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From McCoy Memory Alpha

On stardate 41153.7, the 137-year old Admiral Leonard McCoy inspected the USS Enterprise-D during its first mission. He commented on the great significance of the ship's name to Lieutenant Commander Data, telling Data "You treat her like a lady... and she'll always bring you home." (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")

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Why exactly would a medical doctor go inspect a new ship? He wasn't a line officer (his "admiralty" was a special rank of "branch admiral". or an engineer, and Enterprise-D wasn't some marvel of medical technology. Why would Dr. McCoy travel all the way to Deneb IV to do this?

I would prefer canon explanation (I don't have a better theory than "it may have been due to being the only surviving senior officer of NCC-1701/NCC-1701-A Enterprises", and as per comments, that theory is wrong).

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    Spock was still alive, so he's definitely not the only surviving senior officer. (Unless I'm wrong about Spock's rank?) – Izkata Jan 27 '12 at 3:36
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    Technically Kirk was still alive, he was just in that nexus world. Scotty was also alive at that point too I believe (correct me if I'm wrong, the transporter accident with him happened well later?) but unsure if he's a senior officer though. Maybe it was some sort of send off thing like they did for the Enterprise-B with Kirk, Chekov and Scotty? – Jared Jan 27 '12 at 3:45
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    I always thought it was more of a courtesy inspection -- giving an honored member of Starfleet a chance to see the best that the fleet had to offer at that time. – Tango Jan 27 '12 at 4:38
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    At the time of its launch, the Enterprise-D represented the most advanced ship class in the fleet - including the medical bay. Combine that with it being the Enterprise, and it makes perfect sense that Bones would want a tour of the ship. – Omegacron Oct 3 '14 at 19:08
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    @Jared: Kirk and Scotty may technically have been alive, but they were both believed to be dead at the time of the episode. – Ellesedil Nov 25 '14 at 2:31
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According Leonard McCoy's memory beta wiki page, the novel Encounter at Farpoint explains how he got there and why he wasn't at the ship's launch:

In 2363, McCoy suffered an injury after tripping over one of his great-great-grandchildrens' toys which necessitated a stay at Bethesda Starfleet Hospital, preventing him from attending the launch of the USS Enterprise-D. In "revenge", McCoy connived the USS Hood to take him to Farpoint Station, where they would be transferring crew to the new Enterprise. McCoy inspected the ship's medical facilities of the new ship, and was escorted back to the Hood, via shuttlecraft, by Lieutenant Commander Data. McCoy told the young android the ship was new but had the right name, and that if she was treated well she'd always bring the crew home. (TNG novelization: Encounter at Farpoint)

References:

Encounter at Farpoint (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Leonard McCoy @ Memory Beta

I haven't actually read the book, but if someone has a copy hopefully they can provide a more detailed answer.

  • Hm... I know BETA isn't canon, but +1 for extra info and an accept! – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 27 '12 at 4:16
  • Thanks! Hopefully someone out there actually has the book and can give a reason why he wanted to see the Enterprise-D. – Memnoch Jan 27 '12 at 4:27
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    @Memnoch: "... why he wanted to see the Enterprise-D" -- wouldn't you? – Keith Thompson Jan 15 '13 at 16:01
  • -1 for Memory Beta as primary source. – aramis May 27 '13 at 19:59
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    @aramis Encounter at Farpoint is the primary source. Memory Beta is listed since the text of Encounter at Farpoint isn't freely available online and it provides a nice summary. – Memnoch May 28 '13 at 22:15
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You're overthinking it. This kind of thing happens all the time in the real world.

Short answer: "because he's an Admiral and wanted to". Obviously TNG wanted to create a better connection with TOS, so they brought him on. However, in world, it makes perfect sense. If you were old and had been on a previous one, wouldn't you want to see the future versions? If you were an Admiral, you could make it happen without a "real" reason...

