She’s one of the most frequently criticized characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s history. Dr. Pulaski took over as the ship’s doctor in season two, and here’s why she’s better than you remember.
There are two strikes against Dr. Pulaski. She only appeared during the worst year of TNG, when the writers’ strike and creative turmoil drove the show off a cliff. Plus she was saddled with one very unsympathetic character trait: She’s a technophobe who refuses to treat the android Data as a person, mispronouncing his name as a deliberate insult.
But in spite of appearing in some dodgy stories, and having some irksome moments involving Data, Dr. Pulaski has all the makings of a great character, and this shines through quite a bit. Dr. Pulaski is a no-nonsense curmudgeon, who clashes with the mostly sensitive, supportive Enterprise-D crew, and brings a much-needed sharp edge to the ensemble.
In particular, Pulaski is a welcome change from the way TNG otherwise treats its female characters — Beverly Crusher is an earnest, nurturing figure, who’s partly defined by being Wesley’s mom. Deanna Troi’s main trait is “sensitivity,” while Guinan all too often gets stuck dispensing homespun wisdom. When Pulaski shows up, TNG has lost the combative Tasha Yar, and Ro Laren is years away.
But that’s not the only reason why Pulaski rules — she’s also a great foil for Captain Picard, being one of the few people who can stand up to him on equal footing. She’s a realist, who has no time for sentiment or wishful thinking, making her an unusual figure among a crew of idealists. This pragmatism makes her a particularly interesting choice as the ship’s doctor, someone who will make those tough calls.
The shorthand for Dr. Pulaski usually seems to be that she’s the “female Dr. McCoy.” But even though she never got a chance to grow into her full potential, we already glimpsed more to her than that — and if she’d gotten to stay on the show once the writing started to improve, then she could have shown everyone what she was made of.
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