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Memo Offers Unique Twist To 'Number One' Role

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's character from 'The Cage' received alternate pitch

Most fans know the story of Star Trek’s beginnings, of how the original second-in-command of the Enterprise was a woman named “Number One,” and how the character was dropped from the cast at the network’s insistence. But until recently, we didn’t know that Number One nearly had a second chance at life in the original series, but in a very different form.

Star Trek’s first pilot episode, titled “The Cage,” was rejected by NBC in early 1965. After that near-death experience, Roddenberry somehow persuaded the network to give him a second chance, and he was allowed to produce a second pilot episode. That episode was “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Written by veteran television scribe Samuel A. Peeples, it introduced the character of James T. Kirk and successfully sold the concept of Star Trek for network television.

In our research for one of our book projects, we uncovered a fascinating memo from Peeples to Roddenberry. The memo, written in April 1965 after the rejection of “The Cage” but before Peeples wrote “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” contains a number of recommendations for “fixing” the Star Trek concept for the second pilot.

Two of Peeples’ notes stand out. The first is a simple observation that the mission of the Enterprise wasn’t defined in “The Cage.” This may have been the initial thought that led to the “Space, the final frontier” prologue in the main title sequence. Peeples himself contributed the motto, “where no man has gone before” in his title for the second pilot episode.

The other Peeples note that caught our eye was a fascinating suggestion for the character of “Number One.” Played by Majel Barrett in “The Cage,” Number One was the second-in-command of the Starship Enterprise. Casting a woman as a senior officer was a potentially ground-breaking role. Nevertheless, the network specifically asked for the character to be cut.

Peeples suggested that Number One might be resurrected, not as a human officer, but as the personality of the ship’s computer. Peeples postulated that in Star Trek’s history of future space flight, astronauts (presumably all male, given the fact that this was the early 1960s) encountered psychological problems during extended missions without female companionship. This problem was solved by giving ships’ computers a female voice and programming them for simple conversation.

In the case of the Enterprise, however, an upgrade gone awry would have given the computer a “personality circuit,” that of a woman in love with Capt. Pike. Peeples suggested that this woman, named “Number One,” might be fully capable of thinking for herself, that she’d enjoy playing chess with the ship’s doctor and that she would “watch out for the entire ship’s complement ... even to the point of going contrary to their wishes, if it is in their best interests.” In such cases “she becomes all machine — with potentials no human can ever approach.” Number One, however, would sometimes be “vain,” “jealous” and “capable of pouting like any female when things don’t work out her way.”

Needless to say, this Number One never made it onto the Enterprise. The original Number One did appear in flashback scenes in the two-part episode “The Menagerie” during Star Trek’s first season. The original episode, “The Cage,” was released for syndication many years later and is included in the Blu-ray release of the remastered series’ third season.

Peeples’ pouty computer did make a brief appearance in “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” by D.C. Fontana, when the computer got an upgrade, much to the chagrin of Kirk.

Roddenberry later resurrected the name “Number One” as a nickname for Cmdr. Will Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." And, of course, the late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who played Number One in “The Cage,” provided the voice of the Enterprise computer throughout the original series as well as the spinoff shows, and even in the 2009 movie.

Barrett-Roddenberry played the mysterious Number One in the first Star Trek pilot episode. A completely different Number One might have become a very unusual member of the Enterprise crew had Gene Roddenberry followed the advice of Peeples.

Story originally posted July 22, 2009. © 2015 Michael and Denise Okuda.

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