The new Battlestar couldn’t really be accused of making their characters holier than thou. The fleet commander has managed to divide the entire fleet; his hero son has been locked up for mutiny; Starbuck’s misdemeanours could make a spin-off movie by themselves.
But they are all outdone by Doc Cottle, the crotchety old medic who isn’t far off being the only doctor in the whole fleet. While the other characters spend a fair bit of time in a huff, they at least hush up to respect significant plot moments. Take the assassination attempt on Admiral Adama – all the other characters maintain a hushed reverence, perhaps praying or flapping about how the fleet will survive. Not Cottle; after turning up late, he growls abuse at various underlings while a cigarette dangles out of his mouth. Sod the fact that you are treating the leader of mankind. You’re down to your last 10 Camels.
Smoking, rude, and generally right, the good doctor has manages to bring disdain to just about anyone he treats. Amid the youthful models of the rest of the programme’s cast, 70-year-old Donnelly Rhodes bring an absolute craggy charm and puncturing abrasiveness to the screen.
The point with Doc Cottle is that, while he may seem to be an absolute codpiece, he’s better at just being good at his job than making any ethical choices. He gets all concerned about the state of Sharon’s child, when the rest of the fleet takes against her. And while on New Caprica he maintains neutrality with the Cylons, as opposed to taking against the occupying forces who have a nasty habit of killing his species. There doesn’t appear to be any real thinking behind it. He’s just a one-man hospital who missed the morality tales that ethical bore Salik, the doctor in the original series, seemed to largely be about.
What other good deeds has he supposedly done? He did keep the President’s cancer a secret, although you suspect that is largely because he doesn’t care enough to tell anyone, rather than out of a bond of trust. Technically, he did help to stop an old friend from committing euthanasia, but that is the most boring episode of Battlestar ever made (The Woman King), so that doesn’t really count.
He’s also the Vera Drake of the show, with it heavily hinted that he performs back-fleet abortions (there seems to be little the writers like more than yanking the chain of right-wing reactionaries in the States…). As a plot point that leads to the settling on New Caprica and the deaths of thousands, though, there’s probably still going to have to be a bit of black mark against his name.
Still, the writers have resisted the urge to make a darkly popular member of the programme into an out-and-out hero or villain. Second only to Tigh in epitomising the show’s ability to stay in the realm of moral ambiguity keeps him one of the show’s best occasional treats.