Sunday, July 26, 2015

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 3 of 15)

3. A Different Gene




Gene L. Coon had written a couple of novels, some short stories, and the screenplays for The Girl in the Kremlin and The Killers but mostly earned his living from television, where he contributed to a wide variety of shows including Zorro, Maverick, Dragnet, Peter Gunn, Bonanza, McHale's Navy, Wagon Train, Combat, My Favorite Martian, The FBI, and The Lieutenant, the latter produced by Gene Roddenberry. Coon himself produced six episodes of the first season of the proto-steampunk secret-agent western The Wild, Wild, West and had just left that to write screenplays for Warner Brothers when Star Trek called. Roddenberry originally had obtained the service of such well-regarded science fiction and fantasy writers as Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch, and that was certainly a plus, but those fellows weren't necessarily interested in establishing any kind of narrative continuity for Trek. That task fell to new producer Coon.  His reign on the show saw the introduction of Klingons, the Prime Directive, the Organian Peace Treaty, Zefrem Cochrane, and, most significantly, the galactic organization that both Earth and Vulcan belonged to, The United Federation of Planets, and its subsidiary, Starfleet Command. William Shatner once called Coon the "unsung hero of Star Trek". I myself first became aware of Coon about 30 years ago when I saw his writing credit on my all-time favorite Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark", which I'll get to later. Though the first episode he produced was the nerve-racking "Mira" (concerning a planet where all the adults have died of a skin lesion disease), he took the series in a generally more whimsical, more satirical direction. Humor now became a staple of what had been a rather dark show, culminating in the famous "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode (written by Coon protege David Gerrold.) Yet this shouldn't be taken to mean that the series became frivolous. Coon's scripts and those of the writers who worked under him may have been playful, but they were playing with some very sharp objects. If Roddenberry was H.P. Lovecraft, then Coon was Jonathan Swift. Or, given that many of the episodes written and/or produced by him had twist endings, O. Henry.

Before I gush too much over Coon, I'll go over some negatives. Like Roddenberry, Coon sometimes falls into the imperialist trap of having Captain Kirk fix some planet that he finds wanting, e.g."A Taste of Armageddon", "The Apple", and a "A Piece of the Action" I personally like all three of those episodes, and that the Enterprise or its crew members were somewhat in peril in those tales is a mitigating factor, but others have made the criticism and I think it's a fair one, especially considering Vietnam at the time was seen in need of fixing (to disastrous effect as it turned out.) I chalk up this imperialistic tendency to a structural flaw in the show itself. If a Star Trek writer wanted to criticize or highlight some problem on Earth, or, specifically, the United States of America, but had standing orders not to show Earth, and there's only so much you can do on board the Enterprise itself, then you have seemingly no other choice but to come up with an Earth-or-United States-like planet to make your point. To what extent, however, some of these problems needed highlighting is another thing. One reactionary episode made on Coon's watch that does make me wince whenever I view it is "This Side of Paradise". A planet that otherwise looks like one giant meadow has strange spores which, when inhaled, causes a person to turn on, tune in, and drop out, a fate that befalls the crew of the Enterprise. The Establishment, in the person of James T. Kirk, busts up this happy commune and sends everyone scurrying back to their 9-to-5 jobs or whatever hours they keep on a starship. Once everything is back to normal, Kirk waxes poetic: "Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums." The rat race has never been more eloquently put.

However, if you look at the totality of Coon's output--12 scripts he's credited with writing including four third season episodes under the pseudonym Lee Cronin, and as producer overseeing 8 of those plus 22 others, most of which he rewrote without credit--there was much for a counterculture to latch onto, "This Side of Paradise" notwithstanding. Roddenberry may have come up with "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" but it best describes Coon's tenure on the show. Aliens weren't always monsters, though they still often looked the part. Difference wasn't necessary bad. Difference didn't necessarily need to be condemned or destroyed. Just understood. Of the episodes that Roddenberry directly oversaw, only "The Cobermite Maneuver" made the same point (and that, ironically, didn't air until Coon had taken over.)

