Kirk/McCoy - Star Trek The Original Series
Author: Acidqueen aka syredronning (mail, website)
Fandom: Star Trek - The Original Series
Spoilers: For the TOS episodes and movies as well as for some online and zine stories.
Author's Note: Thanks to blackchaps and Kim for their feedback, and Marcy aka Kelthammer for her ongoing support, encouragement and endless McCoy advice. I'm no native speaker, so please be gentle with my English errors.
Disclaimer: Although I sampled many voices of other K/Mc fans, this essay is written from my POV and shows my idea how I perceive the two. Your mileage may vary :)
Between Friends - Kirk/McCoy
I'm so pleased that K/Mc is finally beginning to be popular. I wrote "All the News" in 1988 or something like that, thinking I was the only one in the world who could see them together. It's great to be part of a larger fandom now. -- Liz
Although it is the rarest pairing combination for the triumvirate Kirk - Spock - McCoy in Startrek The Original Series (TOS) and, in the past, mostly appeared as sub-pairing in K/S + Mc fiction, I believe it can stand alone and allows for fascinating insights in the relationship between friends over decades.
Kirk, captain, militarist
Captain Kirk is Capt. Hornblower of the sailing ships. [He] was a great hero, and Hemingway said [Hornblower] is the most exciting adventure fiction in the human language. -- Roddenberry in the "Star Trek" 25th Anniversary special, 1991 (Horatio Hornblower is a fictional officer in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars invented by C. S. Forester.)
Kirk, born in Riverside, Iowa, is the captain of the Enterprise, the youngest ever in Starfleet and the most well-known captain of all Trek series. His handling of a no-win-situation at the Academy, namely changing the rules of the Kobayashi Maru test by manipulating the computer, is symptomatic - there are no "no-win" situations for him. He is self-confident and commanding, puts his ship and crew first, is charming and rarely backing down; he is also sometimes brash and arrogant, putting outcomes over means and enforcing his own ideas of happiness on other people. He survives just about everything, including massacres, alien influence and mind-wiping machines. He wants his freedom of choice, even if it might mean the freedom to start a war. Although the Enterprise mission is primarily scientific and peaceful, he is willing to use her weapons just as he is willing to help others to use weapons in conflict situation, if he sees no other possibility.
While the original Hornblower is a person with many self-doubts, Kirk is a merging of this character and William Shatner's own personality, so he is usually rather self-confident - which can lead to the feeling of a flat character with macho attitudes and a reputation of a womanizer. However, there is much more to Kirk. And interestingly, we will see that Kirk is often sharing his "Hornblower moments" with McCoy.
McCoy, doctor, pacifist
And I mustn't forget McCoy, whom I made the voice of humanity. I have very fond thoughts for him. -- Roddenberry in The Humanist, http://www.philosophysphere.com/humanist.h
Known for his classic sayings "I'm a doctor, not a…" (bricklayer, escalator, engineer…) and "He's dead, Jim!", McCoy is the Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise. His most notable features: very blue eyes and sharp dialogues with Spock. His less notable features: a friend and confidant of Kirk; a doctor who takes his profession very serious; a man who would sacrifice himself for the sake of others. Under his often caustic and sometimes tired layer, there hides a humanist and pacifist, witty, courageous and caring. Killing by his own hand - unthinkable, as could be seen in "Man Trap" when he has to shoot the salt creature in disguise of his former love Nancy Crater.
He is also not a coward, as could be seen in "Space Seed" - when Khan threatens him with a knife getting a tight grip on his throat, McCoy rather dryly states, "Well, either choke me or cut my throat--make up your mind!" Although his mood can get the better of him, he can be very controlled if necessary. As we learn in the episode "Friday's Child", he had been stationed on Capella 4 for two months before his TOS times--definitely no assignment for someone with weak nerves, as the initial scene with a dead Red Shirt shows. He is able to work even in the midst of a battle, like in the surgery scene in "Journey to Babel".
