Interview: Gates McFadden On Cons, COVID, Crusher, And “Code of Honor” From ‘Star Trek: TNG’

Gates McFadden - TrekMovie Interview

This Sunday, Gates McFadden will join four other Star Trek doctors for a virtual GalaxyCon Live event. TrekMovie took the opportunity to talk with Gates about real cons vs. virtual ones, all the events happening in the world right now (which are very much on her mind), and a few Next Generation episodes, like “Code of Honor” and “The Host.”

This will be your third virtual event with GalaxyCon. Do you think online cons are here to stay?

I have to say, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I know that sounds weird. I was quite surprised with how well it works, especially the conference with Brent and LeVar. In a certain way, it was more relaxed, and everybody was really being themselves.

I’ve always loved meeting fans at cons. The fans have kept the show going, and the show is something that has become more meaningful to me every year that passes. I don’t think I was aware of how important the show was when I was first doing it. So when I would meet fans one-on-one virtually—again, it was different. Yes, it was weird to get cut off, but there are probably ways that that can get finessed. Even though there were ones that were short and cut off, I actually felt I was more in a private room with them.

It’s just like doing Cameos. I have really enjoyed doing Cameos and I thought I would really hate them. [laughs] I think there’s a part of myself that comes through more, that’s maybe wackier than I show when I’m at a con. Believe me, if you had asked me a year ago if I thought I’d enjoy that I would have said no. But I really have and that’s that’s not me just trying to put a good spin on it. It’s the truth.

You’ve talked before about rethinking how conventions will work. 

Something’s going to evolve. It’s good to reevaluate things and decide what are the parts that really are phenomenally awesome about cons that are live, and there are many. We always loved having our group dinners together afterwards, the different Star Trek people. And it’s also fun to meet people from different areas of the country. I find it fascinating.

What’s unbelievably cool for me is to meet people who’ve become surgeons or gone into the medical or scientific professions because they saw Crusher as a role model. And I don’t take credit for that. But it’s pleasing to see how people who watched as a kid have grown up now and they have kids, and they’re still watching it.

When you’re doing the show, you’re just doing the show. When you sit back and you see all the different seeds that were thrown out, now they’re growing, and you look back and you go, ‘Wow, that really was something that Gene Roddenberry and all the other producers and writers created.’

In terms of other cons, how are you feeling about Star Trek Las Vegas in December? You’re on the list to go, are you feeling okay about that?

I think everybody is saying, let’s see how we prepare for it.  We all need to feel safe. And it doesn’t mean it’s going to be awful. Just like at the supermarket, we have a barrier, but we can still chat. It’s not like we can’t have a laugh, we do every day that I’m down there. So I think the same is true with this. The difference is yes, you cannot hug people. But maybe we all have to just try to communicate really well in other ways, and maybe just look at each other and have more good eye contact. It doesn’t always have to be touch. Or maybe we have gloves and it still feels warm and cozy?

If I felt safe, I would go to Vegas in December. Absolutely. If I felt that we were not going to be jammed and all these people and you know, chanting big songs or something [laughs]. I think it’s going to be different. But I don’t know. Will it be December? Let’s see what happens.

Star Trek Las Vegas 2017: Women in Star Trek: TNG panel

I think it’s really a shame that the whole country did not get instructions that everybody participated in. So many people have died and been infected, the confrontations between minorities and Black people and the police, and just horrible things have been going on. One of the positives that’s come out of it is that we’ve been able to focus our attention on it. And with all of the media and the irrefutable proof of the horrors of police brutality… I hope to God it stays. There’s a feeling that people in the white community, in all the different communities all over the world, are banding together and going, “This has got to stop,” that we were fools not to be more aware of what the Black community was suffering and do something about it. Because I remember, Angela Davis was on the campus when I was a junior in college and we were strike headquarters. By the time I graduated, we had two people on the Ten Most Wanted list and they were people who were doing protests, like Angela. She’s a remarkable woman, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

And it’s interesting how I feel I became complacent. I risked not graduating by going on strike and participating. I learned so much. We had the Panthers on campus, we had a soldier who went AWOL. And we gave them sanctuary. we had a black takeover of the Black Studies program because they said it was not strong enough. not enough money, not enough faculty, and they were right.

But you sort of get complacent about things. I did anyway, and you just are hoping that things have changed, but man, they haven’t changed. And it’s time to really go full-on and I’m full on now. I’m giving all the money I can to support black candidates and trying to turn the Senate.

We’ve got to donate, we’ve got to participate. We’ve got to really work hard to make sure our elections are secure, because that’s what scares me is that something’s going to happen and we’re not going to be able to have our elections. The machines won’t show up. They won’t work.

