Behind every good Starfleet Captain on Star Trek is a reliable second-in-command.
The first officer, or Number One, as they’re sometimes called, advises the Captain, steps in to take the lead when needed, and has earned the respect and loyalty of Captain and crew alike. Sometimes these skilled individuals aren’t even officially a part of Starfleet when they start out, but never is there any doubt that they’re the best ones for the role when things need to get done. Over the years we’ve been introduced to some very different first officers in Star Trek, and while some are more interesting than others, they all share many of these qualities.
But who’s the best of the first officers we’ve met in the TV universe so far? Here’s how I’d rank these Number Ones.
Number One (The Original Series)
The original first officer created for the Enterprise was never given a name on screen beyond Number One. The character played by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was featured in the unaired pilot “The Cage,” the footage of which was then used for the season one two-parter “The Menagerie.” Even though she only appeared here, it’s clear she’s a very capable and reliable officer who Captain Pike values. When they first go down to the planet Talos IV, Pike explains that he has to leave her, the most experienced officer on the ship, behind to cover them. Then when Pike is kidnapped by the Talosians, Number One clearly takes charge and is the one Spock and the rest of the crew look to for a final decision about their plans. Even when she is captured as well, she doesn’t lose her resolve. She goes beyond Pike’s offer to stay behind in exchange for the two Enterprise crewmembers to be set free. She sets a phaser on overload, making it abundantly clear to the aliens that humans would prefer death to captivity. She doesn’t need to be ordered to do this. She immediately evaluates their situation and does what has to be done.
Though I thoroughly like Number One and think she’s a great first officer, we didn’t see her in action as much as the others so it’s hard to truly compare her and place her above them on this list. Still, I have a feeling if she’d been in more episodes, she definitely would have been closer to, well, number one here. It will be good to see the character honored on the upcoming show Star Trek: Discovery.
Chakotay brought an interesting perspective to the bridge of Voyager, but his potential was never really followed through. A member of Starfleet before leaving to join the Marquis, he ends up working with Captain Janeway by becoming her first officer and helping combine the two crews when they all end up stuck in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay was often a good counterpoint to Janeway, both supporting her decisions and questioning her when it was necessary. A skilled officer, he could be trusted to take care of Voyager and her crew as they faced many different situations in the mostly unexplored area of space.
That being said, Chakotay was never really explored as a character much beyond this. Even the actor who portrayed him, Robert Beltran, has been quite vocal about that issue. It was a missed opportunity, especially since Chakotay was the first Native American to be a main character on a Star Trek series. While a step forward in representation, exploring that aspect of his character would often unfortunately fall into the range of stereotypes on the show as well.
Enterprise is often thought of as not the most beloved series among fans, but one part of the show that I feel was done quite well was making T’Pol Captain Archer’s second in command. With T’Pol on the ship, we were truly able to get a sense of why Vulcans and humans didn’t get along so well during these early years. She breaks the record for a Vulcan staying on a human ship, lasting more than 10 days, allowing us to see how that relationship changes as T’Pol and the crew get to know each other better. The dynamic between her and the others helped make her a fascinating first officer, as they all have to learn to trust each other in such different times from the other series. Over time the crew comes to know that T’Pol will always have their backs, getting the job done efficiently and exceptionally well, and she becomes willing to stick by them no matter what. She opens up more as time passes and it’s great to see her relationships with the others evolve, especially Archer.
Unfortunately T’Pol was often sexualized as she was always in a tight catsuit or revealing outfit. It felt like she was held back from being a great first officer by being put in ridiculous situations just to appear sexy to the audience, not because it was empowering to her in any way. These situations took away a bit from the character as more time was spent on them instead of other aspects of her character, but despite them she will always be an interesting second in command.
William Riker (The Next Generation)
When people think Star Trek and Number One, William Riker is most likely the character that jumps to mind first. The first officer to Captain Picard started on The Next Generation without a beard and with a slightly more inexperienced approach to things. However throughout the show, and once the beard appeared, Riker grew and became a much more experienced, disciplined officer. His development personally and professionally on the show made him a very interesting character to watch. In any situation the Captain and crew came to trust that Riker would know what he was doing even if it seemed potentially risky.
Riker stayed with the Enterprise as first officer even when he received more than one offer to become the Captain of other ships, showing how much he was loyal to the starship, Captain, and crew. Riker was an impressive character and a great first officer, and his rapport with Picard is one of the most memorable in the franchise.
Kira Nerys (Deep Space Nine)
My love for Deep Space Nine may have influenced my placement of Kira Nerys on this list, but I honestly believe she’s close to being the best first officer Star Trek has ever had. Kira offered a very different personality for the role of first officer due to her tough life as a resistance fighter on Bajor. She was unlike those Number Ones that came from Starfleet or Vulcan. Kira was used to doing things in a different way from Commander-then-Captain Sisko and the others, which meant in the beginning she clashed with them. She was never afraid to speak her mind and do things differently. Even with this, over time her and the others truly came together as a crew, respecting each other’s opinions, trusting each other and becoming friends. She brought a fresh perspective to what we were used to hearing from the Federation officers, not just in strategy or operations but when it came to other matters as well like religion and politics. Her relationship with Sisko for example received a whole other layer to it when it became clear he was the Emissary.
Kira was an exceptional and inspiring leader who we were able to watch evolve through the seasons, seeing her opinion about the Federation and even Cardassians change over the years. Considering since the original Number One a woman had not been in the first officer role before either, it was also great to see a strong multi-dimensional woman in the role at this time as well!
Spock (The Original Series)
It’s only logical that Spock is my choice for the best first officer in all of Star Trek. Given more than one episode in The Original Series, the half-Vulcan, half-human really started the trend of talented, interesting Number Ones who would do anything for Captain and crew. His friendship with Captain James T. Kirk is legendary. He was exactly the partner on the bridge that Kirk needed on his five-year mission. Offering different points of view and also supporting Kirk, Spock always had ideas for how to achieve their goals or get out of sticky situations. He was an excellent first officer that the crew trusted and believed in, even if McCoy liked to tease him and trade barbs every once in awhile.
Spock’s struggle with following the Vulcan way while dealing with his human emotions also made him a fascinating character. There was much more to him than following orders and doing what was right or expected of him. It’s what made Spock as Kirk would say “the most human” and the very best Number One to—so far—ever be in Star Trek.
Who’s your number one Number One? Tell us in the comments!