In 50 years, a lot of things have changed in the world of Star Trek. Several crews and a variety of ships have uncovered hundreds of new lives and civilizations, on the franchise’s way to becoming an international phenomenon. If there have been any constants within the Star Trek universe, it’s been creator Gene Roddenberry’s unique vision and the behind-the-scenes influence of his long-time companion, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. One of the franchise’s driving forces, the actress and producer first appeared in The Original Series as Nurse Chapel, and later on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as Deanna Troi’s meddling mother Lwaxana.
As beloved as her onscreen characters have been, her most iconic Trek role undoubtedly belongs to her voice. As the ship’s computer, Roddenberry has guided numerous crews on their many missions, aiding with riddles and providing a source of reassurance. Her now familiar dulcet tones might even make their return for CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery, as well as finding a new home on phones everywhere.
Despite her passing in 2008, a recent message from the Roddenberry Twitter account (via Gizmodo) announced that “Majel’s voice is recorded phonetically,” adding that “we’re working to get her voice for things such as Siri.” Theoretically, with her voice stored syllable by syllable in an archive, the late actress could power thousands of fans’ smartphones and tablets, responding reassuringly to their questions and direction requests – assuming Apple allows third-party apps that is. If the tech company says no, it wouldn’t be surprising if app developers create their own of Roddenberry’s voice for Google or Window’s Siri equivalent, Cortana.
That’s not all the Trek people have in mind, though. In the second half of the tweet, @Roddenberry discussed the possibilities of the one-time Nurse Chapel becoming the “voice of the computer on #STDiscovery.” Since her son Rod Roddenberry is an executive producer on the latest series, the producers may have a genuine interest in using her stored vocals as the USS Discovery’s LCARS (or Library Computer Access/Retrieval System). If so, the First Lady of Star Trek could posthumously play a role in every single small screen adaptation, including the Animated Series.
Of course, Bryan Fuller and company may not integrate her voice at all or could simply employ it for an episode or two – like their predecessors on Enterprise. However, using Roddenberry’s voice in Star Trek: Discovery would be a fitting tribute to the late actress and Trek luminary. In addition, her return as the ship’s computer would represent a strong link to the legacy of the show. It could also make for an intriguing connection, since Barrett-Roddenberry’s first appearance in the series was as Number One (in the pilot episode “The Cage”) and Discovery’s main character will share the same nickname. The producers could also use a third party app with her voice to interact with modern fans and build bridges across the Star Trek continuum.
There are undeniably some fans who won’t be thrilled at the prospect of bringing the iconic actress back to life. Including her as a tribute is one thing, but using her voice continually, whether as an app or on the streaming show, could come across as crass, or at the very least, insensitive – much like Coke’s use of a dancing Gene Kelly in their 1991 commercial. No matter how fans feel about revisiting Roddenberry’s voice, it will be fascinating to see how the story plays out.
Star Trek: Discovery debuts on CBS in January 2017 and streams exclusively on CBS All Access thereafter.