We’ve already seen that this kind of thing is likely to happen.

I know! What the hell are we gonna do about it? It’s that’s the part that’s terrifying to me, because I see more communities in chaos, it’s because people want it to end up being a dictatorship here or something. It’s hard to believe this is my country. But then I see so many wonderful people, and there’s a real community happening. I just hope that we can persevere and do something about it.

Well there’s world solidarity now, which is tremendous.

It’s tremendous, you’re right. But to be fair, that right wing all over the world is also in solidarity, so we are pitted. It’s the two ideological forces of either we’re equal or there’s a superior race. And let’s get rid of this superior race thing once and for all, you know?

Absolutely. Since we’re talking Black Lives Matter, one of the topics that obviously has come up a lot lately is the Next Generation episode “Code of Honor.” There’s been a lot of talk about it again and Jonathan Frakes, he once called it a “racist piece of shit”—

We all felt that way. I went to the producers and complained about it. I open my mouth. And that’s one of the reasons I got fired. I opened my mouth a lot. So that [“Code of Honor”] was horrible. It was like a holdover or something from I don’t know, it was weird. from Jim Crow era, it was just so weird. And I thought “Angel One” was just horrible.

Looking specifically at “Code of Honor,” another huge question that’s come up now is, do we pull episodes, do we have intros to episodes? Do we talk about them?

I think we talk about them. All of us have talked about it at every con, practically.  I think that’s what informs people. On the other hand, you don’t need to see Little Black Sambo the book, they can take that out. I think if it becomes painful for people to watch, then it’s a stupid episode anyway, so you can lose it, but it could be a very good teaching episode because I think when you’re talking about latent racism, when you’re talking about that deep racism, I think that’s a perfect example. Here’s Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, he did so much to have Uhura, and George Takei, then you start to realize, ‘Yeah, but even people who were on the forefront, you get this latent stuff that surfaces and it’s damaging,’ and it’s good to reevaluate and look at all those things. And it’s just like what they did with Gone with the Wind, I think it’s really great that they have something that talks about it. That’s what it’s needed.

Dr. Crusher explains that Yareena survived her battle with Yar in “Code of Honor”

So, let’s talk about women on Star Trek. Obviously, the experience on Star Trek has changed tremendously since you were on it. Now we have women front and center, women who are stronger and get to be involved in every story. Do you think Next Generation could have and should have done better for women? And does that extend to what happened behind the scenes?

Well, yes. But then again, what is the point at this stage for me to complain—I complained about it then. My choices were my choices. And I think also the producers already knew they wanted to have a woman captain, they were waiting to make women stronger. I don’t know what they were thinking but did it piss me off that I didn’t have more, of course it did.

What’s the point though of complaining about it now, because look what good has come out of all of that. There’s really strong female characters now, and it’s really exciting. It’s probably more important to focus on the progress that has been made than to sit and whine about what I wish it would have been for me. What’s more important is what it has become and how it can keep evolving and how people can get stronger and stronger role models. People of color and people of gender and all of that.

I was honored to be the lead of the episode that was written by the first gay writer that we had, it was “The Host.” And I thought it was fantastic that they were asking the question, “What is love? What is the essence of love? Is it physical? How much is mental, experiential?” That’s a fabulous thing to ponder.

We were just talking about “The Host” in the context of gay pride and impressed by the end, when Beverly talks about how she feels limited. I was wondering if you thought that was progressive at the time or thought it was a copout.

I was not ever going to make it a copout. I felt they knew that they did not want to push too hard. She owned it. She was saying, “I’m not there yet.”  She wasn’t being mean, she was being honest. And I think people got it because of that. I think it was a very powerful episode. And it brought up so much… people are so homophobic. It just was a fantastic way to get them into even thinking about, ‘Well, wait a minute. What is it that you really are loving? And why is that so horrible?’ And by already having her kissing Riker, that was already a big deal. That it was suddenly a crewmate, and then to have it in a woman? I think what it did, it did beautifully. It opened up the question. And that’s, to me, all that’s needed. The idea of Star Trek is not to tell them what to think, it’s to get them to think, and be open.

And I think that’s where younger people really are great about it. It’s that delight in diversity, delight in differences, which is Gene’s whole thing. I know there’s a quote that he said we should delight in people’s differences. And that is the truth, instead of being so afraid.

Odan and “Dr. Beverly” in happier days in “The Host”

The event you’re doing for GalaxyCon is another doctors’ panel. So what do you think is sort of the essential element of a good Star Trek doctor? And what impact have Star Trek doctors had on the real world of medicine and doctors?

