A lot of times in Star Trek, we tend to focus on the captains. After all, it’s their ship, right? Everyone else is just following orders. But I think it’s high time the second-in-commands got their day in the captain’s chair — after all, the heroine of the newest Star Trek TV series will be among their ranks.
Star Trek: Discovery showrunner Bryan Fuller appeared on Nerd World Report last week and said the protagonist of the next Star Trek series would be called “Number One”. This confirmed what we already knew about the main character, that she would be a commanding officer but not the captain of her ship.
Number One was originally a moniker adopted by the Royal Navy to describe a first officer or second-in-command on a ship. (It’s also one of Captain Picard’s favourite things to yell out as he’s entering or leaving a room.) Fuller said the name choice is actually an homage to Star Trek‘s original Number One from the unaired pilot. However, every single Star Trek series has had a dynamic second-in-command, each with their own story and perspective.
Star Trek: The Original Series unaired pilot, “The Cage”
Played by: Majel Barrett
Number One, the unnamed character from “The Cage”, was Pike’s first lieutenant who defied her alien captors and helmed the ship in the captain’s absence. She was calm, cool-headed and didn’t let her emotions get in the of her duty.
According to creator Gene Roddenberry, NBC didn’t like that. They felt it would be best not to have a woman in a leadership role on a starship, because it would make audiences uncomfortable. Producer Herbert Solow denied it in his book, Star Trek: The Real Story, saying it was actually because Roddenberry and Barrett were having an affair. However, NBC still insisted Roddenberry give the role to a man.
Roddenberry ended up using a lot of Number One’s traits for Spock’s character, and Barrett stayed on as a vital part of the Star Trek franchise. She voiced the computer for most of the Star Trek series and films. She also played Nurse (later Doctor) Christine Chapel on The Original Series and Ambassador Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi’s mother, on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Footage of Barrett’s role as Number One was later used in the “Menagerie” episode of The Original Series.
Star Trek: The Original Series
Played by: Leonard Nimoy / Zachary Quinto
Spock was the only recurring character to transition from the unaired pilot to Star Trek: The Original Series. The half-Vulcan, half-human science officer is one of the most distinguished members of the federation.
Working alongside Captain James T. Kirk, we saw Spock (whose first name is apparently impossible for humans to pronounce) settle into a role as the calm and logical one, to balance out Kirk’s brashness. But he wasn’t completely devoid of emotion, given the fact that he was half human.
Spock quickly became a fan favourite and a sex symbol, with actor William Shatner sometimes fearing that Spock was overshadowing him on the series. In fact, the show’s controversial interracial kiss was originally supposed to be between Uhura and Spock, but Shatner asked for it be him instead.
Even though Leonard Nimoy always had a love-hate relationship with the character of Spock (he especially hated the ears), he still recognised how important the character was, and still is, for millions of Star Trek fans. After the series ended, he said, “If I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”
Commander William Riker
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Played by: Jonathan Frakes, Jonathan Frakes’ beard
The quintessential “Number One”, Captain Picard called Riker that so many times I swear we almost forgot his name. Commander Riker definitely went through some changes over the course of the series. In the first couple of seasons, he was the young, hot-headed first officer to balance out Captain Picard’s calm demeanour. However, over time he became more patient and reserved, learning and growing from Picard’s leadership.
Through it all, Riker’s loyalty to the Enterprise was never in question. He repeatedly turned down offers of his own command, only accepting one at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. His loyalty to the cast is also famous. The Next Generation cast continually calls him the best director they ever had on the series.
One of the most famous things about Commander Riker was his beard. Riker was clean-shaven for the first season of the show, but between seasons he acted in a Civil War mini-series, so he grew a beard. Gene Roddenberry thought it looked “more nautical” so he told Frakes to keep it. That beard is synonymous with TNG’s improved show quality, hence the phrase “growing the beard” (the opposite of “jumping the shark”).
Colonel Kira Nerys
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Played by: Nana Visitor
Kira Nerys was not a part of Starfleet, but that’s exactly why Commander (later Captain) Sisko wanted her on board. When the Federation agreed to keep an eye on Bajor after the Cardassians retreated, Sisko requested a Bajoran first officer onboard the Deep Space Nine outpost to improve relationships with the budding government.
Kira Nerys, a former underground revolutionary, started out as stubborn and hot-headed, opposed to the Federation’s presence in the Bajoran province. Over time, she and Sisko developed a warm and loving friendship of mutual respect — thanks in no small part to Sisko’s role as the emissary to the Prophets.
One of Kira’s most defining qualities was her unquestionable faith. Throughout her entire life, her faith in the Prophets was what kept her going through occupation, slavery and the resistance. It showed a softer, more compassionate side of the character, but it also came with its problems. Mainly, when Kira put faith before duty, like when she defended teaching Bajoran creationism in public school. She did grow to be more tolerant over the series, but her faith didn’t waver.
Side note, the producers of the series originally wanted Ensign Ro Laren to play Sisko’s first officer in Deep Space Nine, but the actress refused the role, so they created a new (and much better) character instead.
Lieutenant Commander Chakotay
Star Trek: Voyager
Played by: Robert Beltran
Umm… well… yikes. Where do I start with this guy? He was Native American, I guess, and he had a cool face tattoo. Let’s face it, Chakotay was boring. And, if you go by the criticisms from people in the Native American community, divisive. Some praised his role as ground breaking, others compared him to Tonto from The Lone Ranger.
Chakotay was a Maquis fighter who, alongside his crew, got pulled some 70,000 light years away into the Delta Quadrant, where the group joined forces with the Voyager to ensure their mutual survival. Captain Kathryn Janeway gave Chakotay the field commission of Lieutenant Commander, hoping to close the divide between the Federation officers and Maquis rebels.
Chakotay served as Janeway’s quasi-enforcer on the ship. He wouldn’t tolerate any bull from those serving under him, and was not afraid of dressing down someone if it helped get the job done. As fellow writer James Whitbrook put it, “If Voyager was a family, Chakotay was the stern dad who’d tell those damn kids like it is.”
Star Trek: Enterprise
Played by: Jolene Blalock
T’Pol was the first Vulcan officer to serve for a long time on a human ship. She served as Sub-Commander for the Vulcan High Command to keep an eye on Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew, because the Vulcan High Command were a bunch of dicks who didn’t think Scott Bacula could steer a ship. She grew to care for them, partially because she was more emotional than the typical Vulcan. The Vulcans kept trying to get her off the ship, but she said no, eventually resigning from High Command to join Starfleet.
The character also caused a bit of controversy, mainly regarding her outfits. Her catsuit-like wardrobe was criticised for needlessly over-sexualising the character. The producers denied this early on, but started leaning more heavily on Blalock’s figure as the show’s ratings tanked. T’Pol got more costumes (40 altogether) and her cleavage continually got lower. She also was the subject of Star Trek‘s first nude scene, showing her full naked backside, which actually got censored in the US.
I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, so any details I give about the character are second-hand. If you enjoyed T’Pol and want to add something you especially liked about the character, more power to you.