No Love for Dr. McCoy?
Let me start off by saying that I’ve been a huge JJ Abrams fan for a long time, and I enjoyed his take on Star Trek for what it was. It was a great summer blockbuster, rollercoaster ride of an adventure. But I’ve shared some of the devoted Trekkie’s laments that something about it wasn’t quite right. I’ve heard a lot of vague complaints, but nothing that really seemed to resonate exactly why it didn’t feel like the original series.
Personally I loved that they went back to the original characters. The fact that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy weren’t playing their parts didn’t bother me any more than the fact that Daniel Craig is currently playing James Bond instead of Sean Connery. The crew members of the starship Enterprise are clear enough ironically that they deserve to be made into reinterpretable legends the same as Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes.
But watching the marketing for the upcoming Star Trek sequel, I think I finally see the missing piece. In the original series, the standard landing party was Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy; the trio was always at the center of every conflict. But now, everything seems to focus on the Kirk and Spock relationship. They’re almost all you see in any of the trailers or commercials.
I know it may seem counter intuitive, McCoy certainly isn’t a “sexy” character and there aren’t too many people who consider him their favorite, but he’s an essential component to making Star Trek what it is. And I think that’s something that the current creators are overlooking. Even the first movie didn’t show much more than a hint at the good doctor’s potential. Where was his early development scene? Why didn’t he ever leave the ship? What would Old Spock have said to the young doctor? Even McCoy’s one “debate” with young Spock didn’t last more than a line or two. Karl Urban was a great choice for the role and gave a solid performance; he just wasn’t given enough to work with.
If you know me, or if you’ve read my first Zortic book, you’re familiar with my theory that Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the embodiment of body, mind and soul. Kirk is the physical, carnal action hero. He’s the diplomatic face, the military muscle and the romantic… other parts that go forth and represent the Federation. Spock is the mental character. He represents intelligence, logic and discipline. He’s the one that provides the exposition to give Kirk the information he needs to act on.
This, of course, brings us to Dr. McCoy; the heart and soul of Star Trek. He’s the caring, nurturing voice of humanity among the monsters and immensity of the cosmos, the Jiminy Cricket consciousness that stops and asks questions; like “that may be the logical thing to do, but is it the right thing to do?” The Spock/McCoy debates were an important part of creating the dramatic tension in any Star Trek story because they represented the two sides of the coin that Kirk was stuck between; the knowledgeable logic viewpoint and the caring humanitarian approach.
The other important aspect that McCoy brings to Star Trek is that he’s the “everyman” who allows us to look at the crazy, science fiction elements of the universe with the innocence of a “simple country doctor”. He forces Spock to present his exposition in a way that ordinary viewers can relate to. And those of us who aren’t legendary starship captains, or miraculous engineers or tormented aliens, can associate with those characters from the viewpoint of someone who is a little bit more like all of us.
Now I know if your goal is to create an action movie, having a character who says “let’s stop and think about this a minute” is going to be a hindrance. And all of the Star Trek movies have done that to some degree by easing McCoy into the background. Even the Next Generation movies saw Captain Picard leaping into action without consulting his crew as much as he did in the television series. But the moralizing and contemplation are part of what makes Star Trek different from other science fiction properties. At its core, Star Trek is about humanity’s approach to the fantastic. And while Kirk and Spock might be the front line against the menaces, Dr. Leonard McCoy is the embodiment of facing the unknown with a friendly smile from the heart.
Hopefully Star Trek will be around for a good long time, and while we want to give the creators the freedom to feed our addictions without predictability, we also want to keep the core themes on track. And today’s internet interactivity makes it easier than ever to provide and present fan feedback in a way that can help guide the powers-that-be. Even better than the old letter writing campaigns that helped save the original series back in the 60’s.
So if you’re with me, if you agree that this member of the Star Trek trinity isn’t getting the love he deserves, share this post. Or write your own observations about the contributions that DeForest Kelley’s character has brought to voyages of the starship Enterprise. It may be a little late for Star Trek Into Darkness, but let’s get the power of the internet behind this to spread the word and let JJ Abrams and Karl Urban and everyone involved with Star Trek know that we don’t want to lose one of the pillars that our favorite science fiction universes was based on.