DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The article is the creation and property of Karen Fleming and is copyright (c) 1974 by Karen Fleming. Originally published in T-Negative #25, 1974.
At Odds: Nurse Chapel, the Original Hard Luck Kid
Nurse Christine Chapel is undoubtedly the most maligned, misunderstood member of Star Trek's original cast. She has been kicked around by certain fan writers, because she has -- as she says, against her will ("The Naked Time") -- fallen in love with Spock. She's been verbally slapped down by McCoy and made to play the love-sick nurse a la "romance" stories by ST's own writers and producers.
On the professional side, take as an example the chauvinist attitude of the ending of "Return to Tomorrow". After Spock gets out of Chapel's mind and back into his own, he says it was "like being in the mind of an alien" and mentions "the jungle of illogic." And McCoy, in a fit of old fashioned male chauvinism, chortles, "Thank the stars that women are different from us!" Everyone conveniently forgets that he was in the mind of an alien. And, from Spock's point of view, everyone else in the room is an alien. If he had been in McCoy's mind, he would have had the same reaction (or worse?). But the incident seems to be typical of Star Trek's attitude toward women. In "Changeling", Spock says of Uhura, "That unit is a woman," to which Nomad responds, "A mass of conflicting impulses."
On the fannish side, take as an example the Star Trek Concordance by Dorothy Jones Heydt, in which Chapel is called "perhaps a bit addled" and is said to have "a strong tendency to wenchcraft." Also: "under the influence of the Psi 2000 virus, she flirted with every male in sight, including Spock who believed her foolish words ... he avoids her as he can." All of this is misleading, and most of it is completely false.
It is unfair to call Chapel "addled" and imply that it is part of her personality. It is true that she was confused on several occasions. But that was always a temporary condition caused by the situation in which she found herself. She was sometimes ordered to do things which made little or no sense in the light of her training. For instance, striking a patient in a coma (translate: Spock in his healing trance in "Private Little War") sounds about as therapeutic as using leeches to bleed a patient. Of course, the technique works for Vulcans -- but I doubt if it could be found in the usual Terran medical journals. On other occasions, she came into a scene in the middle of the action with little or no instruction. The case which comes most readily to my mind is when McCoy ordered her to give Spock, who appeared to be a coma, a salt-water injection ("By Any Other Name"). No one has told her that McCoy is only trying to deceive an alien enemy. In "Return to Tomorrow" there were six beings hopping back and forth like mental jackrabbits between three globes and three bodies. And one of those beings was trying to kill one of the others! Is it any wonder she gets a little confused from time to time?
"Wenchcraft" isn't in my dictionary, but "wench" is. It means: (a) a young woman; (b) a lewd women: prostitute; (c) to consort with lewd women. If her alleged "wenchcraft" were the craft of any normal young woman, there would be no need to call attention to it. I sincerely hope (and believe) that the writer didn't mean what the other parts of the definition of "wench" imply! They should have chosen their words more carefully. Much more carefully!
And "she flirted with every male in sight" must be closely allied with the Concordance's image of her "wenchcraft". But in "The Naked Time" the first real contact she has with a man is when Riley takes her hand ("affectionately" as the author states it). There is no provocation by Christine. And the only one she expresses love for is Spock. Never has Star Trek so much as hinted that Christine Chapel is a flirt. On the contrary, except for the brief encounter with her first known love, Dr. Korby ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?"), Star Trek has steadfastly emphasized her devotion to Spock (e.g., "Amok Time", "Return to Tomorrow", "Mudd's Passion"*). And it all started with "The Naked Time."
What Christine said to Spock in "The Naked Time" was: "I'm in love with you, Mr. Spock. I see things ... how honest you are ... you do have feelings ... how we must hurt you ... I don't want to, but I do love you." Are these "foolish" words? I think that, after she was free of the virus, Christine was probably embarrassed that she had told Spock how she felt. (After all, she was embarrassed when M'Benga told her Spock had heard her pour her heart out to him in "A Private Little War".) But whether they are actually foolish or not is open to opinion. I think not.