This is where the twist endings come in. The Coon episodes I like best, whether their ones he wrote himself or merely produced, had Kirk and co. in a situation that either baffled or just plain fooled them until the climax when it all suddenly made sense, sometimes to their delight, sometimes to their chagrin. A planet with an Alice in Wonderland rabbit late for a very important date turns out to be an amusement park in "Shore Leave". An 18th Century rogue is just a naughty little boy alien whose parents are now calling him back inside in "The Squire of Gothos". A group of medieval-looking pushovers turn out to be God-like beings in "Errand of Mercy". And speaking of deities, a Sun God is actually the Son of God in "Breads and Circuses".




An episode where the twist comes more in the middle, followed by another twist at the end, is "Metamorphosis". It's also the Star Trek episode that comes closest to endorsing nontraditional relationships. The shuttlecraft Galileo is ferrying Kirk, Spock, another crew member, and a beautiful but grumpy Federation Commissioner by the name of Nancy Medford to a planet on the verge of war, the idea being to try and talk the inhabitants out of it. However, it's soon discovered the Commissioner's grumpiness is actually the side effect of a fatal disease, and she now needs to get to back to the Enterprise and sick bay. Unfortunately, some odd force has pulled the shuttlecraft down onto an uncharted asteroid, disabling its systems along the way. A young guy is there to greet them who claims to be Zefrem Cochrane, the discoverer of the space warp, and a long-dead historical figure as far as Kirk is concerned. It seems at a very old age Cochrane had taken one last trip into outer space, where he hoped to die. Instead his ship too was pulled down onto the asteroid where Cochrane was met by an electric cloud alien, who decided to keep him as a pet. At least that's how he interpreted the situation, and was fine with such an arrangement if it meant turning back the aging process.  But it's now a century and a half later, and he's become bored with immortality. The electric cloud, dubbed the Companion, has picked up on Cochrane's restlessness and sought out the crew of the Galileo as additional pets to keep him company. Unsurprisingly, Kirk and Spock rather not be thought of as such. With the aid of a large translator machine they find out the Companion is female. It seems Cochrane has misinterpreted the situation. She doesn't regard him as a pet but a boyfriend! Interesting set-up, to say the least. Though both Kirk and Cochrane were born in the future, Cochrane is 150 years closer to 1967, when this episode first aired. And closer to a 1967 point of view. Meaning that, in spite of living with one for a century and a half, he's not quite as used to the idea of aliens as Kirk, nor, obviously, Spock. His immortality notwithstanding, Cochrane now feel he's been violated. Kirk's more concerned with getting his ship off the asteroid than with Cochrane's sense of shame, but realizes that to achieve that goal he needs to end this one-sided love affair. Trying to talk some sense into the Companion, he basically tells her that she and Cochrane's backgrounds are too different, that it could never work out. Meanwhile, Nancy Hedford's illness has taken a turn for the worse. She's close to death, and the earlier grumpiness has given away to sentimentality. Having regrettably sacrificed marriage and domestic bliss for a career (she's kind of close to a 1967 P.O.V. herself) she can't understand why Cochrane should turn his back on love. Just when the situation seems to be at an impasse, the Companion herself comes up with a solution. She occupies Hedford's body, thus saving her life, even if it does gives said body two occupants in the process. Sharing the planet with a beautiful young woman now appeals to Cochrane. While the Galileo is free to go, he elects to stay behind. One blogger who wrote about this episode complained that in the end it basically comes out in favor of a "hetero-normative" relationship, but that's Cochrane's own choice, as it should be. Had he chosen differently, I doubt if Kirk and Spock would have minded, as long as they could get their ship off that asteroid.