Often, McCoy is written as depressed and / or alcoholic. But although these darker personality traits were part of the original character set-up by Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley didn't want to play McCoy like this, but rather like Dr. Boyce in the very first episode of Trek ever, "The Cage" with Captain Pike. So while McCoy is the one shown most often with a drink in his hand, this is either in a chill-out moment like in "Obsession", where McCoy takes a small drink at the end of his obviously multiple shifts, or in a moment where offering a drink seems to be part of a ritual, like in "The Ultimate Computer". We never get to see a drunken McCoy. Nevertheless, alcohol in combination with hurt/comfort is the starting point of some stories, e.g. Strong Drinks by Angie.
Captain Kirk is one of a kind, Charlie. -- McCoy in "Charlie X"
Right from the start it's clear that McCoy and Kirk are good friends. Only Kirk calls McCoy by the nickname "Bones", just as McCoy is the only person who regularly calls Kirk "Jim", at one point even "Jimmy-Boy". (Spock calls Kirk "Jim" occasionally, Scott only once). Obviously, Kirk and McCoy are friends since before their time on the Enterprise. In fanon, one explanation for this is that a young lieutenant Kirk got hurt in a mission onboard the Farragut and meets McCoy in the hospital.
McCoy is often on the bridge, less because of his CMO duties but more for a talk with the Captain. There, his usual place is right behind the captain's chair, his hand on the back of it or even on Kirk's shoulder. McCoy adamantly takes position if he feels Kirk is threatened, as in "Return to Tomorrow" or in "Amok Time", where he only gives in to the Lirpa on his throat - to fall back on a trick and save Kirk's life that way.
Their Professional Interaction
For all their friendship, they can and do disagree when it's about their profession and their respective duties onboard. McCoy is the only person who could remove Kirk from command for medical reasons as visible in "Obsession", but he doesn't interfere with the bridge operations as long as it is not about people close to breakdowns etc. like in "Corbomite Maneuvre". There are many scenes where McCoy is pressing his points. The following exchange from "Dagger of the Mind" is symptomatically of their professional disagreements - Kirk wants quick and definite answers (as if he trusts only his own hunches, and not those of others), but McCoy is holding his position.
If something unusual is going on down there--
An assumption, Doctor.
I'm required to enter any reasonable doubts into my medical log. That requires you to answer in your log. (softer) Sorry, Jim.
Typically, they change to "Doctor" and "Captain" (or later "Admiral") in those moments of professional conflict, instead of the familiar "Bones" and "Jim". But for all their disagreements, they return to the friendly base again afterwards.
Intimacy is only an extension of friendship, anyway, with more dimensions... that's my opinion. -- Farfalla
There are big discussions if Kirk is the eternal woman's lover or bisexual or gay - in any case, Kirk is a very sexual being with lots of chicks of the week in TOS. As we find out in Star Trek II, he also had a relationship with Carol Marcus before TOS times, of which a son resulted.
So it often seems to boil down to the question if the reader sees McCoy
a) as sexual being (a lot of people don't, although the background story of McCoy includes a wife and daughter, and he has some chicks of the week, too)
b) as possibly bisexual (to most people he looks just too straight to be slashed).
However, even if people see McCoy as straight, his special relationship with Kirk allows for possibilities:
I have trouble moving McCoy into a slash situation because he seems too heterosexual. But for some reason K/Mc doesn't bother me. Maybe it's because Kirk is just that fruity. -- Hypatia
They are quite physical with each other; Kirk holds McCoy's arm or shoulder on various occasions, and pats his face mockingly in "Immunity Syndrome". McCoy once tears Kirk's shirt to press a hypo in his arm in "Naked Time". In "Mirror, Mirror," McCoy touches Kirk's lips to see if it's truly blood on it in such a sure movement as if he did that every day - something he wouldn't do with anyone else of the crew, in my opinion. In two occasions, when aliens play havoc and take over crewmembers -"Return of the Archons" and "Catspaw" - Kirk looks much more shocked where McCoy is concerned than if it's about Sulu or others (great usage of the latter episode was made in the story Cat's Pawn by Liz).
