Mar 7, 2015

Leonard Nimoy's Spock

Mr. Spock travels through time to visit the 20th
century's museum of alien-human hybridization.
After the recent death of Leonard Nimoy I've been reflecting on the Star Trek character Mr. Spock.

Here, in this blog post, I particularly want to examine two topics:
1) Spock as a "science officer" and
2) Spock as a biological "hybrid", a genetic and cultural mixture of Human and Vulcan.

Science Officer
Spock befriends a Romulan
I enjoyed Star Trek as a science fiction adventure story. Gene Roddenberry's original concept of having the second in command of the star ship Enterprise be the logic-oriented Mr. Spock was one of the best features of the show.

Leonard Nimoy contributed his own ideas to the character, including the splayed-finger Vulcan hand greeting and the Vulcan nerve pinch. As discussed below, when Nimoy eventually had the chance to direct the 4th Star Trek movie, the Spock character achieved a kind of transcendent perfection that is cherished by fans.

Spock: "I hear its art forms are incomparable"
While Spock was supposed to be in control of his emotions, the writers for Star Trek had plenty of fun finding ways to hook him up with female characters.

The Biology of Star Trek
One of the great puzzles lurking behind the Enterprise's five year mission of exploration was the great frequency with which "aliens" were found on distant planets, aliens who looked exactly like Earthlings and who all spoke English.

Of course, some Star Trek aliens were only humanoid in appearance. In particular, we were told that Vulcans had green blood and telepathic powers in addition to their elf-like pointy ears.

Alien using a translation device.
Yet, green blood and all, Vulcans could breed with humans and Spock was a half-Vulcan, half-Human hybrid. Later, in the Next Generation, we were subjected to other hybrids such as Klingon-Human. How could so many planets around the galaxy produce different varieties of humanoids who were all inter-fertile? We were told that long ago, there were "progenitor" humanoid species who seeded life forms and the basic humanoid genetic pattern on many different planets. I suppose we were supposed to give Hollywood a break and pretend that computerized "universal translators" were always able to allow humanoids from various planets to communicate with the crew of the Enterprise in English.

Pointy Ears
Mariette Hartley as Zarabeth
It would be fun to remake the original Star Trek episodes, making some minor changes. In the episode "All Our Yesterdays", Spock travels back in time, into the ancient days of planet Sarpeidon where he meets Mariette Hartley. When Kirk, Spock and McCoy arrive on Sarpeidon, it would be fun if they noticed that all the people of Sarpeidon had pointy ears and Spock-like eyes. Only later, deep into the show, would viewers realize that while in the past with Zarabeth, Spock managed to pass his Vulcan genes into the planet's gene pool.

in the library of Sarpeidon
Time Travel
"All Our Yesterdays" was one of several Star Trek episodes with time travel. Sadly, while some worlds were shown in possession of advanced time travel technology, the technologically primitive Earthlings in the era of Mr. Spock had to resort to the "sling-shot effect" in order to travel through time.

Time loop. It would be fun to slightly modify "All Our Yesterdays" and have Mr. Spock pull a book off the shelf in the library of Sarpeidon and discover that it contains detailed instructions for how to build a time machine. But just then, McCoy and Spock get sent back through time.

Later, at the end of the episode, once safely back on the Enterprise, with Sarpeidon's sun, Beta Niobe, having exploded and destroyed Sarpeidon, Spock could meekly mention that he left the instruction book for how to build a time machine with Zarabeth, thus "explaining" (are time travel loops ever really explained?) how the people of Sarpeidon were lucky enough to develop a culture built around advanced time travel technology.

Kirk: 7,824.7 to 1?
One of the best features of Star Trek is that there was plenty of humor sprinkled through the episodes. In the humor-ladden episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" we even got to learn that the alien Tribbles (nearly mindless balls of fur) had good taste in humanoids and preferred Mr. Spock over the evil Klingons.

Sometimes I was slightly annoyed when the logical scientist Mr. Spock seemed to be the butt of jokes, however we should all be able to laugh at ourselves and the science of any science fiction story should not become too stale and dry.

In the episode "Errand of Mercy" we had this amusing exchange between Kirk and Mr. Spock:

Kirk: What would you say the odds are on our getting out of here?

Mr. Spock: Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7 to 1.

The Voyage Home
there be whales
Nimoy had great fun with Spock and the entire Star Trek gang in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Kirk: Well, Spock, here we are.....walking the streets of San Francisco looking for a couple of humpback whales. How do you propose to solve this minor problem?

Mr. Spock: Simple logic will suffice. I believe I shall begin by making use of this map. I have the distance and bearing which were provided by Commander Uhura. If we juxtapose our coordinates we should be able to find our destination. It lies at two eight three point seven degrees...

Kirk: (reading a Cetacean Institute advertisement off the side of a passing bus) I think we'll find what we're looking for at the Cetacean Institute in Sausalito. A pair of humpbacks named George and Gracie.

Mr. Spock: How do you know this?

Kirk: Simple logic.

Assignment: Earth
Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, for giving us a whale of a good time.
Related reading: 10 of my favorite Star Trek episodes
"Mr. Spock is Dreamy" by Isaac Asimov 

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