Well, I think as role models, that’s been the biggest thing.

I think it’s the fact that technology can be used for so much good, but then the shows also show that you always run into other problems. Certainly my character got the ship into a lot of trouble when in “The High Ground,” because she wanted to do no harm, she wanted to help people who were suffering, but that was against the Prime Directive. Gene told me that he wanted Crusher to be a humanist. And the Prime Directive was what she was going to often be in conflict with because of the Hippocratic oath.

I know that I’ve talked about this, but I’m someone who actually has been in the hospital with serious accidents that have happened and nearly died several times. And when the medical team are kind, and really good humans, it makes such a difference. And it helps with my healing. It helps with everything, believing that they weren’t just going to be making jokes as they operated, but having that feeling of respecting the patient and not trying to intimidate. It really made a difference in my life personally.

When you see what people have gone through and how many have died because of COVID, I would say it’s about time we started really taking a look at the people who take care of us. And people who are caregivers on any level, teachers who have had to continue teaching while they had their own kids at home. We just don’t honor them enough. I think this has made us all begin to honor them more realize how crucial they are.

So I’m sure some of your plans were derailed because of COVID-19…

They were, but the things that have come up out of it: My friend Eddie Gordon, we’re doing a walk a five-kilometer walk—3.5 miles. And the T-shirt is “How to survive a pandemic: Wash your hands and don’t be racist.” I wore it on my last panel, I’m going to wear it again, and you buy the T-shirt, ALL of the profits, it’s only the actual cost of the T-shirt. Nobody makes a dime. And it all goes to Colin Kaepernick’s new nonprofit Resist and it’s about trying to change things. So that’s coming up on July 19, I’ll talk about it again on the panel. And then I’m just trying to inform myself and I’m really trying to work on election stuff. But obviously, I’m not door-to-door campaigning in COVID time here.

I hope nobody is.

I know, but I hope that we all are reaching out and trying to do things and listen and learn and I’m trying to do that. There’s a woman, Desjree Tims from Ohio that just I am really hoping that she makes it. There’s so many candidates I like. That’s the other thing that’s happened is I’ve become more aware because I’ve had more time, right? Time to check out elections in all the different congressional districts all over, not just in LA or New York not the big cities. It’s really exciting, actually.

I feel like change is really happening.

You have to be careful, though. Because I thought change was really happening the 70s. This is the thing. Did you see 13th the Ava DuVernay documentary about the prison system? See it. See it with your kids. It’s a brilliant piece of work. And it really shows you how we have to be vigilant. Yes, there is something bubbling for sure right now.

LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden (in her “How to survive a pandemic” T-shirt) and Brent Spiner on a TNG GalaxyCon panel in June

Check out part 1 of our interview with McFadden

In the first part of our exclusive interview, Gates indicates she may appear in Star Trek: Picard, and talks about the evolving relationship between Beverly and Jean-Luc. 

Sir Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden at Hollywood premier of Star Trek: Picard (Photo: Getty)

GalaxyCon Star Trek Doctors of Star Trek Live Experience on July 5

GalaxyCon Live is holding a Star Trek Doctors virtual event on Sunday, July 5. Gates will be joined by Robert Picardo, John Billingsley, Alexander Siddig, and Wilson Cruz. There will be a free streaming live panel, along with the opportunity to buy group or one-on-one chats with the celebrities. They are also offering signed autographs and personalized video recordings. More info and tickets can be found at galaxycon.com.

GalaxyCon: Doctors of Star Trek


Keep up with all the interviews at TrekMovie.com.

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What a class and beautiful lady. I guess nobody is calling Diane Maldaur for these get togethers anymore, I heard that she didn’t have a good time on the show so it is kind of understandable. Also the issue of “removing” episodes needs to be seriously discussed. Personally I am against all forms of censorship, I prefer to keep problematic elements to learn from them and not repeat them instead of just tossing them out. Tossing them out is the easy way out I think.

Diane Maldaur is getting up in years now. She did a special interview for the TNG blurays which was nice

Removing offensive episodes isn’t censorship.

No, that’s pretty much the definition of censorship, ie removing material deemed inappropriate or offensive. Whether that censorship should happen or not is the discussion to be had.

Last edited 2 months ago by AllenWrench

The definition of censorship is ALSO being forced to do so by a third party… hence, the noun “censor.” If CBS chooses to do so of its own accord, it’s not censorship.

That all being said, even if the entire episode goes out of circulation, you can still watch it in its original context on the DVD/Blu Ray sets. Those have been selling so poorly it would be unreasonable to expect CBS to remake them to exclude even a single episode.

