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Star Trek: Discovery: Number One's Long Journey Back to the Small Screen

Majel Barrett Number One Star Trek

There were more than a few revelations doled during the Star Trek: Discovery panel at Comic-Con International. Wilson Cruz confirmed he'll return as a series regular for Season 2, which means we'll definitely get to see Dr. Hugh Culber again. Showrunner Alex Kurtzman revealed Spock will appear at some point during the season, although he had no news regarding casting. And finally, in what was probably the most unexpected surprise of the afternoon, Anson Mount (Captain Pike) announced that Rebecca Romijn will join the cast as Pike's first officer, Number One.

In retrospect, it makes sense the character would appear; after all, Pike is on a mission to deal with the mysterious red distortions we saw detailed in the Season 2 trailer. Spock has apparently taken leave, and therefore it's doubtful the ship's first officer would be absent as well. And despite Discovery taking some serious liberties with canon by giving Spock a new foster sister and creating a Klingon War that never existed (don't @ me), the show has also deftly and faithfully integrated characters, references and story arcs from the franchise's extensive history into the narrative. Rainn Wilson's Harry Mudd was the perfect mix of homage and update, a more realistically malevolent version of TOS' jolly human trafficker. James Frain's portrayal of Sarek not only evoked Mark Lenard, but also provided new insight into the character's fraught relationship with his son Spock. The addition of Number One is just Discovery's style, and we're excited to see Rebecca Romijn bring her to life for more reasons than one.

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As with Captain Pike, Number One is a character from The Original Series' unaired pilot "The Cage." Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (Majel Barrett at the time) portrayed the highly intelligent executive officer who eventually plays a crucial role in Captain Pike's rescue at the episode's climax. Unfortunately, NBC rejected the pilot for numerous reasons -- in addition to it being deemed too cerebral, Gene Roddenberry claimed network executives didn't like the idea of a woman so high  in the chain of command, and insisted that test audiences shared their opinion. The character was written out of the show, and her logical demeanor and superior intellect lived on in Spock.

NBC's chauvinism is generally accepted as the official reason Roddenberry scrapped the character for the second pilot, but there may have been more to it. According to producer Herbert Solow's Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, NBC had less of a problem with Number One's gender than with what they perceived to be flimsy reasons for Barrett's casting.

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Pike Number One Star Trek

She and Roddenberry were having an affair, and considering Barrett was a virtual unknown at the time, NBC couldn't see its way to making such a controversial character choice, just to enable the show's creator to cast his girlfriend.

Whatever the reason, Roddenberry's decisions to have a black woman on the bridge in the middle of the Civil Rights movement alongside a Russian in the middle of the Cold War, not to mention countless other progressive moves, are part of what made Star Trek so groundbreaking. Regardless of what audiences would've thought of Number One at the time, she does represent a frustrating missed opportunity to depict the future as a place where humans were truly on an equal playing field.

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Luckily, Roddenberry didn't totally throw out "The Cage" when he wrote the second pilot starring the cast and characters we know today. Kirk's five-year mission is set 10 years after the events of Pike's first adventure, and the erstwhile Enterprise captain would actually reappear in a Season 3 episode titled "The Menagerie" (as would Number One, albeit in archival footage), not to mention the J.J. Abrams' films. Number One got the shaft there, too, but it looks like through Discovery, she's finally going to get her due.

Star Trek: Discovery returns for Season 2 in January 2019 on CBS All Access.

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