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Why Dr. McCoy was not a whiny bitch

Everyone in the original Star Trek was quite condescending to Bones whenever he got fretful about using the transporter.

Yet Dr. McCoy had solid, philosophical reasons for being freaked out by the device. Basically, the transporter disassembles all your molecules, and then reassembles them somewhere else. (Assuming something doesn’t go horribly wrong in the process, as it did in pretty much every other episode.)

It’s an existentialist nightmare.

So that means when you voluntarily use the transporter, you’re opting for death via de-atomization over a period of several agonizing seconds. Sure, a copy of you will go on, but who knows, maybe it will be the evil copy of you, or perhaps the machine will screw up, and you’ll end up with Mr. Spock’s wang protruding from your forehead. In either case, it doesn’t really matter, because the you that you are at this moment (which granted, is also an illusion of sorts, but that’s a subject for another time) is going to die.

And what about the physical discomfort Dr. McCoy experiences?

McCoy, Kirk and Spock are all about to die as their bodies are de-atomized over a period of several agonizing seconds.
McCoy, Kirk and Spock are all about to die.

Presumably it hurts to be de-atomized. Did anyone else ever think it took quite a long time for them to stop “sparkling”? It’s seconds at least. Now imagine what that feels like, having your atoms ripped apart over a period of several seconds. Having trouble? Pluck out a few nose hairs. Now imagine that in every molecule of your body for several seconds.

His crewmates should have cut Bones a little slack; let him take the shuttlecraft if he wanted. Besides, when you’re fighting Tiranglian Lizard people, or reprogramming a rogue computer, the doctor’s only going to be helpful in stitching you up afterwards. (Or whatever “non-barbaric” technology” Dr. McCoy used.)

If anything, McCoy was pretty stoic about the whole thing. If it had been me, there’s no way you’re getting me onto the transporter pad:

“Mr. Rayner, put on your red shirt and step onto the transporter pad, we’re going down to the surface,” Kirk ordered the pudgy and pale-looking ensign.“Nuh-uh!”

“Mr. Rayner, you’re going down to the surface with the rest of the landing party, where we’re all going to die. Well, you’re going to die. Bones and Spock and I will be fine.”

“We all die every time we use the transporter!” Ensign Rayner cries.

“Don’t make me beat you.”

“Frankly …” Mr. Rayner lifts shoulders. “I’d prefer that…” Mr. Rayner raises hands. “Jim.” Mr. Rayner thrusts hands forward.

Then Kirk decks him (ripping his shirt in the process).

Green-skinned dancing girls appear on the transporter pad and begin doing the Hippy Shake, while Spock raises an eyebrow.

Your Turn

Now, what other science fiction inventions would suck? High on my list would be the notion that “food in pill form” is a good idea. I definitely think that would be awful, though obviously not as much as soylent green. Also, artificial intelligence seems like a bad idea too. Am I missing any?

Transport yourself with some satirical fiction …

Books of Mark A. Rayner

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Originally published May, 2009.


  1. You make an excellent point about Bones!

    And wasn’t there an episode in the Next Gen where the dr beamed someone back aboard using an earlier version of them that was stored in the memory of the transporter in order to avoid some disease? Anyway, I thought, hmmm… why don’t they just do that every time someone’s injured or sick in Star Trek? Just beam up an earlier, healthier, more intact version of them. Sick bay might go on strike, though.

    And yes, the ‘food in pill form’ sounds awful, although, perhaps, preferable to soylent green.

    My personal sci-fi pet peeve: those incredibly uncomfortable beds that they always have, often without a decent pillow or sheets. What’s with that?

  2. Good one — and in the 70s, everyone was expected to wear polyester unitards. Not a nice look, even in the 70s. m.

  3. Synth booze, that the Next generation types drank, ack pooey. lite beer and diet coke are bad enough but buzz free booze what’s the point.

    My beef was never the inventions being goofey as much as how they used or did not use the technology they had . They kept finding new and better tech in the original show and then ignored it come next episode . It did get much better in ds9 , and voyager.

    In ds9 they had a long running war with the Klingons and then the founders. Ships like Enterprise had the removable saucer section so why did they not have mission specific saucers. The all purpose saucer for normal times and a kick ass saucer that was all reactors and weapons for war?

    We only ever saw one ship class that was purposely meant for war.

  4. “What other science fiction inventions would suck?”

    Android sex, as in Tarsha Yar with Data.

    I man, I’m fine with female androids, due to my personal bias, but having male androids available for flesh and blood females to use would destroy civilization as we know it.

    Come to think of it, holodecks are the worst. Who would ever, ever want to deal with reality again? I expect that the Star Trek universe civilization would come to an within just a few years of the introductions of holodecks.

  5. Well, McCoy WAS, but maybe not for this reason.

    James Kelly’s brilliant short story “Think Like a Dinosaur,” made into a pretty good “Outer Limits” episode, deals with some of these ramifications.

    Walter Jon Williams wrote another really good story on the topic of transporter doubles… blankin’ out on the title.

    Against such competition, that would be the year I chose to write a transporter-gone-wrong story. Perfect timing.

  6. Light sabres, not that they suck, I’m just quite surprised there aren’t more accidents involving them.

    You know at some stage someone is going to use one as a backscratcher.. and then suddenly by accident that badboy gets turned on.

  7. Mark A. Rayner Mark A. Rayner

    Yes, Green, synth booze is very bad, though I’m not sure you’ve convinced me about the sexy cyborgs Mark.

    Tom — granted, and don’t sweat forgetting the title — the fact that you could pull the related stories and authors from your memory is quite impressive.

    Alex — you’d think that in a room full of “younglings” practicing with lightsabers there would be at least the occasional decapitation.

  8. Artificial intelligence? Damn, why didn’t you say so before they invented graduate schools of education?

  9. Logan G Logan G

    @Ed Darrel: Redundant?

  10. Soylent Green would probably suck…. unless it was made of mimes and insurance salesmen.

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