Nevertheless, there is also a certain distance in their interaction. A relationship between Kirk and McCoy probably wouldn't meet the standards of a classic, romantic ideal, at least not in TOS times.
I personally see McCoy as a shoulder to lean on. Somewhere even a captain has to let loose. And Jim has lost his father very early, so he might see Bones as father figure. I don't see the two as big head-over-heels lovers, more like a comfortable couple, developed over time because it just fit for both. Because everyone needs a little human closeness once in a while.
One fitting concept for this situation, which exists in real life, would be the "friend with benefits":
Friendship with benefits arrangements can work between two mature people who understand what they're all about. They work best between two very good friends who are mature and who can handle such an arrangement emotionally. I don't see it as either party using the other unilaterally...it's more that both are using each other mutually for the purpose of satisfying their sex drive in the absence of a bonafide romantic relationship elsewhere.
This "deviation" from the romantic ideal can be appealing in itself. As Liz stated for one of my first photo manipulations:
I especially like "In My Arms". It has just the right combination of tenderness and awkwardness that I see between them. (Liz)
Due to this, there is still a considerable lack of easy-going, happy Kirk/McCoy stories like Best by Farfalla or Starship Blues by Rae Trail. But we're working on it :)
Fleet Service, Hippocratic Oath and Dual Relationships
Some people told me that they have a problem with mixing the professional and personal levels for Kirk and McCoy. Besides the fraternization question (which isn't one fanon ever really cared about) there is the Hippocratic Oath, in which sexual relationships between doctors and their patients are forbidden because they can compromise the professional relationship. I can see the point - but if we strictly followed this ethical rule, there would be no "Master and Commander" fan fiction out there either. The problem can be avoided if the K/Mc relationship starts before TOS times or is set later in the movieverse, where McCoy isn't necessarily Kirk's responsible physician anymore (although in ST II, he still seems to be). And of course, there's always the chance to use it like in The Patient/Doctor Privilege by Laura Goodwin.
A Look at Canon (episodes and movies)
When we examine the episodes and movies, Kirk/McCoy proves to be the "invisible pairing". Canon shows that McCoy is around in Kirk's most "Hornblower moments" in TOS, he is around on his birthday in ST II, goes down to Regula and faces Khan with him in ST II, suffers through ST III, wracks his nerves over Kirk's free-climbing in ST V and gets jailed with him on Rura Penthe in ST VI. There are many intimate friendship scenes between the two, just as well as intense, painful debates, but somehow all those moments are easily overlooked. So I try putting a finger on the most visible scenes :)
The Corbomite Maneuver (03)
Here we meet McCoy for the first time. They seem already on personal base, and some cornerstones are set here - McCoy's job as advisor concerning the crew and the captain, if said captain pushes too far; McCoy's stance to hold his point, even though he occasionally goes over the top; the ability to apologize if he does. We get to meet the infamous dietary salad and Kirk's yeoman Rand (about which Kirk is not too happy).
This is one of the few episodes where McCoy gets personally annoyed about Kirk's behavior. Kirk's tendency to push everyone, including himself, can cause problems.
Balance of Terror (09)
Facing a cloaked Romulan vessel that threatens Federation territory, the Enterprise goes on a hunt and seek mission. The episode offers a wonderful scene between Kirk and McCoy, and the start of it is especially revealing. Kirk lies on his bed, wondering if he does the right thing, waiting for something to happen. Yeoman Rand enters, and his serious face doesn't change. Then someone else enters and his face visibly lightens up with a smile - it is McCoy. One of Kirk's "Hornblower" moments follows.
I wish I were on a long sea voyage somewhere. Not too much deck tennis. No frantic dancing.
No responsibility. Why me? I look around that bridge, and I see the men waiting for me to make the next move. And, Bones...what if I'm wrong?
McCoy is very supportive, tender, and exhibits - as often with Kirk - absolutely no cynic trait in such intimate moments.
