Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Nichelle Nichols’s amazing debut

by Rob - September 1st, 2021.
Filed under: Reviews, Star Trek.

My friend Asbed, visiting Toronto from Los Angeles, came by again yesterday, and, in honor of the Gene Roddenberry centenary, we watched the only never-broadcast episode of his series The Lieutenant, entitled “To Set It Right,” written by Lee Erwin and directed by Vincent McEveety, both of whom went on to work on Star Trek.

“To Set It Right” dealt with racism — and the difficulty of talking about racism — and we all agreed it was excellent and as relevant today as it was when it was made in 1964. The guest stars were Don Marshall (who went on to play Lt. Boma on TOS), Dennis Hopper, and, as the credit read, “Introducing Nichelle Nichols.”

The Pentagon had previously cooperated in the production of The Lieutenant, which was a series about the United States Marine Corps in peacetime, but it objected strenuously to the filmed episode and so it was never aired. Roddenberry fought for it to be shown, enlisting the help of the NAACP, but that just resulted in his series being canceled a week later.

The entire cast (including series stars Gary Lockwood and Robert Vaughn) was fabulous, but I feel really sorry for Nichelle Nichols. She was incredible in this, her TV acting debut. It was a meaty part, she knocked it out of the park, and if the world had seen it, she might have gone on to a much more significant career. You can well understand why she wanted to quit STAR TREK after the first season: she was capable of so much more than what TREK gave her to do.

The Lieutenant is available on DVD; this episode is on the second of two the sets, “The Lieutenant – The Complete Series, Part 2.”

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on this extraordinary episode:

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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