Remembering Nichelle Nichols

What can be said about Nichelle Nichols that hasn’t already been said over the last few days? Her loss is felt profoundly by the entire Star Trek fan community – a rare moment of togetherness in what can be a divided fandom at times. But beyond that, news of her passing has resonated across the world of entertainment and beyond. She was a unique person, someone whose influence and hard work may not have been centre-stage for everybody, but whose tireless commitment to the causes she supported – and to fans of Star Trek – will never be forgotten.

At a time when the United States was still in the process of outlawing racial segregation, Nichelle Nichols became an icon for the civil rights movement. The character of Uhura took her place on the bridge of the USS Enterprise not as a servant or a maid, not as a subordinate, but as an equal member of the crew; an officer with the respect of her shipmates. Such roles were incredibly rare on American television at that time, and the statement made by Uhura’s presence on Star Trek was one of racial equality and hope for the future.

Nichelle Nichols, 1932—2022.

There’s a frequently-cited story that it was Martin Luther King who convinced Nichelle Nichols to remain on Star Trek when she considered leaving to return to the stage after the show’s first season. Star Trek, according to King, was one of the few shows he allowed his children to watch – and Uhura’s role was the reason why.

Star Trek told morality tales and gave commentary on contemporary issues of race and civil rights across its three seasons, and Uhura was a powerful presence in many of those stories. Nichelle Nichols brought the character to life with a quiet, understated charm, and quickly became an irreplaceable part of Star Trek.

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in The Undiscovered Country, 1991.

While we as Trekkies might remember Nichelle Nichols from her role as Uhura, her legacy extends far, far beyond the Star Trek franchise – and even beyond the realm of entertainment itself. Beginning in the 1970s, she worked with NASA to help drive the recruitment of new, younger astronauts from diverse backgrounds. The first African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-Americans to travel into space joined the space programme as part of Nichelle Nichols’ initiative. She quite literally changed the face of NASA and diversified space exploration.

The documentary Woman in Motion goes into detail about Nichols’ work with NASA, and if you haven’t seen it it’s well worth a watch. I love a good documentary, and Woman in Motion presents her story in an understandable way. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know much about her involvement with NASA prior to watching Woman in Motion, but it’s a story that absolutely should be told – and I’m glad it was able to be told before Nichelle Nichols passed away.

Nichelle Nichols on the Woman in Motion poster.

Over the past few days we’ve seen an outpouring of grief and remembrance from Nichelle Nichols’ Star Trek co-stars, actors and creatives in the Star Trek franchise, many others from the world of entertainment, and countless people who felt inspired by her. Many people have shared their own stories of what it meant to see Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, how Nichelle Nichols inspired them to get started in their chosen career, or the words of advice she had from those lucky enough to have met her in person.

For one person to have such an impact and leave such a legacy is phenomenal, and the thousands upon thousands of tributes that we’ve seen are just a small fraction of the lives that Nichelle Nichols touched in one way or another. Those lives were changed not because she played a role on Star Trek, but because of what she did with that role, that fame, and the spotlight that was placed upon her. Other actors could’ve happily taken their pay and done nothing more – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all – but Nichelle Nichols went the extra mile. She recognised what her role meant to millions of people across the United States and around the world, and she did everything that she could to make it matter. That’s why it’s been so hard to know what to say, and why her loss hits so profoundly. She wasn’t just another performer – she was so much more than that to so many people.

Nichelle Nichols with Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green.

We’ve been lucky to have Nichelle Nichols with us for as long as she was. It was only in her final couple of years that she began slowing down her activities; she attended her final Star Trek convention less than a year ago. In all of that time she offered to fans and everyone else the kind of boundless, unbridled optimism that defines Star Trek itself: always smiling, always happy to be seen with fans, co-stars, and new actors alike.

I’m going to miss Nichelle Nichols. I’ll miss hearing about her appearances at conventions and the interactions she had with fellow fans and friends of mine within the Star Trek fan community. I’ll miss the stories she could tell about working on the show and its films. And I’ll miss seeing her with the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Zoe Saldaña, and Celia Rose Gooding. The comfort I take is that she lived a full life, one in which she put her talents to good use both on-screen and off. She leaves behind a legacy most people could only imagine, and her impact on the worlds of Star Trek, entertainment, and even space exploration itself will outlive her, continuing long into the future.

