It’s still hard to believe that Leonard Nimoy, the Star Trek icon, is gone. As we celebrate his contribution to sci-fi culture let’s look at some of his best moments playing the unforgettable Mr. Spock on TV and film. From stoic, calm and collected to comical or out of character to poignant these are some of truly memorable moments. Live long and prosper, indeed.
Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock the first officer of the starship Enterprise on Star Trek, has died today at the age of 83.
Nimoy not only was renowned for portraying the stoic, emotionless Vulcan, but he was a noted film and TV director, photographer, musician and poet. Among his best known directorial pursuits were Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Three Men and a Baby. The first two films helped to increase interest in Star Trek , which led to numerous successful spinoff films and TV shows. Nimoy also capitalized on his fame and appeared in or lent his distinctive deep voice to other well received TV shows and films like Star Trek: The Animated Series, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, A Woman Called Golda, Columbo, Mission: Impossible, Night Gallery, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and The Outer Limits. He also hosted the ’70s paranormal documentary TV show In Search of…, which still has a cult following. His other prominent genre work was appearing as the enigmatic scientist Dr. William Bell in several episodes of Fringe.
But Nimoy will be best remembered for his portrayal of Spock. The cool and logical alien on Star Trek was an instant hit with fans and helped popularize the fledging show back in the mid ’60s. Although Star Trek only lasted three seasons, the show’s popularity grew afterwards in syndication and has become an integral part of our modern culture. A large part of merit is due to Nimoy’s performance, which garnered him Emmy nominations.
Still despite his fame, Nimoy was enigmatic about the benefits of having played Spock and feared being typecast. His ambiguous feelings led to him writing his famous autobiography I Am Not Spock. He was so ambivalent about the Spock character that he was hesitant to reprise the role when Star Trek was revived as a series of films. This was why Spock was killed off in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, since the death would allow him to have some closure with the character. However, as we all know the film was so well done and Nimoy had a positive experience while filming it, that he changed his mind and was willing to continue playing Spock. This led to him directing the next two Star Trek films, the latter being considered one of the series’ best films. He also reprised the role in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and in the last two Star Trek films. By this time, he had embraced the character and realized how it helped open other opportunities for him like his directing and artistic endeavors.
With his passing, we are again reminded how the past is slipping away from us being that three of the original Star Trek actors are now deceased. But his boundless legacy, which includes introducing the world to the most famous alien in sci-fi culture, will live long and prosper long far into the future.
Dr. Gillian Taylor: “Don’t tell me. You’re from outer space.”
Admiral James T. Kirk: “No I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space.”
Dinner conversation during a date at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, circa 1980s
“Well, a double dumbass on you!”
Admiral James T. Kirk to a taxi driver on the streets of San Francisco, same time period
Usually when the fourth film in a franchise comes around the franchise itself starts to show signs of fatigue. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Unbelievably, the fourth Star Trek film reaffirmed the Star Trek franchise after its moribund predecessor. A lot of the credit goes to writers Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennett (who was also the producer), Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson, and primarily, director Leonard Nimoy, who co-stars in the film as Spock. Nimoy found his footing with his second directorial gig and it shows in a big way.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home begins with a dedication to the lost crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which was appropriate and sincere being that the tragedy happened earlier in the year that the film premiered. After the credits, the story begins with a Reliant-class starship encountering a humongous, shiny, black cylindrical alien probe that drains the starship of its power. Before anyone can say V’Ger, the story jumps back to Earth at the council chambers of the United Federation of Planets where audiences are brought up to date with what happened in the previous film. A Klingon ambassador (John Schuck) wants Admiral James T. Kirk’s (William Shatner) head for killing a Klingon crew and stealing their bird-of-prey ship and accuses the Federation of wanting to wage war on the Klingons with the failed Genesis terraforming process.
Kirk has violated nine Starfleet regulations, such as disobeying orders and stealing the starship Enterprise . He is on exile with his former crewmembers on the planet Vulcan. They include Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott (James Doohan), and Commanders Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). After being on Vulcan for three months, they choose to return to Earth and face trial. Spock, who they risked their lives and careers for in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, is recuperating from his resurrection and regaining his mental acuity. He is still confused about the nature of feelings, but elects to accompany his friends back to Earth.
Meanwhile, the alien probe approaches Earth and creates havoc as it drains away the energy of anything that it approaches. Starfleet is effectively crippled and Earth defenseless. The probe also emits a series of ear-piercing inhuman screeches and wails that no one can decipher. The probe arrives in Earth orbit and begins transmitting into the oceans. This creates a severe superstorm that covers the planet and the endangers all life.
