This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s space opera, Star Trek (1966-1969).
And although we all have our own favorite characters from the franchise, the series may be known best for one personality in particular: Leonard Nimoy’s half-Vulcan/half-human Mr. Spock.
The late Mr. Nimoy brought so much humanity and dignity to the role of Spock, and the writers — from the original series to the feature films — also did their best to make the Enterprise science officer an individual of importance, tolerance, and dignity, in universe (well, except for noticeable exceptions such as “Plato’s Stepchildren” or “Spock’s Brain…”)
So, gazing back at the fifty year (fictional) career of Mr. Spock, here is a short recap of the character’s greatest achievements.
These accomplishments might be considered, essentially, in a handful of useful categories.
Scientist: In his time aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Mr. Spock utilized his Vulcan mental abilities to advance the frontiers of galactic knowledge, and save imperiled life-forms on a dozen occasions. He discovered, for example, the location of the mythical planet Eden (with help from Mr. Chekov) in “The Way to Eden.” More significantly, perhaps, he saved the last survivor of an endangered species, the silicon-based life form called a Horta, on Janus VI (“The Devil in the Dark.”) He did so via a dangerous, and unprecedented Vulcan mind-meld.
Diplomat: Although Spock often disdains diplomacy and diplomats too, he surely must rank as a remarkable one. He is, for example, the individual who opened up negotiations with the Chancellor of the Klingon High Command, Gorkon (David Warner) in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). His efforts with Gorkon secured an alliance with the Klingon Empire that, by the time of the Next Generation (1987-1994) several decades later, permitted Klingons like Worf (Michael Dorn) to serve in Starfleet. Also, in the same span of in-universe history, Spock undertook a diplomatic mission to unify Vulcan and Romulus, though unsuccessfully.
Soldier: Spock probably never viewed himself as a soldier, but again and again during his career aboard the Enterprise, he provided Kirk the key tactical data to help the Captain overcome an enemy.
For example, in “The Corbomite Manuever,” Spock likened the conflict with a much-more powerful opponent, Balok, to a game of chess. This remark inspired Captain Kirk to think of another game: poker. Thus he decided to bluff, and thereby saved the ship. In the encounter with Khan at the Mutara Nebula, Spock pinpointed the genetically-engineered superman’s “two-dimensional thinking.”
Again and again, Spock’s cool, rational strategies helped Captain Kirk see how he might claim advantage in a battle situation.
Friend: Spock’s loyalty to his friends is such that he stood on trial with the rest of the Enterprise bridge crew in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), even though he was not a part of the mutiny (being, technically, deceased at the time).
Again and again throughout Star Trek, we have witnessed Spock’s intense loyalty to Kirk, whether saving him from an intruder in his own body (“Turnabout Intruder,”) rescuing him from dimensional interphase (“The Tholian Web”) or even helping the good captain to forget a hurtful emotional episode (“Requiem for Methuselah”).
Starfleet Officer: Throughout his career, Spock consistently served in Starfleet with great distinction. In the aforementioned encounter with Khan (Ricardo Montalban), Spock ended up giving his own life to save his shipmates, and the Enterprise herself (The Wrath of Khan ).
He made this sacrifice without vanity, arriving at his solution to the Kobayashi Maru “no-win” scenario through logic. He thus lived and died by the axiom “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Spock left behind an empty chair on the bridge of the Enterprise, and a hole in every fan’s heart too.
Beyond Star Trek’s fictional universe, of course, we lost Leonard Nimoy, at age 83, in 2015. His presence is very much missed, especially on the occasion of the 50th anniversary, but we still have all his performances as Spock — a true one-of-a-kind TV and movie character — to treasure.
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