I had tons of posters on my bedroom wall as a teenager back in the 1990s. But among the mini billboards for Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction, and Independence Day were two that I took most pride in — my huge promo shot for Batman Returns, featuring Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and, most importantly of all, my signed photo of Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
To me, these actors had portrayed two standout characters of the early 1990s (and late 1980s). They were a perfect complement to each other, as well. Whereas Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was all burn-down-the-old-system and give a giant middle finger to the patriarchy, McFadden’s Doctor Beverly Crusher was the very definition of making it in a new system where it’s possible to rise to a position of power no matter what your life circumstance.
Doctor Beverly Crusher places no limits on herself, nor does the Star Trek universe ask her to — she’s a single mom, the leading medical officer on the Federation’s flagship, a former head of Starfleet Medical and, in one version of the future, the captain of a starship. To my mind, she’s the greatest of all Star Trek doctors, and with so much new Star Trek in the works I can’t wait (I hope!) to see her on my screen again in the future. But in the meantime, and without further ado, here are all the times Doctor Crusher proved that she’s the greatest Star Trek doctor.
1. When she had a boss attitude in practically every scene of "Remember Me"
In this haunting, important episode, Doctor Crusher’s friends, family members, and colleagues start to vanish without a trace. What’s worse, after they disappear, she seems to be the only person who remembers they ever existed. The terrifying process continues until Doctor Crusher is the only person left in the entire universe — and then reality itself starts to vanish (think walls and floors morphing into gray nothingness). It’s amazing to see Doctor Crusher remain steadfastly logical throughout the episode even as the universe itself gaslights her. "If there's nothing wrong with me," she asserts, "maybe there's something wrong with the universe.” And she’s right. It turns out that Doctor Crusher was pulled into an artificial world, shaped by her fear of losing the people she loved. What’s notable about “Remember Me” is that before she’s left totally alone, Doctor Crusher’s Enterprise colleagues always believe her. Even when they don’t recall the vanished people she insists are real. Indeed, as writer Mirah Curzer notes, the episode provides a powerful model of what believing women looks like.
2. That time she dressed down Doctor Toby Russell in "Ethics"
When Lieutenant Worf is paralyzed after an accident, Doctor Crusher enlists the help of nerve specialist Doctor Toby Russell. Doctor Russell says her experimental genetronic replicator replaces cells at the genetic level and can fix Worf’s spine. The problem? Federation Medical gave the device the thumbs down.
Worf knows mainstream medicine will only restore 60% of his functioning so he decides to end his life. It is then that Doctor Russell, who is renowned for playing fast and loose with patients, convinces Worf to let her use the device on him. Doctor Crusher rejects the idea because the replicator has never been used on a humanoid, but she reluctantly gives the go ahead after talking to Captain Picard. The procedure works, but barely — Worf dies mid-operation and only comes back to life because of his “backup” redundant Klingon organs.
Later, Doctor Crusher forthrightly defends medical ethics in a stunning rebuke of Doctor Russell. “Genuine research takes time. Sometimes a lifetime of painstaking, detailed work,” Crusher says to a taken-aback Russell, “Not for you. You take shortcuts, right through living tissue.” “Enjoy your laurels, Doctor,” she adds, “I'm not sure I could.” Now that’s why Doctor Crusher is the Chief Medical Officer of the Federation’s flagship.
3. When she stuck to her guns in "Suspicions"
Doctor Crusher shines in an episode that sees her bring top-class investigative savvy to the table. Crusher heads up a group of scientific dignitaries visiting the Enterprise to observe Ferengi Doctor Reyga's controversial shielding experiment. Reyga claims to have invented a new kind of shield that allows spacecraft to withstand the forces of a star’s corona. To put the device to the test, Takaran scientist Jo'Bril pilots a shuttle into a dense star known as Vaytan — but he quickly dies, casting doubt on the effectiveness of the invention. Doctor Crusher knows something isn’t right and embarks on a quest to prove it. The episode sees her discover Jo'Bril’s plot to fake his death so he can steal the technology. But not before she gets suspended from duty for performing an against-orders autopsy on his apparently dead body, stands up to an angry Klingon warp field specialist, and pilots a shuttle directly into Vaytan to show she’s right. In a final confrontation that exemplifies why she’s one of Starfleet’s best officers, she roundhouse kicks the not-so-dead-after-all Jo’Bril and vaporizes him with a phaser when he stows away on the shuttle she’s using to prove her suspicions correct. Boss!
