Monday, January 16, 2012

Doctor's Orders

Star Trek #50: Doctor's Orders by Diane Duane
Published June 1990
Read January 16th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): #49: The Pandora Principle
Next book (The Original Series, publication order): 
Prime Directive
Next book (The Original Series, numbered novels): #51: Enemy Unseen

Spoilers ahead for Doctor's Orders!

From the back cover:
When Dr. McCoy grumbles once too often about the way the Enterprise ought to be run, Captain Kirk decides to leave the doctor in command while he oversees a routine diplomatic mission.  Kirk beams down to a strange planet nicknamed "Flyspeck" to negotiate its admission into the Federation, leaving Dr. McCoy to enjoy his new authority.
However, the doctor soon learns that command is a double-edged sword when Kirk disappears without a trace.  Desperately trying to locate his captain, McCoy comes under pressure from Starfleet to resolve the situation immediately.  Matters go from bad to worse when the Klingons arrive and stake their own claim on Flyspeck.
Then another, more deadly power threatens them all, and suddenly, Dr. McCoy and the Enterprise find themselves pitted against an alien fleet in a battle they have no hope of winning.

About the Novel:

The Enterprise is conducting a planetary survey and first contact with the inhabitants of a planet that the crew has nicknamed 'Flyspeck' in order to facilitate the planet's entrance into the Federation.  The survey has left Dr. McCoy overworked and exhausted, and in an attempt to get him out of sickbay and the lab for a few minutes, Captain Kirk leaves him in command while beaming down to the planet to meet with the natives.  However, Captain Kirk shortly disappears from the planet's surface, leaving the good doctor stuck in command.  Due to Starfleet regulations, Dr. McCoy cannot be relieved of command until Captain Kirk returns.

Bones worries that he is in over his head when a Klingon vessel arrives.  Soon, the Klingons' landing party vanishes as well, and a diplomatic incident seems unavoidable.  Added to the mix is the arrival of an Orion dreadnought, dispatched to raid and pillage the planet.  Through Dr. McCoy's unorthodox command style and the assistance of the seasoned bridge crew, the Enterprise must navigate these difficulties until the safe return of Captain Kirk.

My Thoughts:

Doctor's Orders is an interesting "fish-out-of-water" story.  While clearly Dr. McCoy is qualified to take the bridge of the Enterprise (he is, after all, a commander in Starfleet), he is not technically in the Enterprise's chain of command.  The reason that McCoy remains in command during the crisis is obviously very contrived and unrealistic (he can't even turn over command to Spock or Scotty because the officer who placed him in command must relieve him).  This of course makes no sense, and is merely a way to keep the story interesting and moving forward.  As such, it is tolerable because it results in an interesting dynamic with McCoy at the conn of the ship.

McCoy's command style differs quite a bit from Kirk's or Spock's, and all of his actions and decisions ring true with his character.  It was very interesting seeing McCoy out of his element, and while the circumstances aren't very realistic, as a character-examination piece, Doctor's Orders works.

The "planet of the week" plot involves the planet "Flyspeck," home to three distinct intelligent species: the Ornae, the Lahit, and the ;At (no, I have no idea how to pronounce it).  The ;At aren't all they seem, and in fact seem to be the "guardians" of the other two species.  They are, in fact, responsible for the "disappearance" of Captain Kirk, but not is all what it seems to be.  The story of the ;At parallels that of McCoy somewhat, in that the ;At have a defined role on Flyspeck, and have no desire to be in a position outside of their element.  
I believe that the central theme of Doctor's Orders can be found in the following quote from chapter eleven, in which Dr. McCoy asks the ;At "master" whether or not he would ever leave Flyspeck to explore space:

"Who doesn't think occasionally," it said, "of leaving his post, and doing something else, some other job, better?  But sooner or later, if duty matters, it keeps you where your given word put you.  No, Doctor, this is my charge.  Here I stay."
Everyone thinks that the grass is greener on the other side sometimes, but often it's where we are and where our expertise lies that is where we are most comfortable.

Final Thoughts:

While the story is not nearly as broad in scope as her critically-acclaimed Rihannsu series, Doctor's Orders is certainly a very well-written and interesting story by Diane Duane.  The inhabitants of Flyspeck are interesting, and their world and way of life go far beyond what we are used to in the "planet-of-the-week" world of televised Star Trek.  The characterizations, especially of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are spot-on, and Duane is truly able to capture the voices of the characters.  Secondary characters such as Uhura and Sulu are similarly well-represented.  I recommend Doctor's Orders, especially to fans of McCoy, of which I am one.

Final score: 8/10.
My next read:

At the moment, I am reading I,Q by John de Lancie and Peter David.  Until next time, have a good one!

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