I am a Geek. Have been all my life, and Star Trek was my introduction to science fiction. I’ve talked before about my favourite movie as a child being Ghostbusters, but a close second was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It was a fun, exciting and light hearted comedy adventure, something the previous three Trek movies had avoided with their more action and/ or philosophical angle. Wrath of Khan is an excellent film, but Voyage Home will always be my favourite, matched only by First Contact– though Voyage Home just wins out. Voyage Home captured the humour of the Original Series, a humour that was a lot closer to the surface than we may think when we consider episodes such as Balance of Terror or the heart wrenching The City at the Edge of Forever. But the classic series was full of humour, the final scene of an episode frequently involved a gag or joke, usually at Spock’s expense and some of my favourite episodes are outright comedies- Shore Leave, I Mudd, The Trouble with Tribbles. And Leonard Nimoy was a great comedic presence but could play it serious when needed.
I am currently re-watching the classic series and am completely taken aback by just how good Nimoys acting was. For the one character that was not supposed to portray emotions the character of Spock was one of the most rounded and versatile characters. Nimoy understood the Vulcan Spock, and remembered the half human side that impacted him. Only one other actor in Trek history has truly been able to grasp the complexities of a character whose emotions are not non existent but controlled- Tim Russ as Tuvok. And that is the thing about Vulcans- it is not that they cannot have or experience emotions it is that they control them. And Nimoy was able to show those levels of emotion and range through simple gestures and intonation- a raised eyebrow for example could give away an entire subtext of feeling. Nimoy didn’t play Spock as an emotionless robotic automaton, but as a real breathing three dimensional character that was fighting an internal struggle between the human and the alien. It was a master class in acting and might go someway to explaining Spocks popularity. His character was so well portrayed that Spock was the only character to return full time to the show after the failed first pilot The Cage.
At the time of The Cage, Spock’s character was not fully understood and there are some instances that don’t gel with later interpretations- a scene where he smiles at a plant stands out as does an unintentionally hilarious scene where the only members of a landing party to beam down are the female characters, Number One and a Yeoman, to which Spock throws out his hands and panicked screams “The Women!”
But these can be overlooked, especially when we see just how quickly Nimoy was able to sculpt and develop the character once the show was picked up for a full season. When we look at Spock in The Menagerie we see in just a few short episodes how Nimoy was able to create a loyal and strong character whose irrational behaviour at times could always be justified as rational and logical. When he took command of a downed shuttlecraft in The Galilleo Seven we see a complex individual battling between his Vulcan heritage and human side, illogically burning up the last of the fuel in a foolhardy gambit or coming round to seeing the human side of death.
Though the first movie is something of a let down, it is Spock that saves it. Or rather Nimoy that saves it. This isn’t to criticise anyone elses acting ability, but Nimoy was so far above many of his colleagues in ability that he saved every scene he was in. His death scene in Wrath of Kahn is one of the most famous deaths in movie history, a truly heart tugging scene that, as far as audiences at the time knew, would be his last. Sacrificing himself for his shipmates. His final words now more than ever tinged with sadness and emotion- I have been and always shall be your friend.
Some people might find it bizarre that the death of a celebrity whom many never knew might impact us. Well for many, Nimoy was a huge part of their childhoods. When The Next Generation was set to air I was excited until I was told Spock wouldn’t be in it. When Robin Williams died I was upset but more due to the situation, how and why it happened. With Nimoy he was old and had been ill, a lung problem brought on by years of smoking though he quit 30 years ago.
Leonard Nimoy represents something to many geeks and nerds- in relation to his most famous character, he was different but could fit in, he was intelligent but respected for it, he was compassionate without appearing outwardly so (as compassionate as a Vulcan can be). He was rational, skeptical but never quite as cold as he was made out to be by others.
Beyond Star Trek Nimoy continued to act and direct, including directing another childhood favourite of mine- Three Men and a Baby. He starred in the television show Fringe (which if you haven’t seen, you must) and his list of credits is too long to post here.
Nimoy is remembered by many fans as being approachable and willing to engage, not a stand offish diva but a real human being who was doing a job, a job he at times disliked if the title of his first autobiography is anything to go by –I am not Spock. Only later to bring out a new book embracing his most famous character- I am Spock. Star Trek would still have existed without Nimoy, but with him it was something joyous to watch and his popularity surely added to its success. His interaction with Bill Shatner and the late DeForest Kelly was always a highlight of the episode and despite the poor script and story, the standout memorable moment from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a very human scene of the trio singing “Row, row, row you boat” around a campfire.
For much of his life he was a smoker, but gave up in the 1980s. He was also an alcoholic, his drinking becoming dangerous during his time shooting Star Trek. And his own experience with alcohol gave him insight, his humanity gave him compassion and he famously attempted to help Shatners late wife when her own drinking problem became apparent. During Star Trek he was close to and a confidant of Yeoman Rand actor Grace Lee Whitney, a woman who also dealt with alcohol addiction and was unceremoniously dropped from the show after a few episodes.
Leonard Nimoy may have lived thousands of miles away, he may have been a man I never met or spoke to, but he spoke to me and to people across the world. His death may not be unexpected, but his loss will be felt by many. As Kirk said during Spocks funeral in Wrath of Kahn: “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human”. And that can apply to Nimoy as much as to Spock, if reports from those who met him are anything to go by.
Nimoy lived long and prospered, and I only hope my own legacy approaches even half that of Leonard Nimoys.
Below is the final quote from the 2009 Star Trek movie, with Nimoy providing the famous “Space… the final frontier” speech