Update: soon after this article was published, the female lead was confirmed to be called "Number One", but it's still unsure as to whether she is the same character as we saw in the unaired pilot.
After months of waiting, we finally have some details about Star Trek: Discovery. At the Television Critics Association press tour, it was revealed that Discovery will be set ten years prior to The Original Series, LGBT characters will appear, and the lead will be a female Lieutenant Commander. This opens the show up to a plethora of possibilities, and what's especially intriguing is Fuller's hint that the show will focus on an event that is known to fans, but which has never been fully explored.
Discovery seems to be fairly atypical in its approach, as the first show to feature a lead protagonist that is not the chief commanding officer — even Sisko was the commanding officer in Deep Space Nine, although he wasn't promoted to captain until Season 3.
Fuller wants to offer a new perspective in Discovery, giving the show a similar premise as the highly acclaimed The Next Generation episode "Lower Decks". Having followed the senior staff of each Trek iteration, it'll be refreshing to see events from another side. So who is this Lt Commander, and what is her story? Considering the time setting, we may already have met her.
The Top Intellect Of Her Generation
Buried in the annals of Trek history is a character who has intrigued fans for decades. Back when Gene Roddenberry produced the first pilot episode of Star Trek — "The Cage" — he had a different lineup in mind for the series. The captain was Pike, not Kirk, and his first officer wasn't Spock but a character known only as Number One.
As Pike's second in command, Number One was an important member of the senior staff. Roddenberry described her as having a "highly superior computerized mind" — Number One was calm and brilliant, acting to save the captain in "The Cage", seeing through the aliens' ruse quickly, and making the final decision not to bow to their wishes.
This pilot was rejected, as NBC took issue with the cerebral plot, Spock, and Number One. Roddenberry adopted more of a "space cowboy" approach to the show, axed Number One, but fought to keep Spock. Number One remained canon though, as scenes from "The Cage" were re-purposed to form parts of an episode in Season 1 of TOS: "The Menagerie". Fans would have to wait several more decades for a female first officer in the form of Major Kira in Deep Space Nine.
Number One has gained a small but loyal fan following, which is thanks in a large part to her actress — known as the First Lady Of Star Trek, Majel Barrett went on to play both Christine Chapel in TOS, and Deanna Troi's mother in TNG, as well as voicing Federation ships' computers in the shows.
When speaking to the Star Trek Communicator magazine in 2000, Barrett expressed her sadness at being unable to play Number One after "The Cage", as she came up with an interesting backstory for her.
"Number One was born and bred for her job. I had developed my own backstory for her that on her planet, she was raised in a litter, so she was raised for her job. But she had heart. I think you’d have found as she developed that she would have showed that heart. There would have been lots of places to go with that. It was terribly disappointing to not play her because I knew who she was."
Number One later featured in several canon novels, and in 2009 IDW published a comic book series focusing on her formative years in Starfleet.
Could She Appear In Discovery?
There are a few things that point towards Number One possibly being used as the female lead for Discovery. Firstly, her rank: Number One is referred to as Lieutenant in "The Cage", but the Early Voyages comic reveals her rank to be a Lt Commander, which would be the rank required of a first officer in Starfleet. The era Discovery is set in also lines up with Number One — "The Cage" is set thirteen years before Kirk's five year mission, and just three years before Discovery.
So why use Number One as the protagonist, rather than a totally new character? Well, to many people Number One would be a new character, as she never got the chance to appear in The Original Series (minus her few scenes in "The Menagerie"). Using her as the protagonist would allow Fuller to flesh out a character fans have wondered about for decades, while still adding something new to the show. And Fuller's description of the protagonist's journey is certainly intriguing:
"We're going deep into something that was for me always very tantalizing, and [we're telling] that story through a character who is on a journey that is going to teach her how to get along with others in the galaxy. For her to truly understand something that is alien, she has to first understand herself."
For Number One — known to be highly intelligent, but closed off and unemotional — this concept would work perfectly.
Of course, this is all just speculation, and striking connections between Discovery and The Original Series. But even if Number One isn't the protagonist, it's still possible for her to appear in some respect, as a recurring or regular character. We'll just have to keep an eye out for more hints, and keep our fingers crossed that Number One's story will finally be told.
Star Trek: Discovery might be new and exciting, but the crew will be hard pressed to come up with better fighting moves than Kirk...
Tell us in the comments: Would you like to see Number One in Star Trek: Discovery?
[Source: Variety, Star Trek Communicator]