Star Trek's new found tolerance toward alien life forms could not but bold well for the character of Spock. Also, Gene L. Coon had never worked for Chief William H. Parker, as had Roddenberry. The Vulcan wasn't a stand-in for some anal boss for whom he had to come up with P.R. blather. Coon could view Spock with fresh eyes. I suspect the new producer saw that the pointy-eared character had a certain relativity about him. On the bridge on the Enterprise surrounded by humans, Spock seemed alien. But put him on an odd planet with even odder inhabitants, and Spock suddenly had much more in common with those humans. Except he wasn't so much afraid of any of the exotic creatures he'd come across as find them "fascinating."

"The Galileo Seven", which I talked about earlier, was made soon after Coon arrived. Spock was the butt of the joke in that one, but at least comes across as likable. For me, the Vulcan's redemption really comes about in "The Devil in the Dark". Though not generally regarded as a Spock-centric episode, it is his point of view that in the end prevails.


The Enterprise receives a distress call from a mining colony with a fatally high accident rate. The planet's foreman suspects foul play, and asks Kirk and Spock to investigate. The latter, however, seems more interested in a silicone sphere sitting on a table, serving no purpose except perhaps as a conversation piece. But the gruff and impatience foreman is in no mood to converse about the piece, and grumpily explains that it's just a useless ball of stone that gets in the way of the pergium--don't look it up, it exists only on Star  Trek--that it's their business to dig out. We soon learn the deaths were caused by a giant monster, one impervious to phasers and that can move through rock as easily as a fish through water. Spock theorizes that it's because the monster is rock, and the phasers need to be adjusted for the creature's stoney flesh. Spock is actually reluctant to make such an adjustment as he'd just as soon study as kill this newly discovered life-form, possibly a one-of-its-kind that might qualify it for an endangered species list. Addressing an Enterprise posse sent down to hunt the beast, which has also knocked out a nuclear reactor, Spock instructs them, if possible, to bring the monster back alive. An annoyed Kirk countermands Spock's order, instead telling the posse to "shoot to kill". The starship captain then pulls the Vulcan aside for a little chat:

KIRK: Mister Spock. I want you to assist Scotty in maintaining that makeshift circulating pump.  
SPOCK: I--I beg your pardon, sir?
KIRK: You heard me. It's vital that we keep that reactor in operation. Your scientific knowledge--
SPOCK: Is not needed there, sir. Mister Scott has far more knowledge of nuclear reactors than I do. You're aware of that.
KIRK: Mister Spock, you are second in command. This will be a dangerous hunt. Either one of us by himself is expendable. Both of us are not.
SPOCK: Captain, there are approximately one hundred of us engaged in this search, against one creature. The odds against you and I both being killed are 2,228.7 to 1.
KIRK: (amused in spite of himself) 2,228.7 to 1? Those are pretty good odds, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: And they are of course accurate, Captain.
KIRK: Of course. Well, I hate to use the word, but logically, with those kind of odds, you might as well stay. But please, stay out of trouble, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: That is always my intention, Captain.

Despite the adjustment, the creature survives a phaser blast, though it's seriously wounded. The beast eventually corners Kirk, and an apparent standoff ensues. However, instead of attacking, the creature turns around and displays its gaping would, earning the starfleet captain's sympathy. Spock shows up and offers to mind meld with the formally fearsome monster. As he does this, Kirk wanders into a nearby tunnel and discovers dozens of cracked silicone spheres. Suddenly, it all comes together. The creature, which has human-level intelligence, calls itself--excuse me, herself, a Horta, and the silicone spheres are actually egg shells! The miners have unknowingly killed her children, and, as a good mother should, she was merely trying to protect them. The Horta's wound is eventually healed thanks to some fast-drying cement. Kirk arranges a deal between the miners and the now benign creature. Leave the eggs alone, and the baby Hortas will use there rock tunneling powers to find new deposits of pergium, and other minerals as well. 


