by Rob Heyman for TrekCore.com

Star Trek: The Next Generation saw a number of significant changes between its first and second seasons, none more glaring than the replacement of Beverly Crusher with Kate Pulaski as chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise.

At Diana Muldaur’s request, the actress was never elevated above a ‘special guest appearance’ title for the second season opening credits, implying a kind of temporary or experimental status as a cast member. When the third season debuted, the medical reigns had been handed back to Gates McFadden, who was asked to return to the series, and Pulaski was never heard from again (outside of a few brief references in “Who Watches the Watchers,” “Ship in a Bottle,” and “Endgame,” the Voyager series finale).

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While it’s hard to imagine The Next Generation without Doctor Crusher, looking back at the second season, it’s just as hard not to entertain the possibility that Pulaski’s character could have really succeeded for the series.

Despite some obvious and none-too-subtle character nods to Doctor McCoy, Pulaski displayed a certain resolve and wisdom that could have opened the door for some interesting relationships with the other crew members. Whatever the definitive reason for Pulaski’s replacement – be it lack of chemistry, creative differences, or Muldaur’s dissatisfaction with the show — there’s enough in the second season to point to a character with tremendous development potential.

Pulaski biggest opportunity for growth, had she stayed with the series for the third season and beyond, likely would have come with Troi, and maybe even Riker. Troi was set up from the start as someone who would be her closest friend, but that bond was never fully realized despite some promising starts in “The Child” and “The Icarus Factor,” in particular.

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As reviled as it is as an episode, owing largely to its soap opera melodrama, “The Icarus Factor” is one of the few episodes that truly tries to weave her character into the tapestry of the other crewmembers’ lives – and it works. It may seem a bit corny that Pulaski was once romantically involved with Riker’s father, but Muldaur sells it, and the scene where she tells Riker to get over his anger for his father is a wonderfully layered moment setting the stage for an interesting parent-child dynamic with Riker.

You saw some of that when she confronts Wesley on learning to take charge in “Pen Pals.” I can only imagine the ball-busting she would have given Riker over his fears in assuming command in “The Best of Both Worlds.” Instead, that ball-busting was left, somewhat jarringly, to Guinan.

Both Troi and Riker have complicated relationships with their parents. It would have been interesting to see how Pulaski and Lwaxana Troi would have played off each, especially once Troi and Pulaski became a lot closer and Troi embraced her as a surrogate mother. When you consider this, it almost makes sense now that “The Child” was made the debut episode for Season Two – it gives us a necessary medical story to introduce Pulaski and to sow the seeds of her connection with Troi.

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The biggest problem with Pulaski was the decision to pit her against Picard, and to a lesser extent Data. Had Data been portrayed as colder and more Spock-like, I could buy her ongoing distrust of him as a lifeless machine (and fulfilling yet another intended McCoy trait). Fortunately, Pulaski did warm to Data over the course of the season, but had she not, fans would have completely turned on her because… well… we liked Data, and so did the rest of the crew.

The conflict between Crusher and Picard worked better because there was romantic subtext to it. There was a glaring lack of chemistry between Pulaski and Picard (and it would seem, Stewart and Muldaur) that made the conflict feel forced. I always had a soft spot for “Time Squared.” It is a weird and creepy episode. It works almost in spite of itself. However, the conflict between Pulaski and Picard is so cringe-inducing it even alienates Troi at one point. It is at this point that you know Pulaski’s days are indeed numbered as a regular character.

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Two of Pulaski’s best episodes are “Elementary Dear Data” and “Up the Long Ladder.” “Elementary” is a stand-out in its own right, and a lot of the credit for its success goes to director Rob Bowman. I love how he introduces Pulaski in this episode as an eavesdropper in Ten Forward. We don’t really know Pulaski up to this point, but in this one scene he tells us she’s smart, fun, and even a little sneaky.

“Up the Long Ladder” shows us she’s also a bit of risk-taker when she decides to partake in a dangerous Klingon tea ceremony with Worf. This sets up a rather unlikely camaraderie with Worf, which could have been one of The Next Generation’s more interesting dynamics as the series progressed.

So what would have The Next Generation been like had Pulaski stayed aboard third season and beyond? As a serious character well-tenured into her responsibilities, it’s likely we would have gotten some truly compelling medical episodes. I never felt Crusher was given enough to do. She’s clearly a smart woman and has saved the ship from several crises. But she was never given a really meaty medical story to sink her teeth into.

