The announcement of new spinoff Star Trek: Strange New Worlds promises to give fans a Trek series with both a modern sensibility and a classic feel, bringing back Captain Christopher Pike, first officer Number One, and science officer Spock for their own set of adventures following their successful introduction on Star Trek: Discovery. It's a series concept that feels, in almost every way possible, like a return to the basics of what made this franchise great in the first place: hope, optimism, and a sense of collective goodness and possibility.
The arrival of Strange New Worlds also offers Star Trek the chance to address one of its oldest flaws: the fact that we have known for decades that the U.S.S. Enterprise once had a female first officer, and we have next to zero idea who she is. Number One originally appears in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Menagerie," though she also played a significant role in the series' original pilot called "The Cage." In these installments, she's smart, capable, and generally awesome, complete with snazzy blue nail polish and a brave willingness to do whatever it takes to avoid becoming a slave on Talos IV.
Unfortunately, the 1960s and NBC brass apparently weren't ready to see a woman in such a position of leadership on this completely imaginary starship, and both the series and its pilot were retooled into the version we all remember.
Most Trek fans are over the moon about the prospect of seeing more of Anson Mount's Captain Pike. (He's pretty much perfect, and everyone should say it.) But his character is also one that is at least somewhat familiar to us. We got to know the man he is now on Discovery. And we know what will become of him after the period in which Strange New Worlds is set. Though there's certainly plenty of bittersweet drama to be mined from the fact that the events of "The Menagerie" loom large in his future, viewers already have something like a handle on the person he is, and the traits that make him unique.
As for Spock … well. We know so much about Spock that Discovery basically had to invent an all-new backstory — including a sister we'd never heard of before — in order for him to play a meaningful role in the show. Will his inevitable friendship with Pike on Strange New Worlds be bromance central? Probably. Are he and Number One tons of fun to watch together? Absolutely. But we all already know that Spock's greatest adventures will still take place long after Strange New Worlds is over, thanks to his friendship with a man named James Kirk and a trip to meet his younger self in an alternate dimension.
But even though Rebecca Romijn appears multiple times in Discovery Season 2, Number One's presence is, sadly, much more minimal than that of her Enterprise crewmates. Spock had all his family drama to deal with, and Pike was busy being the leader everyone needed during a turbulent time. But Number One somehow ended up with relatively little to do on her own. Sure, we got to see her calmly and capably prep the Enterprise for battle. She provides sage advice for Pike at several different points. And she orders her cheeseburger and fries from Discovery's replicator with habanero sauce, which is enough to let most of us know straightaway that this woman is a badass.
In the Short Treks episode "Q&A," we see how Number One met Spock, and Romijn deftly manages to convey a ton of information about her character in what is essentially a 15-minute flashback. Her precision, efficiency, and presence all instantly stand out, and her surprisingly intense love for Gilbert and Sullivan leaves us all pretty desperate to find out more about this woman.
What has her Starfleet experience been like? Did she have a similarly awkward first day herself? Why does she feel she has to conceal some of the more outlandish aspects of her character? How has she experienced sexism and/or misogyny during her rise up the ranks in Starfleet? And how has her relationship with Spock evolved since this point? After all, if the two seem tantalizingly alike, that's on purpose. In The Original Series, Spock's character was retooled slightly to take on more of Number One's more logical traits once her character was no longer part of the show.
Heading into Strange New Worlds, Number One is still a blank slate. We have no idea what happened to her after her time on the Enterprise, or why she is ultimately passed over for the captain's chair that eventually belongs to Kirk. (J/K, we totally know — the answer is misogyny!) We have little idea of where she comes from, why she joined Starfleet, or even what her full name is. And as a result, both her present and her future are tantalizingly wide open.
Strange New Worlds should take this opportunity to tell us about it all, and do so in great detail.
This series can't make up for the fact that network executives and audiences weren't ready to see a woman take charge so overtly in the '60s. But it can show us her story now, and give fans of this era of the franchise another female leader to embrace besides Lieutenant Uhura. Let us see her debating tough choices, experiencing the wonder of first contact, standing up to Pike when needed, making mistakes. In short: Allow Number One to be as fully three-dimensional as any other Starfleet officer who's come before her.
Discovery has done great work showing us powerful women who were busy leading humanity forward from Starfleet and the Federation's earliest days. But there's something to be said for the iconic nature of the Enterprise, its crew, and its status is a symbol of the best of the Trek franchise. As we prepare to return to this iconic set, here's hoping the powers that be take their shot to fix some of the original's biggest mistakes — and craft a better future for fans and the franchise alike.