Gates McFadden keeps the crew of the USS Enterprise in the best health that 24th-century science can produce. But she didn't inherit her medical skill from her predecessor.

The star of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" says she wasn't even a fan of the original "Star Trek" series in the late '60s."I didn't watch television very much," says McFadden, who plays Dr. Beverly Crusher on the syndicated "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"I was familiar with the show, but I actually didn't know the characters' names. I knew there was a captain and there was a doctor, but I didn't know that the doctor's name was McCoy or `Bones' and that sort of thing."

Since the debut of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in September 1987, the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-raised McFadden has had a chance to fill in the gaps in her "Trek" education.

"I'm very intimately familiar now, and I really appreciate the old show a lot."

McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and his companions, Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), have become old friends to fans worldwide in the 21 years since the demise of "Star Trek." The 79 episodes that aired from 1966 through 1969 have been shown countless times in syndicated reruns, and the Enterprise crew has flown again in five feature films.

However, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701D conquered a frontier that eluded Kirk & Co. Now in its fourth season, "Next Generation" aired its 80th episode the week of Oct. 29. On that date, "Next Generation" went where no "Star Trek" went before - into the production of 80-plus episodes.

For McFadden, the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise mean more meaty episodes for Beverly Crusher.

"The women's parts are getting stronger this year," says McFadden. "At least mine is. So that's good."

Crusher, the widow of a starship captain, joined the Enterprise with her son, Wesley (Wil Wheaton), in the pilot of "Next Generation" and served faithfully in the first season. She was written out of the series during the second season and replaced by Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur).

McFadden isn't bitter about her unexpected year in intergalactic exile.

"They wanted to go another direction in the character, and then I guess they felt they made a mistake and they wanted to go back to the other character," says McFadden, who returned for the third season. "I had great support from the fans, which certainly couldn't have hurt."

McFadden, who recently co-starred in "Taking Care of Business" and had one of the few female roles in the hit "The Hunt for Red October," made good use of her year's leave.

She did a play in New York called "Emerald City," written by Australian David Williamson, who wrote "The Year of Living Dangerously."

She also taught third-year and graduate acting classes at New York University's Graduate School of the Arts.

Teaching has played an important role in McFadden's professional curriculum. After graduating from Brandeis, where she majored in theater arts, McFadden went to Paris.

She worked as an actress - in French-language productions - and studied with acting teacher Jacques LeCoq.

When LeCoq came to the United States to do a seminar, he brought McFadden to assist. Afterward, she also taught at Lincoln Center, the University of Pittsburgh and her alma mater.

Television doesn't seem like the medium in which you'd be most likely to find McFadden, but she says she enjoys it.

"It's not as enjoyable as theater to me," she says. "Part of the reason is because of the time pressure involved with television . . . and you don't really know where your character's going 'cause there's not really a clear beginning, middle and end. . . . "

She also thinks the show has found its direction.