By the time it airs, the upcoming series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will be the third series in the Trek franchise to act as a direct prequel to the classic 1960s show that boldly started it all. And Strange New Worlds will feature the return of Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, and Ethan Peck as Captain Pike, Number One, and Mr. Spock, respectively, all reprising their roles from Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Short Treks. But who else will round-out this version of the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701? New characters, for sure, but what about very familiar ones?
Among all the speculation and fan excitement about Strange New Worlds, there’s one fairly obvious character the series could and should bring back: Nyota Uhura. You might think putting Uhura on the Enterprise seven years before Kirk won’t work. But are you sure? Here’s how a new (not rebooted!) version of Uhura could totally appear in Strange New Worlds without ruffling any of Star Trek’s complicated canon.
Chronologically speaking, Uhura’s backstory in the Prime Universe Star Trek canon isn’t as extensive as you might think. In terms of official sources, the books The Star Trek Chronology and The Star Trek Encyclopedia put Uhura’s birthday sometime in 2239. This would make her around 26-years-old (maybe 27) when she first serves with Captain Kirk in 2265 or maybe 2266. Why are we worried about these distinctions? Well, Trek canon isn’t exactly ironclad about when Uhura joined the Enterprise. And, even though the Chronology and the Encyclopedia are handy, they aren’t technically canon until something is established on screen. Also, the only TOS episode that actually happens in 2265 is“Where No Man Has Gone Before” and Uhura ain’t in it. She doesn’t appear until “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and that happens in 2266. Does that mean Uhura didn’t join the Enterprise until 2266 just because we didn’t see her on the bridge until then? Does the canon tell us anything definitive about when Uhura joined the Enterprise, or what? The answer is: yes, but it’s a very unreliable source.
In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, the jerky officer Uhura nicknames “Mr. Adventure” calls her a “20-year-space-veteran.” The Search For Spock takes place in 2285, so if you subtract 20 years from that, you get 2265, which is the first canonical year of Kirk’s command of the USS Enterprise and the same year as “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” And, if we accept that literally, then that means 2265 is the first year Uhura had ever been out in space, even if she wasn’t on the bridge right away. This would also imply she went to the academy in her early twenties and didn’t graduate and get posted onto a starship until she was roughly 26. Which feels off. Why do we trust Mr. Adventure’s math? Guess what, we shouldn’t. (The Search For Spock also features a line from Admiral Morrow, who says the Enterprise is “20 years old,” which is totally wrong, because, at that point, the Enterprise was more like 50 years old. Likely explanation: when Search For Spock in 1984, that was two years prior to the 20th anniversary of Star Trek IRL, so it seems like that script was just obsessed with the number 20.)
ANYWAY. Leaving aside the Doylist explanation for the erroneous idea that Uhura only had 20 years of space experience in 2285, let’s focus on the more fun Watsonian idea that we have no idea what Uhura did before the original series. Let’s say Mr. Adventure was generalizing, and let’s face it, the guy was a total idiot, so it feels right to just say he was flat out wrong and Uhura, could have easily had a career that was much longer than 20 years by 2285. Hell, in real life Nichelle Nichols was 33-years-old when she started on Star Trek in 1966. Just for fun, let’s say Uhura was 30 in 2265. You’re really telling me her career in Starfleet began when she was 30? No way! Even if we go by her 2239 birthday from the old Chronology (and we really don’t have to), Uhura being 26 and on her first starship assignment still feels incorrect.
For the most part, at least with humans, people tend to enter Starfleet Academy when they’re in their teens or early 20s. There are a lot of examples of this from the films, and The Next Generation, but for the sake of not going crazy, let’s just stick to the 2250s and 2260s, since that’s the era we’re in. Let’s start with Chekov. How old is Chekov in TOS? That’s easy, he was born in 2245, and he first appears in the second season, roughly 2267. So, he’s 22 and he’s been out of the academy for about three years. So, he was about 19 when he entered Starfleet Academy. Uhura is obviously older than Chekov. How about another recent Starfleet cadet we’ve seen get promoted to Ensign; Sylvia Tilly? Tilly is roughly 21 or 22 in 2256, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. We know this because there are several references to her age in season 2, specifically when she talks about going to Musk Junior High in 2247 when she was 14-years-old. Because of this date, we know Tilly was probably born in 2233. Bottom line: as a cadet, who then becomes an ensign, Tilly and Chekov are both about the same age at the exact same point in their career: roughly 22-years-old as ensigns.
Now, Uhura is Lieutenant Uhura when we meet her in TOS. This implies she had to have been a cadet and an ensign before that point. Like Tilly and Chekov, Uhura is pretty damn smart, and if she is 26 or 27 in “The Cormbomite Maneuver,” she’s actually gotten pretty far in her career fairly quickly. But how long has she been serving on the Enterprise? If she’s 27 in 2266, then that means she’s 19 in 2258. If she’s 30 in 2266, then she’s 22 in 2258. Either way, in 2258—the year Strange New Worlds will likely begin—Uhura is the perfect age to be cadet or newly minted ensign serving on the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Pike. There’s nothing in canon that says she can’t be there and everything that says she could be there.
Recasting someone to play a younger Uhura would be a fantastic move for Strange New Worlds. For one thing, the existing cast is painfully white, and for another thing, Uhura is the most iconic Star Trek character who arguably never got her fair shake. Yes, Zoe Saldana’s version of Uhura in the reboot films has a bigger role in those films than Uhura ever really had on the original show, but it’s not like we really got to know the character any better than we did in TOS or the classic films. Uhura is an icon and a wonderful symbol of racial equality in a hopeful future. But, as a character, she’s a tiny bit underdeveloped. Without Uhura, you don’t have the wonderfully well-rounded black Trek characters that followed her; and yet, it feels like Nyota herself has never really gotten to share the spotlight the way some of the other legacy characters have. Hell, she didn’t even get a first name onscreen until 2009!
Bottom line: Uhura is a fan-favorite character for a good reason, but as a young woman, we don’t actually know much about what she was like. Giving Trekkies several seasons of Cadet Uhura or Ensign Uhura would be amazing. More than any Star Trek character, Uhura’s story deserves to be explored in greater detail, and as I hope I’ve exhaustively proven, Strange New Worlds basically has no excuse not to give her a new role that lets her do a little more than letting someone know about the hailing frequencies.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com and the author of the book Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths (Plume 2015.) His other writing and criticism have been published in Inverse, SyFy Wire, Vulture, Den of Geek!, the New York Times, and StarTrek.com. He is also an editor at Fatherly. Ryan lives with his wife and daughter in Portland, Maine where he teaches creative non-fiction for the Maine Writers and Publisher’s Alliance. He is represented by the Fischer-Harbage Literary Agency.