TOS: Archivist’s Log: Characters I

Some final thoughts here about the Original Series of Star Trek, partly to sum up my impressions of the 79 episodes, and partly to pad time while I go out and watch some of the movies. I might have to do those in parts, or I might focus less on the episode summaries. I’m not sure yet, as I write this (though it will have already happened by the time you read it. Scheduled posts are like that sometimes.

The Triumvirate


The overwhelming sense of Kirk is that he doesn’t know when to quit. Of course, he would argue and say that he does know when to quit, and that time is never. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say routinely, but he has more than once thrown off effects that in theory incapacitate humans. Whether this is Plot Armor or Kirk is a captain because of his iron will and refusal to be compromised really depends on how much credit you want to give the writing team on TOS, and whether you prefer the Watsonian or Doylist point of view. (For those unfamiliar with the term, the Sherlock Holmes stories were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from the point of view of Watson. If you are willing to immerse yourself in the story and only offer explanations from within the universe, that’s Watsonian. If you bring a layer of meta-analysis to the story and say ‘plot point X happened because the actor playing Y broke her foot and it had to be explained on the show,’ that’s Doylist.) Maybe it’s some form of Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe I’m just a Watsonian at heart, but I’ll give Kirk the benefit of the doubt on this one.


Discounting the pilot “The Cage,” Spock has a fairly good character arc which takes him from ‘cold, emotionless adherent to the dogma of logic’ to ‘person who hides his emotions because that’s what he believes he should do and is also the smartest person in the room.’  He represents the superego, pure reason umnoderated by passion until he learns to come to grips with his human half. He also shows us that the Vulcan espousal of logic is fairly dogmatic: he rejects things as illogical that are not only no more far-fetched than previous adventures, but which he has in fact encountered before. He is, in many ways, a Flat Earth Atheist (Warning! TVTropes link!) although it somewhat helps his proposition that nobody around him is willing to concede that any particular godling they encounter is, in fact God.

Spock also begins what I consider to be the most important tradition in Star Trek: the Other. Every franchise will invariably have someone from outside what characters on the show think of as ‘society,’ and we will get to see various paradigms of the modern world acted out in miniature. The B-plot in “Balance of Terror” as well as McCoy’s constant yammering come to mind immediately. Spock is a member of Starfleet and of the Federation, but that doesn’t stop him from being the subject of occasional speciesist attacks by his crewmates. The dynamic is usually gentle (or not-so-gentle) ribbing from his friends, but occasionally it comes off as mean. By contrast, the rest of the bridge crew that qualify as Other to the audience (Uhura, Chekov, maybe Sulu) are so much a part of society that the sum total of the dialogue pointing out their differences is Lincoln being awkward at Uhura in “The Savage Curtain” and people occasionally joking about how Chekov claims everything was invented in Russia. Spock serves as the proxy for that segment of the population that’s on the fringes of the society, and constantly aware of it.


As the third member of the Freudian Trio, after Ego Kirk (and Ego Shatner) and Superego Spock, it is left to McCoy to be the dumb one. When the show starts, McCoy is horrendously uneducated – he winds up being the guy people have to explain things to (“Like putting too much air in a balloon!”) so that the audience will get to hear what, in-universe, should go without saying. McCoy is, in may ways, an outsider. Not in terms of what he is, like Spock, but in terms of what he does. The 2009 reboot really covered that well, where he joined Starfleet because he had nothing left anywhere else. In TOS, that’s mostly left unsaid (‘Bones’ is a reference to ‘sawbones’ rather than Karl Urban’s ‘nothing left but my bones’) but it becomes fairly clear that either Starfleet Medical is extremely focused, or McCoy isn’t Starfleet all the way down to his… well… bones.

I’m going to cut this short so I have more filler for you between movies. There may be a somewhat sporadic nature to the updates over the next few weeks, because I have six movies to get through, but I’ll do my best to keep you entertained.



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