"The Devil in the Dark" established Spock once and for all as the most open-minded member of Enterprise crew, though you could argue the rehabilitation began earlier in Coon's run, and would continue long after he left the series, even winning a convert in Gene Roddenberry (who later had the character wear the IDIC pendant in "Is There in Truth No Beauty?") Spock also became, and I know this sounds odd given his lack of emotion, the most empathetic member of the Enterprise crew. At least he's the one who tries the hardest to understand the other fellow's point-of-view. Logic was no longer a necessary evil, but a force for good, even a form of good in itself, which he never tires of reminding his short-sighted compatriots. In "Errand of Mercy", after Kirk states that they are now in a war that they did not want, Spock replies, "Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want." (He's always a bit hard on humans, but remember, he's outnumbered by them 7 to 1 on the Enterprise, so think of it as a coping device.) Spock never glamorizes war. When in "Space Seed' the crew realizes that none other than the historic warlord (their history, not ours) Singh Khan Noonien is aboard the Enterprise, Kirk, Scott, and another crew member speak admirably of him, until Spock reminds them all he was a dictator who curtailed freedom.  It is Spock who is the most reluctant to cause harm.  Even in "The Galileo Seven", Spock regrets having hurt the furry brutes on the planet they're marooned on, even if their lives are threatened by them. Though he agreed that Kirk had to destroy a computer that had been running an alien world (and had the Enterprise locked in a tractor beam) in "The Apple", thus freeing the inhabitants to think for themselves, Spock nonetheless compares it to letting Adam and Eve eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Spock is so open-minded he even finds in a backhanded sort of way, a good use for emotions when he suggests igniting some in a couple of Adromedian invaders in "By Any Other Name". After helping Kirk steal a cloaking device, Spock agrees with a female Romulan would-be seductress that military secrets are the most fleeting of all. Spock doesn't necessarily agree with a computer-fought war in "A Taste of Armageddon" but at least acknowledges that there's some logic to it. In "Amok Time" Spock even offers wise advice to a lovestruck fellow Vulcan: "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.". Spock has a similar view of his human crew mates on the Enterprise. Kirk's unlikely recovery from an alien femme fatale's mind-control tear in "Elaan of Troyius" is explained by Spock thus: "The antidote to a woman of Elas...is a starship. The Enterprise infected the Captain long before the Dohlman did." Only Spock senses that an artificially created female is in danger as Kirk and the woman's long-lived creator fight over her in "Requiem for Methuselah". Though he's the most rigid-acting--notice how he always stands perfectly erect--character on the show, Spock is the only one that gets what the space hippies are all about in "This Way to Eden".  When the future flower children asks Spock if he's a "Herbert", meaning a square, he assures them he is not, and they believe him, and we believe him. Spock has a bit of the progressive reformer in him, too, correctly predicting labor strife in "The Cloud Minders". It's no exaggeration to say that Spock eventually becomes the moral conscience of Star Trek, and I mean Star Trek right down to the latest J. J. Abrams reboots. We shouldn't be surprised. A guy whose catchphrase is "Live Long and Prosper" can't be all bad.

Of course it matters that Spock has a very important ally most of the time.


