Hi, and welcome back to The Great Debates where I settle pop culture's biggest scores. Guys, ready the wolf whistles!
Even though Deep Space Nine will always be my favorite show in the Star Trek franchise, The Next Generation still holds a lot of appeal. Picard (Patrick Stewart) became a legendary Captain to match Kirk (William Shatner); Data (Brent Spiner) and Geordi (LeVar Burton) still are two of TV's most lovable geeks; and the Borg are still one of the most frightening and popular alien races in sci-fi history. However, as I was in adolescence during the show's original run, naturally my attention turned to ladies, and The Next Generation had two of the most appealing women in the whole franchise. Those were the ship's doctor Beverly Crusher, played by the amazing (and amazingly talented) Gates McFadden, and the ship's counselor Deanna Troi, played by the scintillating and fiery Marina Sirtis. While the rest of the franchise had no shortage of appealing ladies [in fact, my personal favorite is Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) from DS9], Beverly and Deanna stick out in a lot of young minds from the time to the point that they get debated almost as much as Kirk and Picard.
Well, while my preteen self may have just been satisfied gawking at these unbelievably beautiful women and leaving it at that, my adult self thinks they deserve a much more thorough analysis. (I DIDN'T MEAN IT LIKE THAT, YOU PERVERTS!) While they and Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) may have been brought in largely for sex appeal, they both grew into developed and complex characters over seven seasons and four movies (and plenty of guest appearances in later shows in Troi's case). They certainly deserve more consideration in a debate than just which one looks hotter in the very tight uniform.
To that end, let's get the most obvious point out of the way first. Both Gates McFadden and Marina Sirtis were flat out gorgeous. They were two of the most attractive women you could see on TV at the time outside of soap operas. Whether one preferred Sirtis' dark eyes or McFadden's vivid hair, it was almost a dead heat between the two. I say "almost" because, throughout the show, Sirtis' sex appeal got pushed more by the producers than McFadden's. This was mainly evidenced by the fact that Troi wasn't regularly seen in a uniform until the sixth season. Up to that point, she was put in outfits that drew more attention to her breasts than even T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) had to contend with on Enterprise! In fact, at conventions, she remarked how much she hated the teal ensemble seen below because of it being too tight and off-center. I doubt the hormonal males watching at home at the time cared about it being off-center.
It may be a bit unfair to judge the characters by the first two seasons because those years certainly weren't kind to either of them. Beverly was kicked out of the show for the second season (or left voluntarily, depending on whose story you believe), and the first showed her mainly as a worrywart when she wasn't intoxicated and hitting on Picard. She did have a couple of strong moments like when she saved Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Worf (Michael Dorn) from a possessed Admiral, but that was certainly better than Deanna had the first two seasons. When the writers didn't have her in an arranged marriage or being involuntarily impregnated by an entity, her whole job seemed to be just stating the freaking obvious. Considering what happened with Yar and Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) those two seasons, I'm convinced no one knew how to write female characters at that time. Only Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) seemed the escape the second season with her dignity intact.
Fortunately, starting with the third season, both Beverly and Deanna became central to MUCH better stories, and their characterizations were drastically improved. I always enjoyed whenever Beverly showed up in the poker games as they often became a challenge of wits between her and the master of bluffing Riker. She particularly shined during the ensemble episodes like "Disaster" and "Cause and Effect" as she showed professionalism and concern without overdoing it like in the first season. She even got to show off her impressive dance skills in the episode "Data's Day"; after all, Gates McFadden was a choreographer as well as an actress. However, she also showed how she could carry entire plots like when she clashed with an unethical doctor who wanted to try a dangerous and untested treatment on a paralyzed Worf in the episode "Ethics" (which is one of my favorite episodes). She even got one of the best romantic episodes in the whole franchise with "The Host", the episode that first introduced the Trill. She may have missed the second season, but Beverly really came back guns blazing.
Though, the less said about her getting it on with a space ghost in "Sub Rosa", the better.
While Deanna Troi started getting stronger stories after Michael Piller took over from Maurice Hurley, as well, they were still fewer and farther between. In the aforementioned "Disaster", Deanna had an interesting plot-line where, for the first time, she had to take command on the bridge after... well... a disaster. Seeing her rise to the occasion was pretty awesome. That's also the reason the episode "Face of the Enemy", where Troi is put undercover on a dangerous assignment with the Romulans, is one of the series' greats. The B-plot of "Thine Own Self", where she takes command tests for promotion, was cool to see, but it suffered from getting crammed into a single episode. It should've been an actual story arc. She also had more moments that were just fun, especially where the Holodeck was involved. Whether she's getting repulsed at Barclay (Dwight Schultz) turning a holographic version of her into a love goddess or playing the stranger in an Old West story, her times on the Holodeck are some of the most fun in the series. It almost makes you forgive how the episodes with her mother Lwaxana (Majel Barrett) were some of the most aggravating.
Well, it's time to settle the score. Both Beverly and Deanna had issues at the beginning but grew into characters that could be admired for more than just their looks. They certainly became memorable parts of the franchise alongside the Captains and aliens. However, I can't deny that while Troi had much more time to show her stuff (NOT THAT WAY, YOU PERVERTS!), Dr. Crusher made the most of her time. Her plots were much more diverse and interesting, and she had better character development overall. It almost makes it easy to forgive the fact that her character produced one as annoying as Wesley (Wil Wheaton)! She may not have shown off her impressive physique as much as Troi did, but, in the end, she really didn't need to.
THE WINNER OF THIS DEBATE IS... DR. BEVERLY CRUSHER!
Disagree? Think I missed something Deanna did? Let me know, and take care!