Some images used above courtesy of Star Trek/Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek’s “First Contact Day” event – roundup and impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, and most importantly, there are spoilers (including images) from the teaser trailers for Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, and Discovery Season 4. There are also spoilers for Prodigy.

Yesterday was “First Contact Day” – the 5th of April is the day in 2063 when humans made first contact with the Vulcans, as depicted in Star Trek: First Contact. We’ve seen the event celebrated within Star Trek on a few occasions, and apparently one dish often served is salmon! But we’re off-topic already.

The creative team in charge of Star Trek set up First Contact Day as a digital event, somewhat akin to last year’s Comic-Con @Home presentations, and other similar events that they’ve done periodically. It was marketed on social media, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. But it wasn’t 100% clear how fans were supposed to access the virtual panels – whether they were just going to be available on the website, on social media directly, or even via Paramount+. Even navigating to the right part of the Star Trek website took clicking through several links.

It wasn’t exactly clear how to get to this web page.

That confusion was entirely self-inflicted and clarifying it would have been easy to do. It was almost as if the social media/website teams were making watching the panels “live” – they were actually pre-recorded – as difficult as possible. Thankfully all five of the panels were later made available on YouTube (vital for me, so I could go back and take screenshots!) But while we’re complaining about Star Trek/Paramount+/ViacomCBS’ social media, if you want to watch the full panels on YouTube I advise you to do so fast – in the past, some Star Trek videos, including one of the trailers for the first season of Picard and last year’s Comic-Con panel I mentioned earlier, were taken down by YouTube’s copyright protection algorithm. Hopefully that won’t happen this time, but it’s worth keeping in mind the possibility.

One of the pre-event social media posts was really tantalising and very well put-together. A “teaser” clip of a viewscreen which briefly flashed up two numbers – that looked like map coordinates – got a number of Trekkies talking and speculating, successfully building up a degree of hype for the First Contact Day event. In 2021, this kind of audience engagement via social media is vital for any franchise, and I’m glad to see Star Trek at least making an attempt!

What looked like the bridge of the USS Discovery…
…and the mysterious numbers!

So let’s start with the big news!

We got teaser trailers for Lower Decks Season 2, Picard Season 2, and Discovery Season 4! In addition, we got to see the design for Captain Janeway in Prodigy. Each of the panels gave us a few clues and tidbits of information about these upcoming Star Trek projects, which was fantastic.

The mysterious numbers mentioned above did in fact turn out to be coordinates – for a convention centre in Chicago! Star Trek: Mission Chicago is going to take place in April 2022, and will be the first in-person convention since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Perhaps it’s because I was never going to be in attendance, but I’m not sure the convention was the strongest way to end the First Contact Day event. It was saved for the last moment by co-hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton, and it just felt a tad anticlimactic after an event that had seen so much other exciting news.

For me at least, this wasn’t the strongest way to end the entire broadcast.

With so much going on, and so many amazing reveals, it’s hard to know what to talk about first! Let’s start with Prodigy, since the newly-revealed image of Captain Janeway is probably going to be seen as First Contact Day’s most iconic takeaway. While there was no trailer or teaser for the series, which I admit I had been half-hoping for, we did get a bit more information.

The series is set several years after Voyager, at roughly the same time as Lower Decks, in the 2380s. And the reason why none of the aliens we saw in the first teaser image a few weeks ago look familiar is because the show is set in the Delta Quadrant. The aliens are (presumably) all Delta Quadrant natives who are, according to the show’s creators, totally unaware of Starfleet or the Federation.

The new Captain Janeway design for Prodigy.

The version of Captain Janeway that they encounter is a “training hologram” that has been left behind on some kind of training vessel, presumably by the USS Voyager as it passed through the Delta Quadrant. This is the abandoned Starfleet vessel that had been mentioned in the show’s original description.

The design of Janeway is just fantastic. Modern Star Trek has not been shy about changing up classic designs, but Janeway retains her Voyager-era uniform and combadge, and the design manages to blend the way she looked in the show with a CGI-cartoon aesthetic just perfectly. Looking at her, you know immediately who she is! I honestly cannot fault the design, and I can’t wait to see her in action along with the new crew.

The rest of the Prodigy crew.

