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As a combined result of visiting a recent Star Trek exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, and of listening to Verity! Podcast discuss “The Girl in the Fireplace,” I’ve been re-thinking what makes characters like Rose and Dr. McCoy my favorites. Earlier I theorized that it’s their courage and forthrightness that endears them to me. Now, though, I think it must at least equally be their compassion.

McCoy’s key trait on Star Trek is his humanity. His emotion balances Spock’s logic as the two help their Captain make his decisions. Caring for his patient comes first on his list every time, whether the patient is a friend, a Vulcan ambassador, or a lump of sentient rock. He risks his life to save others. He’s rough-edged, bombastic, sometimes unkind, but he is a doctor first in all things.

Rose, too, is defined by her humanity. Her first move in so many of her adventures with the Doctor is to comfort the fearful, from Gwyneth the maid to Toby the xenoarchaeologist. She allies herself with a damaged Dalek and the enslaved Ood. If she feels any jealously over the Doctor’s relationship with Reinette, she sets it aside in favor of saving a life. She is no more flawless than McCoy, but her heart is her dominant feature.

Compassion fatigue is a common problem. The modern world is full of suffering: there are so many causes to support, so many things to care about, that it’s easier for most people to just shut it off. It’s certainly a problem I have. To watch these characters fearlessly care is inspiring. It reminds me of the thousand starfish washed up on a beach: it’s true I can’t save them all, but maybe I can save *that* one.

And to that one, it makes all the difference.

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