Every Thursday on Paramount Plus, Trekkies warp around the sun to go back in time before Captain James Tiberius Kirk was in charge of the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The new series follows Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Science Officer Spock (Ethan Peck), Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and the other members of Enterprise‘s crew as they explore where no one has gone before. As they traverse the cosmos, new and old members of the Enterprise crew face danger and adventure together. They will help their captain overcome the trauma of witnessing how his current life ends (a storyline that began in Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season). 

In addition to the Enterprise crew already introduced in Discovery‘s second season, SNW introduces other characters who first appeared in Star Trek: The Original Series, like Dr. M’Benga, a Starfleet physician originated by Booker Bradshaw. In SNWBabs Olusanmokun is playing the role. Another returning fan favorite is Cadet Uhura, played by Celia Rose Gooding. Having screened the first five episodes, Strange New Worlds delivers on connecting its stories and characters to the TOS era in an exciting way for long-time Trekkies and new viewers alike.

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A returning TOS mainstay is Nurse Christine Chapel, who first appeared in the 1966 episode “The Naked Time” as the Enterprise‘s nurse. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry originated the character and continued to play her in Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Barrett-Roddenberry always said Nurse Chapel was the eighth member of Enterprise‘s crew, appearing in 25 out of 79 episodes. 

However, in a 1987 issue of STARLOG, Barrett-Roddenberry said that although she would be willing to return to the character of Christine Chapel, it wasn’t “that important to the “Powers That Be.” In the last few decades, things have changed with the corporate overlords. Rod Roddenberry (the actress’s son) oversees the franchise and there is renewed interest in the character. And now she is back in Strange New Worlds, and Trekkies are meeting a younger version of Nurse Chapel, played by Jess Bush, for the first time.

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s Nurse Chapel

Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry)

Courtesy of CBS

If Star Trek visionary Gene Roddenberry‘s script hadn’t changed before the Enterprise warped into family homes for the first time, Barrett-Roddenberry’s onscreen role would have been much different. Cast in the first pilot as Number One, Barrett-Roddenberry was to play second in command to Captain April. You read that right, Captain Robert April‘s Number One. But, Captain April wasn’t All-American enough for the studio and he was replaced with Captain Christopher Pike before the first pilot, “The Cage,” was filmed.

Too bad for Captain Pike, he also lacked the bravado the studio was looking for, and the studio passed on the series. But, the studio had other problems with the first pilot as well. So, following feedback on “The Cage” that the show was too diverse, Star Trek visionary Roddenberry had to choose between Leonard Nimoy‘s Spock and his wife’s Number One. Unfortunately, Barrett-Roddenberry was not cast for the second pilot (something the fandom has long held against him).

Despite NBC’s executives’ wishes that Roddenberry’s wife not return to set after the pilot, the disappointing outcome paved the way for the introduction of Barrett-Roddenberry’s Nurse Chapel to make her first appearance in The Original Series in Season 1, Episode 4, “The Naked Time.” Apparently, Roddenberry hoped the TV executives might not notice that he re-cast his wife in TOS if she bleached her hair blonde for the role; however, the executives were not fooled.

The Original Series (S01E04) “The Naked Time”

The Naked Time TOS Spock (Leonard Nemoy) and Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) holding hands romantically

Courtesy of CBS

Barrett-Roddenberry’s Nurse Chapel makes her first appearance in The Original Series in “The Naked Time,” about a mysterious pathogen that causes the crew to lose control of their inhibitions. Although Chapel’s confession of unrequited love for Spock during her first appearance is odd, the TOS episode is the only one in which all three female leads appear together: Chapel, Lt. Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney).

However, this episode sets up much of Chapel’s early shipbroad life and several episodes deal with her unrequited love for Spock, like “Plato’s Stepchildren,” where Chapel and Spock are forced to kiss, or “Amok Time,” where she helps Spock through Pon farr. Hopefully, Strange New Worlds will flesh out the backstory of Chapel’s attraction to Spock. Fingers crossed!

The Original Series (S01E07): “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”

Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) in blue and Dr. Corby in green in purple room

Courtesy of CBS

However, what inspired Roddenberry to write his wife back into the show wasn’t her first appearance. “The Naked Time” script just happened to need a nurse. Instead, he was inspired to add Nurse Chapel to the Enterprise‘s regular crew after his wife read a proposal for “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” which ended up airing as Episode 7 of The Original Series — and it’s an important episode.