The premise of Prodigy has now fully taken shape. The setting has been laid out and the crew assembled. Now all we’re missing is the ship itself! Could that be the Delta Flyer?

The creators of Prodigy talked about how the new series will be great fun for kids, stimulating their imaginations and creativity. Both words, “imagination” and “creativity,” came up several times during the panel, and it sounds as though they’re really pushing hard for Prodigy to be something more than just background noise or brainless entertainment. The best kids’ shows do this, and as a result have a lot to offer kids and adults. There was a mention that Prodigy is for “all ages,” which is great!

Finally, Prodigy promised a number of surprises and connections to Star Trek’s broader canon, both of which I like the sound of! There was a hint that one of the characters we saw in the teaser image has a connection to The Original Series; my first guess was the rock-like alien perhaps being a Horta, as that was something I guessed at when I first saw the image. But we’ll have to wait and see on that!

Could this character be related to the iconic Horta?

So that was Prodigy. Since we’re looking at animation, let’s move on to Lower Decks next.

Creator Mike McMahan was involved in a panel that looked at Star Trek’s sense of humour. Considering how many “critics” attacked Lower Decks before it was broadcast for being an un-serious take on Star Trek, I think it was worthwhile to remind people that humour has been a huge part of the franchise going all the way back to The Original Series. McMahan in particular noted the interactions between Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy as being a great example of this.

The panel concluded with the aforementioned Lower Decks Season 2 teaser, and in a scant few seconds there was a lot going on! Here are just a few of the things I noticed: Rutherford’s implant is back, meaning his design remains unchanged despite the events of the Season 1 finale. Boimler, as promised, remains aboard the USS Titan, though his posting doesn’t seem to be going well!

Lieutenant Boimler doesn’t seem to be having “the time of his life” on board the USS Titan!

Jonathan Frakes will return as Riker, which we had assumed but hadn’t been confirmed. At one point, Mariner wore what looked like the anbo-jyutsu armour from Season 2 of The Next Generation – something Riker wore once in that show. A Miranda-class ship was briefly shown. And finally, there was a sequence in which Mariner appeared to be fighting several Cardassians!

There’s a lot to digest in just those few seconds, and taken out-of-context it’s hard to be sure of what’s going on! What we didn’t see was Boimler interacting with the other three main characters, and perhaps that’s to keep his fate a secret. Or perhaps it’s indicative of the fact that he will remain aboard the USS Titan for several episodes!

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, and Mariner in the Lower Decks Season 2 teaser.

Lower Decks Season 2 looks to be coming together nicely, and there was a lot shown off in the teaser that seems to be from quite a few different episodes. We now know that Lower Decks Season 2 will premiere on the 12th of August, which is pretty much one year after Season 1’s debut! So that’s fantastic news, and it means we’ll get at least some Star Trek this year!

Discovery’s fourth season is also scheduled for 2021, though no date was confirmed. After an interesting panel which focused on Nichelle Nichols and a documentary that has been made about her and her work and influence over women at NASA called Women In Motion, Sonequa Martin-Green introduced the first Season 4 teaser trailer.

The Women In Motion panel.

Before we look at the teaser in depth, I enjoyed the Women In Motion panel. One point that came up is the value of representation, which was something Michelle Hurd (Star Trek: Picard’s Raffi) discussed at length. Representation matters in entertainment, and I’ve had an essay in the pipeline on that very subject for a while. One of these days I’ll get it finished!

On to the teaser trailer. The first thing to note is that Discovery’s uniforms have been changed. The grey design appears to have been retired in favour of a more colourful look – the basic layout of the uniforms appears to be very similar, but the colours have changed. This is something I predicted a few weeks ago, and I look forward to seeing more of the new uniforms at some point soon; it’s difficult to assess them fairly from a few short scenes in a teaser!

Owosekun and Burnham sporting the redesigned, more colourful uniforms in the Season 4 teaser.

After the Burn in Season 3, it seems as though Discovery is returning to another “natural disaster” concept in Season 4. An “anomaly” described as being five light-years in diameter seems to be threatening both the Federation and other worlds, perhaps meaning there will need to be some working together to figure out a solution.

