Ole Doc Methuselah vs Captain Kirk


Guest blogger John Carey

Advancing a younger civilization ahead by thousands of years in one small jump is thought to be inhumane and can certainly cause huge problems for the natives. Imagine giving a ferocious tribal leader the secret to building an atomic bomb when he has only known hate for his enemy and has had no exposure to the humanities. Several science fiction creators have wrestled with this moral dilemma by laying down laws to prevent interference with native governments, customs, and skirmishes. Two famous examples are the Soldiers of Light’s Directive from Ole Doc Methuselah and the Prime Directive from Star Trek.

Science Fiction Heroes Traveling the Universe

Ole Doc Methuselah is the main character in a series written by L. Ron Hubbard. The first story was published in 1947 and continued with six additional tales, the last in 1950. In 1970, all seven short stories were collected and published as Ole Doc Methuselah. The stories describe the doctor’s unending journey through the trackless galaxy, where he visits many planets, encountering double-dealing, mutation, and unpredictable alien worlds.

Nearly twenty years after the first Doc Methuselah story, Star Trek, a space-opera series created by Gene Roddenberry, aired in 1966. Captain Kirk narrates the opening scene of each episode, saying the following words: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before!”

The show continued for three seasons and has been in almost constant syndication since. In 1986, 20 years after it first aired, Star Trek was the most popular syndicated series ever. It became a cult favorite and has led to seven other spin-offs, three animated series, and several feature films.

Military Officers Ignoring Prime Directives

In Ole Doc Methuselah, the eponymous doctor operates under a directive issued by his alliance—The Soldiers of Light. This highly esteemed group consists of 600 long-lived physicians with supreme skill who travel the universe. Their directive states: “It shall be unlawful for any medical officer to engage in political activities of any kind, to involve himself with law, or in short, aid or abet the causes, petty feuds, personal vengeances….” Yet, in every encounter the doctor finds himself in, he acts specifically in opposition to this directive. His four-armed alien servant and constant companion, Hippocrates, often reminds him not to get involved, but Ole Doc ignores his advice.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk is a star fleet commander of the USS Enterprise and her crew. His orders include the Prime Directive and noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. The core concept was that Star Fleet personnel should not interfere in the natural growth of a society, even if it were well-intentioned. Yet Captain Kirk breaks the Prime Directive numerous times. One Reddit user, GoNINzo, says Kirk favors one faction over another three times, rescues someone or a civilization three times, and interferes with development or laws six times. In one episode, First Officer Spock, a Vulcan, notes that interference with a planet’s development could interfere with the Prime Directive; Kirk excuses the interference.

Interfering with Political Control of a Planet

Her Majesty's Aberration illustration by Edd CartierIn “Her Majesty’s Aberration” from Ole Doc Methuselah, the doctor is immediately taken prisoner upon landing on a planet, and brought before the queen. In an earlier uprising, a bomb killed the king and disfigured her face. In retaliation, she imprisoned the royal guards who failed to protect her and replaced them with former prisoners. She ruled with an iron fist, turning her kingdom into a prison planet.

The doctor uses his advanced medical skills to restore the queen’s former beauty while using hypnotism to coax her off the throne. The doctor then retrieves her son from prison and installs him as king. These actions break the directive the doctor supposedly follows and smash it to smithereens. However, the reader understands that Methuselah has achieved a better situation for every citizen and agrees with the actions.

In Star Trek’s “A Piece of the Action,” the ship and crew travel to Sigma Iotia to search for a long-lost ship named the Horizon. Spock warns Captain Kirk that their interference on the planet could violate the Prime Directive, but Kirk reasons that the planet’s contact with the Horizon already contaminated its culture.

Upon beaming down, they find the entire society modeled after Chicago’s mob bosses of the 1920s, obviously copied from a book left by the crew of the Horizon. One mob faction imprisons Kirk and his companions and then demands phasers in exchange for their release. After several twists and turns, Kirk prevails and agrees to peacefully unite the competing mobs into a single syndicate under the Federation’s control. This unites society rather than allowing it to break into complete anarchy, but it is still certainly a significant break from the Prime Directive.

Enabling the Working Class

The Great Air Monopoly illustration by Edd CartierIn the story “The Great Air Monopoly” from Ole Doc Methuselah, the doctor lands and finds guards herding a group of enslaved humans. He takes care of the guards but the citizens, suddenly freed, won’t leave because they have no money to pay the air tax which is why they were sold into slavery to start with. The people who don’t pay the air tax have extreme difficulty breathing until an “air” capsule is exploded around them. (It is actually a dose of Benadryl.)

