Shatner as Kirk Deserves Applause

I'm not going to discuss which captain is best. Hey, I like them all!

I do think William Shatner as Kirk doesn't always get the recognition he deserves.

I'm not referring to the type of captain he represents. So many arguments about the "best captain" seem to revolve around Picard's diplomatic style versus Kirk's in-the-action style. Again, I feel no need to rank them.

I'm referring, rather, to Shatner's understanding of Kirk. There is a great scene in "Mirror, Mirror," The Original Series, Season 2. Kirk and several members of the original Enterprise have transported onto an alternate "mirror" Enterprise. This mirror Enterprise is about to eradicate the population of a planet. The course of action is, of course, repulsive to Kirk, but he can't simply declare his disgust. He has to protect himself and his fellow crew members--to get them back to their Enterprise.

He goes to the bridge. Mirror Sulu asks if he wants to fire on the planet. Mirror Spock, looking very dapper in a goatee, is standing nearby.

"No," Kirk says very, very quietly.

It is such an impressive choice. He doesn't bellow or strut his stuff. He doesn't wave his arms about. In terms of sheer angry bombast, he can't really win; this is a practically piratical crew that will take him to pieces at the slightest hint of weakness.

"No," he says, and his emphatic quiet tone carries far more weight than any argument. In the context, it is very nearly a threat.

Shatner as Kirk made a lot of choices along these lines. He deserves credit for all of them. 


Joe said...

One thing that irritates me with the recent Star Trek reboots is that they use the most extreme stereotype of Kirk; that he's a cavalier, if not insubordinate officer who is coasting through life. He's quite the opposite; he worked hard to become a captain and takes his position seriously. When he does something "radical", it isn't trivial.

Dan said...

Cindy and I just finished season 2 of the original series. A dynamic that stands out is the role of McCoy in the trio of Kirk, Spock & McCoy. Given the technology at hand and given Spock's brilliance one must ask: What is the purpose of McCoy? What knowledge does he posses that Spock doesn't have? What work is he able to do that any health technician couldn't perform? Episode after episode confirms Spock is essential for his analytic mind, and his Vulcan skills. Kirk is essential for his social intelligence and for his total physical strength and charisma. McCoy? He seems to exist to complain and argue about Spock.

In terms of essentials, it is Scottie who is the true #3. He is the one constantly figuring out how to engineer the Enterprise to do something it is not doing. He is the one constantly challenged by Kirk to make something work that is not working. McCoy? He has a gadget he waves around to heal people. When it doesn't work his response is simply "He's dead, Jim".

If my memory is right, in the later Star Trek shows, the "doctor" character was still used but as part of a larger supporting cast.

Katherine Woodbury said...

I just started Season 3! I've wondered if Scotty may have been intended to be #3 or #4 of the main group. I didn't appreciate until rewatching the episodes in order how much Scotty is used as a major player.

I think the reason that didn't happen has more to do with dialog and drama than ship function. When I teach persuasive writing, I like to use the classic Original Series triumvirate to explain the differences between a logical argument, emotional argument, and ethical argument.

Spock = logical argument: cost (that one is easy).
McCoy = emotional argument: he argues for individuals, babies, women, families, that guy on the crew.
Kirk = ethical argument: he has to decide the best course of action for everybody.

So the Enterprise arrives at a planet run by an EVIL COMPUTER!

Spock points out that the Enterprise either does or doesn't have the necessary equipment to fight said computer.

McCoy points out all the people who are suffering and why the computer should be stopped. Or, interestingly enough, why stopping the computer could lead to suffering, which ups the ante for Kirk.

Kirk then has to decide to either violate the Prime Directive for the sake of a more worthy and/or expedient purpose. Or keep the Prime Directive (he does!) for the sake of a more worthy and/or expedient purpose. In both cases, he takes the long-term consequences to his crew into account.

Scotty, unfortunately, doesn't represent any of those positions since "fundamental commonsense and inherent toughness while keeping things going back on the ship" isn't, regrettably, a persuasive argument (it does explain why Scotty has his own followers!).

I think that Data and LaForge's relationship in TNG is Roddenberry's idea of Scotty expanded. Data and LaForge form a believable working relationship--Data's rationality plus LaForge's expertise plus their mutual respect and kindliness. They brainstorm, then feed information and ideas to the bridge. I think that was Roddenberry's vision for Scotty (or the inevitable result of a metal transportation device stuck in space)--except the show ended too soon.

By the way, the Wikipedia entry has a true-fan photo gallery to introduce the characters: Cast

Dan said...


Good point that McCoy represents the human first argument. I gloss over it because for all of McCoy's assertions, both Spock & Kirk are also making moral arguments. Spock makes it dispassionately. Kirk considers it in context to the overall Federation mission. For creating TV conflict, I think McCoy serves a useful purpose. But his character is not realistic to me. He comes across as the clear inferior to Kirk & Spock and he seems to be aware of it, which leads him to persistently complain about Spock not being human.

I found it interesting that by season #3 Scottie is the #3 in command. I don't think McCoy is ever given command of the Enterprise. Good thing if you ask me.

Katherine Woodbury said...

As you point out Dan, McCoy is *very* grumpy. So he would create a vaccine while grumbling about barbaric primitive Earth ancestors who couldn't put human emotional and mental health first. Or do basic math.