In the movie “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the Enterprise’s mission was to hunt down and kill the traitor they knew as John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). The crew, led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), traced him to the planet Qo’noS — which is the Klingon homeworld.
Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) took a smaller ship (which the crew captured from Harry Mudd) to Qo’noS to capture Harrison. When they landed the spacecraft, Uhura asked to speak to the Klingons alone. Kirk hesitated.
Uhura Speaking Klingon
“You brought me here because I speak Klingon,” said Uhura. “So let me speak Klingon.”
She left the spacecraft and spoke to the assembled Klingon warriors, but it did not go well. Eventually, Harrison popped up and started fighting the Klingons alongside Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Starfleet crew members.
The twist of the scene and the film “Star Trek Into Darkness,” as most fans know, was that Harrison was really Khan Noonien Singh. This is the same augmented superhuman who terrorized Prime Kirk (William Shatner) in the classic episode “Space Seed” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
The point is, Uhura was able to speak perfect Klingon to these warriors. It was not her fault that they wanted to fight and kill the ‘aliens’ who had just landed on their planet. That all happened in the Kelvin Universe, which means it happened in an alternate timeline and did not affect events for the rest of the “Star Trek Universe.” But it stands to reason that Uhura in both the Prime and Kelvin Universe was able to speak Klingon and possibly other alien and Earth languages as well. In fact, in “Star Trek (2009),” Uhura replaced another communications officer because he could not discern between Vulcan and Romulan — but she could.
So why did Uhura struggle to communicate with the Klingon listening outpost in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country?” If she could speak Klingon in the Kelvin Universe, shouldn’t she be able to speak it in the Prime Universe?
Uhura Struggling With Klingon
In a recent episode of “The Inglorious Treksperts” podcast, Daren Dochterman rightly pointed out some of the ridiculousness of that scene. The great Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura in “Undiscovered Country.”
“One of the scenes that I find absolutely appalling is when they are trying to communicate with the Klingon outpost,” said Dochterman. “And they have a bunch of Klingon translation books. Books? This is Nick Meyer’s love of the printed word sneaking in, yet again, completely inappropriately.”
Nicholas Myer is the director of both “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “The Undiscovered Country.” He’s also written a script for a three-episode mini-series on Khan’s life on Ceti Alpha V.
“And Uhura being … out of her element for some reason,” said Dochterman. “This is not what should happen.”
“What should happen is, some of her underlings are trying to deal with this situation, and [Uhura] comes in, and she speaks to the Klingons,” said Dochterman. “And she gets them past this situation because she is qualified. She is one of the stars of the movie. She does something that is laudable and heroic. But there’s none of that!”
‘Strange New Worlds’ Sets Things Right
In the second episode of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” Captain Pike (Anson Mount) invited the crew to his quarters for dinner. It was then that Cadet Uhura (played by Celia Rose Gooding) told the captain that she was fluent in 37 different languages. This announcement sets up the rest of the episode when Uhura must figure out the alien language the sentient comet was using to communicate.
Fans also now know — for sure — that she is a language expert and that she was the Universal Translator before the device was perfected. As Dochterman pointed out, the scene from “The Undiscovered Country” was a “horrible oversight.”
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I always thought Uhura not knowing Klingon language was another reinforcement that though Starfleet and Klingons had been in Cold War for decades they really didn’t know much about each other, in the same way Bones didn’t know anything about Klingon anatomy. In the original films I never got the impression she was this language genius, just somebody really competent at directing communications through and from the ship, and universal translator did all the language translation. I think the new films giving her the language skills are fine and it’s been good having a stronger female role in the new films with zoe.
The reason Uhura was unable to speak Klingon in STVI:TUdC, despite being very multilingual in thr time of SNW, is because her memory got wiped by The Changeling. Doctor McCoy eventually got her reeducated to ‘College Level”. She was ‘reeducated’; she didn’t have her Katra restored from a backup. At the time, reeducating her to regain her 37 languages (always that number, 37) was not seen as a priority.
Also, the problem with TUdC was that they could have used the UT to translate the /incoming/ Klingon, even if they did have to use books for the outgoing.
I know fans of JJTrek and Kurtzman Trek like to put older Trek shows and movies down, but this is a really, *really* dumb point to pick at.