Star Trek fandom is finally meeting the first captain of the franchise’s most famous ship. Adrian Holmes, star of the recent Bel-Air reboot, has been cast as Captain Robert April in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds in his very first live-action appearance.
Strangely, the character of Robert April has been around in various forms since well before the original series first aired. It might sound confusing, but we can explain it all.
April is canonically the very first captain of the fabled United Federation Star Ship Enterprise, a role he was succeeded in by Captain Christopher Pike, who in turn was replaced by Captain James T. Kirk. Robert April was the original name for the series lead that Gene Roddenberry had in mind when he was pitching the original Star Trek series. This name eventually changed to Pike, but Roddenberry had an apparent soft spot for the name, as he’d previously used the name for a character appearing in several episodes of Have Gun Will Travel that he wrote prior to using the name for Trek.
Unlike Pike, April didn’t appear in the original series, at least not the three live-action seasons that ran originally. The character made his first canon appearance in a 1974 episode of the Star Trek animated series titled, “The Counter-Clock Incident.” The episode features a 75-year-old April, drawn as an older man who still has a full head of hair and is in excellent shape for his age.
As a white man, April was notably, or perhaps not so notably, given media depictions of people in authority in the early 1970s. Star Trek audiences wouldn’t see a black starship captain until 1982’s Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. April was voiced by longtime Trek actor James Doohan, who played engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the original series, the animated series, and the original Trek movies.
April also appears in the novels Final Frontier and Best Destiny by author Diane Carey and in Marvel Comics 1990s Trek spin-off comic book series Star Trek: Early Voyages, although the canon of all these print appearances is fuzzy at best and likely not canonical.
The introduction of multiple Trek timelines in J.J. Abrams reboot of the movie franchise, as well as the fluffy nature of Star Trek: Discovery makes the “new” April’s appearance in Discovery spinoff Strange New Worlds a bit of a sticking point on what, if anything, is still canonical about April other than the fact that he captained the Enterprise — at least the first Constitution-class ship — before anyone else.
The change in the character’s race is a minor one, despite the hand-wringing of some factions in the fandom, but it remains to be seen what the new series will add to the character’s actual history or whether he will return in some capacity to the new series once he’s been relieved of duty by Anson Mount’s Captain Pike.