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Leonard Nimoy as Spock (left) beside William Shatner as James T. Kirk
Leonard Nimoy as Spock (left) beside William Shatner as James T. Kirk
Spock, commonly Mr. Spock, is a fictional character in the Star Trek media franchise. First portrayed by Leonard Nimoy in the original Star Trek series, Spock also appears in the animated Star Trek series, a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, eight of the Star Trek feature films, and numerous Star Trek novels, comics, and video games. In addition to this, numerous actors portrayed the various stages of Spock's rapid growth due to the effects of the Genesis Planet in the 1984 Star Trek film Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. In the 2009 film Star Trek and its 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, Nimoy reprised his role alongside Zachary Quinto, who depicted a younger version of the character, existing within an alternate timeline, and Jacob Kogan playing Spock as a child.
Spock serves aboard the starship Enterprise, as science officer and first officer, and later as commanding officer of two iterations of the vessel. Spock's mixed human-Vulcan heritage serves as an important plot element in many of the character's appearances. Along with Captain James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, he is one of the three central characters in the original Star Trek series and its films. After retiring from Starfleet, Spock serves as a Federation ambassador, contributing toward the easing of the strained relationship between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. In his later years, he serves as Federation ambassador to the Romulan Star Empire and becomes involved in the ill-fated attempt to save Romulus from a supernova.
The character was initially depicted as the USS Enterprise's science officer for the original pilot, "The Cage" (1964). Although "The Cage" did not air, Spock's eleven years of service under the command of Captain Christopher Pike are referred to and depicted in "The Menagerie" (1966) and other episodes. The character's first broadcast appearance is in "The Man Trap" (1966), which introduces him as the ship's science officer and first officer under Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Star Trek depicts a trio of Spock, Kirk, and Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley); while McCoy often acts as Kirk's conscience, Spock offers the captain an emotionally detached, logical perspective. The character also offers an "outsider's" perspective on "the human condition".
Star Trek also presents elements of Spock's upbringing and family. "Journey to Babel" (1967) depicts his parents: Sarek (Mark Lenard), the Vulcan ambassador to the Federation, and Amanda Grayson (Jane Wyatt), a human. Spock's decision to join Starfleet, rather than attend the Vulcan Science Academy, ran contrary to his father's wishes. The relationship between Spock and Sarek is strained and often turbulent, although rooted in an underlying respect and carefully restrained love for each other. The 1973 animated series episode "Yesteryear" shows seven-year-old Spock choosing to pursue a Vulcan lifestyle devoted to logic and suppressing emotion.
At the beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Spock is no longer in Starfleet, having resigned and returned home to pursue the Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr. Spock is unable to complete the Kolinahr ritual after he senses the coming of V'ger, and rejoins Starfleet to aid the Enterprise crew in their mission. Spock, promoted to captain, is commanding officer of the Enterprise at the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). At the film's end, he transfers his "katra" – the sum of his memories and experience – to McCoy, and then sacrifices himself to save the ship and its crew from Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán). The sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), focuses on his crewmates' quest to recover Spock's body, resurrected by the Genesis matrix in the previous film. At the film's conclusion, Spock's revived body is reunited with his katra. Spock is next seen in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), which depicts his recovery from the after-effects of his resurrection. In the film's final scene, he joins the crew of the newly commissioned USS Enterprise-A under Kirk's command. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Spock and the Enterprise crew confront the renegade Sybok, Spock's half-brother. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) reunites the Enterprise crew on a mission to prevent war from erupting between the Federation and Klingon Empire. Spock serves as a special envoy to broker peace with the Klingons after a natural disaster devastates their homeworld.
Spock appears in "Unification" (1991), a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Set 75 years after the events of The Undiscovered Country, the episode focuses on Federation Ambassador Spock's attempt to reunite the Romulans with their Vulcan brethren. Filming of The Undiscovered Country overlapped with production of this episode, and the episode references Spock's role in the film.
Spock's next appearance in the live action Star Trek franchise is the 2009 Star Trek film. Nimoy was given approval rights over Spock's casting and supported Quinto's casting.
In the film's flashback (set 19 years after the events of "Unification", and as depicted in the comic miniseries Star Trek: Countdown), Ambassador Spock (Nimoy) promises the Romulans he will use Vulcan technology to save them from a rogue supernova that threatens to destroy their Empire. He pilots an advanced starship equipped with red matter, a powerful substance able to create artificial black holes. The mission is only partially successful, and in the aftermath Spock is pursued into the past by Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan driven mad by the loss of his homeworld and family, setting into motion the events of the film.