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Before Chapel joined the Enterprise crew, she trained to be a scientist under the tutelage of Dr. Roger Korby. Eventually, she falls in love with Korby and they get engaged. But following her fiancé’s disappearance on the planet Exo III, she abandons her career as a bio-researcher (for which she earned several degrees) to join Starfleet in hopes of a deep space assignment to find Korby. Bee-tee-dubs, she hasn’t heard from him in five years.

In “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Chapel succeeds, but Korby isn’t what he used to be. When Enterprise reaches Exo III and finds Korby, he’s using android technology that Trekkies don’t see again until Star Trek: Picard. Before Starfleet rescue arrived, Korby used the technology of a long-dead civilization and replaced his own body with an android replica, transplanting his consciousness into the body and creating android companions for himself. Sound’s like Picard’s golem.

The Animated Series (S01E10): “Mudd’s Passion”

TAS Mudd's Passion

Courtesy of CBS

The Animated Series is the continuation of TOS, except as an animated show; it’s almost like a revival with a larger budget. When the five-year mission of Kirk’s Enterprise continued on Saturday morning, Barrett-Roddenberry reprised her role as Nurse Chapel. In TAS, Chapel takes her first step toward becoming a doctor: she is promoted to lieutenant and head nurse in the tenth episode of season one, “Mudd’s Passion.” 

Unlike The Original Series, the animated Chapel is often given more to do than prance around bringing Spock soup. Instead, she is allowed to show off her skills as a woman of science. Under the acting command of Uhura in “The Lorelei Signal,” Chapel even has a chance to take over as acting Chief Medical Officer.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Voyage Home

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry as Doctor Chapel treating Leonard Nemoy playing Spock

Courtesy of StarTrek.com

Barrett-Roddenberry once again returned for The Motion Picture to play Doctor Chapel, although the actress described her part as a “very minimal role.” She told STARLOG, “If no one had called me Commander Chapel, the audience wouldn’t know that I was there.” Maybe or maybe not, coincidentally, the characters in the movie don’t even seem to want Chapel there. Now holding an MD, McCoy explains to Kirk that he “need[s] a top nurse, not a doctor who will argue every little diagnosis with me” — and good thing, Chapel doesn’t listen.

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After not appearing in the second and third movies — despite her view, Nurse Chapel was the 8th member of The Original Series main cast — Nimoy asked Barrett-Roddenberry to return for The Voyage Home as Commander Chapel. Now that she is stationed at Starfleet HQ, Chapel is in charge of emergency room procedures. Sadly, that means she doesn’t get to go back in time, but the actress did feel like it was a better send-off.

Barrett-Roddenberry told Greenberger, “I really didn’t consider my work in the first [film] to be that great an experience.” However, she added, “I was excited to be back with her Star Trek family for Star Trek IV. Just working with them in costume, and all of us together was a fascinating feeling.”

Strange New Worlds (S01E01): “Strange New Worlds”

Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) in all white standing in a sci-fi doctor's office

Pictured: Jess Bush as Chapel of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

With Strange New Worlds, the writing team has a chance to flesh out some of Chapel’s backstory. “She just wasn’t a very exciting character. I didn’t care for her that much,” Barrett-Roddenberry said in an interview with Star Trek Magazine, dated July 2000. “She was a namby-pamby type of woman. First, she was a doctor to start and to go out and find her fiancé, she had to take a demotion, probably in rank and pay, because there was already a doctor aboard the Enterprise. This woman’s not too smart; she doesn’t have a whole lot going for her.”

Although the series has established Chapel gave up a career in bio-research to join the Enterprise, it wasn’t until Strange New Worlds that fans even learned that she was a scientist working on the civilian exchange from Stanford Morehouse Epigenetic Project before joining Starfleet. This background proves essential during the first episode of SNW when Trekkies see Chapel put that knowledge to work when she rewrites the genomes of several crew members for an away mission.

Bush told TrekMovie.com that she is excited for the opportunity to finally flesh out the character and peel back her layers, saying, “Chapel peels back some of her layers, I think. There’s something that forces her to kind of go somewhere that she’s not comfortable in and it results in a very big step towards growth, personal growth for her. So that was really delicious to experience as an actor.”

 

Who’s Who: STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Enterprise Crew

 

 

Rebecca Kaplan