Breaking down the Personalities of Star Trek

Created: 2020-01-29 17:57

Last Modified: 2020-01-30 11:06

This post picks up where Breaking down Character Archetypes into Personality Components left off.

I am reverse engineering the cast of The Original Star Trek to try to understand how roles and intrinsic personality combine to make a memorable cast of characters.

Because the series ran for three seasons across 79 episodes, and was written by a team or writers, each character's role in a story sometimes varied. But the writers were usually very good at preserving continuity in how characters felt about and responded to events in a story.


Captain Kirk (link|link) played the role as the Leader. He was definitely extroverted. If there was a female guest character, he slept with her. While no intellectual, he was clever and excelled and devising novel solutions to immediate problems. He saved the ship by charm and intimidation multiple times. His principle weakness was that he would sometimes become overwhelmed by the moment, and could be frustrated to the point of violence if presented with a problem he couldn't solve.

We don't see much of Kirk's personal life directly in the series. His cabin was a bit generic. As Captain, he was never technically "off duty". We do get a sense of what he was like when he wasn't acting as Captain from the later movies. He was a consumate rebel. A Trickster. Behind his cool facade, we could see those traits seep through occasionally in the old series. Kirk was also the survivor of a holocaust, which probably establishes his being able to embrace a lifestyle which didn't involve a lot of family ties or setting down roots.

Four-Temperament Ensemble: Choleric

Tropes: AI is a Crapshoot Anti-Hero Badass Normal Bold Explorer Bunny-Ears Lawyer The Captain The Charmer Chivalrous Pervert Dark and Troubled Past Determinator Farm Boy Heroic Willpower Honor Before Reason Improbable Weapon User Knight In Sour Armor The Leader Living Legend Married to the Job The Men First Must Have Caffeine Officer and a Gentleman A Father to His Men Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! Talking the Monster to Death True Companions Ultimate Job Security


Spock (link|Spock) played the role of the Lancer, the Smart Guy, and the Noble Savage. While Kirk was a people person, Spock was the introvert. If there was a pragmatic answer to a moral dilemma, Spock presented it. Regardless of how well the solution played to the other humans in the room. He had a role within a role, playing an alien that denied his own emotion. His strength was pure logic. His weakness was pure logic. He expressed no emotion, except when the plot called for it.

We had some glimpses of Spock's personal life in the show. His quarters were exquisitely decorated. As the child of an Ambassador he had an elaborate social network outside of the ship. In his spare time he loves music, poetry, chess, and art.

Four-Temperament Ensemble: Melancholic. Red Oni, Blue Oni: Red

Tropes: Back from the Dead Badass Bookworm Beware the Nice Ones Bizarre Alien Biology Bizarre Alien Senses Blue Blood Boomerang Bigot But Not Too Foreign The Comically Serious The Creon Dark and Troubled Past Defrosting Ice King Fantastic Racism Friendless Background Gentleman and a Scholar Good Is Not Nice Hidden Depths Hidden Heart of Gold Human Mom, Non-Human Dad Interclass Friendship Living Legend Ludicrous Precision Mayfly–December Friendship Minored In Ass Kicking Number Two Only One Name Parenthetical Swearing Red Oni, Blue Oni Sarcastic Devotee The Smart Guy The Stoic Super Strength Tall, Dark, and Snarky True Companions Token Non-Human Troll Vitriolic Best Buds


Leonard "Bones" McCoy (link|link) played the role of Frontier Doctor and foil for Spock. Spock is pure logic. Bones is pure heart. He has nerves, and people get on them regularly and often. Spock may be an introvert, but Bones is a downright grump. His strength is his conviction, and his weakness is flying off the handle.

McCoy, as the ship's lead doctor, is never technically off duty either. He does enjoy a good drink, and is sociable with select members of the crew. (And anti-sociable to Spock.) But you get the sense that he is workaholic, married to his work. He is ALWAYS in sickbay, or on some sort of medical errand.