Kirk and Spock become more of a team during Gene L. Coon's run. This may seem like an obvious development given that both William Shatner's and Leonard Nimoy's names appear in the first season's opening credits, yet their relationship in the beginning four or five Roddenberry-produced episodes seems to me a bit awkward. I don't get the sense they like or respect each other all that much. Spock may be the second-in-command, but Kirk has a better relationship with Scotty than his First Officer in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (the only episode where the Chief Engineer refers to his commanding officer as "Jim".) Yet by "The City on the Edge of Forever" which aired near the end of the first season, Edith Keeler can say upon meeting Spock, "You? At his [Kirk's] side, as if you've always been there and always will." And Spock always did seem attached to Kirk, only plot machinations kept them apart. Even on the bridge of the Enterprise, instead of sitting on a chair at his own station, Spock would just as soon stand right next to Kirk, who was sitting in his chair, as they together observed what was on that big screen before them. The First Officer wasn't sucking up to the boss, either, as he still challenged him, kept him honest, and always reminded him of the Prime Directive--the rule that prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with an alien planet's internal development (a rule Kirk always found a way around anyway.) Yet Spock always had his captain's back, was always on the ready with his Vulcan nerve pinch in case his commanding officer was in danger. He offered his support in other ways as well. When Kirk feels a bit foolish about underestimating the Organians in "An Errand of Mercy", Spock tells him, "Even the gods did not spring into being overnight."  In "The Ultimate Computer" Spock seems pleased when a Nobel-winning scientist comes up with a digital starship captain, but then reassures Kirk he could never be replaced. Spock obviously cares about the guy. The only time he considers killing the Horta in "The Devil in the Dark" is when he think it's about to kill Kirk. Spock himself thinks he killed Kirk in "Amok Time" and is overjoyed when he finds out he hasn't. He also disobeys Starfleet orders and beams down to look for his missing captain in "The Mark of Gideon". When Kirk in "Requiem for Methuselah" is heartbroken over the death of an artificially-created young woman, a death that is partially (if inadvertently) his fault, Spock uses his mind meld abilities to make him forget her (works better than booze, I hear.) Don't think this relationship was one-sided, either. Of course as Captain, Kirk was entrusted with Spock's life and limb no matter what he felt about him personally, but he seems particularly angry when the Vulcan goes blind in "Operation: Annihilate!" Kirk disobeys a direct order so he can take the ailing Spock to his home planet in "Amok Time", and later in that episode allow his second-in-command to believe he's killed him so as not to let the situation get out of hand (you can imagine what that situation must have been like.) In "Journey to Babel" an injured Kirk returns to the bridge when he really shouldn't, so as not to break up Spock and his father's blood transfer/reunion. And Kirk sticks up for Spock when others accuse him of  heartlessness following Chekhov's apparent demise in "Spectre of the Gun".

All well and good, but if Kirk and Spock are best buddies, where's the conflict? Good drama needs conflict. Of course, there was a whole universe of potentially antagonistic aliens at this particular drama's disposal, but Coon, at least initially, seems to have been trying avoid that route, and decided instead that the Enterprise's resident alien, Spock, could use a human antagonist.

Is there a doctor in the house?

 
Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, so irascibly brought to life by DeForest Kelley.

"I'm a doctor, not an bricklayer!"


MCCOY: What's the matter, Spock?
SPOCK: There's something disquieting about these creatures.
MCCOY: Don't tell me you've got a feeling.
SPOCK: Don't be insulting, Doctor. They remind me of lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin. But they seem to eat a great deal. I see no practical use for them.
MCCOY: Does everything have to have a practical use to you? They're nice, soft, and furry, and they make a pleasant sound.
SPOCK: So would an ermine violin, but I see no advantage in having one.
MCCOY: It's a human characteristic to love little animals, especially if they're attractive in some way.
SPOCK: Doctor, I am well aware of human characteristics. I am frequently inundated by them, but I've trained myself to put up with practically everything.
MCCOY: Spock, I don't know too much about these little tribbles yet, but there's one thing I have discovered.
SPOCK: What is that, Doctor?
MCCOY: I like them better than I like you.
SPOCK: Doctor?
MCCOY: Yes?
SPOCK: They do have one redeeming characteristic.
MCCOY: What's that?
SPOCK: They do not talk too much. If you'll excuse me...

--"The Trouble with Tribbles"





It seems Dr. McCoy was conceived as Captain Kirk's confidant, his sounding board, from the very beginning. Except the confident wasn't called Dr. McCoy any more than the Captain was called Kirk. In the first pilot "The Cage" it's Dr. Philip Boyce who's Captain Pike's confidant. Quite a bit older than Pike, Boyce is perhaps more of a father figure who dispenses such wise advice as: "A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on, and licks it. Or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away." Nice to know they have Facebook that far into the future. However, it turns out it was Boyce himself who ended up withering away, as Gene Roddenberry decided the actor who portrayed him, John Hoyt, wasn't right for the part. And not only did the Star Trek producer find another actor, he changed the name of the character, as he had done when recasting the Enterprise captain. Dr. Mark Piper, played by an even older actor by the name of Paul Fix, looked so exhausted he could have used a doctor himself. Too much story going on in the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" for Piper to be much of a confidant for the newly-arrived James Kirk. Nor did he have a chance to be one in any other episode as Roddenberry again decided to recast the part, and again change the character's name. In real life DeForest Kelley was born only a decade before William Shatner, so obviously he couldn't play a father figure. An older brother figure, maybe? Or how about that slightly older guy sitting next to you at the bar who complains loudly to everyone around that he can't convince the Army Corps of Engineers to waterproof his fallout shelter? That's McCoy.