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What’s more, Wil Wheaton’s decision to leave the series fourth season sidelined a big opportunity to broaden Crusher role as a single parent. This, along with the producers’ decision to minimize family drama post-fourth season in favor of more sci-fi fare, found Crusher with less to do save the ongoing and tiresome will-they-or-won’t-they unresolved romantic teasing with Picard.

Fans seem to be pretty divided on Pulaski as a character. It was easy to hate her because she came across too stuffy and parental, and her initial distrust of Data was something many of us just couldn’t swallow.

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That said, she also has her share of fans, many of whom probably see, as I do, a character who had growth potential and whose service aboard the Enterprise came to an end far too soon.

  • I wasn’t sorry to see Crusher back in season three, but nor would I have been upset if Pulaski had stayed. And indeed, this article makes some interesting speculation on what could have been.

    If nothing else, though, I have always been sad at the almost complete ignoring of her existence that went on after she left. She was a cast member of the show for a whole year! But after she left, it was almost as if she never was.

    Yes, they made the nod to her in Who Watches the Watchers. But in that case, it almost felt as if the episode had been written before they knew which doctor they’d been using, and when it turned out Crusher would be using a technique first used by Pulaski, they were left with no choice but to lampshade it. And as for Ship in a Bottle, they would have almost had to have gone out of their way to NOT mention her, as she would have been one of the few people Moriarty would have known from his previous experiences. (Suppose I could watch Endgame again… but I tend to try to avoid too much Voyager!)

    But beyond that, it was almost as if they were trying to pretend Pulaski never happened, and it had been Crusher all along. I’d have LOVED if they had brought her back for a guest appearance or two, or at least worked in a mention of her in All Good Things. SOMETHING to acknowledge she had existed!

    • MJ

      Both characters and the actresses who played them were rather weak and not very memorable as compared to other characters/actors in TNG.

      And Muldaur certainly has done some good acting in other shows, so I am not intending to dis her.

  • archer9234

    I never really understood the huge hate towards Pulaski and even Wesley. Maybe because When I started watching the show. It was already on season 6. So I could watch the majority of episodes without having to wait. And deal with the whole constant Wesley saving the day at the last minute. Or the whole season 2 writers strike problems. I never really hated them. Even though I can see both characters “problems”.

    I never liked that they totally ignored her when she left. Also the fact they ignored Crusher too. We had a ton of episodes. Episodes that dealt with “Family”. And no one thinks “We should do a full flashback with Jack Crusher.” Both doctors and Wesley always felt like the writers left them in the misc. pile. Whenever they came up with episodes.

    Which I don’t understand. Bashir and the EMH were the main doctors, and never had issues in using them. Was it because they where women. And the writers couldn’t’ figure something out? Same problem also rears itself with Troi and Yar. When they did get featured. The episodes are good. Except Yar, since she had no time on the show to get a good episode. But when they aren’t used, total fodder. Why didn’t she come back for Worf’s spine episode. That was so blatantly there for her. It’s not like fans would hate her MORE. Even the ending had Crusher warm up to Dr. Russell.

    I saw Pulaski marked as a wasted opportunity on TNG. She could of been used in the second Moriarty episode With the 3. Giving a small closure to that story and character. But something. Season 7 was filled with “were ending. let’s do random weird fun stuff.” Could of popped her in there.

    • Would royalty issues have come into play, though? Locarno (Paris’s “identical character” you mentioned) was a character created for one specific episode by that episode’s writer, as opposed to Pulaski, who was created by the production team for the series, not just for a specific episode.

      • archer9234

        Yes it would. The way royalties works, is if you reuse a character from another writer, that said writer will get paid for the characters use. You bypass this, by changing the name of the character. But can leave everything else identical. It’s simliar to the crazy thing they do with extras. Most of the time an extra can’t have lines, or their pay has to fall under a higher bracket. But you can bypass this by having the extra talk. But than be overdubbed by a voice actor, being paid less.

        • Yes, but again, Pulaski was not created for a single episode by that episode’s specific writer. That’d be like saying they had to pay DC Fontana for every use of Picard because she wrote Encounter at Farpoint.

          • archer9234

            Yes. But there’s still clauses to be dealt with. You’re probably right. But they did do it with Paris. Writers do own their characters. In case of Picard, Gene. It’s why Back To The Future 4 couldn’t be made. Unless the writers said so. Or they have to create new characters set in the BTTF universe. With zero mention to the past characters.