We do get a sense the McCoy is superstitious about technology. Particularly the transporter. In treating patients, he stresses the body's own healing mechanisms instead of invasive procedures, where possible. Like the other characters we see that he has one nature that has been shaped and warped by experiences. He has a kind heart, but the stresses of a carrer in medicine have made him somewhat abrasive.

We also get some glimpses of his personality from his taglines. "He's Dead, Jim" and "I'm a doctor, not a(n)". The "I'm a doctor" lines are signs that he a) has a comfort zone and b) really does not straying outside of it. His ability to state the uncomfortably obvious shows that he does not beat around the bush. There is no sugar coating things from him or for him.

Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sanguine. Red Oni, Blue Oni: Blue

Tropes: Badass Pacifist Chivalrous Pervert Cool Old Guy Combat Pragmatist Deadpan Snarker Determined Doctor Dr. Jerk Frontier Doctor Good Is Not Nice Good Old Ways Grumpy Bear The Heart Honor Before Reason Knight In Sour Armor The Medic More Hero Than Thou Red Oni, Blue Oni Sarcastic Devotee Southern-Fried Genius Strawman Emotional Super Doc True Companions Vitriolic Best Buds The Watson


Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (link|link) played the role of The Chief Engineer. Scotty was a supporting character, but his personality still percolated through. Scotty LOVES technology. But more than technology, he loves his ship.

Scotty also loves his homeland of Scottland, Scotch whisky, and probably Scotch tape. (Which you get the sense is holding up structural parts of the Enterprise at times.)

On a people level, Scotty is certainly personable. But you don't see him maintaining relationships outside of the professional arena. He has a sense of humor, but he's not exactly a lady's man. He is a department head, but he never comes off as boss or top dog.

Four-Temperament Ensemble: Phlegmatic

Tropes: Berserk Button Big Damn Heroes Butt-Monkey Captain Ethnic The Engineer Father Neptune Gadgeteer Genius Genius Bruiser


Nyota Uhura (link|link|link) is the ship's communication officer. It was clear, that was her job title, not her only role. She could rewire a panel. She could run any station on the bridge. She rocked a uniform. She could speak truth to power. Of all of the characters on the bridge, I think she actually flipped her lid fewer times than even Spock. (But my recollection is hazy.)

Uhura has distinctive decor in her quarters. She has a singing voice that is called on during several episodes, and performed along with Spock for the crew. Uhura has some outfits that come out when she is off duty. We see her shopping in "The Trouble with Tribbles." She seems to enjoy novelty and shiny things.

Like Scotty, she is a head of a department, but we never see her order anyone around.

Tropes: Action Girl Bridge Bunny Communications Officer Silk Hiding Steel


Hikaru Sulu (link) is the Chief Helmsman. He is combative. He is ambitious. We see him later as the commander of his own ship. During the events of the original series, he is a junior officer, only just elevated to a post on the bridge.

Unlike many of the rest of the crew, managed to have a family, including a daughter who would, herself, join Starfleet. He had an interest in the martial arts and fencing. All of which requires a lot of practice and dedication. He also collected guns.

Tropes: The Ace Cultured Badass Deadpan Snarker Fan of the Past Fleeting Passionate Hobbies Genius Bruiser Gun Nut Nice Guy The Reliable One Those Two Guys Took a Level in Badass


Pavel Andreievich Chekov (link|link) is the ship's navigator. He is, through and through, Russian and proud of it. He is a bit of a hothead and makes romantic attachements easily. His role in the drama was the Naïve Newcomer. Constantly making mistakes, but providing tremendous energy and talent. He even manages to take over as Science Officer as needed.

Tropes: Butt-Monkey Cloudcuckoolander The Intern Know-Nothing Know-It-All Plucky Comic Relief Russian Guy Suffers Most Sixth Ranger Those Two Guys


Christine Chapel (link) is the head nurse. She wasn't a major character, though we do get to see her motivations for joining Starfleet. She was out to find her Fiancee, and on finding him, discovered he had changed into some sort of Android monster.

