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The view from my chair: Non Benevolent Doctor Names in Star Trek

Gene Roddenbery began a tradition when he recasted the role of Dr Boyce from The Cage.  Hiring DeForst Kelley for the role of the irascible Dr. Leonard H. McCoy or “Bones”, he started something that has been kept through each of the spin-off series.

Roddenberry gave the character the nickname of “Bones” in homage to naval tradition of calling the doctor of the ship “Bones”, short for sawbones.  Doctors or early sailing ships were limited in what they could do for scurvy, frostbite, or severe wounds.  The doctor would usually end up sawing off the affected limb or appendage and thus was called sawbones by the crew.

Roddenberry used this terminology as well as other naval terms to link Star Trek to a reality fans embraced.  The non-benevloent sound to the nickname was unintentional.  The morbidity of the nickname was hinted at once in the episode “Catspaw”.  Kirk begins to address Dr. McCoy with the usual “Bones,” he then turns and looks at a skeleton and calls the good doctor, McCoy for the remainder of the episode.

Intentional or not, this non-benevolent naming continued with Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Doctor Beverly Crusher signed on for six years of the show and all four TNG movies.  I’m not counting Dr. Pulaski in this article.  This could be entirely coincidental as Roddenberry could’ve pulled a name out of a hat for all we know.   Berman and Pillar could be forgiven for following suit when they created the doctor for Deep Space Nine.  Doctor Julian Bashir, a fresh graduate from Starfleet medical signs on for a full seven years of antics on the fringes of the Federation.

I don’t think I’m the only one who noticed the trend; Bones, Crusher, Basher er… Bashir.  I chalked it all up to mere coincidence when Voyager was announced and the character of the Holographic doctor was originally supposed to take the named Dr. Zimmerman.

Yes it was all a coincidence.  This was just my fevered imaginings.  I was looking for conspiracy where none existed.  Alas my relief was short-lived when the doctor did not take the name of his creator.  In fact the whole idea of his looking for a name became one of the underlying character-arcs of the entire run of the series.  I remember posting this question on Star Trek Bulletin Board (you remember those forerunners of the internet don’t you?).  We suggested all sorts of horrific names for the doctor; Cruncher, Smasher, Annialus, that list went on to have all sorts of comments but was eventually relegated to the archives.

When Enterprise was announced and it was revealed that one of the aliens on board would be the doctor, I wondered how or even if this tradition would continue.  When I discovered the name of the doctor was going to be Phlox.  I inwardly smiled, the “conspiracy theory” had all been in my head.  That is until I noticed that Phlox sounded suspiciously like ‘flogs’.

Bones – Crusher – Basher – Flogs – and a doctor who is still searching for his non-benevolent identity.  Coincidence? perhaps.  However I wonder if the creators of Star Trek have some deep subconscious fear of doctors.  I’ll let you decide.

May 10, 2010 Posted by | Star Trek | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Star Trek didn’t need a Reboot.

treklogo1If you haven’t guessed by now, I am a Trekker.  I have been a fan of Star Trek since Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit theaters in 1979.  I have faithfully watched every hour of the original series in re-runs.  I eagerly waited in line at the theater for each new movie.  I went from casual fan to full-blown, costume-owning, Trekkie when The Next Generation premiered.  I can honestly say that with the exception of the special edition version of the original series and the new J.J. Abrams flick, I have seen EVERY hour of EVERY Star Trek at least twice.

PIT #1 has grown up watching “Tar Tek” with her Daddy.  She is now a graduating senior and considers herself a third generation Trekker.  We cringed along with the rest of Trekdom when it was announced that Brannon Braga was being given the reigns of Enterprise.  We shuddered when season three of that series spent the entire season plodding through the expanse.  We cursed Paramount for their stupidity in releasing Nemesis the same week as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (oh yeah there’s a good idea).  We pined as we watched our beloved franchise dwindle because of recent poor creative and marketing decisions.

What do we like most about Star Trek?  We like the fact that after 40 years the franchise is internally consistent (if you ignore Brannon Braga).  We like the fact that the series requires thought, it’s is science fiction for people willing to think (an trait that is becoming increasingly scarce or so it seems).

That said, Paramount decided that due to the “failure” of Enterprise and the poor box office showing of Nemesis that the public was tired of Star Trek and the series was in need of a reboot.   I believe this notion to be in error as the last few years of Star Trek do NOT invalidate the previous 30.  Fans didn’t abandon Star Trek, Paramount abandoned its fans.

Why was Enterprise a “failure”?  The premiere episode drew in spectacular ratings.  I had to stay up until midnight to watch it as we STILL don’t have UPN (now CW) affiliate in the area.  Veiwership fell off considerably during the first season and continued to drop over the run of the series until UPN decided to cancel the show after season three.  Paramount made a deal with their own network to keep Enterprise on the air for one more year to have enough episodes for syndication.  Why did legions of Trekkers abandon the series?  Was it the cast? no Scott Bakula was marvelous in the role of Captain Archer.  The rest of the cast was equally talented.  Enterprise failed because Brannon Braga ignored continuity and gave us the Temporal Cold War and an entire season of battling the Xindii.  Fans wanted to see the first foray of humans into space.  We wanted to see how the bond between Earth and Vulcan formed.  We got almost none of that.  It is my personal belief that if Berman had fired Braga after season one and done season four as season two, Enterprise would still be on the air.

Why did Nemesis have a poor box office?  Was it the fact that Data died? no.  ‘The Wrath of Kahn killed off Spock and is still the favorite Trek movie on many lists.  Was it a bad story? again no.  I honestly prefer Nemesis over Generations and Insurrection.  Nemesis opened the same week as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  I wish I had a buck for everyone who wanted to see both movies and opted for LotR, thinking they’d get the chance to see Nemesis the following week.  Most of those folks never got the chance to see Nemesis.  Our local theater pulled Nemesis after that first week, ironically to make room for a second showing of LotR..

Neither of these “failures” warranted a complete reboot of the franchise.  It’s like deciding to dynamite your house because the second bathroom is broke and the painters screwed up the paint job on the spare bedroom.  The franchise needed to do something without Braga and needed to have someone with savvier marketing skills onboard.

What we apparently got was Abrams dynamiting the house and rebuilding from the leftover pieces.  At this writing I have not yet seen the new Trek movie.  I will be seeing it, but I have had trouble with calling it Star Trek.  Not because I’m some groganard fanboy who can’t accept change but because I still don’t believe the franchise needed to be re-envisioned.  Last night on Twitter I vented.  I’ve come to terms with how I’m going to go see this movie.

Is it Star Trek?  Yes, Paramount has decreed it so.  Is it my Star Trek?  Unknown, I’ll figure that out after I watch it.  I do know that in my mind, Abrams’ version is the Trek equivalent of DC Comics Earth 2.  That’s how I’ll be watching the movie.  Star Trek has already established “cannon” alternate universes.  Classic Trek, TNG, DS9, VOY, and even ENT all take place in Universe 1.   Abrams’ Trek is Universe 2.  There now I’ve gotten that off my chest.

May 9, 2009 Posted by | Movie Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek | , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments