Dr. Pulaski As a Relic of the Past

During season two of The Next Generation we get we receive a bit of a surprise. Dr. Crusher is no longer on board the Enterprise and is replaced by Dr. Pulaski, an “experienced” Starfleet doctor who hasn’t quite caught up with the times.

For some reason Dr. Pulaski just rubs me the wrong why. I think it’s because of the way she treats Data. She treats him like he’s a machine, instead of like he’s a person. Now yes, Data is made of mechanical parts. He has wires instead of veins, a posatronic brain instead of an organic one, but he has personality: he can learn, he can grow and adapt to various situations, and he can even care for somebody in his own special way (his neural net can become accustomed to one’s presence as he likes to put it). She is the only person on the Enterprise that can’t seem to get passed his inorganic “skin color” if you will.

She makes comments that completely demean Data. Even though he doesn’t feel insulted, she is being disrespectful to him in front of the other crew members. Here’s some examples:

  • When Counselor Troi gives birth Data volunteers to help her through it. Dr. Pulaski then says “Counselor Troi is going to need the comfort of a human touch, not the cold hand of technology”.
  • She constantly mispronounces Data’s name, and Data points it out.
    Pulaski states, “What is the difference?”
    Data retorts, “One is my name, the other is not”.
    Pulaski “Is this possible”? With all your neural nets, algorythms, and heuristics, is there some combination that makes up a circuit for bruised feelings?”
  • In episode 2 a situation arises that Data is trying to fix, and Dr. Pulaski becomes frustrated with the situation
    Pulaski: “It does now how to do these things, doesn’t it?”
    Picard: “Commander Data knows precisely what he is doing”
    Pulaski: “Forgive me MR. Data, I am not accustomed to working with non-living devices that… Forgive me again. Your service record says you are alive.”

If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of Star Trek characters and actors, Dr. Pulaski is played by Diana Muldaur, who also played in The Original Series, so she’s a throwback, if you will, to that show.

Now, here’s what I think Roddenberry was trying to accomplish. The Original Series aired in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights movement. Roddenberry often covered topics during the series such as interracial relationships and portraying a world where there was no racism or sexism (well, as much as he was able to for the time). In 1989, when Dr. Pulaski makes her appearance, many members of the older generations, who were adults during the 1960s, still had problems adjusting to treating African Americans and females as equals. So, in a world where African Americans and females have fought and won their rights, there is still prejudice in the world, because people can’t quite get over themselves.

I think Roddenberry was trying to convey this sociological aspect of our own world in Star Trek. On a ship where everyone is treated with respect and equality, and nobody cares that Data is an android, there is this one person, who is from a different generation, who can’t quite see past his differences. She’s O.K. with Klingons, Andorians, Vulcans, etc, because they have been around longer, and have a humanoid physiology, but when faced with something/someone who at first glance appears to be somewhat different, she doesn’t know how to treat the situation.

Even though I am not the president of the Dr. Pulaski fan club, I think she is a necessary component to the show. During the second season, Data is put on trial to determine whether or not he is a living being, or simply property of Starfleet who can be told what to do, where to go, who to serve under, or being told he will be used as research without his consent. She is a foil to the situation, showing how truly alive and human Data really is.

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About jenniferscottbrown

Doctoral student, children's librarian, wife to the most supporting and loving man, and Mom to the most wonderful, curious, food-loving little boy.
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3 Responses to Dr. Pulaski As a Relic of the Past

  1. Mari says:

    Interesting… I’ve been watching stng while on summer break. I have the same issues with Dr. Pulaski and her attitude toward Data.

    I think your theory is pretty bad ass… However, why did they let her keep that fro hair? Damn, it’s ugly!

  2. Joe says:

    Not a huge Pulaski fan either. She lacks the sensitivity of Crusher and defeats the purpose two subplots. The passion in the love plot between her and Picard suddenly just fizzles. He’s such a hard ass in the first few seasons, it helps to smooth him out. Also, would Wesley’s Mom really leave him on the Enterprise to fend for himself? Isn’t he like 16? I agree though, she represents a person “in transition” between tradition and acceptance of the changing new. Data is unique but must be considered an individual like anyone else. In a way, she can’t get over his uniqueness and so she over-exaggerates qualities about him, closing herself off to what makes him human. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether or not Data is a perfect robotic parrot of humanoids or.is truly learning to feel, the humans that surround him treat him as such. For her, on one level, she wants to accept Data and gain the social acceptance of the crew, but deep down she can’t get over the technological conundrum which is the most fascinating aspect of his being. I’ve been watching Season 2 and had a dream last night with Beverly Crusher in it–I was so relieved to see her. Rumor has it that Gates McFadden didn’t have good report with some of the higher ups, namely, Gene Roddenberry. Apparently, fans were so disappointed without Crusher that Roddenberry had to have Patrick Stewart call her and beg her reconsideration.

  3. Nate says:

    If there were a Dr. Pulaski fan club (which the ACLU would probably have to defend, as it would be highly, highly unpopular) I might actually be the president. Thanks for taking the time to meditate on Pulaski’s merits as a member of the crew: I love the tension she created by not automatically agreeing with Picard, disliking aspects of technology everyone else takes for granted (the transporter), and not initially buying Data’s status as a living being worthy of the same respect as sentient lifeforms. She wasn’t perfectly written, but I really valued her.

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