Leonard Nimoy passed away yesterday. I only found out when I staggered back from the pub and saw the reports on the news and unlike when most celebrities die, I’m not just sorry for the man’s family and friends, but this upset me because not only has Nimoy always seemed like a decent human being (something quite rare) but because he’s never going to play Spock again, and I’m mourning Spock as much as Nimoy, probably more so.
As regular readers know I grew up in Glasgow during the 1970’s which was a tough period to grow up in as working class communities started falling apart but one of the first things I remember that gave me joy was Star Trek every Monday night on BBC One. At school we’d play at Star Trek with people split about whether they wanted to be Kirk or Spock. I always wanted to be Spock, not because I didn’t love William Shatner’s Kirk who was a brilliant, intelligent human captain for the first couple of series before they turned him into a misogynist boor in the last season but because a slightly alienated kiddie in Glasgow saw Spock as more relatable, as did millions of people across the planet.
Spock was the alien, The outsider. He couldn’t relate to these emotional humans but he tried, and that formed the relationship of the Star Trek trinity of Kirk/Spock/McCoy that made the programme more than an excellent bit of SF adventure. One of the best memories I have growing up is seeing Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the ABC in Glasgow on a snowy winter’s night that I talk about in detail here, but there’s one scene in it that made the entire cinema sit up and that’s Spock’s entrance back on the Enterprise.
It’s a great scene that Nimoy does perfectly in a film that could have been so much better (though I do recommend the director’s cut DVD quite highly as one of the few director’s cuts that makes a film much, much better, plus the film has a brilliant Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack) but it’s that scene in The Wrath Of Khan that had me bawling quietly in the same ABC in Glasgow on a sunny summer’s day in 1982.
It’s a brilliant scene that both Nimoy and Shatner act (Shatner never gets enough credit for his part in this scene) and sell to the audience perfectly. They’ve earned the tears unlike the scene in Into Darkness that hasn’t. Of course Spock returned and eventually Nimoy embraced the role that he’d spent a time trying to run away from with a nice appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation that’s one of that programmes many, many high points.
Although Nimoy was a director, photographer and many other things, it was always his portrayal of Spock that is going to live on because it meant so very much to so very many people. It showed you could be a bit smart and be part of the gang, have friends and be a good person that would lay their life down for you. So when the 2009 Star Trek reboot/sequel happened it was logical to have Nimoy be the link between the old original cast and the new ‘original’ cast. Also the remarkable performance of Zachary Quinto giving not only a good impression of Spock but also be able to add to what Nimoy did in order to create a slightly different, yet familiar Spock was one of the best things about a pretty good film. The less said about the next film the better, but the first of new films has a lovely scene between Quinto and Nimoy’s Spock’s that really is fabulous.
I wish that had been Nimoy’s final scene as Spock so let’s imagine it is as it’s a lovely send off, topped off by Nimoy’s reading of that famous opening dialogue at the end of the 2009 film.
Nimoy took Gene Rodenberry’s alien first officer and didn’t just create a character in an American SF adventure series, but he did something few actors do which is to create something that genuinely touches people. He created a character that people admired, loved and respected because of what they could see of themselves within that creation and I really can’t think of anyone else apart from possibly Tom Baker that is so loved on the same scale by not only the SF fans, but the larger mainstream population that aren’t as obsessed with things like Star Trek as the likes of me. That’s an impressive thing for an actor to do.
As said, Nimoy did other things but he’ll always live on as Spock.