          • Just a Guest

            You are not correct archer, writers do not by default own the characters they create for a series, in fact it takes a specific clause in their contract for this to be the case. You cite the BTTF franchise, well just a few months back I read an interview with the writers from that series on how they specifically had it added to their contracts on the films that they owned the characters, they stated it was for the express purpose of not letting the studio continue to grind out sequels to keep the cash flowing. Had they not added that clause to their contracts there would have been no hindrance whatsoever from anyone else being hired by the studio to write a fourth film. Believe me plenty of comic book writers out there wish they owned the characters they created, for example Stan Lee, who doesn’t own ANY of the hundreds of characters he created over the decades for Marvel Comics.

            Author ownership of character is not, repeat not, automatic, its not even common. As well considering that both of the writers on the episode First Duty, Ron Moore and Naren Shankar, continued to work on the Trek franchise long after First Duty with both having writer credits on Voyager episodes and Ron being a Producer on Voyager, it is obvious that royalties were not an issue in any way in regards to the Locarno/Paris character/s.

    • SpaceCadet

      Yeah, I don’t think it was a royalties issue with Pulaski since she was created by the writing staff. She just never took off as a character, Muldaur didn’t seem to want to come back, and once producer Maurice Hurley left, who was the cause of Gates McFadden’s departure in the first place, it paved the way for the return of Dr. Crusher.

      • MJ

        Maurice Hurley was right — McFadden was a weak actor. However, replacing here with a poorly drawn out character that didn’t fit the “happy team approach” of TNG just didn’t work out.

        • Darkthunder

          To me, Pulaski always felt like a female version of Bones. Especially in regards to her distrust of technology, and in particular, the transporter.

          But I think she would’ve been a great addition to the cast, if she had been allowed to be around post-season 2.

          • MJ

            Perhaps. The writers could have given her more to work with, that is for sure.

    • Just a Guest

      It wasn’t royalties with Paris/Locarno either. The sad fact is that the original plan for Voyager was to use the Locarno character so they hired Robert McNeil again (love the actor btw, even in the crappy He-Man movie with Lundgren he and the guy who played Maj Cullah on Voyager are great). Then Berman decided that the audience wouldn’t like him so they decided to “rework” McNeil’s part instead of casting a different actor. The one upshot is that they apparently gave McNeil a lot more input that would normally happen on how his character would take shape. Paris’s fascination with “ancient” B-grade science fiction came from McNeil, as did his love of various things 20th century, like his holodeck Camero, the TV programs he watched with B’Elanna, and so on.

      Thankfully McNeil and Roxann Dawson have made a very good post-Voyager career behind the camera as TV producer/directors as well as continuing to act in front of the camera.

  • SpaceCadet

    Where is that photo from? I don’t recall Dr. Pulaski ever being in a post-Star Trek: First Contact uniform!

    I don’t recall mentions of her in either Ship in a Bottle or Endgame either. I guess I need a re-watch.

    Personally, she seemed like a more interesting character than Dr. Crusher. She had an edge to her. Dr. Crusher always seemed kind of bland and I can imagine the writers of the show not looking forward to having to write episodes revolving around her. But the various Star Trek writers in general, not counting Deep Space Nine, have had trouble making the human characters who weren’t the captain interesting.

    • archer9234

      It’s a photoshoped image. It’s based off the Doctor crossovers done in a comic recently.

      • SpaceCadet

        Thanks. I assumed it was something like that.

    • It’s our own Photoshop work.

  • ADeweyan

    I never liked Crusher, and while Pulaski took some time to fit into the crew, I think another season or two would have seen her develop into a great character. I’ve always felt TNG lacked any sharp edges — I suppose because that’s how Roddenberry wanted the future of humanity to look — but Pulaski was definitely rough around the edges, and added conflict to scenes just by being there. With her gone from TNG, we had to wait for DS9 to bring any rough edges into the Star Trek universe.

    • I don’t dislike Crusher, but I will agree that Pulaski as a character probably added more to the group dynamic of the series.

  • Gilbetron

    I really like Pulaski, so I’m glad to see this article and fans coming out of the woodwork to profess their appreciation of her. That said, I like Crusher as well (and was glad to see her return), but Pulaski’s the character with legs — she had more substance from which to build a fully three-dimensional character.

    I’m certain there were no royalty issues keeping Pulaski out of the show, as someone else in this thread posits. In this case, the character belonged to the show, not a particular writer. I’d be willing to bet that bringing Pulaski back came up from time to time in the writers’ room, but Muldaur had no interest in returning. This is very apparent in her interviews for the Season 2 blu-ray. She just did not have a good experience on the show, unfortunately. This is hugely regrettable. But we’ll always have her great Season 2 episodes, and I’ve always been happy to see her character pop up in the tie-in novels.