We also see her try to stoke a romance with Spock. And fail. Before Starfleet she had a career in bio-research. I get the sense that she is somewhat of an introvert. Talented, intelligent, and drawn to talented and intelligent people.

Tropes: Deadpan Snarker Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold Single Woman Seeks Good Man


Janice Rand (link) is the Captain's Yeoman. Despite only appearing in the first season, people remember Yeoman Rand. She and Kirk had a relationship that was complicated by their professional roles and their unrequited feelings for one another on a personal level. But what do we all love her for? She can make coffee with a phaser.

Tropes: Bridge Bunny Damsel in Distress Mundane Utility Hypercompetent Sidekick Satellite Character


So now that I have introduced the cast, let's play a backward game of 20 questions. I will take each of the characters and sort out what makes them different from the others. I'm focusing mainly on behavioral issues, but I'm not afraid to say things like "old people act differently than young people" and "men act differently than women."

To pull this off, let's build a matrix of all 9 characters and in each cell I will point out what is different between they way they act intrinsically, the way that act in a role, and then I will repeat the process with the ways they are similar.

Unfortunately... we seem to know a lot more about the three principals than the rest, with the exception of maybe Scotty. It's not a question of how well the actors manage to portray their characters. They other characters are simply not given enough lines and critical decisions that can clue us into what their feelings on things really are.

So I'm going to simplify our matrix to 4x4. And I promise to follow this up with an ensemble cast that includes more women. And more of a range of characters in age and experience.

A B Differences Similarities
Kirk Spock
  • charming
  • non-technical
  • loyal
  • intelligent
  • righteous
  • Kirk Bones
  • charming
  • argumentative
  • intelligent
  • righteous
  • Kirk Scotty
  • non-technical
  • charming
  • intelligent
  • rule-bender
  • Spock Kirk
  • introvert
  • technical
  • argumentative
  • pedantic
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Spock Bones
  • Stoic
  • Pragmatist
  • Logical
  • argumentative
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Spock Scotty
  • blue-blood
  • academic
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Bones Kirk
  • grumpy
  • non-technical
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Bones Spock
  • heart
  • argumentative
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Bones Scotty
  • technophobic
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • rule-bender
  • Scotty Kirk
  • introvert
  • technical
  • charming
  • intelligent
  • rule-bender
  • Scotty Spock
  • low-class
  • improviser
  • charming
  • technical
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Scotty Bones
  • technophile
  • intelligent
  • loyal
  • Try as I might I'm just creating a soup of attributes and finding what sticks. But... fortunately I might have found something that stuck. In each of the writeups for the characters on TV Tropes was a Four-Temperament Ensemble classification for Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty.

    Character Temperament (In|Ex)troverted Confict Strategy
    Kirk Choleric Extroverted Seeking
    Spock Melancholic Introverted Seeking
    Bones Sanguine Extraverted Avoiding
    Scotty Phlegmatic Introverted Avoiding

    But clearly the classifications they give don't quite match up. Spock as someone who generates conflict I get. But Bones is by no means Sanguine. A Pacifist, yes. But he regularly storms across the ship to yell at someone. Kirk is clearly someone who usually doesn't start fights, but he sure as hell finishes them. Whereas Spock and Bones more or less burst in guns blazing to any discussion. Scotty is notoriously hard to get into an argument with. But if his bar fight during Trouble with Tribbles, or coming to the rescue with a squad of redshirts is any sign, he is nobody to slouch from a fight.

    Also conflicts are avoided and resolved in different ways. Kirk and Scotty both use charm to try to head off arguments. Scotty usually plays his emotions close to his chest. Kirk is usually hitting the back wall with his emotion.

    Spock and Bones bickering back and forth is a stable of every episode. Spock tries like hell to mask that he even has emotion. Bones on the other hand, good luck trying to get him to NOT tell you exactly how he is feeling.