After investigating the town, Ole Doc finds that the ruler of the planet is spreading huge amounts of pollen into the planet’s atmosphere and then selling the citizens a common asthma medicine in the form of a canister of “air.” In this story, Ole Doc took sides, aided the enslaved people, and took personal vengeance on the criminals, all while having no moral compunctions about breaking his directive in doing so.

In Star Trek’s episode “The Cloud Minders,” Kirk and Spock are captured by Troglytes when they beam down to the planet Ardana to pick up the mineral zenite. Soldiers from the sky-city Stratos beam down and free the crew while the rebels run away. Once up in the luxurious sky-city, Kirk and Spock discover that the dwellers there treat the Troglytes as inferior beings undeserving of any privileges.

Back on the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy discovers that fumes from the mined-zenite decrease a person’s mental capacity, but the effects are reversible. When Kirk tries to explain this to the sky-city leader, Plasus accuses Kirk of interfering with the workings of a local government and then halts the conversation.

By the end of the episode, Kirk offers assistance to mediate the Troglyte’s issues. By this time, he has violated the Prime Directive in multiple ways; yet it was done to liberate people who were being held down mentally and politically by the ruling class.

Freeing Slaves

The Expensive Slaves illustration by Edd CartierIn Ole Doc Methuselah’s “The Expensive Slaves,” George Arlington built an empire on Dorab using indentured laborers. The desperate people only had to provide seven years of labor, but none survived that long. While seeking out slaves who could withstand the rigors of his planet, Mr. Arlington fought and captured 900 beings from Sirius Sixty-eight.

At some point later, Arlington reaches out for help because a plague is decimating the people on his planet while the unaffected enslaved people are threatening revolt. Doc has a duty to help, but is reluctant because of his disagreement with slavery.

After performing autopsies on the dead citizens, he convinces the planet’s owner to transport the enslaved people back to their home planet so as not to infect the Dorab further. Ole Doc directly interferes in the politics and business dealings of the planet but frees the people and ensures they will never be enslaved again, so it appears breaking his directive was the right thing to do.

In Star Trek’s episode, “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” three Providers (disembodied brains) rule the planet and have the enslaved people fight each other while the rulers bet on the outcome.

Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov are kidnapped by the planet’s rulers and forced to train for upcoming arena fights. Kirk explains the concept of slavery to his trainer and tries to get information about how the collars, which inflict pain, are controlled. He doesn’t make any headway with that track.

Kirk eventually realizes the way to these masters is through betting, so he bets his crew can win. If so, they have to be set free. If they lose, the entire ship’s crew will become slaves to fight in the arena. Kirk wins, and all of the enslaved people’s collars are removed.

Kirk breaks the directive in this case, but he saves himself and his crew.

Heroes Worthy of Admiration

So, Ole Doc Methuselah and Captain Kirk share many similarities. Both traveled the universe and had a prime directive not to interfere, yet they often did so. However, whenever the officers broke this law, it was done on a humanitarian basis rather than for personal gain.

These leaders each had a strong colleague who assisted them, warned them, and, at times, was frustrated by them. They respected their friend’s companionship but never let it interfere with their decisions.

Both men traveled the universe, encountering alien worlds. Whether or not the strangers they encountered shared their DNA or not, the human traits of greed, envy, megalomania, and vice were often found at the root of the problems.

Both protagonists were strong and admirable men who sought to better any world they found. Ole Doc Methuselah and Captain Kirk worked tirelessly to free people from whatever it was that was trapping them, even if they had to disobey their directives in doing so. They both were the stuff of legends that will live on through time!

John Carey paid the bills working as a programmer and IT project manager while he honed his writing skills at night and on the weekends. John has just published his second book, Not Worthy of the Air you Breathe set in the future where nations have taken a cue from the business world and terminate their low performing citizens at the end of each year.

2 replies
  1. Jerry Harding
    Jerry Harding says:

    I really appreciated Reading about Ole Doc Methuselah & Captain Kirk. Their similarities were amazing! New insights into both of them!❤️✅

  2. Michel Servais
    Michel Servais says:

    I just ordered two copies of OLE DOC METHUSELAH, No doubt a great read and a gift to some of my Star Trek fans . Thank you bridge for making me aware of this book.


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