When Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiers in 2022, a number of original series characters will be returning. One of the most exciting is Number One, originally played by Majel Barrett and more recently by Rebecca Romijn on Discovery.
Viewers got a tantalizing glimpse of Number One, whose given name is Una, in the pilot episode of the original series, “The Cage,” and in footage from that episode that appears in season one’s “The Menagerie.” But of course, she was promptly written out of the show. While making Spock the first officer was the right decision for the series and led to one of television’s most iconic friendships, it’s a shame the writers didn’t find another position for this intelligent, accomplished woman on the bridge. She is clearly command material. Now that she’s making a comeback, let’s take a look at the few of the reasons why she deserves an on-screen captaincy.
She’s not afraid to take matters into her own hands
In addition to being highly intelligent, which one of the Talosians even admits when he says she has “the superior mind” in “The Cage,” Una is also very proactive. In the Discovery episode “An Obol For Charon,” for example, she has serious doubts about reports of Spock committing murder. She chooses to go outside ordinary channels and does some unsanctioned digging to obtain information about his situation. She tells Pike, “I’m not letting him go without a fight.” Later in the episode, Pike tells Michael, “Number One is very resourceful. People have a tendency to end up owing her favors.”
And in the Discovery episode “Such Sweet Sorrow,” the ship is awaiting an attack from Leland and Control, but Number One’s tendency to think ahead saves the day. As the ship is preparing for imminent confrontation, she reveals, “I took the liberty of retrofitting our shuttle and landing pod complement with enhanced phasers and I commandeered the new experimental tactical flyers assuming the shit would hit the fan.”
And going back to “The Cage,” it’s Number One, not Pike, who starts a force-chamber overload of her phaser in an attempt to defeat the Talosians. Clearly, she’s not someone who waits to be told what to do. She comes up with innovative solutions and she takes quick action to implement them. And that’s a highly beneficial trait for a captain to have.
Number One has a soft side
Perhaps the deepest dive we get into Number One’s personality comes in the Short Treks episode “Q&A.” In it, she and Spock, who is reporting to the Enterprise for the first time, are stuck in a turbolift and she’s encouraging him to ask her questions.
She reveals her sense of humor repeatedly throughout the episode. When Spock arrives aboard and loudly announces his name, she replies, “No need to shout, Ensign Spock.” And she refers to one of the professors they both took classes from at Starfleet Academy as a “brilliant monster.”
Most notably, toward the end of the episode, she bursts into song, loudly and animatedly singing “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from Pirates of Penzance. Surprisingly, Spock joins in and even laughs along with her.
In addition, she shows that she has a deep sense of empathy. She notes how unusual it seemed when Spock smiled after beaming aboard, and he tells her he won’t do it in the future. She responds by saying a crew’s strength is in its diversity, and she would never ask a crewmember to conceal their nature. But, she adds, Starfleet officers need to understand how they’re perceived, and keep their “freaky” to themselves, no matter how painful it is. Spock replies, “I’ve been doing that all my life, and it is.” And Number One’s response is, “I know.”
It’s right after this that Una launches into song, leading viewers to believe that her “freaky” is that she enjoys showtunes. But the intensity with which she responds to Spock’s comment about the pain he has experienced suggests she too is burying a part of herself that’s more significant than her love of musical theater. Perhaps she’s referring to her occasionally hinted at feelings for Pike, which she keeps concealed. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. Either way, it allows her to empathize with Spock and probably with other crew members who have similar experiences.
A sense of good humor and the ability to empathize with one’s crew are crucial characteristics for any captain, and Number One demonstrates both in this episode.
She has already been in command, just not on screen
In “Q&A,” Spock asks Number One, “What are the three most salient facts about Captain Pike?” She replies, “One, his capacity for hearing out another point of view is exceeded only by his willingness to change his own once he’s heard you out. Two, even though he is the most heavily decorated fighting captain in Starfleet, he views resorting to force as an admission of failure. And three, he is utterly unsentimental except when it comes to horses.”
She demonstrates similar traits (minus the attachment to horses) herself as a commanding officer in the Star Trek comics. In IDW’s Star Trek: Romulans – Schism, she serves as commodore of the USS Yorktown. And in Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, she is promoted to admiral and continues her command of the Yorktown. So she has already been envisioned as a character who is up to the challenge when it comes to being in command, we just need to see that conception of her on-screen.
Since her first appearance in “The Cage,” Una has demonstrated her toughness and intelligence, and she has continued to exhibit those traits in Discovery. She has also shown an invaluable ability to relate to her crew. And in the comics, she has already proven herself to be a capable leader. We know she can’t become captain of the Enterprise, of course, since Kirk takes over after Pike. But it would be amazing to see her promoted to captain of a Starfleet vessel of her own at some point during her tenure on Strange New Worlds.