    Both Spock and Bones regularly argue with the Captain. One uses logic, the other emotion, but it wouldn't be an episode of Star Trek without one of them disagreeing with the Solution of the Day™. Scotty will raise a concern, even express frustration, but essentially every interaction ends in "Aye, Sir".

    Another contrast between the characters is Technophobia vs. Technophilia. Bones and Kirk are generally Technophobic. Given a choice between a familiar process or technology, or something whizbang and new, they'll take the familiar. Spock and Scotty are the opposite. Both are always fidgeting and creating NEW technologies, or readily accepting outside technology. There are degrees of these conditions. While Kirk and Bones are both technophobes, Kirk expresses a mild irritation about change while Bones expresses outright indignation. With Scotty an Spock, Scotty is more interested in practical applications of technology, while Spock usually operates on the mad science level.

    Psychologists would call this acceptance of change. Kirk and Bones would ostensibly score low on this. Scotty and Spock high.

    So rather than have labels and attribute behaviors to them, I need to identify behaviors and back-fit labels. If a label is even a handy way to correlate things. Clearly Charm/argument and Change/Resistance are sliders on orthogonal scales. One can be on either end of both. We can also see the Extroversion and Introversion are entirely too ambiguous a term to use on their own. Spock and Bones are assholes, yet one is on-paper and Extrovert and the other is on-paper and Introvert. Kirk and Scotty are charming, and again, one is an Extrovert and the other an Introvert.

    Because I'm trying to stick with a magic system how would we evaluate the psyches of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty? Well if we recall our attribute system:

    We have room for all three elements to combine, and for those combinations to happen either on the light side or dark side. Although perhaps our Network Model of Personality might be a better guide:

    All of our characters are clearly intelligent. Intelligent in different ways, with a vastly different background of experiences. So making this some kind of Mind/Soul interaction would be silly. But we do have a "Social" part of our brain in this model. And in point of fact Kirk and Scotty share one "strategy" for socializing. Spock and Bones possess another. Both work, they are just different. And it may come down to background. Spock had a rough childhood filled with bullying combined with having to climb the social ladder as an Ambassador's son. Bones operates in a high stress field of medicine, where split decisions can save a life. Kirk, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in Iowa, and saw the horrors first hand of someone being a bit TOO decisive in his youth. Scotty grew up in an urban setting, where learning to control temper and diffusing situations with humor are a survival skill.

    Having young children of my own, I can clearly see an innate personality in each of them that is different. Those govern their initial approach to problems. At the same time, between the guidance of my wife and I, both behave in similar ways. Just because one is naturally one personality doesn't mean you are stuck making decisions at that level.

    On the other hand, as a middle aged man, I am also aware that people can fool themselves, sometimes for years, about what they think they are. My upbringing required masking my emotion, and being what Mom, Dad, Teacher, Preacher, etc. required me to be. I got very good at it. I was even the lead in the school play several times playing vastly different characters. I can "be" an extrovert if the situation requires it. But after hanging around in a crowd, I get seriously drained. I can also be detail oriented if the situation requires, but in my heart I'm a big picture person. I can do long term planning, but deep down inside I prefer living moment-to-moment.

    Likewise with our 4 characters, we get a sense that each has also had to work outside of their natural comfort zone for success. Scotty left to his own devices would probably never be seen outside his engine room. He probably had to learn either as a child or in officer school how to be a little more outgoing. In the original series, Kirk was a bit of a humorless nerd at the Academy. His outgoing charm is also, likewise, something that came later in life. Bones is a deeply caring individual who has probably turned into a grumpy man after watching patients die, and dealing with the other stresses of medical practice. Spock grew up around assholes. Most of his combativeness is an act to mask a kind soul in a hostile environment.

    And once again, I started off trying to make the world simpler and I'm more or less concluding with a ¯_(ツ)_/¯. But this blog isn't about recording everything that goes right in the end. I also want to capture the mistakes along the way. Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from getting things wrong.