How Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 2 Pays Tribute To Nichelle Nichols

Hailing frequencies open! With "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds," one of the franchise's most tragically underused characters is finally getting her due. The character in question? Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, of course. She may be one of the most beloved characters from the original "Star Trek" series, but roll the tapes back and you'll realize that Uhura rarely had much to do on the Enterprise bridge. But with "Strange New Worlds" — and the franchise's brand-new Uhura, played by Celia Rose Gooding — that's beginning to change.

In the series' second episode, "Children of the Comet," Cadet Uhura officially falls in with the crew of the Enterprise. Her first-ever away mission involves the study of an ancient (and possibly sentient?) comet hurtling towards a Class M planet. While attempting to divert the comet from its destructive course, the away team discovers the object is actually hollow. More than that, it's essentially piloted by a glowing gold egg that answers to a yet-unknown alien language. It's entirely up to Uhura to decode this language from inside the comet, all while the Enterprise tries to ward off a group of zealots called the Shepherds who'll stop at nothing to see the comet fulfill its apparent destiny. 

It's a daunting task for the cadet, but one she eventually (and brilliantly) pulls off before time runs out. Uhura discovers that the comet-cave responds not to words, but to music. By harmonizing with Spock — which, in itself, is adorable — Uhura is able to communicate with the alien vessel, giving the Enterprise the opportunity to save the planet from imminent destruction.

To boldly vibrato

Such a musically-inclined mission is a perfect task for Celia Rose Gooding, who is both descended from Broadway royalty and a champion of the stage herself. Gooding's mother, LaChanze, originated the role of Ti Moune in "Once on This Island," and won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for "The Color Purple" in 2006. Gooding herself is also Tony-nominated for her work in the Diablo Cody-penned musical "Jagged Little Pill."

"Children of the Comet" feels as much like a showcase for Gooding's serious skills as it is a tribute to the original Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, and her own musical exploits off-screen. Before she would lend her voice to original series episodes like "Conscience of the King," Nichols performed with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. And from 1967 to 1991 (roughly the same years she portrayed Uhura), Nichols released a solo EP, two singles, and three full-length albums. Most contain breezy renditions of old standards, not unlike the cheeky stylings of Eartha Kitt. Nichols also put out a few "Trek"-themed projects, like "Out of this World," which featured a version of the "Star Trek" theme with added lyrics.

Uhura saves the day

That Gooding and Nichols share a connection to music is a gratifying piece of trivia for long-suffering fans of Uhura — especially with the knowledge of all the people that got hurt whenever Uhura sang in the original series. In "Conscience of the King," an Enterprise officer is poisoned with a glass of milk while Uhura serenades the crew. Her voice later attracts the attention of a sentient probe in the season 2 episode "The Changeling," which inevitably causes chaos on the bridge, and even (briefly) claims Scotty's life. 

Ironically, Nichols' captivating voice was most commonly used as some sort of harbinger of ruin in the original series. It's the probe's failure to understand the concept of music in "The Changeling" that puts the Enterprise crew at risk. Looking back, it's a weird subversion of Nichols' talents, and it's taken years for the franchise to reverse it. In "Strange New Worlds," it's Uhura's voice that saves lives, and cements her place among the Enterprise crew along the way. It's a fitting (and frankly delightful) reintroduction of a character that's always deserved better — and a stellar tribute to Nichols' legacy, too.