If you were watching these episodes in the order that they were produced, McCoy first pops up in "The Cobermite Maneuver", and his character seems fully realized: mercurial, opinionated, and a bit of a meddler, though he's more Kirk's antagonist than Spock's. In the episode that actually aired first, however, "The Man Trap", McCoy's more a figure of poignancy. Not too surprising as he finds out the woman he loves is a salt sucking monster. In the next few episodes he's back to being the resident cynic, and now truly Kirk's confidant--"In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets...and in all the universe, three million million galaxies like this one. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk."--but really is such a minor character that the starship captain usually has only a few minutes to use him as a sounding board before rushing out of sick bay to battle the latest threat facing the Enterprise. As for Spock, McCoy is somewhat rude to him during a physical in "The Naked Time", and in "Dagger of the Mind" the two have their first true debate on the cultural differences between their home worlds, with the Vulcan getting off one of his best lines concerning human notions of morality ("Interesting. Your Earth people glorify organized violence for forty centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.")  Generally, though, the two kind of ignore each other in those first few episodes. McCoy is one of "The Galileo Seven", and is understandably peeved at the Vulcan, but Spock annoys just about everybody in that one. The rivalry really heats up in "Court-Martial" and "The Arena", two episodes where Kirk is in trouble, and stays deliciously hot from there on in.

The dispute between Spock and McCoy is often described as Logic vs Emotion. McCoy is certainly emotional, unusually so, given his chosen profession. In real life, a doctor is never more unemotional then when he tells you that you have three months to live, only two of which is covered by your insurance. Also, like Spock himself in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" McCoy's emotions are mostly on the negative end of the scale. He's either angry, grumpy, or if he's having a really good day, gleefully hostile. At least he argues for the superiority of emotion, even when events prove him wrong. In "Requiem for Methuselah", Kirk and an accomplished scientist (as well as accomplished composer,  accomplished painter, and accomplished psalm-writer) fight over an artificially-created woman. Kirk acts pretty boorish in this episode, is totally unprofessional, and, as he admits himself, is partially responsible when the poor, physically unstable girl drops dead after witnessing the ensuing fisticuffs. So what does McCoy do? He lectures Spock for being insufficiently romantic!


Really, isn't it all a bit too simplistic? In real life people don't walk around saying "I am Emotion!" or "I am Logic!" Also, a person may be emotional but think they're acting logically. It's called rationalization. Conversely, a person may look at a situation logically, i.e. objectively, and still come up with a conclusion that makes them either very happy or very sad. Yet Spock's and McCoy's constant quarreling seem quite real. Partly it's because Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley were simply two very fine actors. They could make Waiting for Godot sound like a conversation you might overhear on the subway. But I also think there was something going on with their characters that was less abstract, more substantial, more about the things that real people really do fight over, than just Head vs Heart.