(BTW, this picture was lately used for a K/S photomanipulation, which shows its potential for pairing debate ;)
A Private Little War (46)
On a planet with two tribes, one tribe is armed with firelocks the Klingons gave them. Kirk ponders to arm the second tribe of his friend Tyree - a plan McCoy doesn't agree with. This episode allows for a deep insight into the conflict of Kirk, the militarist, and McCoy, the pacifist. But it's not Kirk McCoy gets angry about, only the situation, and the disagreement is less between persons and more between philosophies.
Kirk is not happy about the way things evolve, but he feels he can't help it - a timeless problem with no real solution.
This episode has again a very strong clash between McCoy in his role as CMO, who has to see that the captain of a starship is fit, and Kirk, who is obsessed about a deadly cloud that has killed his former captain on the Farragut and is now about to kill the crew of the Enterprise. This situation is exemplary for their possible professional conflicts and for the role as advisor that McCoy plays in Kirk's life. But while he got annoyed about Kirk in"Corbomite Maneuver" (because he feels Kirk should know better), he is plainly worried here.
I can't help how I feel. There's an intelligence about it, Bones. A malevolence. It's evil. It must be destroyed.
To be so obsessed.
That you could destroy yourself, your career, a young boy who reminds you of yourself 11 years ago.
Don't push our friendship past the point where I have to --
I'm not, Jim. This is professional, Captain. I am preparing a medical log entry on my estimation of the physical and emotional condition of a starship captain. Which requires a witness of command grade.
In this episode Spock is backing McCoy (just as McCoy is backing Spock when the Vulcan criticizes Kirk in "Conscience of the King"). Sometimes, Kirk can be really annoying when he feels his command position is threatened in any way.
This episode is a must-see for wonderful character interaction and an insight into Kirk's past and motivations. It is also the base for the wonderful story Like a Cloud by Liz.
Testing a computer that should substitute - ultimately - the captain and bridge crew of a vessel like the Enterprise, Kirk goes through some crisis, wondering if he stands in the way of technological progress. The first big scene between Kirk and McCoy is as they walk along the corridor, while Spock and the scientist Daystrom are installing the computer on the bridge:
Am I afraid of losing command to a computer? Daystrom's right. I can do other things. Am I afraid of losing the prestige and power that goes with being a starship captain? Is that why I'm fighting it? Am I that petty?
If you have the awareness to ask yourself that question, you don't need me to answer it for you. Why don't you ask James T. Kirk? He's a pretty honest guy
Another telling scene happens in Kirk's quarter later, when McCoy brings him a "Finnagle Folly", using this drink as a very male invitation for a talk. McCoy also later explains to Kirk that Dr. Daystroem is obsessed with his creation which he sees more as his child than a computer. This episode has become the ultimate K/Mc episode for me, because their interaction is one of easy, intimate friendship here.
For the World is Hollow, and I have touched the Sky (66)
McCoy is deadly ill with Xenopolycythemia, and Kirk looks as if he's falling apart over it. And a great title.
The Enterprise meets a world inside a planet-size spaceship. It was once built by the Fabrini to save the people of Yonada; however, now it is on a collision course with another world. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the landing party and try to make Natira, the high priestess, understand the problem. McCoy and Natira fall in love, and he feels that she is giving him a reason for living again, even if it might be only for a very short time.
There is a heart-wrenching scene between Kirk and McCoy when McCoy tells Kirk of his decision to stay with Natira:
You're returning with us?
No, I'm not.
Bones, this isn't a planet. It's a space ship on a collision course with Daran Five.
I'm on a kind of collision course myself, Jim.
Dr. McCoy, I order you to return with us.
And I refuse.
Bones, if we can't correct the course of this... ship...we'll have to blast it out of space.
I intend to stay on this ship with these people, whatever happens.
It's very clear that Kirk doesn't want to let McCoy go, but he can't do a thing about it. In the end Spock finds the cure for the illness within the Fabrini's computer banks, so McCoy gets healed and returns to the Enterprise. However, you can just imagine the aftereffects this episode will have on the two of them.
