Serving as First Officer of the USS Enterprise seems like the fast track to becoming Captain, but some of Star Trek’s most famous Number Ones never became Captain of the Enterprise. The Starship Enterprise’s First Officers are as beloved as their Captains. Some may even argue they are better characters since Number Ones don’t shoulder the responsibility of the entire starship and crew. Interestingly, some ambitious Number Ones were simply foiled from becoming Enterprise Captain by circumstance while others didn’t desire to sit in the big chair of the United Federation of Planets’ flagship.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds established that Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) was the first Number One who became Captain of the Enterprise. Pike took over the big chair after the Constitution Class NCC-1701’s inaugural five-year mission ended and Captain Robert April (Adrian Holmes) was promoted to Admiral. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) held the dual position of Science Officer and First Officer of the Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Spock didn’t aspire to succeed Kirk but Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan confirmed Spock became Captain of the Enterprise when it became a training vessel in 2285. However, Pike and Spock are two success stories of Enterprise career advancement in contrast to the amount of First Officers who didn’t become Captain of the Enterprise.
Like Spock over a century later in the Star Trek timeline, Sub-Commander T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) held the dual role of Science Officer and First Officer of the NX-01 Enterprise commanded by Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula). T’Pol originally represented the Vulcan High Command when she was assigned to the first Earth vessel capable of achieving Warp Five, but T’Pol resigned and formally joined Starfleet later in Star Trek: Enterprise. The Enterprise series finale, “These Are The Voyages…” established that T’Pol didn’t succeed Archer, who remained Captain until the NX-01 was retired from service in 2161. However, becoming Captain of the Enterprise was apparently never an ambition of T’Pol’s.
6 Lt. Commander Una Chin-Riley – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Una Chin Riley Strange New Worlds Number One
Lt. Commander Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) is the character the term “Number One” was originated for. Number One was created as the USS Enterprise’s First Officer in the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.” When NBC rejected the pilot and ordered another, Number One and almost all the characters were scrapped. Number One returned over 50 years later in Star Trek: Discovery restored as the First Officer of the Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike. Yet Star Trek canon dictates that the Enterprise passes from Pike to Kirk, leaving the fate of Una a question for Strange New Worlds to eventually answer. As to why Una never becomes Captain of the Enterprise, perhaps her being arrested by Starfleet for being a genetically engineered Illyrian has something to do with it.
5 Lt. La’an Noonien Singh – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Strange New Worlds La’an First Officer
Una was incapacitated or unable to fulfill her duties as First Officer a handful of times in Strange New Worlds season 1, and her replacement was Una’s close friend and Enterprise Chief of Security, Lt. La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong). La’an stepped in as Acting Number One and served admirably when required, but there is no indication that La’an will ever become Captain of the Enterprise, or even aspires to the big chair. In an alternate future timeline seen in Strange New Worlds’ season 1 finale, La’an seemingly became First Officer of the USS Farragut under Captain James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley). But in both realities, the Captaincy of the Enterprise will elude La’an.
4 Commander William T. Riker – Star Trek: The Next Generation
Commander Riker TNG
Una may have been Star Trek’s first Number One, but the First Officer who truly popularized the name is Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes). “Number One” was the nickname Captain Jean-Luc Picard affectionately called Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Riker was First Officer of the USS Enterprise-D and E for a combined 15 years in TNG’s seven seasons and the four feature films that followed. Remarkably, in spite of repeatedly turning down promotions and his own starship commands, Riker never broke Picard’s ironclad grip on the Enterprise’s Captain’s chair. Instead, Riker became Captain of the USS Titan after Star Trek: Nemesis. Although Admiral Riker commanded the Enterprise in the alternate future of TNG’s finale, “All Good Things…”, Riker is, by far, the most famous Number One who never became Captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek’s Prime timeline.
3 Commander Shelby – Star Trek: The Next Generation
Elizabeth Dennehy as Commander Shelby in Best of Both Worlds
A Starfleet Officer even more ambitious than Will Riker, Commander Shelby coveted the position of First Officer of the Enterprise, which was a step away from becoming its Captain. Shelby came aboard the Enterprise-D as a Borg specialist in the classic TNG two-parter, “The Best of Both Worlds.” In spite of their rivalry, Shelby became Acting Captain Riker’s Number One when Captain Picard was assimilated by the Borg. Once Picard was rescued and his humanity was restored, Shelby departed the Enterprise. Shelby did eventually become a Captain, but not of the Enterprise.
2 Commander Data – Star Trek: Nemesis
Once Riker was committed to become Captain of the Titan in Star Trek: Nemesis, Commander Data (Brent Spiner) was Picard’s choice to become the Enterprise’s next Number One. Data admirably served as the Enterprise’s Operations Officer for 15 years, and the android even briefly served as Acting Enterprise Captain in the TNG season 7 “Gambit” two-parter. However, Data sacrificed his life to save the Enterprise-E from Praetor Shinzon’s (Tom Hardy) thelaron weapon in Star Trek: Nemesis, Data died before he was able to formally succeed Riker as Number One, much less replace Picard as Captain of the Enterprise.
1 Lt. Commander Worf
star trek worf return to starfleet in nemesis
Worf (Michael Dorn) is now a Captain in the early 25th-century timeframe of Star Trek: Picard season 3, but many questions surround the Klingon’s last stint aboard the USS Enterprise-E. After a brief period serving as Federation Ambassador to the Klingon homeworld, Worf returned to Starfleet and resumed his post as the Enterprise’s Security Chief in Star Trek: Nemesis. Following Data’s death and Riker’s departure, Worf was the likely candidate to become Picard’s Number One during his final years as Captain of the Enterprise. Yet it’s not clear if Worf did become the Enterprise’s First Officer, or if his current rank of Captain was because he replaced Picard when Jean-Luc became an Admiral. Perhaps Star Trek: Picard season 3 will deliver long-awaited answers about whether Worf became Captain of the Enterprise.