Second part, even if Memnoch's info isn't canon, Admirals are often quite busy. While he can make sure he gets to it, he may not have been able to do it exactly at the time he originally wanted to.

  • But why would a DOCTOR want to? I know he COULD because he's an admiral, but WHY? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 27 '12 at 15:20
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    @DVK - See the middle of my second paragraph. – Brian Knoblauch Jan 27 '12 at 15:45
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    +1. Personal curiosity and nostalgia is understandable in general, and especially applicable given McCoy's character. – Nerrolken Dec 2 '14 at 1:20
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    It's pretty funny though seeing this question after having just watched the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where Kirk has to beg Bones to come along on the refitted old Enterprise. – Dronz Dec 2 '14 at 16:36
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    @Dronz quite so, although in TNG 'Bones' was in no danger of being forced into active service! – EleventhDoctor Mar 4 '15 at 13:44
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Upon further digging, I think the answer is right in the episode script, and my initial guess was wrong - he was inspecting Enterprise-D specifically in his capacity as Dr and ex-CMO.

WORF: Commander Data is on a special assignment, sir. He's using our shuttlecraft to transfer an admiral over to the Hood.
RIKER: An admiral?
WORF: He's been aboard all day, sir, checking over medical layout.

10

Dr. McCoy, as the Branch Admiral of Starfleet Medical, is most likely the Surgeon General of Starfleet. He's the man responsible for the whole of Starfleet's medical personnel, and as such, has the right to inspect, in person or by proxy, any and/or all medical staff and facilities in Starfleet.

Likewise, the Fleet or Sector Medical Admiral could do so as well.

It's extremely common in militaries for specialists to have dual chains of command. In the real world, most officer specialty branches have a dual chain. Engineers, Medical, Personnel, and Chaplain all answer to dual chains, and in all cases, can¹ override the Captain if a standing order from Branch would be breached by the Captain's orders.

The Enterprise is not attached to a particular sector; it's apparently attached to a specific fleet of rovers. Given this, there's a Fleet Surgeon, probably a low seniority admiral, who is her direct medical supervisor. This person answers to the Starfleet Medical Command, including her commanding admiral and vice commander. All three of whom can inspect on a whim, in person or by proxy.

It's really not uncommon for a major command to have a flag officer conduct their own inspections as an excuse to get away from the desk, provided other duties permit.

Dr. McCoy could have opted to do the inspection as a matter of escaping his desk-duty, essentially, a "working vacation." His comments to Data imply this kind of task - filling in a required inspection early, and doing it in person because he wanted to.


Footnotes

¹: Can, but not Must. If, however, things go bad, "just following the Captain's Orders" will NOT protect the senior watchstander when they came through. He and the Skipper will face charges side by side.

2

According to the book McCoy simply wanted to see the new Enterprise. As was stated above, he missed his opportunity to tour the ship before the actual launch with other dignitaries because he was laid up in the hospital. By the time he was discharged the Enterprise had left spacedock for its shakedown cruise. So as the book said, he did something he rarely did; he politicked. He called in old favors and used his celebraty status as a legendary Federation hero to gain access to the ship. Think of what might happen today if Colin Powell wanted to tour a new naval vessel.

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    According to which book? – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 16:49
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He just wanted to see the ship one more time, I think. Also, Chekov is still alive in the 24th Century as the head of Starfleet Intelligence (I think) & so is Uhura, who became an Admiral (in the novels) which makes sense as they were both relatively young during TOS (Chekov was fresh out of the Academy back then).

-2

Heart. Just for the heart factor. Plus very few ships in Starfleet bear multiple alpha-numeric designations, with ships like the Enterprise, Yamato and the London being exceptions to the rule.

So he has an emotional attachment to the namesake. With good reason, given the rich history of the various Enterprises in fleet service, including the one he personally served on. Plus he's an Admiral and certainly has the leeway to inspect at his discretion when it comes to the maiden voyages of space-bound medical facilities he oversees.

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