This Star Trek: Lower Decks article contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 3.
In the very first filmed episode of Star Trek: The Original Series — “The Cage” — Captain Pike drinks itty-bitty martinis with the Enterprise’s chief physician, Dr. Boyce (John Hoyt.) And although it remains to be seen if we’ll be seeing Boyce in Stranger New Worlds, the tradition of the cranky — but wise — Starfleet doctor was started right there. After Boyce and Piper, Star Trek set the standard for cranky, wise-cracking doctors in space with the introduction of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy; as played by the wonderful DeForest Kelley.
While Kelley passed away in 1999, the spirit of Bones lives on. Not just in the Karl Urban version of Bones in the reboot films, but also in the foul-mouthed, utterly hilarious Caitian medical officer, Dr. T’ana (Gillian Vigman) on Star Trek: Lower Decks. In the most recent episode of Lower Decks, “Mugato, Gumato,” T’ana demonstrated some next-level crankiness, as she avoided her own physical examination, something Bones had to prod Kirk to do all the time, including his first-ever filmed episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.” But is Bones actually still the crankiest Star Trek doctor? Has T’ana dethroned him?
The only way to find out is to rank all the Trek doctors from least cranky to most cranky, and find out who is the hardest to please, and as a result, possibly the doctor we paradoxically love the most.
(Note: With some exceptions, we’ve excluded characters who were Starfleet doctors who weren’t regular recurring characters. This is why Dr. Selar from TNG isn’t on this list, even though as a Vulcan, she’s inherently cranky.)
10. Dr. Tracy Pollard (Discovery)
The least cranky doctor on this list is easily Dr. Pollard on Star Trek: Discovery. This woman even puts up with Georgiou, a dictator from an alternate universe who wants to die. As played by the fantastic Raven Daudu, it’s very possible Dr. Pollard is the best doctor on this list. She also may never be recognized as such, because she’s really even-tempered, kind and way too busy saving people’s lives to complain.
9. Dr. Phlox (Enterprise)
Phlox isn’t just one of the nicest Star Trek doctors ever, he’s actively one of the most likable characters in the entire franchise. Played charmingly by John Billingsley in all four seasons of Enterprise, Phlox projected a childlike curiosity of the universe combined with a ton of knowledge and wisdom of having seen more of the quadrant than most of the other characters.
Phlox is also, perhaps, the most tolerant Star Trek doctor, insofar as he never pushes his cultural views onto others, even though, in some episodes, like “Dear, Doctor,” he’s torn apart by his own set of ethics. Oh, and he saved the life of Porthos, Captain Archer’s dog in “A Night in Skybay,” AND while doing so, managed to make a joke that Porthos would develop lizard-chameleon powers in the process. That’s bedside manner!
8. Dr. Hugh Culber (Discovery)
Who doesn’t love this guy? Since Season 1 of Discovery, Culber has put up with shit from everyone, and very rarely has he snapped. Yes, in Season 2, after coming back from the dead, he was pretty pissed off at everyone. But, as he said in Season 3, “My murderer and I are good now!” In episodes like “Su’kal” and “Die Trying,” Culber is one of the kindest and simultaneously most practical Star Trek doctors of all time. He doesn’t lie to anyone, but he does know how to make you feel better. Out of all the Discovery regulars, Culber feels cut from the same cloth as someone like Deanna Troi or Guinan. He’s smart, insightful and empathic.
7. Dr. Beverly Crusher (The Next Generation)
Crusher certainly has the ability to sass her patients, but she’s basically a nice person. Whenever Crusher freaks out on anyone it’s always because she’s either in love with a ghost that lives in a candle (“Sub Rosa”), her feelings are being manipulated by a nearby Vulcan (“Sarek”) or Jean-Luc is messing around with her emotions. (All of The Next Generation.) Crusher suffers the fools she works with, but she does it with grace and dignity. That said, you kind of know she hates certain people in certain moments, which can probably just be attributed to Gates McFadden’s flawless talent.
6. Emil, Rios’ EMH (Star Trek: Picard)
Rios has a lot of cranky holograms in Season 1 of Picard, but his medical hologram is not even close to being the most difficult of all of them. In fact, he’s pretty cordigal, and reasonable, which is odd considering the situation he’s in. Clearly, among the holograms on the La Sirena, Emil is one of the most well-adjusted. You wouldn’t want him as your primary physician in real life, and because he’s basically connected to the personality of Rios the possibility that he might become super cranky is certainly there. But, so far, he’s right on the line.
