Star Trek's doctors are smart, brusque, ambitious, caring, quirky, wise, generous, and heroic. I love that they consistently show us that compassion and dedication are vital to a better future for humanity. They’re inspirations when in the real world.
I also look to the doctors of Star Trek for much-needed levity — particularly the snarky doctors of the U.S.S. Discovery, Hugh Culber and Tracy Pollard, themselves only two members of the snarkiest crew in Star Trek. These two professionals carry on Star Trek’s lineage of cranky, yet skilled and caring doctors that characters like McCoy and Pulaski made famous.
In honor of Doctors Culber and Pollard, who clearly obtained dual degrees in medicine and sarcasm, I present to you my top 5 favorite moments of Discovery’s brilliant doctor snark.
5. ”New Eden”
Saru: “Will you corroborate that, Dr. Pollard?”
Dr. Pollard: "He’s correct. Almost dead. You."
When Tilly extracts a piece of the asteroid the Discovery took aboard in “Brother,” she’s thrown backward into storage containers in the cargo bay and knocked unconscious. After she wakes up in sickbay, Saru, in full captain mode, arrives to scold her for her series of poor decisions. Then he turns to Dr. Pollard for backup. In a classic Star Trek doctor way, she leads with the bare medical facts plus deep exasperation. Her tone immediately softens, though, and she adds, “But you’re gonna be okay.” Even if she’s annoyed at Tilly’s impulsive nature, Pollard is still motivated by care.
4. ”Through the Valley of Shadows”
Reno: "Ow. What the hell was that?"
Dr. Culber: "Medical attention."
Commander Jett Reno, quite a snarky character herself, comes to see Dr. Culber on a thinly-veiled mission to get him to reconcile with Stamets. He immediately diagnoses and gives the appropriate “medical attention” to her hangnail, but he seems a little charmed by her wit and sheer hubris. Reno’s success lies in the fact that she approaches Hugh in a way that he’s comfortable with, and that might even remind him of the rapport he once had with his estranged partner.
Burnham: "I'm a terrible patient."
Dr. Pollard: "I second that."
With a crew as reckless as this one, Dr. Pollard has her work cut out for her. Tilly comes to see Burnham in sickbay after Pike rescues her from the asteroid. Michael, in typical Michael fashion, is in bed reading up on research. (She’s not the only workaholic on this crew - you’d think they all survive off work and sarcasm!) Dr. Pollard happens to walk by when Michael sheepishly admits she’s a bad patient, and can’t help but take the opportunity to take a dig at Michael’s energy. I continue to love a snarky doctor!
2. ”Choose Your Pain”
Dr. Culber: "Well, one tends to worry when they're doomed to love a brilliant but reckless maniac who's willing to risk his life for glory."
I think Hugh saves his best snark for Paul. This line comes from the absolutely iconic toothbrushing scene, the first time it’s confirmed for viewers that Hugh and Paul are a couple. Paul’s just snapped at Hugh for scanning him with a tricorder while he’s brushing his teeth — admittedly, probably kind of an annoying thing for Hugh to do. Hugh says he’s “doomed to love” Paul through his brilliance and recklessness, letting Paul know how much his actions affect him. Paul deflects by saying the captain was in danger, but Hugh doesn’t buy it. (And why should he? We all know by this point that Paul isn’t a fan of Captain Lorca.)
Finally, Paul admits, “You were in danger,” rendering his partner momentarily speechless. Paul might be a brilliant but reckless maniac, but he’s also a big softie for Hugh. I adore how they express their love for each other with a mix of heartfelt declarations and full-on snark.
1. ”The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry”
Dr. Culber: "I'll save it. Just in case you might wanna have a feeling one day."
The very first time we meet a doctor on Discovery is when Dr. Culber is treating Stamets’ broken nose in the sickbay. I know some people immediately read their exchange as having romantic undertones — that flew over my head! I saw a doctor annoyed at treating a very reticent patient, and able to counter his patient’s snark with his own. For Hugh, emotions are a big part of doing his work, so Paul reacting with such bitterness probably hurts a little - and more so knowing later that they are a couple.
I hope that season three of Discovery blesses us with more beautiful snark from our doctors as they look after the crew.
Erica Leigh (she/her) is a bicycle mechanic, freelance writer, huge Star Trek fan (especially Deep Space Nine and Discovery), and Maquis sympathizer.
Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and OTT service Crave.