  • I think the Pulaski’s biggest contribution was introducing the weekly Tuesday night officers’ poker game into the show’s mythos… the after-effects stretch all the way to “All Good Things” with the final shot of the series being the overhead zoom out of the poker game.

  • MJ

    Just a note to Trekcore staff and some posters out there. I took a lot of grief several months back from several of you for suggesting that CBS was overcharging for TNG blu-ray sets, and that with just a little bit of patience, the set’s would sell for below $30. I recall people saying that it would be years before that price point was reached.

    Well, folks, I just picked up the entire seasons 1 thru 6 of the TNG Blu-Ray on Friday last week from Amazon for an average cost of about $28 per season.

    Just as I predicted….and I feel bad for anyone that paid $60 to $75 or more for any of these seasons.

    • SpaceCadet

      Why feel bad for anyone when they could afford it and they didn’t have to wait all of these years to see them? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

      • MJ

        “all of these years”

        Really?

        • SpaceCadet

          The first season set came out two years ago. Really. Glad I didn’t wait that long.

          • MJ

            So you never had access then to them in lower quality before the Blu-rays?

    • Rob Parks

      Cool MJ, hope you enjoy them. I was going to wait until they all were out anyway, but i did want to at least get the single disc releases so i had more than the teaser one. One other thing, i did think there was a possibility that the prices could go to that level when the last season came out.

      • MJ

        Thanks, Rob. I am really looking forward to diving into these when I take a week off at Christmas.

    • Snap

      I’m sorry, but this just comes across as smug gloating and insinuating that anybody who picked up the sets on release are stupid. I mean, it’s great that you were able to get them at a price which you were comfortable to spend but I do not feel I got a bad deal paying $60+ per season, in fact I think with everything that has been done to bring TNG into high definition has been well worth the price.

      Here’s an excellent example of why, in my opinion, the Star Trek Blu-ray sets are not overpriced: a contemporary release, Doctor Who, typically costs in the ballpark of $50 to $65 for a complete series set, and those are 13 episodes (12, in the case of the recent series) with, maybe, a Christmas special. Star Trek is nearly double that (and includes new and archival VAM) for maybe $10 more.

      So, yeah, good job getting a great deal on the sets and I hope you thoroughly enjoy them and, hopefully, we’ll see DS9 in the not-too-distant future.

      • MJ

        Agree on DS9 — hope that is coming soon!

  • Visitor1982

    Dr. Katherine Pulaski is my all time favourite Star Trek character. Personally, I loved her interactions with Picard. Imagine an episode like ‘Attached’ with Pulaski instead of Crusher. There would have been fire works!

    In my opinion, the Pulaski character had great potential and it’s a shame Muldaur left at the end of the second season, vowing never to return to TNG again. She had a miserable time there.

  • cavalier ava

    Great article, very well written. I loved Pulaski… the way she warmed up to Data in “Peak Performance” really endeared her to me. Despite my enthusiasm for her as a character she could never replace Bev permanently… even if Bev was never given a chance to shine ala Bashir, or Pulaski for that matter.

  • Turbolift

    I remember reading some where that Muldaur and Stewart never got along with one another, with Stewart eventually issuing an ultimatum of “either she goes, or I go” to the producers. Hence, her prompt exit at the end of season 2, which in turn, opened up the door for McFadden to return in season 3. Can anyone corroborate this story?

    • Philip

      I heard that she never really felt accepted by the younger cast (w exception to Stewart)…. Never heard the issues about Steward not liking her before though.

  • Max

    I always liked Pulaski. Not to dis Crusher, but I think the Pulaski character really matched well with the overall tone and atmosphere of Season 2, something (only just now thinking about it) that maybe Crusher wouldn’t have been able to do as well.

    Also, again in retrospect, having Wes on his own for a season was a masterstroke IMO.

  • Matt Littledyke

    I’m one of the first people to say i love Crusher but would have been open to see how Pulaski would have progressed had she stayed i mean they could have shown you the hand back of sickbay from her to Crusher in Evelution and then had her appear as Beverly’s contact with starfleet medical which would have been an interesting dynamic to the show meaning it wasn’t always set aboard ship. The episode family would have been a good one to have her in as it is based on family and after all she was a member of the crew for a whole season. but we can only ponder on how it could have been and after all TNG still suceeded without her.

  • Theresa Swinson

    I loved Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski, I thought she did a great job and I didn’t like it when Dr. Crusher came back. Dr. Pulaski had more spunk and more personality and I wish she would have stayed with Star Trek TNG and I hated the way the show acted like she didn’t exist anymore or tell where she went when she left the Enterprise.