Back in 1964, when Gene Roddenberry shot his original pilot for Star Trek, the show was somewhat different. The Captain was not James Kirk, but Christopher Pike and the first officer wasn’t Spock, it was a mysterious woman referred to only as “Number One,” played by actress Majel Barrett (the future Mrs. Gene Roddenberry).
But 1965 was a very different time, and when the original pilot was tested with execs and audiences, they rejected the notion of a woman first officer. Even women in the test audiences allegedly said, “who does she think sheis??” The network demanded that for the second pilot, the first officer should be a man.
Nevertheless, Majel Barrett was still part of the cast when Star Trek finally went on the air in 1966. She was told to bleach her hair blonde and play the ship’s nurse, Christine Chapel. Network execs might not have been cool with a female first officer, but they were more than fine with a blonde in a mini skirt playing a traditional nurse role.
But Majel Barrett would go on to play a much more important role in Star Trek history — she was the voice of the Starfleet computer not only on the original series, but also on all five subsequent Star Trek TV series and several of the films. Although Barrett passed away in December of 2008, she managed to record the voice of the Enterprise computer one last time for JJ Abrams’ Star Trekreboot.
With a new series Star Trek: Discovery on the way in 2017, it would seem this will be the first Trek show without Majel Barrett Roddenberry doing the voice of the starfleet computer. Or is it? According to the official Roddenberry Twitter account (via Bleeding Cool), the so-called “First Lady of Star Trek” recorded an entire library of phonetic sounds, allowing her voice to be used in future products outside of Star Trek and, quite possibly, as the computer voice in Star Trek: Discovery. Which means that she could live on as the voice of Starfleet possibly for all time.
Even if Majel Barrett’s voice isn’t used on Discovery, the Bryan Fuller series will have another tribute to her in the form of the new lead character. On the new show, the ship’s first officer will only be known only as “Number One,” just as in the original pilot episode.
Many fans are are theorizing that both characters may in fact be the same person, since Discovery is set ten years prior to the events of Star Trek’s first season. It would be a great statement — the character who written off for trying to “play in the boys club” would now be front and center fifty years later. How cool would that be?
Star Trek: Discovery debuts on CBS in January, 2017. Subsequent episodes will be available first on the CBS All Access streaming service.