Beyond emotion, I think McCoy represents the conventional wisdom. Ironically, this was Spock's role early on. In "The Cobermite Maneuver" the Vulcan compares the standoff between the Enterprise and a much larger vessel as a chess game. That's a conventional comparison. Kirk, though, takes a leap and comes up with poker. However, that was one of the very last leaps Kirk would take once he had both Spock and McCoy around to debate a particular episode's dilemma. In "The Devil in the Dark" Spock proposes the monster may be silicone-based, and McCoy think he's nuts. Keep in mind that back in the 1960s, folks didn't automatically associate the word "silicone" with breast implants. Though if they had, that would have given McCoy even more reason to think Spock was nuts. Whether we care to admit it or not, McCoy in some ways is a stand-in for the audience. He questions Spock's judgement so we don't have to. Of course, McCoy is wrong so often we eventually just assume Spock is right whether we understand what the hell he is talking about or not. For instance, in "The Gamesters of Triskelion", after Kirk disappears from the transporter, Spock insists on following an ion trail into a whole different part of the galaxy. McCoy claims he's on a wild goose chase, with the Vulcan insisting he's not after "aquatic fowl". Funny comeback, and we're on Spock's side, even if we wouldn't know an ion trail from the Oregon Trail, and of course he turns out to be right. McCoy is also resistant to change, the resident reactionary. The future is no utopia as far as he's concerned. "Crazy way to travel! Spreading a man's molecules all over the universe!" he says about the transporter in "Obsession" (you'd think he'd practice medicine somewhere else other than the Enterprise; Starfleet must have a draft.)

MCCOY: Once, just once, I'd like to be able to land someplace and say, 'Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel!'
SPOCK: I fail to see the humor in that situation, Doctor.
MCCOY: Naturally. You could hardly claim to be an angel with those pointed ears, Mister Spock. But say you landed someplace with a pitchfork...

--"Breads and Circuses"


McCoy is also quite often that darkest form of reactionary: the racist. Harsh word, I know, and you may wonder why I should say that. After all, the Caucasian doctor seems to have no problem working along side Uhura or Sulu. No, I'm talking about the way he treats Spock. It's not simply that he objects to his logic and lack of emotion. He's often dismissive of the Vulcan's very physiognomy. In an early episode, "The Naked Time", after giving Spock a physical, he remarks: "Your blood pressure is practically nonexistent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood." However, it's the ears that really set McCoy off: "You bet those pointy ears of yours!" "You pointy-eared hobgoblin!" Now suppose after an optical exam McCoy said to Sulu; "Assuming you call those two slanty things eyes" or to Uhura: "You bet your big lips and fuzzy head!" We'd be shocked, but because Spock belongs to a fictitious ethnic group, we give McCoy a pass (I myself kind of made light of Spock's pointy ears in an earlier installment, but I know he's fictional, McCoy doesn't; for that matter, he doesn't even know he himself is fictional!)

 
Now, that doesn't make Star Trek a racist show any more than having a bigot as the main character made All in the Family an endorsement of bigotry. As with Archie Bunker, there's a consider-the-source aspect to McCoy. He's so clownishly wrong about most things most of the time, that his prejudices seems silly, too. And like Archie and his son-in-law Mike (Meathead), McCoy and Spock learn to tolerate one another, even help one another.

In "The Gamesters of Triskelion" when Spock is about to beam down to a mysterious and potentially dangerous planet, McCoy offers to go with him: "Well, Mister Spock, if you're going into the lion's den, you'll need a medical officer," the reply to which is: "Daniel, as I recall, had only his faith. But I welcome your company, Doctor." "Mirror, Mirror" has McCoy saving the life of a parallel universe Spock. Presumably, he'd do the same thing for his own universe's Vulcan. In "The Tholian Web" Kirk is missing and presumed dead. McCoy naturally spends much of the episode giving the commanding officer, Spock, a hard time, but eventually apologizes, an apology that Spock accepts: "I understand, Doctor. I'm sure the Captain would simply have said, 'forget it, Bones.'"  Later in the same episode, McCoy prepares an antidote to a madness that's overtaken many of the crew, but an antidote that in the wrong dose could kill a man. Spock, who sometimes makes fun of McCoy's medical skills, seems reluctant to take it at first until the ship's doctor says: "Well, drink it down, Spock. It's the human thing to do. That's a medical order, Captain" the first time McCoy calls, even honors, him by the title. That this is all shown in a credible, believable manner may provide as much hope for the future of race relations as merely letting Uhuru and Sulu been seen on the bridge of the Enterprise where they're all but forgotten.