4. When she owned being captain of the U.S.S. Pasteur in "All Good Things, Part 2"
As any long-time fan of Doctor Crusher will tell you, it comes as no surprise to learn that she might end up as the captain of her own ship. I mean, in Season 2, she took a break from her Chief Medical Officer duties to head up Starfleet Medical. Big things were always in the cards. Sure, the future presented in "All Good Things” is technically an alternate timeline, but it’s one that shows us how she handles being in command. In the episode, Captain Picard is trying to solve a puzzle as he shifts between the past, the present, and the future. We quickly learn that in 2395, Doctor Crusher is now Captain Beverly Picard of the U.S.S. Pasteur. And when Jean-Luc comes asking for help, she shows us just how an ideal commanding officer behaves — with compassion and decisiveness. "He's Jean-Luc Picard,” she says of her then ex-husband and friend, “And if he wants to go on one more mission, that's what we're going to do." But, she adds, without even blinking, "If we run into serious opposition, I'm taking us back into Federation territory." Now that’s a real captain right there.
5. When she flourished as the "Dancing Doctor" who taught Data tap dancing in “Data’s Day”
Doctor Crusher’s interactions with Data truly make this episode one of the greats of Season 4. In it, Data details his relationships with fellow crew members as part of a diary he’s sending to an off-board Commander Bruce Maddox. There are just so many great narrative twists throughout — Data has a hilarious interaction with O’Brien, for example, when he tells him Keiko has called off their upcoming wedding due to last minute nerves. But, by far, the best moments come when Doctor Crusher can barely suppress both glee and fear after Data asks her to teach him how to dance. Doctor Crusher pulls him aside in a bustling Sickbay and tells him she’s worried that if she says yes, she'll be known as the "Dancing Doctor" all over again — a moniker that seemingly followed her throughout her early years. It’s a great insight into Doctor Crusher’s past and is also a wonderful nod to Gates McFadden’s career as a choreographer. And when they get down to the lessons themselves, things only get better. It’s hard not to crack up laughing when we see Doctor Crusher perform a complex tap routine only for Data to keep up step-for-step and then maniacally continue with a hybrid tap-dance-and-on-the-spot-run after Doctor Crusher finishes. “Stop, Data!” she cries with a look of bemusement and bewilderment. It’s matched only by Data’s deranged smile when Crusher teaches him how to waltz.
6. When she was an open-minded significant other in "The Host"
In an episode that famously introduced the symbiotic, genderfluid Trill for the first time, Doctor Crusher and visiting male Trill ambassador Odan fall for each other. But soon, Odan becomes sick and dies. It all becomes a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Doctor Crusher from then on. First, she learns that Trills consist of a host body and an implanted symbiote (as an audience, it’s the first time we learn this too). So, when Odan’s host body dies, she knows he’s not really dead. But she isn’t sure how to feel. When the symbiote is transferred into Commander Riker, as the Enterprise crew awaits a new host from the Trill homeworld, she is uncomfortable as her long-time friend now expresses romantic interest in her. However, she ultimately embraces him. But when Odan’s symbiote ends up in a female host, she is even more confused and torn — and yet she remains as open-minded as possible. Crusher says that she still loves Odan but adds that she can’t “keep up” with the Trills’ changing host bodies as they cross genders. She places the blame squarely on herself, saying it’s a human failing and that she hopes they will one day be able to go beyond limited ideas of love. The now-female Odan kisses Doctor Crusher on the wrist and says goodbye. It’s heartbreaking, but one has to remember that this episode was broadcast in 1991. Doctor Crusher's suggestion that a same-sex partnership might be a consideration was envelope-pushing at the time.
7. When she was a style icon in "The Big Goodbye"
Doctor Crusher is a total style standout in this lavish, high-production episode that won broad praise. That hat! The pink outfit! The nose powdering! It looks amazing to this day. Some of her best moments come as she, a 24th Century woman of science, gradually sinks into her role as a 1940s “dame” — we see her stumble as she gets used to 20th Century high heeled shoes and later, marvel at the oddity of chewing gum. But she slowly starts to enjoy life in a fictional, crime-riddled San Francisco, even if it all goes toes-up when Holodeck safety measures go awry, putting everyone’s life in danger. Besides owning her mid-century style, Doctor Crusher also has some of the best dialogue in the episode. Like this gem of a back-and-forth with Data, regarding Picard's character being interrogated:
Data: He's being grilled.
Doctor Crusher: What is he, a fish?
Whalen: He’s being interrogated, they think he committed a murder!
Doctor Crusher (excitedly): Why aren’t we all being interrogated?
This article was originally published on March 26, 2021.
Richard Conway (he/him) is a writer and editor based in Dublin who covers arts, culture, and LBGTQ+ issues. He previously worked for Time and BBC Worldwide out of New York and has been a Star Trek megafan since he was 10 years old.