Quick, think of your favorite episode of ’90s Star Trek. When one of the crew members talks with the ship’s computer, whether it be Commander Riker asking about the location of Captain Picard or Captain Sisko calculating his team’s chances against the Dominion, what do you hear?
You hear the voice of the late, great Majel Barrett Roddenberry, often called “the First Lady of Trek.” In addition to being the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and voicing Starfleet’s computer AI, Barrett Roddenberry played a number of other important characters on the various series, namely the original Number One on the first Trek pilot (a role now played by Rebecca Romijn on Strange New Worlds) and Lwaxana Troi, the meddlesome Betazed mother of Counsellor Troi.
As most people know, the upcoming Picard season 3 will bring back many elements of ’90s Trek, especially from The Next Generation. In addition to the return of Worf, La Forge, and Dr. Crusher, showrunner Terry Matalas has promised the show will bring back the Starfleet flagship the USS Enterprise, albeit in the form of the Enterprise-F (as opposed to the Enterprise-D and -E featured in Next Generation and the movies that followed). However, when Captain Worf and his guests speak to the Enterprise, it won’t be Barrett Roddenberry’s voice that responds.
When asked via Twitter about the voices for the computers, Matalas clarified that the ship computers will be voiced by different actors, with one voicing Starfleet ships and another for civilian ships. After a user expressed disappointment at this development, Matalas provided more context. It all comes down to “time & money,” Matalas revealed. “Or I can spend that bringing back a legacy character onscreen.”
Even as he acknowledges the disappointment fans may have, Matalas insisted that he’s trying to do right by Trekkers. Because even an important show like Picard has “a finite amount of time & resources,” he has to pick and choose what he can include. “You can’t dial up some subpar deepfake and call it a day,” he argued. “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” (Barrett Roddenberry passed away in 2008.)
To be fair, this is hardly the first time someone other than Barrett Roddenberry voiced a computer on modern Star Trek. In Discovery, Annabelle Wallis voices the ship, making for an important plot point. The J.J. Abrams movies found a number of different actors for the ship’s computers, even breaking the mold by including a male voice in the form of comedian and actor Bill Hader.
And yet, some disappointment is inevitable. Surely, Matalas and his fellow producers hope that the other changes to beloved characters will make up for it, including more attention on Worf. In addition to becoming a pacifist, Worf will carry a Klingon sword called a “Kur’leth,” designed by Bat’leth creator Dan Curry.
While the hiring of Curry is exactly the type of resource management that Matalas described, there’s no denying that Barrett Roddenberry will be missed. Thankfully, we still have all of those ’90s Trek episodes to revisit whenever we want to hear her voice again.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 debuts on Feb. 16 on Paramount+.