Startrek the Motion Picture (TMP)
Over the impact of the Sickbay scene, where Spock holds Kirk's hand and speaks of "this little feeling", it is often forgotten that the movie starts with a very different angle. We have Kirk on his own, a grounded, obviously rather frustrated Admiral who uses a crisis of world-threatening proportions to get back the command of the Enterprise. This seemed to be planned by Kirk, because when McCoy comes on board, we learn that he doesn't return by his own choice, but was "drafted" by Starfleet that invoked a rarely used clause in the retirement rules.
The following telling scene as taken from the script:
-- I need you...
Were you behind this?
Bones, I need you badly.
Kirk extends his hand again; McCoy delays some moments-- then finally responds. And once done, it is the long hand clasp of two old friends reunited despite their differences.
There are more strong K/Mc scenes. First, when he softly tells Kirk on the bridge not to push his people. Second, when Kirk criticized Decker because of using a torpedo instead of the phasers (which saved all their lives), saying, "Stop competing with me!" When Decker has left, McCoy openly says that it's actually Kirk who competes.
And of course, there is that scene with Spock on the observation deck. But interestingly, Kirk says, "I need him," addressing the words to McCoy and not to Spock, as if he tries telling it to himself, instead of having any hope of reaching Spock. (And it is McCoy who knows that Spock had undergone Kolinahr, and it is McCoy who warns Kirk that Spock might have his own agenda - as we later learn is indeed the fact).
Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan
Some years later, we meet our protagonists again. Kirk, still grounded (or once again, as some fan fiction tells us) and still Admiral, is nearing his 50th birthday and is visibly unhappy about this. Spock gives him a present in form of a book - a beautiful scene between friends, but it is set in the Headquarter, in an official surrounding, and while Spock might share some of the concerns McCoy voices later, he doesn't speak about them.
McCoy, in contrast, comes to Kirk's apartment with a pair of glasses and a bottle of Romulan Ale (forbidden and probably extremely expensive). Once again the drinks are used as catalysts to reach the real point, the moment where McCoy confronts Kirk about his attitude. "Damn it, Jim, what the hell's the matter? Other people have birthdays. Why are we treating yours like a funeral?"
It ends in the following scene:
Bull. You're hiding -- hiding behind the rules and regulations --
And who am I hiding from?
From yourself, Admiral.
(Pause. Kirk pours another drink.)
Don't mince words, Bones; tell me what you really think.
BONES (mild take)
I'm your doctor and I'm your friend, Jim. Get back your command. Get it back before you really do grow old. Before you turn into part of this collection.
So in some ways, nothing has changed - McCoy is once again the one from which Kirk can accept to hear some truths, even invites them. Twenty years after the episode "The Ultimate Computer", their interaction is basically the same. I wish we all had friends like this.
At the end of the movie, Spock is dead and has given his katra to McCoy. In Star Trek III, Kirk has to save both his friends, while in Star Trek IV (the whale movie) they save Earth. Again ;)
Star Trek V - The Final Frontier
Probably the worst of the classic trek movies, and most characters seem to be out of character with the exception of McCoy (makes one wonder how DeForest succeeded with that). However, the campy scene with the bonfire and the marshmallows is a classic, inviting K/S/Mc ideas (or every other possible pairing combination).
Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country
Kirk and McCoy are sitting in the same boat for most of the movie. First they both didn't know about Spock's plans for using the Enterprise as peace dove for the upcoming talks with the Klingon Empire. Then, when the Klingon Chancellor gets killed in a terrorist ambush, Kirk and McCoy, who boarded the Klingon ship to save the Chancellor, are arrested and sentenced to a life-long sentence on Rura Penthe. This movie inspired some fan fiction that takes place in this imprisonment time span, e.g., One Night on Rura Penthe by Scarlet.
And where is Spock?
Spock, the third strong character of TOS - the seemingly unemotional, hard-working, brainy, logical half-Vulcan who has the position of First and Science Officer - usually isn't far away. For me, he is one important part of the triad too. For decades, McCoy fans complained about McCoy being the odd man out in K/S stories, partly even forcefully pushed aside by writers; so it would mean just repeating old weirdness if we did this to Spock now.