In the film's opening act, Nero's ship emerges in the year 2233, and through its interaction with the inhabitants, inadvertently creates an "alternate, parallel 'Star Trek' universe". 25 years later in the new reality, Spock's ship emerges, and Nero captures him and the red matter. Stranded in the alternate past, the prime version of Spock helps alternate, younger versions of himself and Kirk (Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine, respectively) thwart Nero's attempt to destroy the Federation.
The film also features Jacob Kogan in several scenes depicting Spock's childhood, including his abuse at the hands of other Vulcan children due to his half-Human heritage, and his relationship with his parents (Ben Cross and Winona Ryder). The film also depicts Kirk and Spock's initial clashes at Starfleet Academy, and the gradual development of their friendship based on shared mutual respect, what the elder Spock calls "... a friendship that will define them both in ways they cannot yet realize." A major change in characterization from the primary timeline is alternate Spock's involvement with alternate Uhura (Zoe Saldana), his former student. At the end of the film, the young Spock opts to remain in Starfleet while his older self stays in the altered universe to aid the few surviving Vulcan refugees, as Nero had destroyed Vulcan, Spock's home planet.
In Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock Prime is described as living on 'New Vulcan' while the younger Spock remains aboard the Enterprise struggling with the loss of his homeworld, as well as his relationships with Uhura and Captain Kirk. Spock nearly dies protecting a planet from an active volcano, but Kirk breaks the Prime Directive and saves him. Spock Prime is contacted by Spock on the Enterprise, to find out details on Khan. Spock Prime initially reminds his alternate self that he will not interfere with the events in the alternate timeline. That being said, he then informs Spock that Khan was a dangerous man, and the greatest threat that the Enterprise ever faced in his own timeline, and warns that he is likely as dangerous in Spock's alternate timeline as well. When asked on whether Khan was defeated, Spock Prime answers that he eventually was defeated, but at great cost. When Kirk contracts radiation poisoning and dies in front of Spock (a transposed parallel of events in the prime timeline where Spock dies in front of Kirk), an enraged Spock attempts to kill Khan to avenge Kirk before Uhura informs him that Khan's regenerative blood can revive Kirk. Nearly a year later, Spock remains as Kirk's chief science officer as the Enterprise departs on its first five-year mission of deep-space exploration.
Spock, as originally described in Gene Roddenberry's 1964 pitch for Star Trek, is "probably half Martian, he has a slightly reddish complexion and semi-pointed ears". Early versions had the character ingest energy through a plate in his stomach. Writer Samuel A. Peeples told Roddenberry these attributes made Spock too alien, and suggested "he should at least be half-human and have the problems of both sides", believing the human traits made the character more interesting and able to comment on the human condition more believably. Spock's home planet was changed because Roddenberry thought if the show was a success, humans might actually walk on Mars during the series' run.
Roddenberry sought an alien-sounding name when he created "Spock", and did not know until later of Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and author. In the initial, rejected pilot, "The Cage" (1964), Spock is greenish yellow and from the planet Vulcan. After DeForest Kelley in 1964 turned down the role,:133,147 Roddenberry's second choice to portray the character was Adam West, who at the time happened to be busy working on the film Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), and as a result, turned to Nimoy, already known to him from a guest appearance in his pilot The Lieutenant. Nichelle Nichols was also considered for the role of Spock. After Roddenberry saw Nimoy's thin face and sharp features, no other actors were considered - Kelley, on the other hand, would later be cast as Dr. McCoy, the highly emotional human who became Spock's frequent foil. Had Nimoy turned down the role, Roddenberry would have approached Martin Landau.
The "pointy ears" worn by Nimoy while portraying Spock are a form of facial prosthesis, mainly composed from molded and painted syntactic foam, made by noted make-up artist John Chambers. The foam was made by filling a ceramic matrix with hollow particles called microballoons, which result in a low density prosthesis that is easily worn. However, the process of ungluing the ears was painful for Nimoy, and meant that he had to come in an hour and a half early before filming, and stay behind for a half hour each day after filming, to apply and remove the glued pieces. The pain and inconvenience were so great that when producer Robert H. Justman jokingly proposed plastic surgery, Nimoy momentarily considered doing so. NBC was concerned about Spock's satanic appearance, however, and asked for the character to be dropped; according to Oscar Katz, the network was worried "the 'guy with the ears' would scare the sh*t out of every kid in America". Publicity shots of the character were airbrushed so Spock had normal eyebrows and round ears. With Katz's help, Roddenberry was able to keep the character. Throughout the character's television and movie appearances, the shape of Spock's ears has varied, due in part to the different makeup artists applying them.
