Trailblazer Nichelle Nichols passed away earlier this week at the age of 89, leaving behind a generational legacy. Nichols appeared as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and throughout the six Star Trek movies featuring the original Enterprise crew.
Here are three key episodes (and a movie) that showcase the performance Nichols delivered as Uhura. Also included are a few additional episodes that emphasize how the character’s legacy has continued to inform Trek.
In TOS season 1 episode “Charlie X,” a scene set in the mess hall gives us a chance to see some of the members of Enterprise crew under Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) enjoying some downtime.
This gives Uhura a chance to sing a song with Vulcan lute accompaniment by Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). The scene demonstrates Uhura’s attempt to include a young man who feels like an outsider.
In the TOS season 2 episode “Mirror, Mirror,” Uhura is among the members of a landing party that are beamed up to the wrong Enterprise. Trapped in the Mirror Universe, Uhura must hold her own against the Mirror version of Sulu (George Takei).
There are few lines in Trek more satisfying than Uhura’s unflinching response to Mirror Sulu’s assertion that she takes a lot of chances. “So do you, mister,” Uhura says without lowering her blade. “So do you.”
“The Lorelei Signal”
The TAS season 1 episode “The Lorelei Signal” gives Uhura a chance to go where she’d never gone before: the command chair! With her superior officers incapacitated by a siren-like race of aliens whose song ensnares men, Uhura takes command of the Enterprise for the first time.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The crew of the Enterprise travels back to 1986 in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. As the crew splits up to accomplish various tasks in the past, Uhura and Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) are paired together and hit the streets of San Francisco. There, they ask various denizens of the late 20th century for directions to the nearby Alameda Naval Base.
While the “on-the-street” scene is memorable, the behind-the-scenes story is incredible. According to director Nimoy’s memoir, I Am Spock, these street scenes were filmed “‘candid camera’ style.” The camera was placed in an unobtrusive location while Nichols and Walter asked passersby for directions. Several of the people featured in this scene of the final cut of the film were not actors, but unsuspecting individuals who bought into the performance.
This season 6 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation does not directly refer to Uhura. However, “Second Chances” features a guest starring performance by real-life astronaut and physician Mae Jemison.
In 1992, Jemison became first Black woman to travel to space. A devoted Trekkie, Jemison began each morning by informing Mission Control in Houston that “hailing frequencies were open.”
Uhura’s Ongoing Legacy
The legacy of Uhura continues to have an effect on the ongoing story of Star Trek. One example is from the Star Trek: Prodigy season 1 episode “Kobayashi.” Using audio clips taken from Nichelle’s previous performances as Uhura, a hologram version of the character appears. This hologram helps teach Dal (Brett Gray) an important lesson.
And in the Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode “The Stargazer,” a detail on a prop that appeared reveals Uhura was integral to the Next Generation. A plaque that appears at Starfleet Academy reveals the USS Leondegrance took part in over one hundred first contact missions under the command of Captain Uhura.
Finally, Celia Rose Gooding portrays a younger version of the character on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. As a Cadet under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), we have already learned new details about Uhura’s early life.
In the SNW season 1 episode “Children of the Comet,” Uhura states that her father used to say she was “unburdened by conversational boundaries.” For those of us who have grown up with Uhura, the statement was steeped in dramatic irony. Uhura shattered boundaries on a galactic scale.
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