Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has finally given Star Trek: The Original Series‘ Number One (Majel Barrett) from TOS’ unaired pilot “The Cage” the backstory she’s deserved for 56 years. When Strange New Worlds‘, Number One (Rebecca Romijn), first appeared in Star Trek: Discovery season 2, the character was essentially a blank canvas. This is because Majel Barrett’s original character was never seen again after scenes from “The Cage” were re-purposed for the TOS 2-parter “The Menagerie.”
The lack of knowledge about Number One has allowed Strange New Worlds’ writing team to approach her as a fresh and completely new character, giving her a backstory that built to season 1’s cliffhanger ending. The most notable thing about Strange New Worlds’ Number One is that her presence on the bridge isn’t a novelty. She’s part of a far more diverse bridge crew than in Star Trek‘s unaired pilot, so it’s a welcome change from the 1960s’ casting in “The Cage”. However, this isn’t the only change that Strange New Worlds has made to Number One’s character.
5 Number One Has A Name
The biggest change to Number One is that the writers finally gave her an actual name. In Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote in his original series outline, Star Trek Is…, Number One was “Never referred to as anything but “Number One”, this officer is female. Almost mysteriously female.” It’s a very thin character sketch from Roddenberry, and it’s not surprising that network executives didn’t warm to Majel Barrett’s Number One, although attitudes in the 1960s made the female First Officer a hard sell regardless.
It may have taken over five decades but Strange New Worlds season 1 finally addressed this oversight. Viewers knew from the Short Treks episode “Q&A” that Number One is called Una, but Strange New Worlds confirmed her full name as Lt. Commander Una Chin-Riley, who is no longer “mysteriously female.” Something as simple as finally giving Number One a name helped to humanize the character in the way that Gene Roddenberry’s original concept failed to do.
4 Una Was An Inspiration To La’an Noonien-Singh
Strange New Worlds revealed more information about Una’s life prior to serving on the Starship Enterprise, too. It’s revealed via the backstory of Lt. La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) that Una served aboard the USS Martin Luther King Jr. which was sent to rescue the survivors of a brutal Gorn attack that left the young La’an orphaned. The experience understandably left a lasting impression on La’an, not just in how she approached the Gorn in Strange New Worlds, but in her future career choices.
La’an joined Starfleet because Una had inspired her at this traumatic, but formative moment in her childhood. The two officers were very close, and had a reputation for being overly serious, something they attempted to redress in the comedy episode “Spock Amok”, by having fun playing Enterprise Bingo together. However, La’an would later clash with Una over the revelations about the latter’s genetic augmentations, something that the descendant of Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) knows about all too well.
3 Number One Is A Genetically-Engineered Illyrian
Strange New Worlds revealed that Una was not, as some may have assumed, human. She’s actually an Illyrian, a member of a species who were ostracized from the Federation because they practice eugenics. As an Illyrian, Una tragically couldn’t join Starfleet because the genetic modifications conducted by the Illyrians were in contravention of the ban on Augments, established following Earth’s Eugenics Wars.
Una’s heritage is revealed in “Ghosts of Illyria” which saw the Enterprise sent to an abandoned Illyrian colony, where they were exposed to a deadly contagion. The modifications to Number One’s genetics allowed her to literally burn the contagion from her system, and ultimately save the entire Enterprise crew from death. It’s also revealed that, as an Augment, Una also has superior strength, something which she largely keeps to herself until she really needs to deploy it.
2 Una Lied To Starfleet To Gain Entry
Because Starfleet banned Augments from joining the Academy, Una was forced to lie about where she came from to fulfill her childhood dream of seeing the stars. When Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) discovered the truth, they stuck by their colleague and protected her from being discovered by Starfleet Command. Unfortunately, her lies caught up with her when Number One was arrested by Starfleet security in Strange New Worlds‘ season 1 cliffhanger.
The rights of Augments have been at the forefront of Star Trek recently. Admiral Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) argued for another genetically augmented alien, D’al R’El (Brett Gray) to join Starfleet as a warrant officer in Star Trek: Prodigy. Unfortunately, even if Pike and the Enterprise crew get Una re-instated, the situation for Augments won’t improve for centuries. It’s a real failing of the Federation, especially as Una is a brilliant and dedicated Starfleet Officer serving on their flagship. If she and Janeway can’t turn the tide of centuries of Starfleet prejudice and guarantee a better future for Star Trek‘s Augments, then it remains to be seen who can.
1 Number One Knows About Pike’s Tragic Fate
One of the smartest moves in plotting Strange New Worlds was giving Pike the foreknowledge of the devastating accident that would eventually see Spock (Leonard Nimoy) risk a court-martial to improve his former captain’s quality of life in TOS’ “The Menagerie”. This added an edge to Pike as a character, allowing him to take more risks, but also ponder ways to avoid his tragic fate. Una was key to this, because she, like Spock, was also made aware of Pike’s impending, disastrous fate.
Number One advised Pike not to sit back and let the accident happen, inspiring him to continue commanding the Enterprise while also pondering a way to change the future. After Pike changed TOShistory in Strange New Worlds season 1’s alternate future, he now knows that he has to accept his eventual fate. But the fact that Una and Spock share this knowledge gives him some comfort. It’s a smart move that has allowed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to play with audience expectations and develop minor characters like Number One into integral figures in the wider Star Trek story.
MORE: Discovery’s Saru & Georgiou Set Up SNW’s La’an & Number One