After Seasons 1 and 2 both ended up being about fighting and had major villains to defeat, it was a nice break for Discovery to largely have to deal with a scientific problem in Season 3, so I think the same concept could work well again. I just hope that it doesn’t end up feeling either repetitive, as though copying the Burn, or anticlimactic, coming after the galaxy-wide catastrophe and simply not being as impactful.

Damage to the USS Discovery in the Season 4 teaser.

When I heard talk of a gravitational anomaly that was several light-years wide, my first thought was the Nexus, as seen in the film Generations. That “energy ribbon” was known to be able to damage starships and even planets, and though we didn’t see any evidence of the Nexus, perhaps it could be the cause of this strange anomaly?

It looks as though the USS Discovery takes a beating in Season 4, and may even end up destroyed or irretrievably damaged! At one point, Burnham was the sole figure on the bridge and had to wear a helmet, presumably because of the extent of the damage suffered by the ship. Though the uniforms have been redesigned, I didn’t see any significant changes to the internal design of the USS Discovery itself, which is something I think would be nice to see now they’re established in the 32nd Century.

Burnham in some kind of armour or space suit in the Season 4 teaser.

It was great to see Cleveland Booker back, and it seems as though David Ajala will be back as a regular cast member for the show. Book was such a fun character in Season 3 that I’m thrilled he’s back. He wasn’t in a Starfleet uniform, so it seems as though he’s keeping his status as an outsider. That worked well in Season 3, so why change what works?

Lieutenant Detmer appears to have upgraded her cybernetic implant! We saw at least one glimpse of a scene in which the USS Discovery appeared to lose artificial gravity, which is something rarely seen in Star Trek. We saw the return of the President of Ni’Var, who appeared in Season 3, as well as the debut of a new character who seems to be a Federation official.

At one point, the ship appears to lose its artificial gravity!

Saru was shown briefly, and looks to be in some kind of diplomatic or ambassadorial role based on the few seconds he was on screen. We also saw one other Kelpien, a couple of unknown aliens, and Burnham once again talking about togetherness and unity as ways to tackle the threat they all face – presumably this anomaly. And most importantly: Grudge is back!

So all I can think to say is “wow!” Discovery Season 4 looks action-packed to say the least! We didn’t see either Admiral Vance or Kovich; the latter we know is returning but I certainly hope Admiral Vance will be back as well. Oded Fehr’s performance in Season 3 was fantastic, and it’s wonderful to have a Star Trek admiral who does what’s right and isn’t an adversary; it makes a nice change!

The USS Discovery was also briefly glimpsed in the Season 4 teaser.

Based on what we saw, Discovery Season 4 looks fantastic, and getting confirmation that it’s aiming for a 2021 release is great news as well. Though no date was given, at this stage I would assume (alright, guess) that we’ll see something of a repeat of last year, with Lower Decks running from August to October, and Discovery Season 4 picking up sometime in mid-October; certainly before Halloween. It would then run through the autumn and winter before concluding sometime in the New Year. That was 2020’s pattern, and with Lower Decks scheduled for August, I think we can reasonably guesstimate that the same thing will happen this year as well.

That brings us to Picard, which was one of the first things we saw! The Picard Season 2 teaser was totally unlike the Lower Decks and Discovery teasers, being comprised of no filmed scenes and featuring no characters – which makes sense, given how early in production the season is! Despite that, however, in the short teaser we actually got a lot of information – or possible information – about what might be going on!

A model of the USS Stargazer in the Season 2 teaser.

Firstly, time travel appears to be involved. Specifically, travelling backwards in time. This was represented by an hourglass running in reverse. We also saw the teaser linger very prominently over a model of the USS Stargazer – Picard’s first command. There was also a glimpse of Paradise Lost, an epic poem about falling from grace and the rejection of God. I’m sure that’s a tease at something… but what? Then we got the biggest bombshell of the entire teaser: Q is returning!

John De Lancie, who plays Q (and who recently appeared in Lower Decks) joined Wil Wheaton and Sir Patrick Stewart to confirm Q’s return, and it was great to see him back! The combination of time travel plus Q seems to make for an interesting setup to the new season!

John De Lancie will reprise his role as Q in Picard Season 2!