Spock did not originally have the logical manner which would become associated with the character, this instead being a trait of the character Number One (Majel Barrett). However, Number One was dropped in developing the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1965). This episode presents a more fully formed Spock, with his trademark logic. Nimoy liked the character's newly logical nature, observing the character is "struggling to maintain a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic, opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion". Spock's behavior has been described as representing, in part, a type of normative judgment. Spock's Vulcan salute is inspired by a sacred hand position used by the ancient Jewish priestly class. Desilu vice president Herbert Solow believes Nimoy was the key contributor to the character's depiction. Nimoy recalled, "As a Jew from Catholic Boston, I understood what it was like to feel alienated, apart from the mainstream...There were a number of values in 'Star Trek' that I felt very comfortable with as a Jew".
In a production memo going into the third season, Roddenberry credited Nimoy and the show's writers for developing Spock into a "fully dimensional" character. Roddenberry said Spock is difficult to write properly, and encouraged the writers to revisit some of the character's more colorful aspects, such as his music-playing and ongoing chess game with Kirk. He also said fans' most frequent request was for more confrontation between McCoy and Spock.
Nimoy had not intended to join the cast of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but was enticed back with the promise that his character would be given a dramatic death scene. Nimoy reasoned that since The Wrath of Khan would be the final Star Trek film, having Spock "go out in a blaze of glory" seemed like a good way to resolve the character's fate. In an earlier draft of the script, Spock had died in the first act in a shocking demise that the movie's producer Harve Bennett compared to Janet Leigh's early death in Psycho. Fan reaction to leaked news that Spock would be killed was overwhelmingly negative, and one fan paid for trade-paper advertisements urging Paramount to abandon the plan. Some fans even went so far as to issue death threats against Leonard Nimoy's family. According to Bennett:
For some reason fans got the impression that he [Nimoy] wanted Spock dead. He'd written a book "I Am Not Spock," and that gave people the idea. Anyway, when a fringe group of Trekkies learned that we were going to kill the Spock character, it was like we'd taken a child of theirs onto the Brooklyn Bridge with the intention of throwing it off. And their reaction was, "Let's get Leonard."
By April 1981, a revised script was completed that moved the character's death to the movie's final act. Spock's death scene was shot over three days, during which no visitors were allowed on set.
Spock's death was intended to be irrevocable, but Nimoy had such a positive experience during filming that he asked if he could find a way for Spock to return in a later film. The scene showing Spock's mind meld with McCoy was filmed without actor DeForest Kelley's prior knowledge of its true meaning. Test audience reaction to Spock's death and the film's ending (the tone of which was dark and final) was poor, so Bennett made it more uplifting by adding a final scene revealing Spock's casket on the Genesis planet. During this scene, Nimoy reads the "These are the voyages" monologue—which, until then, was used only to begin Star Trek stories, thus implying Spock's "story" might not be over.
Director Nicholas Meyer objected to but did not obstruct the changes, and even Nimoy didn't know about the new scene until he viewed the film. Before the film opened, the media reassured worried fans that Spock would "live again".
The Wrath of Khan had its first public screening at a science-fiction convention in Overland Park, Kansas on May 8, 1982, almost a month before general release. Although Paramount executives were concerned that Spock's death would set fans against the movie, the audience actually applauded after Spock's death scene. "It was sensational. I hate to be given to superlatives but it absolutely reached everything we wanted it to. I couldn't ask for anything better," said co-producer Robert Sallin of the advance audience's reaction.
Critical reaction to Spock's death was mixed. Film critic Roger Ebert lauded Spock's death: "He makes a choice in STAR TREK II that would be made only by a hero, a fool, or a Vulcan. And when he makes his decision, the movie rises to one of its best scenes, because the 'Star Trek' stories have always been best when they centered on their characters." On the other hand, The Washington Post's Gary Arnold stated Spock's death "feels like an unnecessary twist, and the filmmakers are obviously well-prepared to fudge in case the public demands another sequel."
Zachary Quinto was cast in the role of a young alternate-timeline Spock for the 2009 Star Trek film, directed by J. J. Abrams. Quinto mentioned he heard about the new film and revealed his interest in the role in a December 2006 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The article was widely circulated and he attracted Abrams' interest. Quinto expressed interest in the role because of the duality of Spock's half-human, half-Vulcan heritage, and how the character "is constantly exploring that notion of how to evolve in a responsible way and how to evolve in a respectful way. I think those are all things that we as a society, and certainly the world, could implement." Nimoy subsequently befriended Quinto. Although Quinto watched some episodes of the show during breaks in filming, Nimoy was his main resource in playing Spock.
