‘Classic’ Trek Profile : Uhura

nyota uhura nichelle nichols star trek tos

Uhura – 2239 –

Nichols – 1932 –

“All decks, Red Alert! Battle Stations! Battle Stations! Go to Red Alert!” Uhura

Uhura was the African connection in the multi-ethnic crew, which was quite a startling thing for the racially segerated 1960’s.

She was the Enterprise’s Chief Communications Officer and Captain Kirk’s eyes and ears, as to what was happening onboard and over the various subspace frequencies, that she monitored.

As much a revelation as Uhura’s casting was, she was probably the least featured regular cast member. Ultimately, this was a shame because her character was just as interesting and as under developed as Sulu’s.

uhura yellow uniform star trek tos

Originally, her character was intended to have a bit of a thing for Spock but this was dropped. It was featured in more depth in Star Trek XI – 2009, also confirmed in this is Uhura’s first name “Nyota”. This had been around for many years, having been ok’ed by Roddenberry and Nichols from earlier convention appearances, but never having been “canon” until Star Trek XI. “Nyota Uhura” is apparently from the Swahili words for ‘star’ and ‘freedom’. Her first name and middle name have been much debated and are different depending on who you listen to.

Nichelle Nichols was only intending to take the role for one season. But changed her mind after talking with the Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King, who told Nicholls to stick with the role as it presented a positive black role model on TV – a rare thing at the time.

Nichols had had turns in theatre production and was an accomplished cabaret singer. She had also managed a few nudie snaps in Playboy too!nichelle-nichols-uhura-playboy

What we do know about Uhura was that she had quite the singing voice. In Charlie X, 1966 – S1 she serenades the crew whilst Spock kicks it on his Vulcan harp.

“[singing] Oh, on the Starship Enterprise There’s someone who’s in Satan’s guise, Whose devil’s ears and devil’s eyes Could rip your heart from you! At first his look could hypnotize, And then his touch would barbarize. His alien love could victimize… And rip your heart from you! And that’s why female astronauts Oh very female astronauts Wait terrified and overwrought. To find what he will do. Oh girls in space, be wary, be wary, be wary! Girls in space, be wary! We know not what he’ll do!” Uhura – Charlie X

In The Changeling, 1967 – S2 it is Uhura’s singing that attracts the Nomad Probe which has beamed itself aboard the Enterprise, to study humans. Whilst probing her mind, Nomad accidentally wipes her memory leaving her as a drooling vegetable. Luckily, there are enough library tales to re-educate Uhura before the next episode.

Uhura sings ‘on board the starship Enterprise’

She was also a keen collector of ethnic art as her cabin was adourned with various pieces. Uhura was clearly proud of her heritage and displayed it with pride choosing African inspired gowns and formal wear, in her off duty time.

sulu uhura mirror mirror star trek tosMirror, mirror, 1967 – S2 gave Uhura a rare juicy story to get her teeth into. Uhura, along with Kirk, Scotty and McCoy are thrown into an alternate reality due to a transporter accident, where Star Fleet were the warlike ‘Terran Empire’, Whilst the trio attempt to find a way back, they blend in with their “evil alternative” colleagues to avoid suspicion. Uhura takes her place on the bridge at the Communications panel, despite unwanted attention from Evil Sulu and Chekov. Showing that kitty had claws, Uhura plays Evil Sulu like a fool, whilst she switches a button on his control panel to allow Scotty to establish a link with the “good” universe.

Sulu didn’t come back!

The Gamesters of Triskelion, 1968 – S2 had Kirk, Chekov and Uhura transported to an alien world where they were forced to battle in a gladiatorial contest.

Plato’s Stepchildren, 1969 – S3 was Uhura’s most controversial moment. Under the control of some god-like beings; The Platonian’s, Kirk and Spock are made to perform humiliating song and dance numbers. The entertainment only takes a seedy turn when the Platonian’s beam down Uhura and Nurse Chapel dressed in flowing period dresses. Uhura and Kirk share a short kiss, not overly spectacular but a first for an interracial kiss shown on American TV – even if it was under alien influence!

The kiss

The show expected a lot of negative press and hate mail, but Nicholls recounted that Trek producers only received one less than positive letter.

star trek tos platos stepchildren uhura kirk“The mail poured in. We had more mail on that episode than any other episode in all of the time of Star Trek. But Gene [Roddenberry] said to me over a letter from the fanmail, ‘This one letter in here, this is the extent of the negative mail that we’ve received.’ And it was from a man in the South who said ‘I don’t believe in the integration of races and the fraternization of the races, but anytime a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a girl in his arms that looks like Lieutenant Uhura, he ain’t gonna fight it.’ So so much for the worries and the concerns about whether people can handle it, so I think we knew we were on the right track.” Nicholls on the Interracial kiss.

Scotty Uhura star trek V final frontierUhura is promoted to Lt. Commander in Star Trek – The Motion Picture, 1979 and full Commander in Star Trek II – Wrath Of Khan, 1982.

“Lieutenant, our chances of returning in one piece have just doubled.” Uhura – Star Trek Motion Picture

Uhura’s appearances in the followup movies were a mixed affair. Mostly, she was relegated to her communcations panel with the odd reaction shot. When she did get something more tangible it was usually some kind of humourous moment.

It was like the writers didn’t know how to include her, but when they did it was usually some clunky attempt at humour. She hardly appeared in Star Trek III, her role relegated to just a cameo.

By Star Trek V – The Final Frontier, 1989 she had been promoted to full Commander and now seemed to have a thing for Scotty. As beautiful a woman as she had been, nothing could quite prepare us for the sight of a 56-year-old Nicholls dancing naked, save for a couple of giant feathers on Nimbus III in Star Trek V.

The Middle-aged Fan Dance

uhura star trek VI undiscovered countryIn Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country, 1991 Uhura’s attempt at Klingon dialect to fool a passing Klingon Outpost is met with WTF??? as she leafs through a Klingon translation guide.

In Star Trek III – Search For Spock, 1983 Uhura returns to Spacedock with the badly damaged Enterprise and is reassigned to Starfleet Command communications, under the watchful eye of an annoying Junior officer. When Admiral Kirk formulates a plan to nab the Enterprise and go back and retrieve Spock’s body from Genesis. It is Uhura who transports them on to the Enterprise, but not before locking the annoying Junior Officer in a cupboard!

“This isn’t reality, this is fantasy!! Now get in the cupboard!” Uhura – Star Trek III

Uhura main theme through the movies was spare part and worse still – Director Shatner made her do the naked feather dance. Her scenes in Star Trek III were nothing more than a cameo.

It’s perhaps fitting then, that it is Uhura that takes the message from Star Fleet to report back to Spacedock for decommissioning in Star Trek VI. This signaled that the party was well and truly over for the original crew.

Uhura trailblazed the way forward for African American actors on TV, in a decade when segregation within society was seen as acceptable, she was a shining beacon of a future without limits. It was a shame that the character got little juicy stories and was mostly sidelined with the odd silly sub-plot, but Nichols did encourage a whole future generation with her few Enterprise exploits.

Perhaps this in itself is the most important legacies of the Uhura character and Original Trek.

Spaceman