And "he avoids her as he can" is, pardon the expression, pure hogwash. Spock has worked, directly or indirectly, with her a number of times. And he never indicated any objection to her participation. She, in turn, stuck to her professionalism and avoided emotional displays. I cite "Journey to Babel" (the discussion over the advisability of the blood production), "Deadly Years" and "Wink of an Eye" (lab scenes), "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" (curing McCoy), "Paradise Syndrome" (restoring Kirk's memory). There were other times when they were both present in sickbay for one reason or another -- and neither of them gave any indication that there was anything at all between them (e.g., "Operation: Annihilate!", "The Changeling", or "The Terratin Incident"*).
In fan written stories, the kind of treatment Christine gets depends on the authors' degree of interest in Spock. (Whenever fan writers use her in a story, they almost always call her by her first name -- whether they like her or not!) The more fanatical members of Spock's Flock tend to use her as a door mat. In "The Misfit" (Star Trek Showcase), it's the old nursey-loves-Spockypoo bit again; Christine seems to be there to polish the heroine's halo. To my surprise, Chapel comes off rather sympathetically in the Kraith series. Lichtenberg even cites Chapel's courage and professionalism in "Spock's Nemesis" (Kraith III).
In "The Vigil" (T-Negative #7), Spock, who has been carrying on a marathon search/fast and relaying orders only through Conway, snubs Christine when she brings him a sandwich to the bridge. Then Christine gives Conway "a ferocious glare and Spock a worse one, and stomped off the bridge." This behavior seems completely out of character for Chapel. In "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" the author describes her as "a strong, calm woman, very much in control of herself," and, "she's not a hysterical woman." When she saw Andrea, she was suspicious, but there was never a scene like the one in "The Vigil". And it is doubtful there ever could have been, because the Korby/Chapel reunion in that episode was described as "restrained but genuine ... propriety observed in the presence of others even now." In other words, she refrains from making emotional displays in public. And, in another instance, when she learned that T'Pring was Spock's wife, she was stunned -- and very quiet. (I suggest that in a situation like the one in "The Vigil", Chapel would simply withdraw as quietly as possible, go to her quarters and have a good cry, and avoid Spock and Conway until she could face them without breaking down. She has too much pride to put on a scene like the one mentioned above.)
Also, in "The Vigil", the authors say in connection with the sandwich incident, "Her concern (Chapel's) for Spock made her nervous and inefficient. My concern (Conway's) made me work harder." It sounds like a deliberate attempt to make Conway look good at Chapel's expense. It also contradicts the description of Chapel in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" And the description of Chapel in "The Naked Time" refers to her "superb efficiency." When there's an emergency, or even just work to be done, in sickbay Nurse Chapel is right at hand, ready for McCoy's orders, ready with information he may need, doing lab work, anticipating his next steps ("Changeling", "Deadly Years", "Journey to Babel", "Spock's Brain", "Tholian Web", etc.).
In "The Letter" (T-Negative #8), a continuation of the same series of stories "The Vigil" was part of, the authors seem to try to make amends for their treatment of Christine in "The Vigil." They say, "She (Chapel) took it [the Spock-Conway wedding] like an officer and a gentlewoman and gave me her recipe for plomik for a wedding present." Now, this sounds more like the Christine Chapel I know. But -- the authors can't quite bring themselves to be that generous with Christine. Spock doesn't like Chapel's plomik. Of course.
David Gerrold, who seems to like Nurse Chapel and all of Star Trek's regulars, has some unusual comments on the relationship -- or apparent lack of it -- between Chapel and the bridge crew. He says that the bridge crew are, for dramatic purposes, basically only "functions of the starship" (Worlds of Star Trek, p. 29), and that Chapel was created to love Mr. Spock. From that he builds the ludicrous assumption that the bridge crew and Chapel are incompatible as personalities, that Scott, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov are "unable to deal with her except strictly on the most professional level" (p. 30). It doesn't follow that, because they were created for different functions in the series, that there couldn't be friendship -- or "affection" -- between them. There's no evidence. We never saw enough of any of these characters' off-duty lives to know who their personal friends might be. But, before Chapel left to beam down to see Roger Korby ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?"), Uhura, who seems to like just about everyone, jumps up and hugged her. And Chapel used a pretty good Scottish brogue to tease Mr. Scott in "Lights of Zetar". Whether these instances indicate any friendship between the bridge crew and Chapel is anyone's guess, however.