It occurs to me that Star Trek may have been as harsh in its portrayal of McCoy as it was to Spock in the very beginning. I doubt it bothered DeForest Kelley too much. He could have ended up like Scotty, a kind of comedy-relief character who basically stays in the background. McCoy, though, ended up very much in the foreground. In time, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy became a trio, and by the second season, Kelley's name was included with Shatner's and Nimoy's in the opening credits. And then there's the epilogues, where the three would often get together and discuss the episode that had just transpired, such as this exchange following a visit to a Nazi planet in "Patterns of Force":

SPOCK: Captain, I never will understand humans. How could a man as brilliant, a mind as logical as John Gill's, have made such a fatal error?
KIRK: He drew the wrong conclusion from history. The problem with the Nazis wasn't simply that their leaders were evil, psychotic men. They were, but the main problem, I think, was the leader principle.
MCCOY: What he's saying, Spock, is that a man who holds that much power, even with the best intentions, just can't resist the urge to play God.
SPOCK: Thank you, Doctor. I was able to gather the meaning.
MCCOY: It also proves another Earth saying. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Darn clever, these Earthmen, wouldn't you say?
SPOCK: Yes. Earthmen like Ramses, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lee Kuan. Your whole Earth history is made up of men seeking absolute power.
MCCOY: Spock, you obviously don't understand.
SPOCK: Obviously, Doctor, you fail to accept.
KIRK: Gentlemen, gentlemen, we've just been through one civil war. Let's not start another. Mister Chekov, take us out of orbit. Warp factor two, and hurry.

That exchange is as amusing as anything you'll find on Hogan's Heroes, isn't it? Now here's another from the closing moments of "The Apple":

MCCOY: I don't agree with you at all, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: That's not unusual, Doctor.
MCCOY: Jim, I want you to hear this.
 SPOCK: Captain, I'm not at all certain we did the correct thing on Gamma Trianguli Six.
MCCOY: We put those people back on a normal course of social evolution. I see nothing wrong in that.
KIRK: Well, that's a good object lesson, Mister Spock. It's an example of what can happen when a machine becomes too efficient, does too much work for you.
SPOCK: Captain, are you aware of the biblical story of Genesis?
KIRK: Yes, of course I'm aware of it. Adam and Eve tasted the apple and as a result were driven out of paradise.
SPOCK: Precisely, Captain, and in a manner of speaking, we have given the people of Vaal the apple, the knowledge of good and evil if you will, as a result of which they, too, have been driven out of paradise.
KIRK: Doctor, do I understand him correctly? Are you casting me in the role of Satan?
SPOCK: Not at all, Captain.
KIRK: Is there anyone on this ship who even remotely looks like Satan?
(Kirk and McCoy circle Spock, and carefully examine his ears)
SPOCK (miffed): I am not aware of anyone who fits that description, Captain!
KIRK: No, Mister Spock, I didn't think you would be.

(Hmm...Captain Kirk seems to be the one making fun of Spock's appearance here, but maybe it's just for McCoy's benefit. Casual racism in a casual conversation.)

Next: Gene and Gene

2 comments:

  1. Emotion and logic - Spock and Kirk (or McCoy)

    I find the psychology of these characters and their motivations and behaviors most interesting. I've wondered why I don't consider Spock a narcissist. He seems to exhibit the main criteria for narcissism - his absence of emotion, but he is also at times, the most rationally caring character. It leads me to believe that the right kind of deeply rationally thinking leads to behavior that promotes the well-being of everyone involved.

    Once again, thorough and interesting coverage. Especially like the reference to Waiting for Godot as a subway conversation.

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    1. "the most rationally caring character" I like that, Kass. I'll delve more into why Spock is the way he is in later installments. I will say that one thing that puts Star Trek so far ahead of most other TV (and movie) science fiction is the emphasis on character. It was never simply about the special effects (good thing, too, as on the budget-constrained TV version those could be wanting at times) Even though they were two very different shows, Star Trek resembles The X-Files in its attention to character. Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Mulder, and Scully. That's what science fiction is all about!

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