The USS Stargazer was under Picard’s command for more than twenty years, seemingly from the 2330s to the 2350s. Having spent so much of his life aboard the ship, revisiting it makes a lot of sense for the show! It’s also an almost-blank slate, as aside from a few references and lines here and there across The Next Generation, the Stargazer’s exploits are largely unknown. We do know that the ship was involved in the Cardassian Border Wars, and that Jack Crusher served aboard the ship before being killed. In voiceover, Picard talked about time being the real “final frontier,” and about the desire to do things differently.

A couple more hints about the storyline and Q’s involvement came in the panel which followed. Sir Patrick Stewart made a couple of references to Q appearing in an “episode” using the singular, so perhaps Q will be back for just one appearance! It doesn’t sound as though Q caused whatever time-related event is happening, which is also a point of note.

The very creative way Q’s involvement was announced!

Q’s arrival was said to come at a “shattering moment” – perhaps the moment that time shattered? Or perhaps a moment in which Picard feels traumatised, as Sir Patrick Stewart and others made reference to Picard being “traumatised” both by his past and whatever is going on in the new season.

There seemed to be a hint that Picard may visit more than one time period, as well as Jonathan Frakes’ inclusion suggesting that Riker may make a reappearance in Season 2 as well. My first thought, putting all of these elements together, is some kind of follow-up to the events of All Good Things, the finale of The Next Generation. In that story, Q allowed Picard to move between three time periods in order to solve a puzzle – events in the future were having a causal effect on events in the past! Perhaps some kind of similar “anti-time” story is on the cards?

An hourglass running backwards was one of the key visuals in the teaser.

Q appeared in the first episode in which we met Picard – Encounter at Farpoint right at the beginning of The Next Generation’s run. As I said once, it would be poetic if he were also to appear in the episode – or at least the season – which marks Picard’s end as a Star Trek character as well. Though a third or even fourth season of Picard was said to be there for the taking if Sir Patrick Stewart wanted to do it, I wonder if Q’s inclusion in Season 2 may mean that it will be the last season of the show – and may even see Picard killed off.

That’s pure speculation on my part, though!

With production having only been going on since late February, I’m not surprised that Picard didn’t have more to show at this stage. It seems certain we won’t see Season 2 before next year, and that’s actually okay! As excited as I am to continue the journey, we’ll have plenty of Star Trek to get stuck into later this year.

What relationship will Paradise Lost have to the plot?

So that wraps up my thoughts on the three teasers (plus one image) that we got during yesterday’s First Contact Day event. Before we go, though, I want to talk briefly about the other panels.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: First Contact (gosh I feel old now, as I remember seeing it at the cinema!) There was a panel hosted by Wil Wheaton that featured Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and Alice Krige – the actress who played the Borg Queen in that film. It was a very sweet panel, as all the participants had fond memories of working on the film.

Krige in particular spoke very highly of working with the cast of The Next Generation, and being welcomed aboard by a team that had been working together for almost a decade at that point. There were some lighthearted moments too, as Frakes was quizzed over his “Two Takes Frakes” nickname! It was a lot of fun, and it’s nice to see that, even after so many years, the cast still enjoy one another’s company.

The Star Trek: First Contact 25th Anniversary panel.

The only panel I haven’t touched on yet was that hosted by Mica Burton in which several designers and artists participated. It reminded me of a book I own called Aliens and Artifacts which similarly looks at makeup, uniform design, prosthetics, and so on, and how all of those things are created by artists behind the scenes.

It’s always interesting to learn a little more about how these things work, and it was neat to hear from some of the folks who have been involved with designing new aliens, new uniforms, and other aesthetic elements that go on to be iconic and emblematic of Star Trek.

The artists’ panel was interesting.

So that’s it! First Contact Day was interesting, and we got to learn a lot about upcoming Star Trek projects! The return of Q in Picard Season 2, as well as a time travel story, sounds interesting. Discovery Season 4 looks to be playing up the strengths of Season 3. And Lower Decks looks like another wacky good time! It was great to see Captain Janeway’s design in Prodigy, as well as learn a little more about that series. Though I hoped to find out when it will debut or even see a trailer, I’m content to wait and let the creators get it ready first!

I had fun with First Contact Day, and I encourage you to check out all of the panels in full if you haven’t already. At the very least, watch the teasers for yourself! You can find all of the First Contact Day panels by clicking or tapping here to go to the Paramount+ YouTube channel.

The Star Trek franchise, including all properties mentioned above, is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.