Everyone seems to think of Chapel as a nurse. But has she always been a nurse professionally? In "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", Kirk says Chapel "gave up a career in bio-research to sign on this starship. "The Star Trek Writer's Guide" says she "holds several degrees in research medicine." In any case, she is not simply a dispenser of pills and shots.
In "The Naked Time" the author describes Chapel as "a perfect right hand" to McCoy. It seems that in the true sense of the word, McCoy and Chapel are a team. On at least two occasions she has questioned his orders and only received a verbal slap in the face ("Operation: Annihilate!" and "By Any Other Name"). And she let him get away with it! (It is her duty to question any order that seems ambiguous or in error. She is legally responsible for the results of any order she carries out.) And on two other occasions she waited for him to give her the OK to follow someone else's orders ("Return to Tomorrow" and "Turnabout Intruder"). These four instances appear to indicate that her trust in McCoy's judgment is complete. (It wasn't indecisiveness on her part. She has the grit to stand firm when she believes he is wrong -- as in "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky".) And McCoy returns the compliment by trusting her professionalism. In "Lights of Zetar", he says that Chapel went over the brain circuitry pattern of Miss Romaine and therefore "There can't be an error."
But, for all of her efficiency and reserve, Christine Chapel is portrayed as a sympathetic woman on Star Trek. She is soft, the way a woman is usually said to be soft. She is a woman who finds it easy to care about a group of orphaned children ("And the Children Shall Lead") and an emotionally disturbed scientist ("Turnabout Intruder"), and to love a wayfaring Vulcan. There had been no need for her to take a meal to Garrovick ("Obsession"). Yet she did, trying at the same time to cheer him up, and she displayed sympathy for Uhura while Uhura was relearning all that Nomad had wiped from her mind ("Changeling").
She is definitely attracted to people of integrity, humanity (in the sense of reverence for life), and intelligence. Spock called Dr. Korby, Christine's fiance, "the Pasteur of archeological medicine" ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?"). Christine told Korby, "Life was sacred to you then ... it's what I first loved about you." And later, after that love ended tragically, and she finds she now loves Spock, she talks of his honesty ("The Naked Time").
Despite any obvious intention, Christine Chapel seems to have evolved as a woman over the years. In the first two years, the situation remained fairly static. She was McCoy's right hand and straight man. And when the script called for it, she got misty-eyed over Spock or whatever patient happened to have the Disease of the Month. In the third year, Christine's love for Spock almost seemed forgotten; she still got misty-eyed from time to time and was McCoy's right hand. Now that she is in animation, her love for Spock is back in force -- but there are also a few subtle changes in her personality. She seems less servile. More spunky.
In "Mudd's Passion"* she wasn't as easily taken in by Mudd's glib talk as some might expect. She only used the Venus Drug after he convinced her that her idea of experimentation (chemical analysis) would destroy it. I was surprised to see her hold Mudd at bay in the shuttle hangar as firmly as she did. After all, she's a nurse ... not a security guard. On the other hand, there was the time she fell into the aquarium and had to be rescued by the big, brave captain ("Terratin Incident"*). But ... that's life aboard a Saturday morning animation star ship! At least she redeemed her honor by managing to hang onto the mini-laser, which, by their relative sizes and weights at the time, probably should have pulled her straight to the bottom of the tank. And in "Lorelei Signal"* her lapses into emotionalism were brief and reasonable under the circumstances.
In Nurse Christine Chapel we find an intelligent, capable, lovely, young woman. She's never been heard to say an unkind word against anyone -- not even against T'Pring. She has a kind of calm, reserved gentility. She is giving but, from what has been shown, has received little in return. It can't be so difficult to wish her happiness -- now and in the future. Peace and long life, Christine.
* from Star Trek: The Animated Series