Kirk and his crew leave Vulcan with the stolen Klingon ship (rechristened the Bounty) and on their way to Earth pick up a distress call from the Federation President (Robert Ellenstein), who is on Earth, warning away visitors because of the probe. Spock is able to decipher the probe’s transmissions and we learn that it is trying to contact humpback whales. Unfortunately, the species is extinct in the 23rd century, which forces Kirk to take the Bounty and time travel to Earth’s past and find whales to bring back to their time period.
After Kirk informs Starfleet Command of his intentions, the Bounty makes a slingshot maneuver around Earth’s sun. It’s a time travel procedure first done in the classic original episode “The Naked Time” but more ethereal with dream-like sequences showing morphing busts of the crew and whales. After that sequence the ship winds up in the latter half of the 20th century. After picking up whale songs transmitting from the San Francisco area, the ship lands cloaked in Golden Gate Park in the middle of the night. Scotty informs Kirk that in addition to refitting the ship’s interior to accommodate a whale tank, the ship’s dilithium crystals that power the warp core drive are drained and need recharging or else they’re stranded. With that, the now-Bounty crew disembark their ship and head off into the wild frontier of the 20th century.
After the rousing Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, its sequel Star Trek III: The Search For Spock feels like a bit of a letdown. It’s an entertaining film but it could’ve been a lot better and the cast and crew give it a good try. It can be difficult to state exactly what is wrong with film. It’s not dull like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and moves along at a brisk pace. More than the other two films, this one feels more like an episode of the original series thanks in part to director Leonard Nimoy’s obvious familiarity with the characters and situation. But a careful examination would have to conclude that the script needed another pass before filming began. The film feels disjointed at times and seems to be in a rush to go from one plot point to another; in the meantime some unanswered questions pop up about plot developments.
The film begins not long after Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, the Enterprise is heading back to Earth after Khan (Ricardo Montalban) and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) death. Commanding officer Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is visibly depressed over the loss of his friend. Most of the young cadets onboard the ship during the last film have been transferred elsewhere. Saavik (now portrayed by Robin Curtis because Kristie Alley and the producers couldn’t agree on a salary) has been assigned to a science vessel called Grissom orbiting the new Genesis Planet (after Khan detonated the stolen Genesis Device, it created the planet). Assisting her with researching Genesis is Kirk’s son, Dr. David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), developer of the rapid terraforming process that created the planet. Even though his mother, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), was a major character in the previous film, her absence in this film is never explained at all. In reality, writer and producer Harve Bennett needed to make budget cuts and felt her character wasn’t essential to the story. That was the first clue that the script was off.
Meanwhile, Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is behaving strangely, actually he begins acting like Spock and even sounds like him. But there isn’t any effort to get him any help.
The Enterprise arrives at a huge Spacedock orbiting Earth and sees the next generation of starships, the Excelsior, whose commandeered by an arrogant Captain Stiles (James Sikking). He would’ve been a good foil for Kirk but that is never explored. Throughout the film, members of Starfleet show an obvious disregard and disrespect toward Kirk and his crewmates that is a bit baffling and undercuts their supposedly legendary status. Perhaps they weren’t that highly thought of in their time.
Kirk and his crew learn from the commander of Starfleet, Admiral Morrow (Robert Hooks) that the Enterprise will be decommissioned because of its age. They are also ordered not to discuss the matter of Genesis, since it has become a political hot potato.
Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard) visits Kirk at his apartment and demands to know why he left his son’s body on Genesis and didn’t bring back his katra or his spiritual essence to Vulcan. According to Vulcan belief, when a Vulcan is dying, he or she mind melds with a close associate so that the katra can be transferred into that person. Both the katra and body are needed to give a proper burial and that if the katra remains with the associate it will mean that person’s death. The entire matter isn’t properly explained but that is the script for you. After looking at the Enterprise’s video logs, Kirk discovers that right before he died, Spock quickly performed a mind meld with McCoy. This explains the doctor’s odd behavior since he has Spock’s katra.
Kirk decides to risk everything to retrieve Spock’s body and soul because of his friendship. However, Admiral Morrow forbids Kirk from returning to the Genesis Planet and won’t budge. Kirk gets annoyed and resolves to go anyway as he tells the Enterprise helmsman Sulu (George Takei), “The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.”
He frees an imprisoned McCoy slated to be turned over to a “Federation funny farm” because he tried to hire a ship to go to Genesis and his behavior has people convinced he’s insane. Kirk also steals Enterprise out of the Spacedock with the help of his crewmates Sulu, Scotty (James Doohan), Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Apparently the only other ship in Spacedock that can pursue the Enterprise is the Excelsior, which is stopped dead in its track thanks to some sabotaging from Scotty. It seems odd that in such a space faring society, Kirk is unable to procure a private ship to go to Genesis. Stealing a badly damaged starship while fun to watch, fails to quell the question of why do it? The Enterprise needs repairs and will make an easy target. It would’ve made more sense if they quietly took another ship and snuck away.