Last edited 2 months ago by 'Drew

Self-censorship is still censorship. Back when Hollywood was under the production code, it self-censored its content. Political movements have a way of making that happen.

Eye of the beholder, friend …. if you really believe that, maybe you oughta pluck thine eye out.

That is the actual definition of censorship. Bring it up with an Oxford Dictionary if you disagree.

Ha. Read a dictionary. Right. That would lead to knowledge, and knowledge is forbidden when Liberals argue. One must only use emotions and prescribed talking points.

No need to go there, the same is very easily said about swathes of Conservative debaters.

But in this instance, yes this is an issue which needs consideration, not rash emotional overreaction. Problematic works of art such as movies with black or yellow face or tv shows with the same and outdated cultural depictions etc – give them a disclaimer for context, don’t pretend they never existed, that makes it harder to have meaningful discussions and only hardens opinions.

I came across a copy of Little Black Sambo a few years ago. Aside from the dated illustrations, which could obviously be updated, I was surprised at how un-racist the story was. It’s just an Indian boy who outwits some tigers. That’s it.

A shame the character’s name became a racist slang word, because I don’t think that was the author’s intent.

I remember seeing circa 2001 an updated version with modern illustrations. The blurb on the back mentioned how originally the illustrations were terribly stereotypical and offensive and that’s why they made a new one. I don’t know if that stuck or not.

I’d not worry a ton about December. The convention is likely to be cancelled with the Rona raging in Vegas….

Liked a lot of what she had to say, find her very admirable based on this interview.

Must have been something to be in school back then as those things were going down (I was only in the 2nd grade, so I missed nearly all of that, being concerned with dinosaurs and NASA and baseball.)

She looks great. She added harmony to the show, specially to Picard intimate scenes, which gave us more layers and depth to his personality. I find Gates a very disciplined and talented actress. Humble with the fans. Very real and serious in regards to the legacy of the show.

It was a nice surprise to see her and Brent to the tap dance. I remember watching that and thinking how talented these people are. She can dance!

Still amazingly beautiful!

LOVED this interview. She said so many things I agree with, especially over BLM and the truly sad virus situation. We’re the ONLY western country right now that is seeing cases going UP and not down three months later. We have no real leadership right now. Seriously people, VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As for the Host, I agree with her. I didn’t have a problem with Beverly not being attracted to a woman host. Trill society is probably a very pan sexual one (which wasn’t even a word back then) because you are constantly switching bodies and genders, at least Trills that receive symbionts. But for humans if you are only attracted to the opposite sex, that’s just the way it is. She wasn’t being anti-gay, those were simply her feelings. I am 100% pro-rights for gays, lesbians and trans, but I don’t feel that way myself.

Anyway I’m glad she it looks like she will be on Picard (whenever that airs in 2022 or 2023 ;)) and it will just be great to see her and Picard together again. I just love seeing all the old characters back again, so looking forward to it. It’s still pretty surreal all of this is even happening. :)

The OED says pansexual first recorded usage was 1914, but it certainly didn’t enter the popular vernacular until a decade or two ago. So I’m just nitpicking here.

. But for humans if you are only attracted to the opposite sex, that’s just the way it is.” Yeah, but HUMANS attracted to another SPECIES. This go waaaaay further than simply being attracted to the same gender.
Aren’t alot of characters anyway some kind of pansexual, if they love someone from another species? We are talking about “male” and “female”, but in this case the term “straight” or “gay” is very limited. Why has that never been an issue in Star Trek??? Yes, I know that relationships between different species was a mirror of interracial couples (think about Spock and his parents). But thinking seriously about it, it goes waaaay further and shows a narrow mind, when at the same time viewers back then made an issue of Kirk kissing Uhura (but had no problem kissing him a green skinned alien, just because the actress was white under that colour) and later made issues when it came to same sex couples of the SAME SPECIES.

Absolutely. The fact that all of these other alien cultures also have the concept of binary gender, heteronormative marriage, monogamy, etc is quite amazing when you consider plenty of human societies didn’t tick at least one of those boxes before being colonised. The argument that Western norms became Federation norms, while itself specious, doesn’t even cut it – as Cardassia, Q’onoS, Bajor etc have them too even before contact with humanity.

Of course the real answer is that the writers come from cultures that have all of those, and they’re completely unexamined biases – just like all of their cultures using a base-10 counting system.

Last edited 2 months ago by Kaitlyn

Any idea how to get the t-shirt to benefit Kaepernick’s organization she talks about?

She will talk about it at the GalaxyCon panel, but let me see if I can get the info for you.