So here is my biggest beef with fandom right now: if the movie doesn't place a premium on platonic love over erotic love, and doesn't say that McCoy's relationship with Kirk reduces his importance as a character to nothing but an appendage, then why do parts of fandom embrace McCoy while heaping abuse on Uhura? Why does Uhura have to be held to a higher standard (and almost always only to be found wanting) solely because she's female? Why are the male characters allowed to be shown in relationships (whether they're romantic or platonic), but if a female character is, she's "nothing but the girlfriend"?
Please pardon my resurrecting this thread; I've just been linked to it, and would like to offer comment to your argument.
In general, I agree with you; McCoy and Uhura serve similar purposes in the story, and both are clearly intended as highly competent specialists in their respective fields.
I also disagree. First, while the ambition of the film seems to have been to similarly credential their excellences, McCoy and Uhura are ultimately portrayed quite differently.
McCoy repeatedly takes action - he recognizes problems and deals with them. He smuggles Kirk aboard the Enterprise
of his own initiative, develops a plan on the fly - as we watch - and talks his way past resistance - again, as we watch. As new symptoms develop, he quickly recognizes and treats each one. Later, we see the effects of his treatment of Pike - evidenced by the admiral's apparent good health and high spirits.
Uhura, by contrast, takes no initiative on screen. She may have independently decided to decode the Klingon transmission, but the audience is given no indication either way. She is impelled to action by Kirk during the rush to the bridge before the Enterprise
's arrival at Vulcan. And she takes no professional initiative (within her specialty) for the rest of the film.
She one of only two major characters who we do not see take this kind of initiative (I leave out Spock Prime, because he serves a fundamentally different purpose). Pike, Kirk, Spock, Sulu, McCoy, Robau, George Kirk, and Chekov each decide to act when presented with a difficult situation. Uhura does not.
Scotty also does not, but he, by virtue of playing the role of comic relief, is given a partial pass by the audience. (His transporter expertise is also shown, as is his ability to develop - cliched - solutions to difficult engineering problems in a matter of moments.)
Second, Uhura's expertise is not demonstrated on-screen, only spoken of. We are told that she has translated the Klingon transmission, but we don't see her translate it. Similarly, we are told that she can speak all three dialects of Romulan, and can distinguish between the Romulan and Vulcan languages, but don't see her do either. Uhura's professional capabilities are entirely spoken of, and entirely undemonstrated in-frame.
We do see McCoy make diagnoses on the fly, we do see his knowledge of the effects of various medicines, and we do see the outcome of his treatment of Pike. His competence is not so prominently demonstrated as Sulu's or Chekov's, but it is seen on screen.
Third, the reason I dislike Uhura in the film.
(she is the model Academy cadet Kirk is not)
Uhura is not a model Academy cadet. She is highly emotive and largely emotionally-driven. Her behavior toward Kirk in the Kobayashi Maru simulator is as unprofessional as his would be were he not intentionally demonstrating his disrespect for the test. (I would argue that his behavior was excessive, regardless, but will accept the common opinion here.)
Observe McCoy in the same scene. He is clearly disturbed, as the faculty are, by Kirk's apparent failure to take the simulation seriously. But he maintains an attitude that is not professionally unfriendly. McCoy grumbles at Kirk's actions and takes the simulation seriously. Uhura fails to take Kirk seriously as captain within the simulation, and undermines the simulation in the process, both by failing to take it seriously herself, and by injecting a personal problem she has with Kirk into the professional interactions of fellow officers.
She later approaches Spock in a manner that is inappropriately hostile in a hierarchical context; a junior officer addressing a senior in that manner is inapproprate. Notice, too, her upthrust chin as Spock departs; her attitude toward her success is entirely improper.
The closest we see to model cadet is, in fact, McCoy, whom I would describe as a competent cadet more than a model. (I imagine the "stack of books with legs" that Kirk was in the prime reality would more accurately represent a model. We can also probably assume Spock would have qualified in either universe.)
Compare Uhura with any male character in the film other than Kirk - Chekov, Pike, George Kirk, Robau - and the difference is striking. She is emotional before responsible, quick to anger, and much less cerebral than tempestuous.
Contrast with the female characters of Star Trek's very first incarnation is notable. Observe both Number One and Colt in "The Menagerie"
. They seem similar in demeanor to the male officers - dutiful, intelligent, and only normally emotional, much more like real-life female officers. (Note that Colt is intellectually-driven despite her apparent "very strong female drives".)
As for Uhura's need for a solid CV, as opposed to the male heroes, there's some truth to it that she has certain standards to uphold as the only remaining female Trek character.
I think Uhura's need for bona fides relates more to her personality than to her sex (her clothes probably have some impact, but many females wear more practical uniforms in the film). She behaves in a generally uncreditable manner, professionally - more like a young person from the streets of New York than a trained officer of Starfleet.
She was described earlier in this thread as a strong female. I don't think she is. Number One, Colt, T'Pol, and officers like them represent strong female characters; they appear comfortable in their duties and confident in their abilities to perform them. Imagine a female Pike: calm, collected, cool, and decisive - a strong character. Uhura seems more like someone who feels she has something to prove to the world, much like the unenlightened Kirk of the first half of the film, if much less extreme.