Set aside the idea that Spock might have another partner somewhere out there in this universe - what would be possible reasons for Spock to not engage in a relationship with Kirk (or McCoy, as the Spock/McCoy shippers believe)?
- Vulcans might not be made for gay relationships, but have to be bonded to women. There is fan fiction that depicts the Vulcan society as open for gay relationships, but canon gives no hints; in fact, it seems to be quite a hierarchic, tight, traditional society where children are betrothed to their (heterosexual) partners.
- Vulcans might really only have sex every seventh year. Although fanon wants to have a sexually active Spock for good reasons, the canon material and the ideas when Spock's character was built rather point toward Pon Farr as only sexually active time…or at least, "allowed" time. I'm not sure if humans like that :)
- Kirk might be unwilling for that much commitment - and with Spock you usually get the full package with bonding for life in fanon.
- Spock might not be willing to bond with any of them due to his internal conflicts or the possible problems that may arise between a Vulcan's loyalty to his partner and the professional situation, like in the story All the News by Liz.
- Kirk and McCoy might get together before TOS time, where Spock simply isn't around yet (like in Apollo Phycisian by Lyrastar or Summer of '53 by yours truly. In addition to this, some people see Spock and McCoy battling over Kirk's attention in TOS. While I don't see that in a general way, they are definitely both very committed to him. So with a look at a possible K/Mc pairing beneath and a possibly arising K/S pairing, you might get conflicts even between "mature adults indulging in a non-committed relationship". Not my idea of McCoy, and overly used as conflict theme IMO, but something many K/S fans can relay to.
Kirk/McCoy as side-effect of Kirk/Spock
In the TOS zine world, Kirk/McCoy doesn't appear besides in the K/S/Mc mix, the only exception I know of being the Kirk/McCoy story "The Stars Far Away" in the K/S zine "As I do Thee 2". However, this story takes place after the five-year-mission where Spock has left his lover Kirk, and Kirk and McCoy are sharing a night of healing. So the author argues that the story is about K/S and McCoy's unrequited feelings for the two - an opinion I don't share because this story is full of feelings between Kirk and McCoy.
Some online K/Mc stories are based on ST III, where McCoy carries Spock's katra and might act on Spock's motivation rather than his own, e.g. Compulsion by Wildcat or Humans by J.Juls. Several stories include the idea that McCoy loves / wants Kirk, but Kirk doesn't want him the same, e.g., Siddown by UKJess, or wants only Spock, like in No Regrets by Islaofhope.
Of course, as a K/Mc shipper I prefer Kirk and McCoy to start something consciously on their own :)
My Personal Obsession
I was a TOS and mainly Spock fan since the late seventies and dropped into the online fan fiction scene in 2002, soon with an increasing focus on McCoy. One day I was watching "Journey to Babel", where Kirk and McCoy get dressed in Kirk's room, and suddenly it hit me. Good friends indeed - just how good really? From this moment on, they didn't leave me alone anymore.
Points I personally like best or find the most challenging ones:
I think the title of this essay - "Between Friends" - nails it down: the special thing about Kirk and McCoy is the close friendship they share over decades. If and how they go farther, entirely remains to the writer and reader. I and some others, at least, love to give them more than just a manly drink to share.
An original Trek Blooper shot!
Where to Find More
I totally blame that page for fully converting me to Kirk/McCoy. - nerdcakes
- links to all available online stories
- zine information and recs
- episode tidbits and plot bunnies
- pairing discussion
Besides the stories that I already linked in the essay, I want to recommend the series that convinced me of this pairing, namely Liz' Kirk/McCoy series at http://www.allslash.org/tos/trinity.html
Then there is an ongoing Kirk/McCoy fest at http://tostwins.slashcity.net/KMF.htm
Concerning the art, there is very little around so far, mostly by yours truly, which can be found at http://tostwins.slashcity.net/kmpfoto.ht
For general McCoy shipping, check my McCoy Worship page at
Thanks for reading!