Saturday, November 28, 2009

ATV Icons: Majel Barrett-Roddenberry

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s first involvement in the world of Star Trek was when she was cast in the role of Number One in the original pilot for the series. However, Network bosses did not like the pilot Paramountand significant changes were made which included the re-casting of the role, Barrett was dropped. However, she was cast instead in the recurring role of Nurse Christine Chapel. A recurring theme for Christine Chapel throughout the original series of Star Trek was her feelings for Spock [Leonard Nimroy] but also enjoyed friendships with Dr McCoy [DeForest Kelley] and Uhura [Nichelle Nichols] The original series of Star Trek struggled in the ratings and was cancelled by broadcasters NBC in 1969 – shortly afterwards Majel Barrett and series creator Gene Roddenberry married in Japan. The two had been in a relationship throughout the run of Star Trek.

Although Star Trek was cancelled by NBC in 1969 the broadcasters did commission an animated Star Trek series in the 1970s. The animated series of Star Trek ran for 22 episodes between 1973 and 1974 and several of the episodes were sequels to the live-action Star Trek Paramountseries. Barrett’s character of Christine Chapel appeared in nine episodes of the series and the actress provided the voice for the character – the actress also lent her voice to several other one-off characters on the series. The animated series led to the possibility of a revived live-action series provisionally entitled Star Trek: Phase Two which would have continued to the story of the Enterprise and its crew from where the original series left. Pre-production work started on the proposed new Star Trek series with test footage shot, scripts written and sets and models built along with the original cast being rehired for the new series. Ultimately the series was abandoned but much of the work that went into it was used in the Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979 and featured Majel Barrett-Roddenberry as Doctor Christine Chapel, having been promoted in the years since the original series concluded. The film was one of only two in which the actress reprised the role of Christine Chapel, the second film Paramountbeing The Voyage Home in 1986 where the character had once more been promoted – this time to Commander. However, the two films were not the actress last association with the franchise, far from it. The success of the Star Trek film franchise eventually led to a revival on the television in the form of spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series premiered in 1987 and was set roughly 80 years after the events of the original series on the latest incarnation of the USS Enterprise. Barrett returned to the franchise on television by providing the voice of the Enterprise computer, often un-credited. The television series came just a year after the film The Voyage Home and marked the beginning of the end for the films based around the original series and cast. Eventually the movies themselves would focus on The Next Generation cast of characters starting with the 1994 film Generations.

While continuing to provide the voice of the Enterprise computer on The Next Generation Barrett appeared in the series herself as the recurring character of Ambassador Lwaxanna Troi – the mother of Paramountseries regular Deanna Troi [Marina Sirtis]. The character of Lwaxanna was something of a comic relief in terms of storylines and was most often featured looking for a new husband. The actress reprised the role on three episodes of fellow spin-off series, Deep Space Nine, which was launched in the last year of The Next Generation. The two shows featured a heavy amount of crossover elements with characters crossing between the two in various episodes and Lwaxanna was just one of these. In the series Lwaxanna falls for challenging Odo and even marries him in one episode all be it briefly. Once again Majel continued to provide the voice of the Federation computers in spin-off series. It was a role she continued in the Voyager spin-off series which launched in 1994.

While the actress continued to provide the voice of the Ship’s computers in the spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager the actress was also busy outside of the Star Trek franchise. In 1996 she guest Babylon 5starred in the third season of rival Science Fiction series Babylon 5. There had been, at this point, rivalry between fans of Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as fans felt there were similarities between the two shows and that the producers of Deep Space Nine had stolen ideas from Babylon 5 when it was in the hands of the broadcasters – who eventually passed on making the series in favour of another Star Trek spin-off. Majel Barrett was one of several actors assiocated with Star Trek to appear in the Babylon 5 franchise to dispel the rivalry. Another actor who played a major part in Babylon 5 was Walter Koenig who played the recurring character of Psi Cop Bester in the series. Koenig had played Pavel Chekov in the original Star Trek series and the movies.

In Babylon 5 Barrett played the Lady Morella, wife of an assassinated Emporia of Centuari Prime. Lady Morella visits the space station at the request of Centuari Ambassador Londo Molari [Peter Jurasik] as he has heard that Morella possess physic abilities. Lady Morella is able to see into Londo’s future and tells him one day he will be Emporia of Centuari Prime but so too will be his diplomatic aid, Vir Cotto. The episode was also important in terms of various story-arcs which had been running throughout the series at this point. The episode advances many of them in terms of the Shadow-War arc and the Earth arc - martial law is declared on Earth and all of its colonies as a fascist military dictatorship begins to really take control of Earth, its government and military.

Gene Roddenberry passed away in 1991 and in 1997 Majel Barrett used story ideas left behind by her husband to launch a new science fiction series; Earth Final Conflict. The series was originally to be logotitled Background: Earth but was changed as it was felt too similar to another series. Barrett not only served as Executive Producer on the series but also played recurring character of Doctor Julianne Belman in the shows first two seasons. The series was set in early 21st century Earth where aliens Taelons arrive seemingly peaceful and offering advance technology is exchange for refuse. However, a resistance movement is formed who believe the Taelons have a hidden agenda and over the course of the series it’s revealed that they are indeed using humanity to help them against their enemies, the Jaridians.

Although the series ran for five years between 1997 and 2002 it was reportedly fraught with problems behind-the-scenes. Earth: Final Conflict went through a lot of cast members in its five year run allegedly due to differences between cast members and the producers. Most characters tended to only last two seasons before being killed off or simply disappearing from the action. The fifth and final year of the series saw something of a radical departure from established storylines with a new hostile alien race introduced.

Earth: Final Conflict was one of two shows Majel Barrett developed from story ideas left behind by Gene Roddenberry. The second was Andromeda which ran from 2000 until 2005 and on which the logoactress once again served as producer. However, this time the actress did not appear in the series itself. However, working on these two series’ didn’t stop the actress continuing to contribute towards the Star Trek franchise lending her vocal talents to the many computer games based around the series and also once again providing the voice of the Federation computers in the last television spin-off, Enterprise. Although Enterprise was a prequel to the original Star Trek series but a sequel to the movie First Contact [slightly confusing timelines] the series featured a two-part story set in an alternative universe in a prequel story to original series and Deep Space Nine stories. Barrett provided the voice of the ship’s computer in these two stories which was from the 24th century. Working on Enterprise meant the actress was the only actor to work on all of the Star Trek television series’.

prequel seriesMajel Barrett continued to work right up to her death with only weeks before recording her part for the reboot of the Star Trek film franchise. The actress once again provided the voice of the ship’s computer in the J.J Abrams produced movie which featured an all new cast playing original series characters. Working on the movie meant that as well as being the only actress to have worked on every version of the franchise on television she also became the only actor to work on every incarnation of the franchise, be it on film, television or computer game.