I was saddened to read over the weekend of the death of Nichelle Nichols at age 89. She brought to life Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, one of the greatest Star Trek characters from the original series. Her portrayal was so good that later shows in the Star Trek universe, such as the current Star Trek: Strange New Worlds couldn’t resist exploring new facets of this very compelling character.
Lieutenant Uhura–the name is based on the Swahili word for freedom–was the communications officer on the original crew of the Enterprise. She was always poised at her comm station, with her cool receiver in her ear as shown in the photo above, ready to open a hailing frequency, put an image on the view screen, or announce that an important message had been received from Starfleet Command. Along with Spock and Captain Kirk, Lieutenant Uhura was a mainstay on the the bridge crew. The guys at the helm and on other stations on the bridge might change, but Uhura was a rock of stability and such a good officer that from time to time Captain Kirk would call upon her to fill in as navigator, too.
Lieutenant Uhura was one of my favorites because she was one of the most well-developed characters and she seemed like a real human being. She laughed, she sang, she hummed songs she liked, she enjoyed furry, trilling tribbles, and she hung out with the other members of the crew during her free time. You got the impression that Lieutenant Uhura would be a great friend and crewmate. And, in many of the episodes, Lieutenant Uhura was the voice of common sense and reason, pointing out something that others missed. One website has collected some of her most memorable moments here.
My favorite Lieutenant Uhura moment came during the classic episode City On The Edge Of Forever. She was on the landing party that went down to the planet’s surface to try to find Dr. McCoy, who had inadvertently injected himself with a powerful hallucinogenic drug. When McCoy eludes the crew and goes into the past to change history, Kirk and Spock decide their only option is to also go into the past to try to find McCoy and stop him from changing history. The task seems impossible, and each member of the landing party is told that they will have to try, too. When Kirk and Spock prepare to depart, Mr. Scott, the ever-proper engineering officer, says “Good luck, gentlemen.” Lieutenant Uhura, in contrast, says: “Happiness at least, sir.”
“Happiness at least.” That was Lieutenant Uhura as portrayed by Nichelle Nichols. We wish her safe travels.