Earlier this week came the dreadful news that the beloved Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols passed away on 30th July at the age of 89. The actress was particularly iconic for playing Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series and its subsequent sequels.
Uhura became a cultural icon for being one of the first female Black characters beyond menial positions on television during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Though the series was canceled in 1969, years later two seasons of an animated series starring TOS characters was created. While most forget about Star Trek: The Animated Series, it’s the only opportunity fans have to see Uhura commanding the starship Enterprise.
10 “I Want An All-Woman Security Team… No One Is To Beam Down To The Planet Unless It Is On My Order.”
Season 1 Episode 4 – ‘The Lorelei Signal”
While Lieutenant Uhura was fourth in the chain of command for the Enterprise, TOS never saw her sit in the Captain’s chair.. However, a few years after the show’s cancellation, TAS finally gave Uhura the chance.
When all the men are transfixed by the power of gorgeous female aliens, it is up to the women of the Enterprise to save the day. Uhura takes control from a euphoric Scotty and makes herself captain with Nurse Chapel as acting CMO as well as a pseudo-first officer. It is a brilliantly empowering episode and a chance to see Uhura shine in all her glory.
9 “Well, We Could Always Throw Rocks.”
Season 1 Episode 5 – ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’
The sassy and sarcastic Uhura is always quick with a witty retort that defuses tension on the bridge. When Klingons attack, their new weapon leaves the Enterprise paralyzed. Without any matters of defense, Uhura is fast to the draw with suggestions of manually throwing rocks.
Though not feasible, the line is incredibly funny and a perfect representation of the animation’s hilarious contribution to Star Trek. At times like this, it’s hard to picture the Star Trek television series without Nichelle Nichols’ iconic character to provide a snappy one-liner in times of tension.
8 “You Have A Marvelous Capability To Provide Happiness For Others. A Rare Talent You Should Cherish And Use.”
Season 1 Episode 9 – ‘Once Upon A Planet’
When the master computer in charge of the ‘Shore Leave’ planet from TAS takes Uhura hostage, she uses her intelligence and her words to assuage the AI that she is not a slave of the starship Enterprise. Uhura helps the computer understand that as long as “one does it of [their] own free will” there is no shame in serving.
It is a quote particularly poignant in today’s society regarding the lack of appreciation for those in the service industry. Uhura’s infinite compassion and selflessness encourage the computer to help make others happy but only if he finds joy in it himself.
7 “I’m Slowing Down. I Used To Run The Hundred In Record Time.”
Season 1 Episode 14 – ‘The Slaver Weapon’
This was the first Star Trek episode broadcast on television that did not feature its main character Captain Kirk. Instead, the episode focused solely on Spock, Sulu, and Uhura on an away mission to deliver a rare artifact of the Slaver culture, an ancient empire that once ruled the “galaxy a billion years ago”. After being captured by the hostile feline Kzinti, Uhura seizes the chance to escape but is unfortunately caught again.
She is not however made to look like a defenseless damsel in distress but also includes a small fact from Uhura’s past. Disclosing that she’s always been athletic and has even broken records for the 100-meter sprint. While benign, this enhances her character history which Strange New Worlds featuring Celia Rose Gooding as a young Uhura could include.
6 “Release Captain Kirk And His Men Or We Will Destroy Your Temple.”
Season 1 Episode 4 – ‘The Lorelei Signal’
While only having some leadership opportunities shown in TAS, Uhura has always been an authoritative person. She knows what she wants, what she is capable of, and isn’t afraid to do what is necessary. Though her kindness knows no bounds, she is a formidable character who should never be crossed.
In TOS, she has shown incredible fighting capabilities against the Enterprise’s evil Mirror counterparts but in TAS, Uhura proves she’s as proficient with a phaser as she is with communications. She threatens the women holding Kirk and though she is able to sort the situation peacefully, she proves she’s as capable as her male counterparts on the ship.
5 “I’m Sorry, Mister Scott, That’s Not Procedure. We Can’t Take Any Chances.”
Season 2 Episode 2 – ‘Bem’
Uhura’s leadership skills meant she had a number of important episodes in the Star Trek franchise, including ‘Bem.’ When the male commanding officers are all a part of the landing party, Lieutenant Uhura is again left in command of the Enterprise. While it is brief, it is still important to see her in a position of command particularly when it first aired in 1974. Unable to contact Captain Kirk, Uhura calls Scotty and Sulu back up to ship. While he is determined to search for Kirk on foot, Uhura overrides his wish as it is against procedures.
She is authoritative, commanding, and pragmatic, all crucial qualities needed when commanding a starship. While it has yet to be fully explored, one of Star Trek: Picard‘s brief but wonderful Easter Eggs revealed that Uhura eventually became Captain of the USS Leondegrance about a decade after the events in The Undiscovered Country, according to Den of Geek.
4 “What Kind Of People Could Have Built It, To Touch Even A Starship With Grace And Beauty?”
Season 1 Episode 1 – ‘Beyond The Farthest Star’
In the first episode, viewers return to the familiar comfort of the Enterprise bridge crew which, thanks to the work of Leonard Nimoy, included Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura. The character does not have a particular storyline in the premiere episode beyond her duty as the Enterprise’s communications officer.
However, Uhura has a notable line which opens a window into her creative mind. She sees the beauty in an intricate starship and speaks poetically about its grace. Quotes like this remind viewers that she is so much more than a glorified secretary, she is an intelligent and artistic woman with a talent for poetry, given she is able to come up with lyrics on the spot.
3 “Wrong. They Don’t Think Much Of You.”
Season 1 Episode 14 – ‘The Slaver Weapon’
While some argue that TAS doesn’t belong in Star Trek canon, the brief mention of Kzinti in Picard suggests it definitely is. When Uhura is once again captured by the feline aliens, they attempt to use her to negotiate a trade with Sulu and Spock who are in possession of an almighty Slaver weapon that they desire.
Reluctant to negotiate with the violent aliens, the Kzinti assume she means little to the Starfleet officers. However, Uhura knows the truth, that her friends think little of these fanatics. She does not let the Kzinti make her feel unimportant because while Uhura knows her value, she also understands the Vulcan philosophy that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”
2 “After That Ride, I Could Use Some Repairs.”
Season 2 Episode 3 – ‘The Practical Joker’
Through the animation medium, this iteration of Star Trek found itself more comedic than its predecessor. While that goes for all characters, Uhura’s lines in particular became funnier. With more quips, Uhura’s character was explored beyond her role as the ship’s communications officer.
Focusing more on her charmingly vibrant personality included sassy one-liners and jokes. This episode not only includes a forerunner for the franchise’s Holodecks but also a series of practical jokes played on all the officers. However, before the pranks start, Enterprise finds themselves in for a rough ride when attacked by Romulans. Needing repairs herself, Uhura is first with a joke to defuse the tension.
1 “I Am Assuming Command Of The Enterprise, I Accept Full Responsibility For My Action.”
Season 1 Episode 4 – The Lorelei Signal
Unfortunately, the 1970’s show is the only opportunity fans have to see the incredibly capable Uhura be in charge of the Enterprise when Kirk, Spock, and others are in peril. She forcibly takes control from Scotty when he becomes incapacitated with euphoria thanks to the terrifying and beautiful Taureans.
Not only were fans excited to finally see Uhura be in command but according to Andy Mangel’s article in RetroFan, Nichelle Nichols was positively thrilled as well. Learning at the table read, that the actress happily yelled “What you’re kidding? I actually get to run the Enterprise?”.
NEXT: 10 Best Uhura Quotes From Star Trek – The Original Series
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