

Or, if it was revealed that Quark was her husband I would have said "that seems about right...who else could spend that much time around her."

Mark Peloquin said...

Yes, and it was exactly what that show needed was an unlikeable character. She had an edge to her that none of the other characters had. This is why DS9 will always be the better Star Trek ... edgier more nuanced characters like Quark.

Kevin Marceau said...

I've loved Diana Mauldour from her appearances in the original Star Trek show. I think she and Whoopi Goldberg helped save the TNG show in season two by getting the super passive and boring Dr. Crusher out of the way for a while. (If only she could have taken her annoying son with her!) Diana's character was more interesting and Whoopi was terrific but I think the writers still wanted a love interest for Picard which Diana would never be that character. To Crushers' defense she returned as a better actress with more of an edge to her character.

annonymous said...

I hated pulaski, almost as much as i hated yar. Neither of them made any sense. Pulaski was most often uncompasionate and too abrasive, yet talked about picard needing to see "the human element" when she herself didn't display any empathy. She was so full of herself and was most often wrong, she looked at all the crew only seeing their flaws and continually tried selling them on how SHE could MAKE them BETTER. I always liked Crusher. She wasn't heartless. She often put the captain "in his place" so to speak because he knew she was right. She was focused on her work as a doctor, but never recklessly tried to put the rest of the crew in danger.