Today, February 23, 2022, would have been the 90th birthday of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. While she certainly is remembered for being “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry’s wife, she was important to the franchise in her own right. Known as “The First Lady of Star Trek,” Majel was born in 1932 and died in 2008. For over 30 of her 72 years, she impacted the stories, the look, and the sound of Trek.
Barrett-Roddenberry appeared in the first version of Trek, “The Cage.” In that first pilot, which NBC famously rejected for being “too cerebral,” Barrett-Roddenberry played Captain Pike’s first officer, who was referred to as simply “Number One.” That was a reference to her rank aboard the Enterprise.
“[Number One] was the first thing [Gene] wrote,” Barrett-Roddenberry told authors Ben Robinson and Ian Spelling in the book “Star Trek: The Original Series – A Celebration.” “He wrote that then he knew he would have a captain.”
Though Number One appeared just once in Trek, she has been rebooted a bit. The character is now played by Rebecca Romijn, who will star next to Anson Mount (Pike) and Ethan Peck (Spock) on the new series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” on May 5, 2022.
When “Star Trek” returned, this time with William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Barrett-Roddenberry returned as well, though not as the ship’s first officer. She worked in the Sick Bay beneath Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Barrett-Roddenberry was a recurring character, Nurse Chapel, throughout the series. She also appeared on “The Animated Series” as Chapel.
She returned to the role in “The Motion Picture,” except Chapel had been to medical school and was Dr. Chapel. When “The Next Generation” hit airwaves in the late 1980s, Barrett-Roddenberry was there as Lwaxana Troi, the overbearing and hilarious mother of Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis).
Lwaxana Troi and the Computer
Lwaxana appeared in multiple episodes of TNG, often as comic relief. She was interested in a romantic relationship with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and later Odo (René Auberjonois) on “Deep Space Nine.” Neither of these gentlemen reciprocated.
One of the most remarkable things she did for “Star Trek” was lend her voice. Barrett-Roddenberry was the “computer” for a generation of fans whenever any character asked for information aboard a starship. This included “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” and “Voyager.” She also lent her voice to five Trek feature films as the computer.
Fan Theory: Barrett-Roddenberry’s Voice
Recently, someone posted a fascinating idea on a “Star Trek” fan group on Facebook. What if the producers of the show and upcoming films found a way to incorporate Barrett-Roddenberry’s voice back into the computer. Thanks to the official Roddenberry Twitter account, we know that her voice was “recorded phonetically.” In 2016, they were “working to get her voice for things such as Siri” and possibly as the computer for “Star Trek: Discovery.”
Rod Roddenberry was unable to get his mom’s voice onto “Discovery” — that honor went to actress Annabelle Wallis.
Thanks to a recent episode of the “Star Wars” show, “The Book of Boba Fett,” fans know now that this is actually possible. Technicians took snippets of Mark Hamill’s voice from the past Wars movies, audiobooks, and other sources to create a “neural network you feed information into, and it learns,” according to GameRant.
“Star Wars” fans complained, saying that Luke Skywalker’s voice sounded “weird” or “stilted,” as Gizmodo reported. But stilted is precisely how a computer voice sounds. This technique would work perfectly should Alex Kurtzman and the other minds at Paramount decide to use Barrett-Roddenberry as the computer’s voice once more.
As for now, “Star Trek” has moved forward with living actors to portray the computer’s voice. Actress Bonnie Gordon is the voice of the Protostar on “Star Trek: Prodigy.”