Saturday, 20 June 2015

Live long and prosper Mr. Spock

Leonard Nimoy in a familiar pose at Mr. Spock on "Star Trek".
More than anyone else, Leonard Nimoy and his character Mr. Spock symbolized everything that is right with the “Star Trek” philosophy. He transcended all generations and was a giant. With his recent passing, he will be sorely missed but never forgotten. The mark he has left will last for centuries.

In the beginning
It is hard to believe in this world of maximum access, it was difficult in the 1980s for me to see “Star Trek” on TV. Now, we can access DVD box sets of the series, and prowl the Internet to watch episodes online. Back then, in the three-channel universe of the rural cable network, it was left up to CBC, CTV, or what is now Global, to air re-runs. That did not happen for a long time.

Instead, my exposure to “Star Trek” was left to books – novelizations of episodes written by James Blish and numbered sequentially, or novelizations of the animated series written by Alan Dean Foster. Later came photo-novels, which used nothing but pictures and a minimum of text to tell the story. The novels provided the story, the photo-novel provided the visuals.

This was my introduction to “Star Trek” and the triumvirate that was at the heart of the show: Captain James T. Kirk; Dr. Leonard McCoy, medical officer; and Mr. Spock, first officer and science officer.

The familiar triumvirate of "Star Trek". Dr. Leonard McCoy
(played by DeForest Kelley), medical officer of the
United Star Ship Enterprise; Captain James T. Kirk
(played by William Shatner); and Mr. Spock
(played by Leonard Nimoy), first officer and science officer.
Three heads are better than one
Eventually CBC began airing re-runs on Saturdays. One summer, one of the cable networks ran them weeknights, so I watched a bunch when I was visiting my cousins in Brooks in the summer.

This was where I discovered the essence of the show. Kirk was the avowed leader, without question. Unlike his successor Jean Luc Picard in “The Next Generation” who was an explorer and a scientist, Kirk was captain while the Federation was at war with the Klingon Empire. That made Kirk very much a military leader, in addition to his mission to “to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”.

This reality posed no end of dilemmas for Kirk. He was a leader who was at times emotional and at other times clinical and rational. Whenever he was faced with any tough decision, providing council were McCoy, who wore his heart on his sleeve and was very emotional, and Spock, who was the epitome of logic. These two men represented the two halves of Kirk’s personality, and their external conflict represented the one raging inside Kirk.

Spock in particular was a character like none we had seen before. There were the very alien aspects, such as the pointed ears, raised eye brows, and green blood. But, what really made him different was the fact he came from a race and culture that banned emotion, and made logic the centre of existence. The Vulcans were a people perfectly suited for diplomacy and exploration, because they viewed everything objectively, rationally, and with zero emotion.

On first view, Spock seemed like the typical Vulcan. He lacked all emotion and constantly evoked logic, much to the chagrine of Dr. McCoy who accused him of being robotic, callous, and cold. However, underneath, Spock waged a battle few other Vulcans did. His father Sarek, had taken Amanda, a wife from Earth. That made Spock half human – whether he liked it or not – and that added another dimension to every situation.

We will never know this for sure, but had any actors other than DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy played McCoy and Spock, it is likely they would not have become the phenomenon they have.

Evolution of a relationship
Over the years, the relationship between these three characters deepened. It reached its climax, for me, when “Star Trek” graduated to movies. After the limited success of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, Paramount re-tooled the franchise and released “The Wrath of Khan”, which many say is still the best of the movies.

Spock dies at the end, saving the ship because, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and the one”. Logical until the end. It is the depth of sorrow Kirk feels that likely Spock can or would not feel, that makes the ending so poignant, when he says of all the people he has encountered in his travels, Spock was the most human.

Yet, we are left with the faintest of hope at the end of “Wrath of Khan” that Spock may in fact live again. It becomes the focus of the next movie “Search for Spock”. McCoy quickly discovers that, in the most delicious of ironies, “that Klingon bastard left me his marbles.” Before he entered the chamber that would lead to his death, Spock had transferred his essence to McCoy. Concurrently, an experiment designed to generate life where none existed before is running, and we are left to wonder if it can re-generate the corpse of Mr. Spock.

The entire movie is spent with Kirk, McCoy, and the rest of the original senior crew, risking their careers, their reputations, and their lives to help Spock. It again symbolizes how much the relationship had deepened. The needs of the few and the one outweigh the needs of the many.

I’ve been dead before
Ultimately they are successful. Spock’s body has re-generated and, after a near death experience, the body is reunited with the mind back on Vulcan.

There would be more adventures, culminating in “The Undiscovered Country” where Spock and Kirk grapple with their age amidst an overture to finally achieve peace with the Klingons. At one point, when the Enterprise is being stalked by a cloaked Klingon battle cruiser, they lament that if what they are attempting does not work they are dead.

“I’ve been dead before,” Spock says. It is the perfect mix of humour and determination.

Of course, they triumph once more as Kirk, the warrior, beats his Klingon adversary.

Transcending time
The other aspect of Vulcan physiology is that Vulcans live much longer than humans. That allows Spock, now an ambassador, to make an appearance in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. After successfully negotiating peace with the Klingons years earlier, he is now attempting the same feat with the Romulans. His efforts are unsuccessful, but we are left with the impression he will keep on trying.

Star Trek’s various series franchises wound down, and the movies shifted from original series characters to the next generation characters before they too wound down.

But wait, along came J.J. Abrams to re-boot the franchise, with much younger crew members. Abrams, a long-time “Star Trek” fan, found a way to have the original Spock in the new “Star Trek”. Sure enough, there he was, and you could hear the cheering in the theatre too. When Abrams followed up “Star Trek” with a sequel called “Into Darkness”, there was Spock again, offering his insight into battling the adversary known as Khan.

There was something poignant and cool to see the new Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, on the screen with Leonard Nimoy one last time.

Parting thoughts
Leonard Nimoy would go on to do so many other things: philanthropy; write books; record poetry and music; directing; photography and continue acting. He did the “In Search Of” series, and guest-starred in many TV shows. One of the spots I remember best was playing a crooked cop in an episode of “T.J. Hooker” opposite his old “Star Trek” castmate and friend William Shatner. I often wondered when Shatner hit it big a few years ago in “Boston Legal”, if we would see Nimoy make a guest appearance. He did appear in the Fox sci fi thriller "Fringe" and his voice made an appearance on “The Big Bang Theory”, a show populated by characters who are “Star Trek” fans. Nimoy even visited the Town of Vulcan in Southern Alberta, which has become a hub in this part of the world for “Star Trek”.

Through all his achievements, Leonard Nimoy will always be best remembered as Mr. Spock. It wasn’t just that he embodied a character, but it was a philosophy, and a way of living for many people. There was a message of hope, that a positive future lay ahead, and we would meet races, like Spock and the Vulcans, who would become friends and allies. Together, we would explore the universe, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one had gone before.

If this all sounds trite and cliché, the proof it is not is in all the people who grew up watching Spock and “Star Trek” who have become pioneers in technology, the Internet, wireless communications, medicine, diplomacy and so many other fields.

Nimoy’s influence, as Spock, is immeasurable, and we will see it for years to come.

It was a sad to hear Leonard Nimoy died, but it provided an opportunity to look back, reflect, and see what he has accomplished and the legacy he has left behind.

Live long and prosper.

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