Doctor Pulaski or rather Commander Katherine Pulaski served aboard the USS Enterprise D for one year. Pulaski, a medical officer, served as the ship’s chief medical officer. In her short time as a member of the ship’s crew Pulaski would divide the opinion of Star Trek fans and critics alike until the decision was made to retire her from the series.
Doctor Pulaski was a character featured prominently in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Played by Diana Muldaur she replaced Dr. Beverley Crusher (Gates McFadden) as chief medical officer following the non-renewal of McFadden’s contract on the show. While the fate of Crusher’s character was up in the air after she took on a role at Starfleet Medical, Pulaski took no time in bulldozing her way onto the ship and into the crew.
While onboard, Pulaski would find herself in confrontations with many of the main characters. Her personality rubbed many of her fellow officers up the wrong way and this would go on to transfer to the audience. Many cited her inability to get along with the crew as their reason for not liking her! Others felt she was too much like Star Trek The Original Series‘ Dr. McCoy to find her own place in the Trekverse. Couple that with the nurturing and maternal nature of Crusher, Pulaski was the new girl in a very tight clique!
Her presence aboard the ship was doomed from the start but here’s why we all got it wrong all those years ago!
Pulaski didn’t fit the mould of the Enterprise and her crew! We should have appreciated that more! Picard and his circle of senior officers and advisers were a ship of idealists and explorers. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact , it made for some interesting and exciting stories. Think about all the episodes Pulaski featured in though and you’ll find yourself a character willing to go against the popular vote.
She was a practical, no-nonsense character. Stubborn to a fault, she found herself clashing with Picard on more than one occasion. Her sense of confidence and self-assurance is perceived to be nothing more than annoying and her ability to go head to head with Picard left many people wishing she’d just butt out! Her first day on board she ruffled his feathers by not reporting to him and heading to the lounge! It was an interesting relationship to say the least and reminds me a lot of Voyager’s Doctor in his formative years adjusting to the crew and their personalities. Had Pulaski remained on board, I think we’d have seen her character develop her interpersonal skills but not at a cost to her own personality.
She offers her expertise with ocular implants to Geordi offering to replace his trademark visor. She dated Commander Riker’s father. For such a short stint, Pulaski became involved in the lives of her fellow crew.
However tenuous her relationships were with the crew and Picard, fans found her mistrust and dislike of Data to be difficult to deal with. Data was an instant fan favourite! Pulaski’s treatment of him soured her character for many! Watch her mispronounce his name and her reaction to Data correcting her:
Pulaski and Data develop a friendship throughout her time on the ship. She begins to show concern for him and he even returns it (in his own way). Pulaski pushed Data to consider his role, his self and his search for his humanity. When the series began, the rest of the Enterprise had accepted him as just part of their crew but Pulaski gave us a different insight on his character. It was different and engaging and could have made for interesting storytelling had she’d been given the opportunity to interact further.
Pulaski didn’t also rub others up the wrong way. Her relationship with Lieutenant Worf is playful, flirtatious and one of mutual respect. Pulaski and Worf spar over poke and even share in the Klingon Tea Ceremony. Pulaski goes so far as to even drink the tea despite it being lethal to humans, doing so seems to earn her Worf’s admiration.
Pulaski and Crusher did share similar traits. They’d a passion for medicine and healing, while they tackled it very differently, they would both go so far as to risk their own lives for their crew. While the Enterprise was certainly big enough for two doctors of their calibre, the pair never actually met on the series. Another missed opportunity!
Pulaski helps us see another side to the other crew. Her actions as frustrating as they might seem, force the characters we were comfortable and happy with to react differently.
A few years later, in season five while speaking to Wesley Crusher, Captain Picard states that “The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth!”. Then there’s a truth we need to admit to as Star Trek fans!
You can prefer Crusher but if you’re considering giving TNG a rewatch at some stage, I’d ask you to give Pulaski a little more time. Consider all she brought to the show in her short time even though her departure is masked by the return of Beverley in season three. Doctor Pulaski’s time onboard the ship and with the crew left an unforgettable and understated mark on the show.
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!