5. Dr. Julian Bashir (Deep Space Nine)
Okay, we’re crossing over into slightly cranky territory here. Bashir began his journey on DS9 as a cocky jerk, which isn’t the same as the kind of crankiness we’re talking about here. The Bones-style of crankiness is the kind of crank we can get down with. Bashir’s off-putting personality was — at first — not something anyone admired or liked. That said, as Alexander Siddig evolved the character, Bashir didn’t become more cranky, but he did develop righteous indignation. When Bashir got his indignant buzz on in episodes like “Past Tense,” or “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges,” he was really at his best. To be clear, Bashir isn’t a nice doctor, and this is where we cross the threshold.
4. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Star Trek: The Original Series)
Although he set the standard for crankiness, in the entire canon of Trek, Bones is somehow not the most cranky Star Trek doctor. The reasons for this are threefold: First, there are three characters on this list who are much crankiner than him. Second, Bones is actually a sweetheart deep down, and demonstrates his love for Spock over and over again, despite his terrible, terrible comments. Finally, Bones can’t be the crankiest doctor on this list because Dax heavily implied in “Trials and Tribble-ations,” that one of her previous hosts — Emony Dax — totally hooked-up with him. For some reason, this detail makes it seem like he’s a lot nicer than he comes across. And again, The Search for Spock exists.
3. Dr. Katherine Pulaski (The Next Generation)
In 1988, Pulaski would have easily been number one on this list. She mispronounces Data’s name, doesn’t feel bad about it, and proceeds to kind of make everyone else on the ship feel awful. Pulaski is a pretty good doctor, and not remotely a bad person, but she’s pretty damn cranky. The brilliant Diane Muldar plays Pulaski like someone who has been transferred to a job she doesn’t really want, which is sort of amazing considering at this point, Roddenberry didn’t want Starfleet characters to have interpersonal conflict.
In “The Icarus Factor ” (which the latest Lower Decks also referenced) Pulaski also thinks Riker’s deadbeat dad is hot and tells Riker this point blank when he’s reminding her that his dad is the worst. This alone gives her deeply strange tastes, and makes her super cranky and weird AF. Don’t mess with Pulaksi! If you talk about how your friend is mean, she might throw it in your face and say she likes them better than you anyway!
2. Dr. T’ana (Lower Decks)
Okay. So Dr. T’ana is almost the most cranky Star Trek doctor ever. Combining the best qualities of Bones, with that weird go-shove-it-vibe from Pulaksi, Gillian Vigman turns it all up to 11. It helps that T’ana is a cat-person (i.e. the Caitian species) but her crankiness is more than that. She’s kind of sadistic, and isn’t afraid to use boulders to knock “strange energies” out of people when the time comes. T’ana is sort of burnt-out, but also, is kind of unflappable too. Like, you get the sense that she’s sick of all this space sickness stuff, but she’s got too much proffensionality to say she can’t do something. The secret crankiness of Dr. T’ana is that seemingly she can fix anything that is wrong with anyone. But, she’s going to make fun of them for it, and get pissed off if you look at her the wrong way.
That said, like Bones, you get the sense that none of it is personal. Which is what makes her Starfleet all the way.
1. The EMH (Voyager)
Robert Picardo’s Emergency Medical Hologram is the best cranky Star Trek doctor. There are many reasons for this. His arrogance. His constant complaining. The fact that he has good reason to complain, considering he’s a hologram that has to do other people’s bidding. But the reason that tops all other reasons is the way that Picardo can make his crankiness clear with the simple inflection of his voice. It’s not what he says. It’s how he says it. And if you need proof, all you have to do is go back to the very first Voyager episode ever, “Caretaker.” When the Doctor has to start triage on the wounded crew, he asks somebody to hand him a tricorder. He looks at it, and realizes it’s not the right kind of tricorder, and hands it back and says “medical tricorder.” The amount of venom in this comment cannot be communicated in print. The way Picardo says medical tricorder is so dismissive and frustrated, that he basically created a new level of crankiness with one single utterance.
T’ana may be creeping up the EMH from behind, but this cranky crown will be hard to swipe. Especially from a hologram.
Lower Decks airs new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+.