I understand why Kirk always went–it was yet another opportunity for him to be attacked by some beast that could conceivably rip his shirt off. I understand why Bones went, in case Jim actually got hurt. I’ve never figured out why Scotty, Sulu, or Chekhov would be sent anywhere, but maybe I’m just ignorant of military procedure. I just always wonder why Security personnel Ensign Smith didn’t just flat-out refuse to go after Ensign Jones never came back from the last beam-down.
No, I think it’s just bad storytelling. If you want to tell the story about the captain, let him be the captain, and act appropriately. On the other hand, if you want to tell the story about the head of the landing party (and that would be an interesting job, full of a lot of excitement), then create that character.
And think about all of the interesting plots you can have when the head of your landing party isn’t the captain – do they generally get along? how do they relate to each other in the chain of command? (is the landing party head quasi-independent, like a captain of marines?) how much authority does the landing party head have? (can he call in phaser strikes from the ship if his team is in trouble, for example?) Maybe the landing party head is bucking for the captain’s job, maybe the captain thinks the head is a dangerous hothead and keeps him on a short leash. Maybe they get along fine, but the differing requirements of their jobs will still keep them from agreeing with each other all of the time.
Thinking through a situation and making it more plausible – more related to real people and the ways they relate to each other – only makes a story stronger. Doing it the lazy way may be easier, but it makes for flabby, second-hand storytelling. Trek took the lazy way all too often, through its whole history.
To me, this one is scalable. In the original series, it’s a quirk. You have a starship of around 200 people, so even if a third are sleeping, a third are off-duty, you still oughta have enough to have dedicated boarding/landing parties.
In Enterprise, heck, they had what, 40 people? At that point, he’s not the Captain, he’s the Skipper…and Trip was his Little Buddy.
With the Next Gen, we see it at the most absurd…they had something like 4000+ on their Enterprise, forget the First Officer badgering the Captain to stay home…they ought to have several battalions of landing crews! A small fleet of shuttles! Of course, at the rate they lost 'em in Next Gen, I could believe that last one.
I can almost imagine this conversation…
“Prepare the Galileo for launch!”
‘Um, we lost that shuttle last month in an asteroid field, Sir.’
‘Out of gas on Denobula.’
‘Stolen by Ferengi, along with the Feynman, the Bohr, and the Clerk-Maxwell.’
“What do we have left?”
‘Erm…we have the Bacon.’
“The…did you say, Bacon?”
‘Sir, named for Francis…’
“I know, I know, but still…it’s also a breakfast food!”
“We can’t go down to the planet in a shuttle called Bacon!”
‘Well, we used to have a runabout called the Hertz, but it was just a loaner.’
Kirk was not just the captain but the chief rep for the federation. If they talked to any new civs, Kirk was the diplomat. (stop laughing! he was!)
Spock went down because he was the science officer and he had the tricorder.
Scotty would go to figure out how stuff worked.
McCoy would go in case someone got hurt.
Sulu or Checkov? Ok you got me but really TV shows at the time were simpler than shows today. They had smaller casts and less complicated plots. Perhaps that’s what was wrong with Voyager and Enterprise. They used the model of a 60’s show for today. We’ve got our main plot and a subplot. In the main plot, the ship may be destroyed and end the series. In the subplot something funny may happen or maybe some characters will think about hooking up. (They won’t hook up till the fourth season)
A friend and I used to debate which was the better series: TOS or TNG. TOS was campy and fun, much like the B-horror movies of the '50s. TNG, IMO, depicted a more realistic command structure. In TOS, Kirk & Co. would usually lead the landing parties. In TNG, Picard would usually send subordinates out on the Away Teams. Coming from a military family, Picard was the more realistic captain.