Marva Hicks guest starred in two Star Trek: Voyager episodes.
I initially scrolled past the headline so quickly, it took a second to sink in. Had I just seen news of a Star Trek: Voyager actor’s death? I scrolled back, and sure enough, there it was: “‘Star Trek: Voyager’ & ‘Sister, Sister’ Actress Marva Hicks Dies at 66.” I was sad to hear the Star Trek universe had lost another star. But I was embarrassed to admit, even only to myself, that I didn’t recognize Marva Hicks’s name. Who was she, and who had she played on Voyager?
A native of Petersburg, Virginia and a Howard University graduate, Marva Hicks, like the late Nichelle Nichols, began her career as a singer. She eventually sang on Broadway with Lena Horne in 1981. “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music was my first Broadway show,” Hicks told Broadway World in 2020. “I was stunned to be on stage with this iconic figure that is a part of the fiber of black people in the film and music industry. She knew what was at stake being a gorgeous and talented woman of color and she used it not just to benefit herself but her people.”
Hicks also played Rafiki in The Lion King on Broadway and was in the original Broadway casts of Caroline, Or Change (2004), and Motown: The Musical (2013). She won the Helen Hayes Award, which honors outstanding achievement in professional theater across the Washington, DC region, three times.
On television, Hicks guest starred on series including L.A. Law, Mad About You, and Sister, Sister. Science fiction fans might recognize her—apart from her Voyager appearances—in the Alien Nation TV movie Body and Soul (1995), and in the Babylon 5 episode “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place.” Her last TV credit was a 2019 turn on Madam Secretary.
Marva Hicks played T’Pel, the wife of Tuvok, on Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Voyager is by no means the biggest entry in Marva Hicks’s lengthy filmography. But the role she played was an important one. In two episodes, Hicks played T’Pel, wife of Tuvok, Voyager’s security chief. (The T’Pel Hicks played is not to be confused with “Ambassador T’Pel,” a.k.a. Romulan Sub-commander Selok, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Data’s Day.”)
Although Voyager viewers hear about T’Pel on several occasions, we first see her—or, rather, an alien-induced hallucination of her—in the second season episode “Persistence of Vision.” Various bridge crew members see the Bothan representative on their viewscreen as someone they know and love. Captain Janeway sees her fiance Mark; Tom Paris sees his father; Harry Kim sees his girlfriend Libby. Tuvok sees not only the Bothan as T’Pel but also the Vulcan lute he used to play for her, as well as himself in a Vulcan desert.
When we next see T’Pel, she also isn’t real, but a vision brought on by a telepathic plant. In the fifth season episode “Bliss,” Tuvok sees T’Pel in one of the starship’s corridors. They share the Vulcan finger embrace we first saw Amanda and Sarek share in the original series episode “Journey to Babel.” Per the Memory Alpha wiki, T’Pel is played in “Bliss” not by Marva Hicks but by an uncredited Kimber Lee Renay.
T’Pel’s third and final appearance in Voyager isn’t really T’Pel, either—but Marva Hicks returned to the role. In the seventh season episode “Body and Soul” (which coincidentally shares the title of the Alien Nation movie Hicks was in), Tom Paris creates a hologram of T’Pel to help Tuvok navigate the biological imperatives of pon farr. “The hologram was adequate,” Tuvok later tells Paris, “but no substitute for my wife.” He also mentions that Paris gave the holographic T’Pel ears four millimeters longer than the real one’s ears. Paris chalks the discrepancy up to “a little artistic license.”
I didn’t know about Marva Hicks before but am glad to know a little more about her now. Her career as a singer and performer on stage and the small screen was a rich one. Star Trek is fortunate that, if only briefly, her career carried her into the final frontier.