From early on, the public reacted very positively - even fanatically - to Spock. Headshots of Spock became popular fan souvenirs, with the rare ones of the actor laughing the most valuable. To Nimoy's great surprise, Spock became a sex symbol, and teenagers asked questions about current events such as the Vietnam War and LSD as if he were the Vulcan scientist. A fan even asked the actor to lay his hands on a friend's eyes to heal them. Nimoy recalled, more than a decade after the show's cancellation:
The "Star Trek" phenomenon continues to amaze and confound me. It was incredible, and it still is, although it is gentler now than it used to be. For a time, it was hysterical – it was so wild I had to be very careful where I went. If I went to a restaurant, I had to plan my entrances and my exits so I wouldn't be mobbed and hurt. Same thing in hotels and airports – any public place. It isn't that hysterical any more, but it is still a potent force.
NASA made Spock an informal mascot of the space agency. Nimoy was invited to be guest of honor at the March 1967 National Space Club dinner and to take an extensive tour of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. The actor concluded from the warm and intense reception he received that astronauts like John Glenn and aerospace industry engineers, secretaries, and shareholders alike all regarded Star Trek, and especially the character of Spock, as a "dramatization of the future of their space program".
The character proved inspirational to many budding scientists and engineers. Nimoy has said that many of them, on meeting him, are eager to show him their work and discuss it with him as if he were a scientific peer, as opposed to an actor, photographer, and poet. His stock response in these situations is "it certainly looks like you're headed in the right direction".
In 2004, Spock was ranked number 21 in Bravo's list of The 100 Greatest TV Characters. In 2008, UGO named Spock one of the 50 greatest TV characters. According to Shatner, much of Star Trek's acting praise and media interest went to Nimoy.
The Boston Globe described Quinto's performance in the 2009 film as "something special", and stated that Nimoy's appearance "carries much more emotion than you'd expect". Slate.com said Quinto played Spock "with a few degrees more chill" than Nimoy brought to the original character. Entertainment Weekly said that Quinto "... invests Spock with a new layer of chilly-smoldering sex appeal, [and] Quinto does a fantastic job of maintaining Spock's calm, no-sweat surface but getting quietly hot and bothered underneath."
Spock has been parodied by, and has also been the inspiration for, pop culture works in various media. Composer/keyboardist George Duke's 1976 Solo Keyboard Album features two tracks which pay homage to Spock: "Spock Gets Funky" and "Vulcan Mind Probe". Rock guitarist Paul Gilbert wrote the song "Mr. Spock" on his Space Ship One album. Swedish synthpop band S.P.O.C.K makes music heavily influenced by the Star Trek universe. Even Nimoy got in on the act; assuming the Spock character, Nimoy recorded a number of novelty songs, the first being "Highly Illogical", in which Spock pointed out the foibles of human thought, such as relationships, automobiles, and greed. The second song, "A Visit to a Sad Planet", was darker in tone and told the story of Spock visiting Earth in the future and discovering it had been ruined by war, violence, and environmental irresponsibility. According to comic book writer and editor Bob Budiansky, The Transformers character Shockwave was inspired by Spock. Spock's utilitarian perspective that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" is cited in a legal decision rendered by the Texas Supreme Court.
Spock's physical appearance in the Original Series episode "Mirror, Mirror" (1967) has itself spawned a trope of the "evil twin" archetype found in various fictional genres. In that episode, several members of the Enterprise travel to a parallel universe inhabited by evil versions of themselves. The parallel universe version of Spock is distinguished physically by his goatee. Science fiction blog io9 said that Spock's beard in the episode introduced "the best shorthand ever for evil parallel universe duplicates". Examples of the evil goatee's appearances in other media include Bender's "evil twin" Flexo in Futurama and a 2009 episode of The Colbert Report featuring Stephen Colbert and Dan Maffei wearing fake goatees while pretending to be evil versions of themselves. The name of progressive rock band Spock's Beard is a direct reference to Spock's goatee in this episode.
In addition to television, feature films, books, and parodies, Spock has also been portrayed in fan fiction. Since 2004, the online fan production Star Trek: Phase II has continued the further voyages of the cancelled initial series. The fan-series' creators feel "Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest should be treated as 'classic' characters like Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, or even Hamlet, Othello, or Romeo. Many actors have and can play the roles, each offering a different interpretation of said character."
Spock was portrayed by Jeffrey Quinn for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Phase II. Brandon Stacy, who succeeded Jeffrey Quinn and Ben Tolpin in portraying Spock, also served as a stand-in for Zachary Quinto in the 2009 Star Trek film.
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